I’m preparing to teach a Zoom fly tying class in a couple of weeks. I thought it would be an appropriate time to share a few thoughts about selecting the proper deer hair to tie Sparkle Dun and X Caddis flies. As a bonus, I’ll include information about hair I use for Stimulators and Clark’s Golden Stones.
I recently created one of my first YouTube fly tying videos. It happens to teach a Sparkle Dun mayfly. You’ll find the link below. Many people have asked me to create videos. It’s a start. We’ll see how many I record.
The reason I selected Sparkle Dun and X Caddis flies to teach is because both are relatively easy to tie with the proper technique and use the same three materials:
- Zelon shuck
- Dubbed body
- Deer hair wing
The only difference in these flies are how the wings are set and the characteristic of the deer hair to help accomplish the desired profile:
If you follow my weekly posts, you’ve read about the success using Sparkle Duns and X Caddis in my fly fishing. These two flies have worked so well for me. One of the reasons is I tie them on my leader and fish them!
I enjoy using a dry fly to fool trout with mayfly, caddis, and stonefly imitations. These are the flies I tie the most. Last year I tied almost 600 Sparkle Duns and close to 200 Caddis in a variety of sizes.
So I tie a LOT of these flies. I wrote a post last year, Sparkle Dun Deer Hair, but I thought I’d share my knowledge about the characteristics of deer hair I use to tie my favorite flies.
And before you ask, I don’t tie a lot of flies utilizing spun deer hair. I’ve tied these, but generally don’t fish with them. I’ll concentrate of the deer hair I use for the flies I tie.
Let’s proceed with a little helpful information about selecting deer hair for tying upright wings for mayflies, tented wings for caddis, and long fluttering wings for stoneflies.
Selecting the proper deer hair for tying your flies will go a long way in successfully creating a beautiful, well-proportioned fly.
I’ve purchased deer hair from Blue Ribbon Flies (BRF) in West Yellowstone, MT for several years. Their fly patterns had a profound impact on my fly tying over the years.
I like to select my own deer hair, checking for the properties specific to the application. I was able to do that when stopping in West Yellowstone at BRF. Their Sparkle Dun deer hair bins were empty last summer when I stopped.
The other source I highly recommend for quality deer hair (and other hair) is Nature’s Spirit. You’ll probably find Ziploc bags of hair in your local fly shop. I think they have exceptional quality.
Here are deer hair descriptions from the Nature’s Spirit website.
Comparadun – Only a select few pieces meet our strict standards for tying comparaduns and sparkle duns. The tips must be short and the hair fine, but not so fine that it won’t compress. Correct Compression in the key to a nicely tapered body and wing which will flair and stand up correctly.
X Caddis – This is fairly short and fine hair with just enough compression to create a slightly flared wing. Some what longer tips and less compression than our comparadun hair.
Stimulator – The richly colored hair from the backstrip of mid to late season deer is just right for Stimis. When stacked the barring is amazingly beautiful. Just the right stiffness and compression.
All Purpose – This is high-quality hair that can tie a variety of flies, yet fails to fit neatly into our other more specific categories. Every tier will find a use for this hair. The mule deer is one of my favorite because of the rich gray tones.
Spinning – Late season hides graded for length (1 ½ to 3 inches), minimum underfur, good textures, straightness and hair density on the hide. Suitable for a wide range of spinning applications.
Hock – comes primarily from early season whitetails. It is finely barred with very short tips, with enough compression to make it ideal for small comparaduns, sparkle duns and caddis.
Note: Thanks to Nature’s Spirit for their permission in using the descriptions above.
No matter what type of deer hair you select, avoid patches with broken tips, curved fibers, and underfur.
Here is what I look for to tie Sparkle Duns (or Comparadun – the only difference is the tail).
There are three distinct colors in the image above: very short black tips, short tan section, and finally a long gray section extending to the hide.
Total fiber length isn’t the overriding factor in selecting deer hair for an upright wing. I look at the gray section because that’s where I want the thread wrap to be and create the right amount of flare for the wing. This area of the fiber is hollow, allowing it to flare.
