On the Fly column: Fly tying still uses natural materials
On the Fly
Sustainability is the watchword these days. Fall and spring hunting go hand in hand with the fly tyer’s bench, and harvesting meat and materials can coincide. Flies are still created by hand these days, and over a century ago anglers began to discover the unique properties that hair and feather added to their offerings. Synthetic materials (foam, polypropylene, yarn, tubing) seem to be the norm with more patterns every year, but the basic ingredients are still found in almost every fly. An elk hair caddis can be tied with 100% natural materials minus the thread and hook, but a foam hopper may have no natural materials at all.
Deer and elk hair are essentially hollow, which provides excellent floating characteristics with dry flies. Rabbit, coyote, bear, moose and opossum lend different qualities to patterns as well. The spiky guard hairs from a rabbit or coyote mask are absolutely essential for trapping air bubbles in the venerable hare’s ear nymph, most green drake dries have moose mane tails, and opossum underfur creates the softest fly body dubbing around.
Ptarmigan, grouse, partridge, pheasant, turkey, duck and goose feathers are used extensively in the fly tying world, let alone the birds we don’t hunt — peacock, chickens, emu, guinea and the like. Turkey quills are usually found on a stonefly nymph or hopper legs, and the flats make terrific wings on mayfly dries. No soft hackle looks right without a speckled partridge collar, and the lifelike qualities of bright peacock herl are essential in the Pheasant Tail and Twenty Incher flies.
Some materials are no longer legal to buy or sell, including jungle cock feathers and polar bear fur. Some countries are clamping down on shipping peacock overseas, which has introduced some difficulty with stocking fly shops here in the U.S. with quality flies. But overall, materials are much easier to come by than “back in the day.” When you knock down that elk or get a few grouse this fall, give your fly tying buddies a call. They’ll gladly take some fur or feathers off your hands.
This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or taylorcreek.com.
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