Hackle grading simply explained

Updated: May 16, 2020

First off, this is not a sponsored or compensated post.

As of today Whiting Farms is the largest producer and supplier of dry fly hackles to the fly tying community around the world. I'm pretty sure most of you fly tiers out there have some products on your tying desk from them, and not without reason, they make quality products and the bang for the buck with these hackles are really good. I remember when I started fly tying some 8 years ago, there was this vast amount of different materials from different brands and trying to understand this jungle took time. You can be frightened by less, if that's the case though you will miss out the joy in tying your own flies. Discouraged or not, I believe that this vast amount of materials is what makes fly tying fun and interesting since it's a never-ending learning process.

One thing that always bothered me was the grading system Whiting Farms apply to their dry fly hackles, both saddles and capes. They grade these hackles from Pro Grade, Bronze, Silver, Gold to Platinum. What does that mean? And most importantly, what are the criteria when grading?

The quality level of the feather is always consistent

According to Whiting Farms, whether you buy a pro grade or a gold grade saddle/cape the QUALITY of the feather is the same. This simply means that every single feather has a supple quill, void of twist, contains dense barbing and is greater than 85% web-free. If this criteria is not met Whiting Farms will never sell them in retail stores. It's simple as that.

But what about the difference then? When Whiting has decided that the quality of the feather to meet the criteria the next step is the their grading process. Here Whiting Farms take more than 25 elements in consideration. I won't go through them all but only the most important ones they use:

- Feather length

- Uniformity of feather length

- Length of the whole cape or saddle

- Feather quantity

- Barb stiffness

- Coloration

- Size range of the feathers

Now you would hopefully know a little bit more about the grading process.

Price vs value

When going to the store and you find these saddles and capes and look at the price tag one can surely feel they are a little too expensive. But, as stated above these feathers are a bang for the buck because you can tie literally more than a thousand flies from one pelt. The only downside I can find is that one would want more and more colors and then you'd better find a good explanation for your wife or husband.

When I started fly tying I bought this beginners fly tying kit which included Chinese rooster hackle and for sure, I used it a few times but quickly realized that I needed to upgrade. They're not even up for comparison.

Barred Dark Ginger, Dark Dun and Grizzly Dyed Olive

Next up will be a text about the difference about saddles and capes. Take care and tight lines! / Joel

Reference: https://whitingfarms.com/whitings-olympic-grading-system/

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