5 tips to selecting good deer/elk hair

Avoid bad hair days with these simple steps

Mini Workers help fly orders

I have been working on some fly orders lately and realized that I needed a new patch of elk hair for some caddis patterns.  I used to just go to the shop and grab whichever package of hair was "next in line" to be purchased, but over the years of having bad hair experiences, I have changed my strategy drastically.  I realized that there is almost a checklist of things that I look at to ensure that I buy the good stuff.  This checklist is also a good way to get looked at funny while you are shopping.

  1. Not all hair is created equally.  Decide what flies you need to tie and buy hair specific to each technique.  It's obvious that deer is different from elk, and caribou is different from moose, but each person might have their preferences.  I know this is somewhat common knowledge, so I won't go into it too much...  Some tyers prefer deer hair for tying elk hair caddis patterns, and others might use elk for spinning instead of deer.  I have many patches of deer hair that I label on the back with a sharpie.  I have specific patches for humpies, comparaduns, bass bugs, stimulators etc.  Point is; don't always trust what the package says until you can check it out for yourself.
  2. Check the black tips!!! (for deer and elk)  This is critical in buying a piece of hair.  Right at the tip of each hair, there is a black tip that looks pretty cool, but it is really fine and basically useless in tying.  That part of the hair is not hollow, so it doesn't aid the buoyancy of the fly at all.  When you are looking at a package of hair, make sure that the black tips are not very long, and that they are all relatively the same length.
    An example of good black tip length.
  3. Check for underfur.  Our hooved friends have to stay warm in the winter, so during the colder months they grow underfur that serves as insulation.  If the animal was harvested during the cold months, it is likely that the fur will have a lot of underfur.  It's not the end of the world if it has a lot of underfur because it can be combed out, BUT... if it is not completely removed, it will absorb water and eventually cause your fly to sink.  Ideally, you should buy patches of hair with minimal underfur.  Worst case scenario, you can brush it out with the Wasatch Fur Comb.  Arguably my favorite tying tool.
    Wasatch Fur Comb
  4. Check for length and color.  If you are looking for a good patch of hair for #4 salmon flies, you should probably be looking for something that is longer than average.  If you are looking for comparadun hair, look for something shorter and finer (I say this because I have bought packs that were labeled "comparadun" that were junk.  I have also found hair that was not labeled as "costal" or "comparadun" that works great for comparaduns.)  Also look for the color you want in a natural hair patch.  Each animal can vary slightly, so just because it is labeled "natural" it doesn't mean that it will always be the same color.
  5. Check overall condition of the patch.  Most manufacturers do a pretty good job of eliminating the bad hair, but there may be patches of hair that have a lot of broken or mangled hair on them.  It might be from the animal falling down, being shot etc.etc.  When you are looking over your hair patch, make sure that all (or most of) the tips are intact, and that they are relatively straight.

And as luck would have it, we stock a lot of high quality hand-selected deer and elk -- especially the incredible stuff from Nature's Spirit. Check it all out here.

~ Cheech