What's so good about snowshoe I hear you ask? Several things;
- It's very buoyant, it'll do a better job of floating a dry fly (and a nymph) than CDC and most synthetics and is probably on a par with deer hair.
- It's tough, much tougher than deer hair or CDC. Obviously synthetic yarns are more durable, but there's not much in it and it doesn't matter as both will likely outlast hackles and tails.
- It doesn't need much looking after while fishing. This is a big one for me, I don't want to be spending ages trying to get slime off of a fly then drying it, primping it back into shape and reapplying floatant. Snowshoe is so easy to clean, fish slime just washes off like magic in the water, a quick blow of air, or the rubber band trick will have it dry and ready to fish instantly.
- It'll take any floatant, even if carelessly over applied. OK you can overdo it, but it's pretty hard to gunk up a snowshoe wing like you can with CDC. I like to treat snowshoe to a good rub of mucilin while I'm still at home, ideally a few days before fishing. This will keep your fly floating without re-treatment for several fish. On the water I just use gink if needed, which it might not be.
- It's great for small flies, and can be used on sizes where deer hair or foam would be near impossible and certainly ineffective. Yes you can use CDC or yarn for tiny stuff but it doesn't float the fly as well.
- You get dubbing and winging material in one, and it's good dubbing. I just have a little tub sitting on the desk when using snowshoe and when I clean out the fuzz or short stuff, it goes in the tub, no extra work! You can,of course, use other dubbing material or dub CDC, but you either need to buy it or sit and trim scrap feathers before blending the cuttings. Deer hair can be dubbed too, but also needs chopping and working or blending.
So what are the downsides? Honestly I think they're hard to find. The length of the hair is probably one, it's generally shorter than a good CDC feather or normal deer hair, but then you'd have to be tying a pretty big fly for that to be a problem. I do think there is a perception that it needs more prep or is difficult to work with, but that's not really true. Putting a knife between the toes and splitting the foot is the only thing that might seem troublesome, but you only do that once every 1000 flies or so. I suppose it doesn't look as neat or well behaved as CDC and deer, which probably makes it less aesthetically appealing to the angler, its functionality and the fact that the fish generally don't give two hoots about our aesthetic sensibilities outweighs that for me. The POD is a little split wing dun with the snowshoe tied exactly as you would a couple of CDC feathers, and I think it looks just as good as CDC!
All in all, snowshoe is a great material and it certainly doesn't warrant the label of the poor man's CDC that you sometimes see. It's a superior material, it's just not as fashionable.