Cree Hackle shootout….
Here's my collection of Cree and Cree related Hackles; how do they stack up against brown and grizzly?
Cree Hackle is a mythical beast; one feather that does it all and is as rare (and expensive) these days as a a white buffalo. For those fly tiers out there who aren’t familiar with this rare colored rooster hackle, cree is basically a grizzly hackle with brown and ginger mixed in, making it, in theory, perfect for tying Adams/parachute adams or any other dry flies that require the magic mix of brown and grizzly hackle.
I tie a lot of flies and am somewhat of a hoarder when it comes to dry fly hackle (both rooster necks and saddles). Additionally, like a lot of anglers, the parachute adams dry fly is one of my “go-to” patterns, both for personal use and when guiding clients on rivers like the Snake here in Jackson Hole. I tie a lot of them and am always looking for a quicker way to tie. Last year I set out on a quest to find cree hackle to incorporate into my patterns. After talking with the good folks at Whiting, I learned that they don’t even offer Cree necks anymore since they are so rare and demand so high (i'm sure someone gets the rare one now and then, but not tyers like me). They did recommend and send me a barred dark ginger cape though, saying it’s a good cree substitute. I also ended up ordering a “chili pepper” cape from Clearwater Hackle in Idaho; their version of cree. Then I hit the jackpot. While shopping in Idaho Falls, I came across four Metz cree capes at Sportsman’s Warehouse. FOUR! I did what any self-respecting fly tier would do and bought three; figuring such an opportunity might never happen again. After tying with them on and off for a while now, I thought I conduct a little “research” to see how my different hackles stack up, and if all or any of them are a true substitute for the tried and true one grizzly/one brown hackle.
All flies were tied parachute style on a size 12 hook. Here’s the subjects, the results and my thoughts…. Sorry for the lousy photos.
Fly 1:Traditional parachute adams tied with both a grizzly and brown hackle that came from Whiting rooster necks.
My Whiting brown and grizzly rooster necks; the standards for which all are judged.
Fly 2:tied with a barred dark ginger feather from a Whiting neck.
Whiting recommends this color hackle as a close replacement for cree. On the neck I have, the larger size feathers definitely look to be cree. The smaller sizes however are primarily of the brown/ginger barring, lacking the black. Overall though I would agree that this is pretty close to cree and I bet if you found a few to pick through at a retail shop you could get one pretty close to your objective. When tied, I found that the hackle on this fly was on the lighter shade- more ginger in color and lacking darkness. Overall though it looks buggy and is great for certain patterns…
Fly 3:tied with a cree feather from one of my Metz necks.
These feathers are the real deal and are what I’m judging all others on. I was pretty pleased with how this fly turned out; definitely had the black barring and buggy look. The browns are not quite a prevalent compared to using two hackles. These feathers make tying small adams, caddis, etc. easy.
Fly 4:tied with a chili pepper feather from a Clearwater hackle neck.
Clearwater’s a newer player in the hackle game, but do a nice job. Their necks are affordable, have lots of feathers and the customer service is great. Their feathers are much shorter than say Whiting and remind me of the old dry fly necks I started tying with years back. The chili pepper color is their version of cree. The neck I was sent doesn’t quite have the black barring found on cree necks, but overall it ties a pretty nice fly; albeit lighter than the traditional tie. Definitely worth checking Clearwater’s inventory as their chili pepper necks vary a bit in shading and color…
Fly 5:Grizzly hackle colored brown with sharpie marker.
This final parachute adams was tied with a grizzly hackle from a Whiting neck. I partially colored this feather brown with a sharpie to see how it would compare to the naturals… It’s not as sexy as tying with the other natural colored feathers, but it does a damn nice job imitating both brown and grizzly with one feather and could certainly work well for tying with one feather.
Overall, I don’t think anything beats the traditional use of one grizzly and one brown hackled mixed together. However cree comes awful close and as I mentioned, it makes tying tiny flies that call for griz/brown hackle easy. I do think all these colors and variations look better (darker and colored) on the cape. Once selected and tied, they all are lighter in color. So there you have it. Hopefully that cleared some questions up regarding cree hackle and substitutes for the elusive beast.