Fly Tying Basics: THE MATERIALS

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Fly Tying Basics: THE MATERIALS

Post by wayne on Wed Apr 02, 2008 11:26 am

The use of materials would be anything that is added to a fly, feathers, furs, threads, wires, synthetics and varnish. In this post I hope to shed some light on some of the various materials available to the fly tier. The materials I will mention is not an exhaustive list as the creativity of the fly tier holds no boundaries.

Threads available to the fly tier come in an assortment of colours and sizes, all provide a variety of purposes. The most common threads used by the fly tier are in sizes 8/0 and 6/0 used mostly for tying the average sized flies. 8/0 threads are finer than 6/0 threads and 6/0 threads are finer than 3/0 threads. Basically the higher the first number, the finer the thread. 6/0 threads are the traditional thread used by the majority of tiers, and will cover most of the fly tiers needs. There are finer threads available down to a 32/0 and these are used for the tiniest of flies, but care must be taken when using them as they are very easily broken. There are a number of threads on today’s markets that are made from a spun synthetic material, these are very fine and extremely strong, being almost impossible to break. There are literally hundreds of thread colours available, each manufacturer having their own variations of a colour. What colours you use is entirely up to you, but coloured thread can play a small part in producing different shades of dubbing when dubbing materials onto thread, for example a black thread will produce a slightly darker tone to a yellow dubbing than say a yellow thread when it is dubbed onto the thread. Threads also come prewaxed or unwaxed. Prewaxed threads are lightly waxed and it is personal choice which you use.

Wax is used to wax your thread, it can be helpful when dubbing some of the synthetic type dubbings but it is a debatable subject that wax actually has a use in fly tying. Waxes can be soft or hard and are usually made from a mixture of rosin and beeswax. I use wax for most of my tying particularly if I am using fur as a dubbing material.

Lead is used to add weight to your flies. It is generally used in the nymph and bug patterns but is also used in some lures. It comes in a variety of sizes and styles from lead wire to flat lead sheets.

So much could be written about feathers, they are the bread and butter of a fly tiers material inventory. To go into every detail of a feather would entail me writing a book on the subject, it is that vast a subject. Instead I am just going to mention a few of the main types of feather the fly tier would encounter.

Hackles: The hackle feather comes from different parts of the chicken and rooster. The top of the range hackles are the dry fly neck hackles from the cock birds genetically breed for the sole purpose of producing top quality feathers. The neck hackles as the name implies come from the neck of the bird and a long, stiff, slender hackle of a consistent length is produced. This hackle is used to create collars on dry flies and can also be used for the tails. Saddle hackles come from the rump/rear section of the bird they are similar to the neck hackle with the difference being that they produce a less consistent range of hackles. The neck and saddle hackles from the hen birds are generally webbier in appearance with the fibres being less stiff than the cock hackles, this producing a hackle that inverts a bit more movement suited ideally to the wet type flies. The hackles come in a multitude of colours both natural and dyed and in a variety of markings the most common being the Grizzly (alternating black and white bars across the feather).

Primaries: These are wing feathers used mainly as a winging material on dry and wet flies. They are also known as quills.

Body Feathers: These feathers make up what are better known as the soft hackles. They come from any part of the bird other than the wings and neck. The most commonly used ones in fly tying come from the partridge, grouse, guinea fowl, teal and mallard.

Herls: The herls come from the tails of birds like the peacock and ostrich. They are mainly used to create bodies but can also be used as a winging material.

Marabou: This is a soft, webby feather mainly from the turkey. They are used mostly as wings and tails on lure patterns. They can be dyed to great effect and there are many colours available to the fly tier.

Pheasant Tails: The tail feathers from a pheasant have many useful uses to the fly tier. They are very tough and natural looking making them ideal as a body versatile body material on nymph patterns, they can also be used as thorax covers, tails and legs.

Jungle Cock: These feathers are the most costly feather available to the fly tier. Their white and orange enamelled surface creates effective looking eyes on lures and salmon flies.

Biots: Biots are from the goose and turkey wings, they are short stiff fibres that can be used as both bodies and cheeks, they are also a prime substitute for the jungle cock feather.

CDC. These feathers have gained popularity over the last few years. They come from the rump area of a duck next to the prenal gland and because of their waterproof oil coating and intricate barbules are ideal for dry fly patterns.

