On the Fly: The duality of fall hunting and fly tying

Photo of a hand-tied fly.
Louis Cahill Photography/Courtesy photo

Sustainability is the watchword these days, and harvesting meat for your freezer can also pay dividends for you and your fly-tying friends.

Fall hunting goes hand in hand with the tyers bench; therefore, harvesting meat and materials can coincide. Flies are still tied by hand these days, and over a century ago, anglers began to discover the unique properties that hair and feather added to their offerings. Synthetic materials (foam, polypropylene, yarn, tubing) seem to be the norm with more fly patterns every year, but the basic natural ingredients are still found in almost every fly. An elk hair caddis can be tied with 100% natural materials minus the thread and hook, but a foam hopper may have no natural materials at all.

Deer and elk body hair are essentially hollow, providing excellent floating characteristics with dry flies. Rabbit, coyote, bear, and moose lend different qualities to fly patterns, as well. The spiky guard hairs from a hare’s or coyote mask are absolutely essential for trapping air bubbles in the venerable hare’s ear nymph, and most green drake dries have moose mane tails.

Ptarmigan, grouse, partridge, pheasant, turkey, duck, and goose feathers are used extensively in the fly tying world, let alone the birds we don’t hunt for – peacock, chickens, emu, guinea, and the like. Turkey quills are usually found on a stonefly nymph or hopper legs, and the flats make terrific wings on mayfly dries. No soft hackle looks right without a speckled partridge collar and the lifelike qualities of bright peacock herl are essential in the Pheasant Tail, Brassie, and Twenty Incher flies.

Some materials are no longer legal to buy or sell, including jungle cock feathers and polar bear fur. Some countries are clamping down on shipping peacock overseas, which has introduced some difficulty with stocking fly shops here in the US with quality flies.

Overall, materials are much easier to come by than “back in the day.” If you knocked down an elk, deer, or a few grouse this fall, give your fly-tying buddies a call. Or better yet, find a vise and some hooks, and head down the fly-tying rabbit hole.