Compulsive material acquisition disorder

Ben says: "Turns out materials are a real bitch so this is a two parter with an exciting cliff-hanger..."

The Fur Flies

Once upon a time in a far and distant land (Scotland) people used to use human hair within the tying of their flies. Yes, apparently the female pheromone is irresistible to salmon although it's plainly obvious this was just an ingenious pulling technique and in certain cases the principle incentive behind the ancient right of prima nocta. Being the kind of dedicated angler that I am, and for the benefit of the sexyloops community I have decided to undertake a little experiment in an attempt to ascertain whether this ancient pulling technique actually works. Stay tuned.

The lengths people go to in acquiring the perfect material are legendary, I remember how shocked I was to hear what Tup's Indispensables were actually made of. Mr. GEM Skues, RS Austin, and CA Hassam apparently kept this a secret from the rest of the world believing it to be so good it should remain that way. What is a tup? I hesitantly muttered to the farmer who was explaining this to me. "Tups are the testicles of a ram", "bollocks" I said, "absolutely" he replied. Apparently the idea was based on the pheromone theory, which coming from a farmer worried me slightly. I will not be undertaking any experiments regarding this ancient technique, I'm not that dedicated.

dubbing the way nature intendedObsessive is not the word; in fact there is no word for this kind of problem. 'Compulsive material acquisition disorder' lies at the base of practically every fly fishing related domestic dispute throughout the world. "You are not putting that in my fridge", "yes I am", "no you're not", "yes I am!!" It is responsible for destroyed fleeces, cut up carpets, sliced curtains and empty pillows. Right now I see at least eight household items all of which can be cut up and tied to a hook. A good point I *must* make is that it's essential to have the owner's permission, especially if you have nowhere else to live.

The range of materials available is bewildering. Madonna said it best, we are living in a material word, and I am a material… NO wait, I take it back. I think you've got my point by now.


Most materials are relatively easy to deal with; if a set of tying instructions suggests hare's fur you look in a catalogue (or shop) and buy it, simple. For this reason I'm going to be as brief as possible with most of this section. Fly tying materials come in six forms, hair, fur, feather, synthetics, weight and ribs.

Fair and Hur

dubbing cunningly disguised so that we are not really sure what it isDeer, elk, bear, antelope, squirrel, calf, fox, goat and moose are just a few of the species that provide hair for fly tying, not willingly of course. Hair is used primarily for wings and tails, an example of which would include flies of the Wulff family. Remember the wax experiment, very coarse materials will not form any kind of rope and will therefore be unsuitable for most bodies. The hair of some species is hollow (deer and elk are prime examples) which make them excellent additions to any fly needing a little extra buoyancy (think muddler). Most other hairs are not hollow and are either used for wet flies, in particular those of the hair winged salmon and sea trout family or for very realistic nymph legs and tails.

Fur is an altogether different story. Fur is used for fly bodies, is generally very fine and will form a rope very easily. Species such as hare, rabbit, muskrat, mole, seal and squirrel are some of the commonest purveyors. Look at a piece of fur (rabbit for example), you'll notice a layer of stiff guard hairs under which you'll find the soft under fur, this is what we want. When any kind of fur is applied to a thread it ceases to be fluff and miraculously transmogrifies into something known as dubbing. Dubbing can be bought in ready-made form or on the skin; your choice is personal preference. If you want a very fine dubbing and have bought 'on the skin' then you'll have to remove all the little guard hairs (this takes a very long time). It's a bit like bubble wrap, once you start it's very hard to stop, at the end your nerves will be shot, your patience will be gone and you'll start to realize how truly sad fly fishermen can be. The other side of the coin is that you could walk into a shop and ask for dry fly dubbing.

For some flies it is essential to have a spiky body, this is where buying on the skin can outweigh ready-made. There is no hassle, you simply select some guard hair and mix it with the appropriate amount of under fur to bind it all together and hey presto, spiky dubbing. As with many of the subjects discussed so far there are no real rules, animals renowned for their hair will also have useful fur and visa versa. You could stay with soft for bodies and coarse for everything else or you could mix and match. Different furs and different hairs combined can create a huge range of textures for every occasion you'll ever face. You can do pretty much everything with shop bought dubbing but have a go all the same; you may even find something new.