Hair and Fur.
Hollow Hair: Hollow hair is the term used to describe hairs that within their make up have minute air pockets. This has two advantages to the fly tier this being the hair is buoyant and has a spongy consistency. The buoyancy qualities make it an ideal material for dry flies while the consistency allows it to flair allowing the tier to shape it, ideal for making heads. A hollow hair lends itself as the ideal material for dry fly wings and tails, and also as the perfect material for floating fry patterns. Deer hair is the most common hollow haired material and is the perfect material for a whole multitude of patterns that rely on hollow hair. It is fine enough to be used as a winging material and gives a good flaring due to its consistency. Elk hair is courser than deer hair and Caribou is the finest and spongiest and both have there place in certain applications.

Bucktail: A hard course hair used in the wings of dry flies but most commonly used in bait fish imitations and salt water flies.

Calf Tail: Same as bucktail but has a more kinked texture.

Squirrel Tail: A softer and finer material than bucktail, it is a very useful material in salmon fly patterns. It is stiff enough to hold its shape while give movement to the fly.

Moose Mane: A great material for tails of may fly patterns. It is a course fur than can be a bit more brittle than deer hairs.

Furs: There are many furs available to the fly tier. Rabbit, hares mask, muskrat, possum and fox are the standard furs used by the fly tier but almost any fur material could be used, the possibilities are endless. Hair is usually spun or dubbed onto the hook and is an ideal body material. Some furs have stiff guard hairs that can be separated from the softer under-fur and used as a winging or tailing material.

Chenille’s, Fritz, Flosses and Yarns.
Chenille: A material made up of dense fibres woven onto a thread core to create a nice rope ideal as a body material. It comes in various sizes and colours and is made from an assortment of base materials from suede to Antron.

Fritz: A material made in the same way as chenille but a lot less sparse and straggly. It is used in a lot of lure patterns and is the main material used for the infamous Blob patterns. There are some new Fritz materials on the market today namely the Straggle Fritz and Micro Fritz these are sparser still than the regular Fritz material, some incorporating UV fibres in them.

Floss: There are many, many colours of floss. It lends itself as a body material creating very smooth bodies. There are different strand sizes of floss, four strand, two strand and single strand. Floss used to be made of silk, although silk floss is still available (all be it scarce) it is now mostly made from Rayon. Smooth fingers are a must when using floss as it has a tendency to fray very easily, some tiers even wear silk gloves when working with floss to prevent it fraying.

Yarn: Yarns are used for a few applications within fly tying. They can be used as tails, tags, and spent wings or as a body material. Traditionally wool yarn was used, but all kinds of yarns are now available made from various materials mostly synthetic but a mix of natural and synthetic yarns are also available.

Synthetics are becoming more and more popular with new materials appearing frequently. Some of the above are made of synthetic materials and I am sure more will be seen on the market. There are many synthetic dubbing materials around, Antron, Flash-Brite, Ice dub and Glister Dub being some of the better known ones. There are also various ribbing and body materials around like Larva lace and Nymph Skin that produce life like realistic imitations. Synthetic winging materials are also abound with the likes of Krystal flash and Flashabou being very popular to add that twinkle to your flies. There are some very good tailing materials about, Micro Fibbets are a strong tapered material ideal for tails on many flies.

Tinsels and Wires.
Tinsel used to be made solely from metal but is now commonly made from “Mylar”. There are a few colours available with some being holographic in effect. Tinsels can be flat or oval in different widths and diameters are used as a body or ribbing material.
Wires come in many different colours and diameters and again are used as a body or ribbing material.

Marker Pens.
Marker pens are becoming more and more used within fly tying. They have many uses from colouring thread, floss etc to marking bodies on some patterns to create a realistic looking body.

Cements and Varnishes.
Used mostly for finishing off your flies, added to the head they form a hard coating preventing the fly from falling apart. They are also used for reinforcing fragile materials and coating bodies to make the fly more durable.

There are many more materials that can be incorporated into fly tying, there is no limit on the materials you could use and half the fun is discovering new ones.
I hope this has helped in identifying and using some of the most common materials used.

Wayne Snedden

Number of posts : 16
Age : 47
Location : Northern Ireland
Job/hobbies : Fly Fishing & Fly Tying
Humor : open
Registration date : 2008-02-06

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