We carry Whiting Farms and Metz hackle here in the Denver and Vail/Minturn shop. Each company has its own way of grading the feathers. Metz uses a number system, either grade 1 or 2 or 3. While Whiting Farms uses what they call the “Olympic Grading System” as follows. From top to bottom; Ultra-Platinum, Platinum, Gold, Silver-Select, Silver, Bronze and Pro-Grade; each grade has is own special attributes.
As the grades go up, the number of flies that can be tied out of that given pelt goes up. For example from Whiting the Bronze cape can tie 900 + flies, where a Platinum grade cape can tie in excess of 2,800 flies. For the hobby type tier a Bronze or Silver grade cape makes the most sense from a financial stand point.
From a beginners stand point the Pro-Grade cape will most likely make the most sense due to a good variety of feathers and a lower price tag. This is something that the tier must look at and make the choice that fits their individual tying needs the best.
There truly is an option for every tiers needs, from Midge Saddles all the way up too Bass/Saltwater Capes.
Yet another option that tiers have is the difference between rooster and hen capes and saddles. Feathers that come from a Rooster are typically longer and narrow down to a more, narrow knife like point. While the feathers that come from a hen are shorter and more rounded and fatter.
When it comes to selecting a particular feather keep in mind what the feather will be used for. Rooster feathers will be more wrapped hackle such as on an Elk Hair Caddis. Hen feathers will be more at home as collars on soft hackles and nymphs such as a Prince Nymph. Hen necks are also softer in nature which makes them the best choice for collars.
Each one of the following products have their own special trait, which allows flexibility in tying.
Neck Hackle- These feathers are between 3 and 5 inches in length and have wide webby hackle. These are great on bass and saltwater patterns.
Rooster Saddles- The advantage of using a saddle is the fact in most cases you can get 3 to 4 flies out of one feather, while on a Rooster Neck you may only get 1 to 2 flies out of a feather. Feathers are usually more uniform in sizes, not as much variety. With Rooster saddles they can be used as hackle on Wooly Buggers or wings on streamers or PNW style flies. For an example please see our video of Hackle used in Scott Howell’s Signature Intruder
Rooster Capes/Necks- Capes offer the tier a wider variety of sizes than saddles. These are great for a tier that ties a wider variety of sizes of flies. Also capes offer a more than one option when it comes to grades, allowing the tier the options that best fills their specific needs.
Hen Neck/Soft Hackle- As mentioned above these feathers are fatter and softer in nature which allows them to be wrapped as collars or as a matched pair on tails on a bass bug. The barbs also are foldable to make this step very easy.