Fly Tying Materials to Buy in Person: Hen Hackle Skins

Posted on November 22nd, 2021 in Fishing Tips

As a commercial fly tier and outfitter, I have commercial accounts with most of the major fly tying materials distributors. I’m not allowed to talk about my discounts, specifically, but they are substantial. Flies you buy from me or from Parks’ Fly Shop would cost you twice as much, otherwise.

That said, there are still several materials I am willing to buy at full-price or very close to it, either from a fly shop or some alternate source. This is the first in a series of posts about these materials, and why they’re worth it for me to spend a lot more on them.

Hen Skins for Soft Hackles

The first material I usually buy at full price, and the one on which I probably spend the most, is hen chicken skins for soft hackles (and to a lesser extent streamers). I also buy many other bird skins for soft hackles at full price, such as hen pheasant skins, but chicken skins are by far the most important.

There’s a simple reason why I pay full price for these skins: I can pick through them and get EXACTLY the coloration I want. If I bought these skins from large wholesale distributors, I’d be dealing with the luck of the draw. I’d get whatever the person responsible for packing my order happened to grab.

hen chicken skin for fly tying

Lots of soft hackle pheasant tails on this skin…

In the past, I got most of my hen skins exactly this way. At the time, I used a lot of Speckled India Hen Backs, mostly purchased from wholesaler Hareline Dubbing. These are wonderful products, available in a wide range of colors. The problem is that when I ordered half a dozen “brown” skins, say, I would get three that were dark brown with black bars, two that were almost entirely brown, and one that was medium brown with abundant random black speckles. Since I usually wanted the medium brown skins with abundant black speckles, the others largely went to waste (or I sold them).

A better option was to buy skins either in person or when I could see photos of the skin I was buying. This is possible with India Hen Backs, as many shops sell them. For my own purposes, since I need many more feathers than one skin can provide, I turned to furriers online.

I am going to be a bit of a jerk here and not give the website I most often use for these skins. They don’t sell all that many, and I use a lot of hen skins for soft hackles, streamers, collars on Woolly Buggers (such as my PT-Bugger), and legs and tails on nymphs. Instead I’ll point you towards eBay. A wide range of chicken (and other bird) skins are available. You just have to keep searching for what you want. Search for hen skin, hen pelt, chicken pelt, bird skin, or other similar search terms.

Buff hen chicken skin.

Pale hen skin for tying caddis emergers.