Q: How many feathers are on a saddle?
A: I have found that approximately 400 feathers seems to be the standard, but I have found some can have 600! The higher grades tend to have higher feather counts. I do find that quarter saddles can run as low as 75. My guess is in the extra processing they go through quite feathers fall off along the way.
It should be mentioned, just because there are 400 feathers, that does not mean all are usable. The feather length on a single saddle can have quite a large range and in the lower grades quite a few broken.
Q: What is the difference between grades?
A: The main difference is how many flies can be tied with each cape or saddle. Most growers do a lot to insure that their hackle does not ship with damaged of missing feathers, those are reserved for commercial tiers, the products that make it past the initial inspection are then sorted by grade. Each grower has a different set of standards for their products but it comes down to it the biggest factors are feather count, feather length & range of sizes (capes).
Q: Is it worth buying a high grade?
A: It depends on a few things. If you use a lot of a particular color higher grades will be more economical. On the other hand colors your rarely use or just want to try, lower grades tend to be the smarter buy.
Q: What brand of hackle is better?
A: Too much importance is put onto brand. Brand should not be a factor in purchasing hackle. What should be looked at are things like color, barb stiffness (in dry fly hackle), straight barbs & size range needed. You should always buy hackle that matches what you need it to do, not the other way around.
Q: What are the differences between the various line of Whiting Farms saddles?
Whiting Line: Long, thin and in high demand. Large range of dyed colors.
Whiting Line Midge: These saddles have shorter barbs then their counterparts. This means the feathers a slightly thinner then what normal Whiting Line feathers then to be.
Whiting Hebert Line: These tend to not quite have the length the Whiting Line has, but often is on par. The feathers are slightly thicker then what the Whiting Line offers.
High & Dry Line: These are not graded, so they vary a lot of feather length. Slightly broader then Hebert Line saddles. Offered in only a small range of colors, great white & grizzly!
Coq de Leon Line: Short, around 6 inches, broad feathers. Come in a large range of dyed colors.