Recently I was attending the Denver Fly Fishing show, and my friend and fly fishing mentor Rick brought up the subject of “cree hackle”. In all the chaos and “sparkly” objects distracting my attention, I didn’t catch everything he said right away.
Rick is the finest fly fisherman I have ever known, so I usually pay a lot more attention. Er, you could say I hang on every word.
Soon he was having a chat with Charlie Craven about whether he was expecting in any cree. Charlie said he had two coming in, and that he could hold one for my friend.
Apparently, cree hackle rarely makes it to the shelves at a fly shop? Cree hackle is usually sold before it comes in. At that point I started to pay attention.
So why do fly fisherman covet cree? Why do they pay $60- $120 a saddle? And up to $250 for a skin? Why do breeders usually have them sold before the chicks are even hatched?
Rick explained. Cree hackle is a type of rooster saddle feather with a coloration that combines brown, ginger and grizzly hackle into one feather (grizzly hackle has black and white stripes, which is believed to emulate bugs’ wing motion—just a theory). Cree combines both movement and the full spectrum of desirable colors.
Cree hackle coloring happens when it happens. DNA specialists know how to create them, but success is still somewhat random. Much like trying to recreate a calico cat. You are never quite sure how the next one with turn out.
“Whenever I come across a nice cree hackle I buy it, although they are usually very expensive.” Rick said.
Rick explained how he uses it in his fly tying: “I use cree on my caddis, both elk hair and CDC versions. I also use cree on some midges and to a lesser extent, on western mayflies. Cree is great for the classic Adams pattern or derivatives thereof. Rather than using a grizzly and brown hackles, you simply use a single cree hackle. This translates into easier tying, less bulky and frankly, a better look.”
He told me about his collection. “Prices for cree vary according to the quality of the neck or saddle. The Bronze Cree from Whiting I have was around $65-70; it’s a beauty! Whiting has several grades ranging from Platinum (rare) to Bronze (common). Price-wise $120 to mid-$60s. Also, saddles come is various sizes such as 12-14, 14-16, 18-22. The cree I have is for small flies… 18 on down. Because cree is rare, the prices are often higher than the more common & abundant colors like dun, brown, grizzly, etc.”
Here are some photos of Rick’s collection.
Here is cree used on his elk hair caddis
I have fished his CDC caddis with cree, and it killed ‘em. His caddis will never make the cover of fly tying magazines, but they work.
Its important that you clip the hackle flat on the CDC and deer hair caddis, making the legs lie “splat” flat on the water.
As a fly fisherman, I have learned through experience to avoid making “never-never always-always” statements. However, I have to say, now I always fish with Rick’s CDC caddis, instead of my usual deer/elk hair caddis patterns.
I don’t know if its the fly, its presentation, or the cree. Or both. But the fish love ‘em.
Thanks Rick for all your information and your photos. Gratitude.