Tying with deer hair

by Ray Blades | May 27, 2016
Tying with deer hair

Since bass season is nearly upon us, I figured I better hit the vise and work on a few bass bugs to replenish my fly box.

I’ve been tying files for close to four decades now — math hurts. Not one to toot my own horn, but I can tie a decent fly.

Like many, I specialize, and tie some patterns better than others. But when it comes to spinning deer hair, I cringe. Not for any love lost for deer hair— it makes a beautiful fly. And not because spinning and cutting deer hair is always a messy ordeal.

Spinning deer hair forces you to be a good tier on so many levels. You need to be able to source good hair for tying; you need to be able to spin, stack, and pack — without constantly breaking thread; and, if all goes well up to that point, you need to be able to bring that porcupine mess on a hook to life, and trim the hair to shape.

Steve Wascher flies
Steve Wascher’s flies

One bad push of a blade or chomp of scissors and your time here is over. There’s nothing you can patch over with a pretty marabou feather, which is my fallback — hence the cringe.

That’s why I met up with Steve Wascher. The Western New York state native has been tying flies for 50 years. He started working with deer hair in 1970, with hair from a deer his dad shot that fall. Spinning and stacking deer hair has been his focus, and he’s internationally recognized as one of the best at his craft. A quick look at any of his deer hair creations will tell you why.

Here are a few tips from Steve and a video that will help you, and me, tie better deer-hair flies.

Wascher’s Tools
-Bobbin with tension control, like a Rite Bobbin
-Hair packer, like Cohen’s Fugly Packer
-Two pairs of serrated scissors, one with straight blades and one with curved blades, like Dr. Slick
-Double-edged razor blades
-Thread: 130 to 200 denier GSP (Gel Spun Polyester)

Buying deer hair
Try to pick the longest dear body hair you can find, and look for sponginess (density) and clean hair. Stay away from fine and short hair. You can buy online, but Wascher prefers to hand pick deer body hair patches at stores.

How much hair to use at once?
If you are spinning or stacking, use a pencil thickness clump of hair.

Thread tension
Thread tension is your friend. It’s why you use the low-stretch GSP thread. Use as much tension on the deer hair as possible, because you are trying to pack as much hair on the hook as possible. The more hair you pack on the hook, the denser the fly becomes, the better it floats, the easier it shapes, and the more durable it is.

Tips for cutting to shape
-For poppers, glue the front hairs to create a hard face to pop. Then trim the body to shape.
-For divers or sliders, start trimming big and work in small increments to get the angles and desired shape.
-Tie several of the same bug, because that way you work towards consistency.

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