Under the theme of being a poor student, I am always looking to cut corners in fly tying, but still produce excellent flies. Sometimes this approach, just does not work. There is no substitute for DRY FLY HACKLE!!!! Suck it up, buy one light and one dark pelt and your bases will be covered.
As I step off my soap box, I can return to the point of this article: Quality hen capes are incredibly versatile feathers for the frugal fly tier. In general, a Whiting Herbert Miner cape runs about $10. If you consider the high number of feathers on a cape this will be a worthwhile investment. Hen feathers seem under appreciated because everyone wants rooster hackle for flies like woolly buggers and dries. Admittedly a full high quality rooster saddle is a beautiful thing to just look at let alone use to tie flies. However, with a price point of about $50 for a middle grade saddle, I do not use these feathers on anything that does not need them. Thus, I love versatile feathers at good prices.
|From left to right: Rooster saddle, Brahma Hen cape, India hen saddle, Coq de Leon hen saddle, and Herbert Miner saddle.|
Hen represents one of the more recent additions of my “often used” materials list. A hen cape feather can do many different things, when loosely palmered it makes for a very buggy woolly bugger hackle, when tightly palmered at the head of fly it can make the legs of a nymph or the collar on a soft hackle. The fibers can make a beard on streamer patterns. Paired with other feathers, they can be made into a classic wet fly wing, or form the entire wing as four feathers do in matuka style flies. They are also commonly used to make claws on crawfish patterns and the legs/tails on top water patterns.
There really is not much that these versatile feathers cannot do. Hen feathers also come in a variety of types, and I have come to use them in different ways. I have recently been tying Tenkara flies and using a Whiting Brahma hen neck because the fibers are soft (as hen should be), but lack the webby fibers that cling together like the aforementioned Herbert Miner. However, that all depends on the look and action I want in my fly. I have tenkara flies tied with both types. Additionally, I have used olive Coq de Leon hen capes to make collars on a bugger/softhackle style pattern I found online. The Coq de Leon is heavily mottled and makes great bug like legs on a fly.
On the whole I think hen has become one of my favorite feathers and the price point works for me personally. I figure as long as teen idols do not take any interest in using these feathers for fashion, we fly tiers will be ok. Now go chase some capes down and hit the vise.