There is a fairly large amount of disagreement as to where the idea of wingless soft-hackled flies originated. It is believed they originated in the waters of northern England, perhaps in Yorkshire. In 1857 W.C. Stewart gave us three patterns which he called “spiders” that were tied with soft hackles from various birds. He was followed By T.E. Pritt in 1885 in Yorkshire Trout Flies (later reprinted as North Country Flies) that documented many wingless wets that were dressed with soft bird feathers. Following English tradition, Edmunds and Lee continued the line of soft-hackle flies with the publication of their book, Brook and River Trouting in 1916. It listed 36 artificial flies all neatly cataloged with specific dressings. The knowledge of the soft-hackle fly was surely known by G.E.M. Skues, famous for his development of nymph fishing. In his book The Way Of The Trout With The Fly published in 1921, Skues discusses the “soft-hackled thorax nymph”, thus passing on the tradition.
James Leisenring, a Pennsylvanian corresponded with Skues, and began to develop patterns of soft-hackled flies for use in the USA. In 1941, along with his friend and student, Vern “Pete” Hidy, they wrote The Art Of Tying The Wet Fly. It chronicled Leisenring’s patterns and tying techniques. After Leisenring’s death in 1951, Hidy kept the tradition alive writing and teaching Leisenring’s techniques. In 1971, he revamped the original Leisenring book to The Art Of Tying The wet Fly and Fishing The Flymph. Hidy had created a new term for the soft-hackle-”Flymph” which he clearly defined as a half fly-half nymph.
Sylvester Nemes in 1975 reintroduced the North Country Spiders to fly fisherman in his book, The Soft Hackled Fly. It was a great success and was followed by The Soft-Hackle Fly Addict and other great books. Bringing it all into focus for modern tiers, author/tier Dave Hughes published his contribution to the soft-hackle tradition in Wet Flies: Tying and fishing Soft-hackles, Winged and Wingless Wets and Fuzzy Nymphs. Following in the footsteps of these anglers and tiers is Allen McGee, Allen’s book, Tying and Fishing The Soft-hackled Nymphs, is a great addition to this group. It covers historical background of these flies and goes on to disclose some great new patterns and how to fish them.