ThreadHeads Feature – Bob Quigley’s Hackle Stacker

The most important difference to note between a hackle stacker dry fly and a traditional parachute posted dry fly is the surface impression made by the wound hackle.  On a traditional parachute dry fly the hackle is wound around a post that is fortified with thread and often some kind of fly-tying adhesive to be stiff.  The result is a tidy hackle, that is flat, almost pancake flat, parallel to the shank of the hook and sits (mostly) above the water’s surface.  This is terrific for flotation, in fact it is excellent, and is ideal for choppy water or fast-moving riffles. The visibility factor of the parachute post makes the fly easy to see in those broken water conditions as well.  These parachuted dry flies may even be able to support a small nymph dropper, and it is because of this awesome versatility and usability that parachute dries are extremely popular.  But, in very flat or still water, those pancake flat hackle barbs leave a surface impression that snobby or pressured trout might find too obnoxious.  Enter the hackle stacker.  The Hackle stacker’s hackle barbs are wound around a short loop of monofilament or poly yarn, swept upwards/backwards and then pulled snuggly over the top of a small bulb of dubbing.  The result is that instead of lying flat like the parachute method, the hackle barbs are almost pointing UP or “around” the bulb of dubbing, and at circular angles away the hook shank creating a smaller, less structured, and more realistic impression that sits lower in the water's surface. 

To visualize the difference between the parachuted hackle and stacked hackle, hold your hand out flat in front of you, palm facing down with your fingers spread out. This is parachuted hackle.  You can almost feel the tension of your outstretched fingers as though they are pushing on the water’s surface creating a wide profile and enforcing high flotation. Now, to visualize the effect of the stacked hackle, take that same outstretched hand, palm down, that demonstrated the parachute hackle, and flip it, palm facing up.  You will feel the sensation of your hand and wrist naturally dropping lower and your relaxing fingers almost cup upwards. The position is a much softer, more relaxed, natural pose that is easy to maintain.  Now imagine this same sensation’s effect on a dry fly.  The parachute (palm down) will push and poke and rigidly demand to stay on the surface (again great for broken water) but the stacked hackle will settle deeply, and softly in to the surface film with its upward/outward splayed hackle gently maintaining the hackles above the surface but also allowing microscopic movements in and out of the purgatory of the surface film. Right where big lazy trout know they have an easy meal…

Invented by the modern Godfather of crippled mayfly designers, Bob Quigley, the hackle stacker style of tying was/is one of the most significant innovations in dry fly design.  The origin story for this tying concept, and ultimately the fly design, came to life in the glassy rainbow trout filled stretches of northern California’s Fall River.  The original pattern used all the materials that traditional parachute dry flies were tied with, but omitted one key ingredient… the post.  Later versions for the fly, the Hackle Stacker Flag and (my favorite) the Film Critic, brought the post back into the pattern but shifted its position to the eye of the hook.  The hackle stacker was concocted to solve the common fly fisher’s problem of how to fool big lazy trout that have too much time on their hands (fins?) when inspecting your offering.  i.e. flat tailouts, slow eddies/bubble lines, froggy/slow water, or even Stillwater.  The Fall River (the proving grounds for the hackle stacker) is a wide, slow, almost featureless, marshy spring creek that gains underground volume and stays icy cold from an enormous system of springs originating from Mount Shasta. The Fall is known for having terrifically consistent hatches, educated trout and difficult public access.  All of these factors came into play when designing the hackle stacker, as the most popular method for fishing the Fall River is to stake out a small boat and visually search for surface feeding trout and make the first cast count as opportunities can be limited (but extremely exciting).   

Bob Quigley passed away in 2012 but left an incredible legacy of fly patterns that likely will never leave the fly boxes of American anglers.  In fact, it is hard to read a fishing report anywhere in WestSlope country that does not include the Quigley’s Cripple somewhere in the report no matter what river, lake, or stream or the time of year.    A salute to Bob can be found in the links below as well as links for tying videos and materials lists.    

Salute to Bob - 

Tying video for a Blue Winged Olive Film Critic - 

Materials List Film Critic - 

Materials and Video for Hackle Stacker - 

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