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On the hunt for fly tying material

Don MacLean
Don MacLean

Outdoor World By Don MacLean

I don’t receive many packages in the mail so it was a nice surprise last week when I received some mail from a friend on Newfoundland. The package contained a nice piece of caribou hair.

Not many people would get excited about receiving a piece of hide, but I was as I like to use caribou for tying bugs and bombers for trout and salmon fishing. I find the hair nice to work with and it floats well. The package was a return gift. I sent him some deer hair awhile back and he was reciprocating with the caribou. Since I have access to whitetail hair, and he has access to caribou, the arrangement works out for both of us.

For many anglers fly tying is a big part of their sport. It helps pass time in the off season and it also allows you to experiment with different fly patterns. Another advantage is cost. When you can tie a fly for the cost of a hook and a few cents worth of materials you don’t mind losing them to trees, rocks and logs. While there are some specialized material you can only purchase at your local fly tying store there is also a multitude of materials available to you from other sources.
Road kill is one possible source for found materials. Although my wife cured me of that habit some years ago I still know anglers who can’t pass a dead raccoon or squirrel on the road without stopping and throwing it in the trunk. While this can provide you with a lifetime of fly tying material, as well as a smelly trunk, it can also get you charged by an enforcement officer.

Unless you have a trapping licence, and the season is open, you cannot be in possession of furbearers. This also applies to game such as partridge and pheasant. The season would have to be open, and you would have to have a small game hunting licence. The exception is for squirrels. There is no closed season on them so you can pick them up, when it is safe to do so.
If you hunt, or have friends that do then you have a wide variety of material available to you.

Deer body hair is the main ingredient is some of the most popular flies from muddler minnows for trout or bugs and bombers for salmon. Many streamers and bucktails, as the name implies, use hair from the tail. Rabbit skin, dyed or natural, makes great material for nymphs and leech patterns. Preserving this material is fairly simple, salt and borax do the trick for me. I scrape the skin as clean as possible and then rub in both salt and borax. Partridge and duck feathers are also the key ingredient in many flies. Using these materials also ensures we make the maximum use of the game we harvest.

Over the years I have seen some offbeat flies that have been tied with some unusual materials. A birch bark fly was tied commercially some years ago. The oil in the bark served as a natural fly floatant and it apparently caught trout. Perhaps the most unusual fly I’ve seen consisted of a partridge toe tied to a hook. It looked remarkably like a big mayfly nymph. I am sure that if you experiment you could probably tie a fly from almost anything. I hope you have some fun experimenting this winter.

Don MacLean is an outdoor writer and biologist who lives in Pictou County.

©2018 Don MacLean

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