Q I’ve just started fly-tying and would like to know which materials you wouldn’t be without
Dave Preston, via email
“Rabbit, on the other hand, clogs easily and sinks”
A My favourite material is seal fur. As a keen dry-fly fisher on stillwaters, it gives me everything I look for. It holds floatant well – one application can last most of the day. It also dyes extremely well – my fly-boxes resemble an artist’s palette with various shades and colours, including clarets, fiery browns, reds and ambers in one box, and yellows, greens and many shades of olive in the other. I seldom use a single colour – my fly bodies are often a mix of three or four colours. The translucency and vibrancy of seal fur when held up to the light is unmatched by any man-made fibre. It works best when the fibres are teased out, creating a halo of light around the fly – a neat body is the last thing you want. I dub it loosely, relying on the rib to hold it in place. Hare fur (from the mask) would be my next choice. For some reason, it also holds floatant well. Rabbit, on the other hand, clogs easily and sinks. Several of my successful patterns, from small emergers to larger Sedges, are tied with hare fur. It is also great for nymphs, wetflies, Spiders and larger patterns such as the Peeping Caddis. Next would be marabou, available in a huge range of colours. Today, almost every lure has a wing or tail tied with this most mobile of feathers. Fritz (shock, horror!) has become a vital component in modern lures – often the only component. A new industry has developed around it. Softer, stiffer, denser, stragglier, sparklier – each fritz is dyed in its maker’s special colours and competes to make the deadliest lure. Back to natural materials. Pheasant tail fibres make perfect nymph pattern bodies and great legs on Hoppers or Daddy-long-legs. As a body, the fibres are best wrapped over wet varnish or glue and left to dry before a protective rib is wound. Peacock herl. The popularity of the Diawl Bach nymph and Cormorant patterns make this one of the most common materials on a tying bench. Peacock quill. A fibre from the eye section can be stripped of its herl. This “quill” is then wound to produce a segmented body. A quill body, when wound in open turns over a complementary or contrasting thread, produces a natural-looking segmented body on a Buzzer – a look enhanced by a few coats of protective varnish. Deer hair. Although only hollow at the base of each fibre, it is highly buoyant. When greased, it will float all day. It’s ideal for tying prospecting dry-flies, such as an Elk Hair Caddis. It makes wonderful wings on sedge patterns, on its own or with an underwing of CDC. Which brings me to CDC, the preengland feathers from a duck. I love and hate CDC. Its fibre structure makes it incredibly buoyant when dry, but when it’s waterlogged it won’t support a fly in the surface. It’s high maintenance, constantly needing attention, but I have yet to find an alternative that works as well. Foam is essential for Booby eyes, FABS and beetle patterns. Last, but not least, are capes. Stiffer cock hackles are something I desire but seldom use. Softer capes (including hen) provide the movement I want in my nymphs and the “give” I seek in my dry-flies. If I often fished in Ireland, capes would be further up the list. I love tying Bumbles, Dabblers and all Irish flies with mixed seal-fur bodies and hackles – but I seldom have the need for them in the UK.
Pheasant tail Fritz
Peacock eye feather Peacock quill
Deer hair Foam