For the most part, the coot has fallen out of the winter repertoire – the largest spey-type patterns I have been able to muster up is a size 5. Size 3 would be possible, but asking for long, spider-type hackles would be pushing it. There seem to be two groups of feathers that have application for smaller steelhead flies in the sizes 5 and 7. First, feathers near the shoulder and wing junction, provide a good supply of slightly stiffer and darker hackles that I tend to favor. Feathers from the flanks are much lighter in color and resemble blue-eared pheasant in their shape and tend to be a tad longer barbule length than the shoulders, though the coot flank tends to be a wee bit softer than BEP. The shoulder, however, is a tad bit stiffer than the BEP I’ve used.
Below, I tied two simple identical patterns using these two feather types on size 5 hooks. The guinea collar tends to dominate the coot, but the overall finished fly fishes well in the late summer and early fall when these smaller offerings are the go-to choice. Much of the remainder of the coot skin is full of feathers that have the potential for making great soft hackled flies in smaller sizes though I have not yet experiemented with this yet. I think there might be potential for caddis emerger patterns as well.
Of course, having said all this, I’m still torn between coot and pheasant rump as my small fly hackle of choice. Choosing between the two while standing knee deep in the river is difficult. Though I find I use the pheasant rump when fish are spread out and there are long intervals between grabs. The coot seems to shine when the fish are there and on the nab – though I suspect just about anything would suffice during those times. In any event, I find the coot a wonderful alternative to BEP in smaller sizes and the flies it turns out are among the buggiest around.