Synthetic vs. Natural Materials

Substitute for your benefit

The Foam Dragon has a heavy dose of foam

One day I was driving around town and realized that I was pretty close to a fly shop that I hadn't visited in years so I stopped in to check it out.  I did the typical stuff a sick minded fly tyer does by checking out the tips on the patches of deer and elk hair, looked for any premo patches of calf body hair, and looked to see if they had any hackle capes that I couldn't live without.  Well, no dice on finding any gems to add to my tying collection, but I did get an education that day, albeit an unwarranted one...  A shop employee had just finished a batch of some pretty cool looking flies and when I asked them about them he preached a beautiful sermon about only using natural materials in flies because of this, and because of that...  I just kind of nodded my head and carried on even though there was plenty of flashabou in the flies.  I almost asked what animal we get mylar from...

Before I go on a rant about "natural only," I will say this - I think there is definitely a place for natural materials on the bench, and I use them a LOT.  Hackle, deer elk and moose hair, peacock herl, pheasant tails, the list goes on...  If tying with natural materials only is one of the motivating factors for tying flies, have at em'!  BUT...  (There is a big but here) When it becomes less practical to tie with natural materials it's perfectly fine to use synthetics.  Here is a list of some of the synthetics that will make your life easier.

Foam seems to be the biggest offender in this debate.  Let's see here...  you can buy an 8x10 sheet of foam from a craft store for about 99 cents, it's super buoyant, it's durable, and it can be tied into about a bazillion shapes.  In my mind it's the fly tying super material, yet some guys look down on tying and fishing with foam.  I will say that I have met many a fish that will turn their nose up at a 100% foam fly, so I try to mix it up with some patterns.  For example, the Stoneflopper is a fly that has a lot of thick foam in it, but the body is built out of scraggly AZ synthetic dubbing that breaks up the hard lines of the foam.  I also try to substitute foam for spun deer hair as much as I can because it's more durable, and it's less time consuming.  There are a lot of really good foam popper and diver heads on the market, or you can form your own topwater bugs out of sheet foam (Check out the bearded lady).

The Grumpy Frumpy has a section of yarn for the wing and tail

We have heard it called antron, darlon, zelon, klingon etc.  There are many consistencies of synthetic yarns of this type, and they are all pretty good for tying.  Whether its for making a trailing shuck on a mayfly or caddis, or a parachute post on a dry fly, these yarns have the properties that you need.  One of the products that excels for both parachute posts and trailing shucks etc. is Hareline's sparkle emerger yarn.  For a shuck, you use less, for a parachute post, you use more...

This is an area where synthetics go crazy, and there are many different types of chenilles available for tyers.  There are very think chenilles meant to replace a dubbed body on a nymph, all the way to long fibered chenilles meant for bulkier streamer patterns.  Curtis ties the Foammerger with EZ magic dub as the body, and it is one of our top flies for picky fish.  I like to substitute palmer chenille into flies that call for hackle for a more flashy effect.

Streamer fibers
The Bearded Lady has synthetic fibers for a tail
I call these "streamer fibers" because they are typically longer fibers used to tie streamers from.  Some of the popular names are EP fibers, Congo hair, Super hair, and my two new favorites; Flash 'n Slinky, and Steve Farrar UV Blend.  There are not too many animals that are regularly harvested that have long flowy hair that is readily available.  Yes, there is Yak, but there is even a synthetic Yak now that really fishes well.  The idea is that these materials allow a tyer to have consistency in long fibered materials for tying bigger flies.  They are also very durable.

Hare's Ear with AZ Synthetic Dubbing
Dubbing is probably my favorite tying material of all time.  You can do so much with dubbing, and there seems to be a dubbing for everything these days.  I love some good ol' hare's ear or squirrel dubbing still, but when you start mixing in flashy synthetic stuff it really changes the game!  I use everything from AZ synthetic dubbing which is 100% synthetic, to super blends like Dave Whitlock's SLF dubbing, which consists of natural and synthetic fibers.  Try tying a hare's ear out of SLF RSF Abdomen color and watch fish crush it! Substitute dubbing at will...

I know that the number of people who absolutely detest synthetic materials is fairly small, but if you get a better feel for synthetic materials you will be able to substitute them more freely in your tying.  Synthetics can help you tie faster, and they can add more durability in your flies too!


View tutorials for the flies listed,

Foam Dragon
Kicked up Hare's Ear
Grumpy Frumpy
Bearded Lady