I guess I would be considered a "Hacker"(to borrow from the Golfers) at this, as far as tying/fishing soft hackles.
I normaly use a 9' 5 wt, and a 71/2' 3 wt ( for small, brushy streams, I do have a 51/2' 3 wt but don't use it much ).I do like a longer rod genrally.
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That piece of shrink tubing on the English hackle pliers works really well. BUT be sure you leave about 1/16(or 1/8) inch or so beyond the tip when putting on. That will keep the tip of the plier from cutting the stem of your feather.