Here are three patches of deer hair from my material stash:
The patch on the right will tie several sizes of flies because even though each fiber is longer than the one in the middle, the gray (or grayish-tan) is long enough to tie size 8 and 10 flies. The other patches might tie up to size 14, but I use them specifically for size 16 – 20 flies.
The patch on the left is dyed dun, which looks great on an imitation of a BWO. It’s more difficult to see the segmentation because the patch has been dyed, but it still has the same characteristics. I’m not sure the fish care, but it looks good!
Let me reiterate, the length of the fiber isn’t what is most important to me. I look for short black tips first, a short tan section, then the length of gray to determine what size flies I think the patch will tie.
For X Caddis, I like several patches in a variety of colors. Here is a patch with good coloration.
But there’s a problem with this patch. It’s hard to see until viewed from a different angle.
The underfur. Underfur is natural in deer hair. They grow it to keep them warm in the cold winter months. Deer harvested in the early season don’t have underfur (or have very little). That’s why I check each piece. You can spend the time combing it out, but why not select a piece that doesn’t have any to begin with? I must have purchased this piece because I liked the color (still do) and thought I could get all the underfur out. It takes so much time though, I’ll probably never use it.
But why is underfur bad, you ask? It doesn’t allow the deer hair to compress which might cause it to spin around the hook and it soaks up water, causing the fly to sink.
To eliminate these problems, I open the Ziploc bags in the fly shop and check for the size of black tips, broken tips, and the amount of underfur in each piece. Just ask if it’s OK to open the bag first as a courtesy.
Here is a closeup image of a good piece for an X Caddis.
Each of the fibers still have black tips, but they are longer. The tan segment is a little longer as well and extends a bit into the gray section. These factors don’t allow the hair to flare as much, a characteristic important when tying a caddis wing.
The image above shows a light and dark patch. To imitate a tan Caddis, I’d select fibers from the left patch. For olive Caddis, I like to use darker fibers on the right. The main thing to notice is there isn’t distinct segmentation like the Sparkle Dun deer hair.
Like I stated above, open the Ziploc bags in the fly shop and check for the size of black tips, broken tips, and the amount of underfur in each piece.
Here is a link to my RiverKeeper Flies YouTube channel where I demonstrate tying the X Caddis.
Let’s move onto deer hair for Stimulators and Clark’s Golden Stones. Here is an old patch I still use from Kaufmann’s Streamborn fly shop many years ago.
This deer hair has the right coloration to imitate a Golden Stonefly. In addition, it doesn’t flare too much when compressing it with several thread wraps, a key characteristic when tying wings to imitate the fluttering stonefly. Notice it doesn’t have the definition of the three bands mentioned above.
I’ll say it again, open the Ziploc bags in the fly shop and check for the size of black tips, broken tips, and the amount of underfur in each piece.
I recently created one of my first YouTube fly tying videos. It happens to teach a Sparkle Dun mayfly. Here is a link you my channel:
I hope this information has been helpful and will improve the flies coming off your vise.
Enjoy…go fish, stay safe!
Thank you John for doing your blog. I keep some of these (and this is one) for review before tying because I sometimes forget proper sequencing and proportions not to mention techniques. Since PHW stopped, I don’t get the practice I used to get.
Well done John! I’ve enjoyed your blog for years and really appreciate you taking the time to film and publish your tying. Sparkle duns have been a go-to pattern for decades, but only in the last couple years did I really learn how to select deer hair and how to tie them correctly. Before that, I just called Craig and he chose the right hair and sent along with that years new stuff. I also agree that just about everything Nature’s Spirit sells is premium and I’ve noticed that I’m developing a little hoarding tendency when it comes to great deer hair :-). Thanks again @fishbum916
thanks John..great info…Galloup’s Slide Inn also sells quality comparadun hair. If you are in his neighborhood, he’ll even hand pick a patch from his private stash. I really enjoyed the Youtube videos too. Hope you’ll keep that up!
John, enjoyed the video and especially the explanation of selecting deer hair.