Six tips and recipes from professional pattern designers to help you master fly tying’s most demanding material.
[story and photos by Ben Duchesney]
Start tying your own flies, and you’ll soon want to try deer hair; one of the most useful, but also most frustrating fly-tying materials available. Once you learn to master the material, you can start experimenting with your own flies and present patterns the fish have never seen.
Whether you’ve never tied with deer hair before or you’ve struggled with seemingly elemental deer-hair tying techniques, here are a few tips from pro tiers that will have you spinning, stacking, and trimming your way to better deer-hair patterns in no time. Try these tricks and experiment with these recipes, and before you know it, you’ll be showing off your deer-hair patterns without embarrassment.
Pack it Tighter
Pat Cohen, the owner and fly-pattern designer behind Super Fly custom fly tying (www.rusuperfly.com), is a master of bass bugs and deer hair.
“With deer hair there are endless creative possibilities,” Cohen says. “Packing it super tight with a packing tool will make a fly ride high and dry; plus you can add color combos, bars, spots, and blends. It’s all possible with hair.”
Pat’s advice for bass bugs is to stack deer hair. Don’t spin it.
“Stacking allows for much more control of the hair and a tighter all around pack,” Cohen says. “A packing tool will help get things even tighter and will keep the fly together longer. When you compare a hair bug made with a tool, like my Fugly Packer, to a guy that uses his fingers or a pen cap, they can’t be compared.”
Cohen also says to use plenty of glue. “Glue is your friend,” he says. “Put glue between stacks of hair, put it on your thread… Glue helps hold everything in place and makes a more durable bug. It is not cheating.”
Cohen’s Deer-hair Favorite:
“My Diving Frog is an adaptation of Larry Dahlberg’s Deer Hair Diver and is one of my favorite patterns to tie to target both largemouth and smallmouth bass on topwater,” says Cohen. “If you are only ever going to learn one bass bug pattern, this one is perfect.”
The Diving Frog
HOOK: Partridge Attitude Extra, size 2/0.
THREAD: White 210 Denier Flat Waxed Nylon for the weed guards and legs, Hot-Orange 200 denier Veevus GSP for hair.
WEED GUARDS: 50-pound monofilament.
LEGS: Cohen’s Creatures’ Green Frog Legs colored with a black Sharpie.
BODY: Mottled green, natural, white, black, and yellow deer belly hair.
LEGS: Hareline’s green/black medium and black/tan round barred rubber legs.
EYES: Monster (6mm) Clear Cure Eyes.
TRIM: Use a fresh razor blade to cut the deer hair with steady, controlled strokes.
Taking bass bug techniques and patterns and adapting them for saltwater applications is a deadly tactic, and Lee Weil of Deer Lee Beloved Custom Flies (www.leeweilflies.com) is the queen of the technique. Knowing good hair quality from bad and being able to distinguish one from another before you sit at the tying bench will quickly make you a better tier and allow you to tie better flies for different applications.
“Tie many different types of patterns with many different types of deer hair so you’ll learn to handle the hair in different ways,” says Weil. “That’s when you’ll quickly start to see that different hair works for different types of flies.”
Weil says to look for the right hair in person as opposed to catalog or online orders.
“The fly tying symposiums are a great place to shop, and they often sell the long, 12-inch strips which are good quality and of consistent texture,” she says.
Fly shops are also a safe bet, especially if you call ahead to the proprietor and order the specific color or length you need.
“Look for hair that is not brittle, and stay away from patches with broken tips,” she says. “When purchasing dyed patches look for consistency in color, and stroke the hair to see if the color goes all the way down to the hide.”
Once you find the right hair for the type of fly you want to tie, “it’s a lot easier to tie,” says Weil.
“Also, purchase a good quality, adjustable bobbin,” she says. “Being able to adjust your thread tension will let you crank it down to your comfort level and achieve better consistency with your thread pressure.” In other words, no more popping your thread in the most critical step of tying your bass bugs.
Weil’s Deer-hair Favorite:
“A new pattern that I’ve been working on for three years that I really like is the Wedgie,” says Weil. Designed to imitate an old school, wooden plug, Weil uses it to target freshwater bass. “But I’ve also made saltwater versions and have caught nice striped bass with it.”
HOOK: Bass bug or stinger hook, size 6 to 2/0.
THREAD: White 200 denier Veevus GSP thread.
TAIL: Yellow and white marabou, Krystal Flash, Flashabou, and orange splayed saddle hackle.
FIN: Orange deer body hair with the tips flaring toward the rear of the fly.
BODY: Orange, yellow, white and black deer body hair, tied with the first tips facing the rear of the hook.
EYES: Spirit River 3D Prism stick on eyes.