Ruffled and Ready

Oh dear, I've really not being looking forward to this bit, I'm a simple angler, I use road kill!! Give me a break!!!

Feathers, they're wonderful things, Icarus didn't think so but I do. Practically every fly has some kind of feather tied to it. Tails, wings, legs and bodies, to live without them we would simply be hook chuckers (or bait fishermen, shudder!). There are two many kinds of feather to mention, the subject really deserves an article in its self (not by me) so I am just going to give what I think are some useful points.

Useful Points

A feather consists of various components, each have their own use and will vary depending on the type of bird and the area from which the feather has been taken. It is therefore a general guide and a very basic one at that.

ostich, emu, peacock - just a small selection from Ben's road killThe barbs - Are the fibres that stick out from the central quill (the stiff bit up the middle). Most barbs have tiny fibres protruding from them, in some cases these fibres are in the form of tiny hooks that act by holding the barbs together. This tendency to hold together rather than easily separate is known as web: the stiffer the hooks - the greater the holding power (web) and visa versa. On birds such as the Ostrich, Emu and Peacock these fibres are much larger resulting in the barbs being unable to hold together, barbs in this case are generally called Herl. Both Herl and barb are pretty much the same thing in different scales and can be tied in as a tail, wound to form a body, used for wing pads/wings and much more. Yum! I call it all Herl but some people don't so I've mentioned it to save confusion.

this is a feather; it's got barbs, fuzzy bits and an ability to groove'Going Down - At the base of the feather the barbs/fibres/Herl start to become fuzzy. This is called down. Down fibres are often used for very fuzzy bodies and sometimes tails or gills on invertebrate copies. I've never really used it so it's in for the sake of completeness. Value for money? I think so.

Quill - The stiff bit up the middle (dapper as always). The purpose of the quill is to hold the barbs, most quills have no use, (unless you lose your biro), but some feathers have very narrow quills that when the barbs are removed can be wound to form really groovy fly bodies.

Flanks for the memory

Yet more useful points.

more feathers - these ones are good for ticklingWings - feathers for wings vary; at times we may want to see each individual barb protruding from the fly whilst at others we may want them held together. Regarding the latter we would be looking for the large primary feathers (think quill pen) from the bird's wing. The barbs upon these feathers are heavily webbed and will therefore hold their form when cut and applied to a hook. Classic winging feathers in this style include those found upon beasties such as crows, mallard, teal, partridge and starling. Regarding the former, some of the most common feathers with that little bit less holding power include neck, flank feathers of various species including those above and pheasant tails. There are many more but these are some of the commonest available.

And still they come.

Tails - Anything that sticks out really.

Comprehensive and straight to the point.

Hackle - A hackle is not a feather. To tie in a hackle is to use a feather in a specific way. Certain feathers are more suited to this purpose than others and are subsequently known as hackle feathers. Suitability is dependant upon the area of plucking, back, flank, wing etc. The term hackle is used to describe the winding of a quill, barbs and all, around a hook. When wound the barbs protrude outwards around the circumference of the hook shank in the style of a collar. Anything with suitable flexibility can be used. Common hackle feathers include items such as Grouse, Partridge, Woodcock and Snipe to name but a few, they are the nice soft mildly webby feathers that are found on the breast, belly, flank and back of most game birds. They're nice, cheap and easy to work with. However, there is a dark side to hackle feathers.

To be continued...

Next week: Swedish blonds, Condoms, ribbed or not, chunky monster bugs and more.

Yes more.

Much more

And I'm on holiday

Send your complaints to



Not quite

Zonkers, edding pens and more condoms

Yes more

It's never ending

Send your complaints to

I think he's banned me from the bulletin board

Wait for it……..

(Sharp intake of breath)


Ben Spinks studies fishery science, "I have to complete 3 environmental survey reports, 2 netting operations, 4 exams and a seminar on lake restoration. This is insane, I only went to uni for sex, drugs, rock and roll and sex" and is our flytying moderator on the bulletin board. He also ties a mean fly... so what are you waiting for, ladies?

Return to whence you came
Return to home page