When I was away from Doc's boat and tutelage, my dad and I would greedily tie on anything that floated in hopes of capturing a slice of dry fly heaven. Royal Wulffs, Elk Hair Caddis, Adams, Yellow Humpies, Trudes, and Coachmans - all were the staple of our small, pocket water adventures. Later, indicators with dangling Hare's Ears, Prince Nymphs and Woolly Buggers were added to the mix.
Over a decade passed until an accidental discovery motivated me to tie one of Doc's favorites on again. Josh, Shannon and I were on the lower Gallatin River during one of those magical, warm July evenings where constant insect activity, or at least the trout's recent memory of constant insect activity, kept them eager and actively feeding. We pulled the raft over just before a beautiful, deep nymphing hole.
Shannon and Josh worked the depths at the head of the riffle with a yarnie and weighted nymph. Every half dozen casts or so, luck would bless them with a gorgeous rainbow. I took position towards the bottom of the run where the hole gradually trailed off from a wave train to a shallow riffle. A well-floated Chuck's Trude met with success every few casts. Toward the end of one of my drifts, Shannon hooked into a lunker. I started to reel in the excess line to go see her fish. As I was reeling in the now submerged Trude, sinfully creating more drag than any dry fly should ever be subjected to, I felt a sharp, unmistakable tug. I had hooked into a fatty of my own. Before I realized what had happened, the fish broke off.
After admiring Shan's fish - one of the largest 'bows I'd seen come out of the Gallatin - I tried to replicate the drowning dry-fly-drag-maneuver. Against my better judgment, I quartered my cast downstream and swung a downward belly of line, breaking every rule about dry fly presentation that I'd ever learned. Then whamo! I hooked into another fish just as the line straightened out. I brought the fish in and released it. I tried the technique again and again, swinging and stripping the drowned Trude. Nearly every other cast hooked a fish. Granted, I wasn't exactly fishing a soft-hackle but it was the closest I'd come in a long while. The experience was enough to convince me to try the real thing again. Now, with the memory of Doc's voice echoing through my head, I regularly swing soft-hackles during the lovely hatches of summer.
The How-To, Technical Details
When fished traditionally, soft-hackles represent the emerging form of caddis and mayflies. There are several ways to present soft-hackles. Here are a couple of techniques: