Us impressionists are a tough crowd, you’ll regret us painting your house because of all the spots we miss – but we’ll march you across the street and insist the color looks fine.
We’ve got more theories and hare-brained ideas than the average fly tyer, most won’t hold water so we wander around the fly shop sighing heavily, and then go home and make it ourselves.
Materials vendors don’t cater to guys that tinker, and that single-shade pack of rabbit would work well on a small dry fly, but we’re cooking up something with lead and multiple X’s of hook shank. Two bucks worth of bunny bottom just don’t cut it, and while the Australian Opossum was close to the right color, we could’ve snorted that microdot of hair and not sneezed.
For us, 2 x 2″ is an appetizer, and at those prices an expensive one.
I was taught that a good dubbing is crafted like a fine cigar; comprised of filler, binder, and wrapper, special effects can be added after the dubbing is complete, but the basic recipe is identical to a good smoke.
There’s an art form to winding up with what you intended to make; almost everything you construct will have some usefulness – but the thinking and planning are relatively easy – execution takes a little practice.
You’ve got only three obstacles, texture, color, and target application. I started with a couple colors of wool yarn, tossing in a hint of this and a dab of that – then when I’d stumbled onto something good – found I could never make it again.
Jotting down some recipe notes is required – some units of measure would be nice too. Square inches of hide comes to mind, as in, “I clipped four square inches of coyote, added four square inches of green mink, and dipped the result in my coffee – accidentally.”
That’s enough to get close.
With my blends I’ve learned to target a hook size with the completed product. The precise mix of filler, wrapper, binder and special effects changes depending on whether you’re crafting dry fly dubbing, a general nymph blend, or something for making giant stonefly nymphs. My General use blends target a #12 hook, dry fly blends I’ll target a #16, and for big stuff, I’ll want a long shank #4.
The above rule isn’t hard and fast, it’s my personal preference – this allows general purpose blends to work with dry flies as well as nymphs.
Once comfortable with mixing and colors, use Coffin Creek Furs to score the skins you need. Always opt for the damaged ones as they’re the cheapest and you’ll be shaving it anyways.
Be forewarned that real hides from a furrier can be a really good deal. Beaver is sold as “rounds” – the skin is stretched to a circle, a 20″ round that’s damaged may only be $10.00. That’s an “extra large Pizza” worth of Beaver – and will make you reticent to pay $2.50 for the little dust motes sold by the fly shop…
Filler: The filler is comprised of inexpensive coarser hair – it may contain guard hair, but is usually typified by “curly” fur fiber. These bends and kinks will be preserved in the final product and will add air and mass to the blended furs so it resists matting.
Example: Australian Opossum, Mohair, Wool,
Binder: The binder is usually a semi-aquatic mammal. Their fur has the smallest filament size and is quite dense, it assists them to remain warm despite constant exposure to cold water. The binder will coat the filler and wrapper and assist your fingers when you want that mess on your thread. Binder is your friend and can tame the most unruly fur.
Example: Beaver, Mink, Muskrat, Otter, (if nothing else is available, rabbit)
Wrapper: Wrapper is present on blends for larger flies and can be omitted for building fine dry fly dubbing. Wrapper is usually an animal that has pronounced guard hairs – often with a light band that can absorb dye. It provides “spike” to the blend and breaks up the uniformity of the other two furs.
Just as important, because we choose it for the guard hair, we’re introducing six or seven new shades to the blend. If you’re going to dye the result those shades will break up the even color and add light and dark splotches within the mix.
Example: Hare’s Mask, Red Fox Squirrel body, Woodchuck body
Special Effects: Special effects describe any enhancements added like glitter, shine, or contrasting color. Materials chosen impart an affect to the entire mix like spectrum or sparkle.
My use of sparkle increased with proximity to Brownline prey. The waters are often milky with effluent during peak farming periods – and coupled with Winter drainage I have to help fish see my offering.
That’s translated well to trout fishing, as I’ve found the pedigreed blue water fish like a hint of sparkle in their food too. Usually the special effect component is less than 10% of the final blend.
Example: Baby Seal, Soft Crimp Angelina (Ice Dub), and Spectral
Spectral is the color combination of the primary and secondary colors of the color wheel; scarlet, yellow, cyan, orange, purple, green.
Use a coffee grinder (maybe $15) to blend colors and fur, most of the fur you’ll be using is less than an inch in length and won’t bind the grinder motor. Lacking a grinder, use a empty quart jam jar half filled with water – shaken vigorously it’ll mix hair in seconds.
If your fur source is fresh killed or road kill, toss in some shampoo to remove guts, blood, and tire marks. Repeat with clean water to rinse. Large batches are best mixed with a big container or a garbage bag.
Smaller hooks need more binder (the really fine fur), general use blends are roughly an equal mix, and the large hooks require more filler and wrapper. The completed mix shouldn’t require the tyer to load the thread more than twice to finish the fly body, and if you find yourself adding more than a couple applications of fur – your blend is best suited for a smaller hook.
The indispensable materials are Beaver and Red Fox Squirrel body, both are dirt cheap and plentiful. You’ll get additional use if your source has the Squirrel body in tanned flavor – as it makes the stunning fur strip leeches – the bands of color makes the rabbit versions look limp in comparison.
Adapt, evolve, and overcome – free yourself of what’s on the retailer’s shelf and make what you really need, just remember to clean the kitchen spotless – or it’s your hide we’ll be admiring.
Above is a general purpose blend of Australian Opossum, Red Fox squirrel body, and dark gray beaver. In it’s present form it’s useful for both dry flies and nymphs. I’ll add chopped polyamide “clownshoes” colors – leftover from the streamers I tied for a spectral color effect, and add about 5% sparkle to the blend using Soft Crimp Angelina, in the opalescent “Aurora Borealis” color.
The Polyamide fibers are tiny – half the width of a beaver fiber, so the spectral affect will not be pronounced, it’ll still look like a gray blend until I dub the flies where a close examination should make colors show more plainly.
A close up of the finished blend; three natural furs, polyamide, and Soft Crimp Angelina. The polyamide fibers offer a very subtle color effect.
… and a #12 Copper Ribbed Hare’s Ear tied with the mixture. I touched the thorax up with Velcro to add some additional scruffiness.
Total preparation time for the fur blend was five minutes, resulting in about ½ ounce of this color. That’s a ball as big around as your clenched fist – and should tie a couple hundred dozen trout flies.