Antelope: The body of the antelope has coarse gray, brown, and white hair fibers. Used primarily for spinning bodies or heads (bass bugs, Spuddlers, Sculpins, and the like).
Badger: The primary use is winging bucktail patterns. This is done with the guard hairs, which are barred white, black, and brown. The underfur, which is light beige, is used for dubbing.
Beaver Beaver: The light to medium gray underfur has glossy highlights and is an excellent dubbing for dry flies. Guard hairs are dark brown.
Black Bear: The hair that shades from dark brown to coal black is most frequently used. It is an excellent winging material for bucktails and streamers.
Bucktail: Bucktail usually refers to the tail of an eastern whitetail deer, though tails from the western mule deer and blacktail deer are also used. The hair is a natural white on the underside and brown to black on top. It is fairly long, sometimes running 4 to 5 inches. Used for streamers and bucktails. The tail is dyed a variety of shades.
Calf Tail: Sometimes called kip or impala, today a calf tail is what its name says it is - the tail of a calf. The hair, which is used for winging and tailing is usually natural white, though a few brown and black tails are available in the natural state. The white tails are dyed various shades.
Caribou: The fine hair of this animal is natural gray to white. The fibers are used for spinning bodies.
Coyote: Coyote guard hairs are occasionally used for the wings and tails of bucktail and streamer flies. Color varies with animal, but it is generally brown, beige, and black. Underfur, which can be used for dubbing, is a tan/gray.
Coastal Deer Hair Deer Body: This hair is taken primarily from the back or underside of a whitetail deer, though mule deer and blacktail deer hair is also used. Color is gray/brown to white. Hair fibers are coarse and hollow, making them an excellent material for spinning the bodies or head of such flies as the Irresistible or Muddler. The white hair is dyed various shades.
Elk: The firm and stiff fibers of this animal are used primarily for wings and tailing. Mostly brown, shading off to tan and gray.
Selecting Elk Hair
Elk hair comes in many varieties, and even though the hair can vary from one animal to another or by where it comes from a hide, there are some general guidelines to buying and using elk hair that will help your flies look and behave just right.
Although elk hair is hollow like deer hair, neither hair is really hollow like a drinking straw. The hair have a hard outer coating with a pithy, air-filled interior. Elk hair, in general, has a harder outer layer than deer, so it is less flexible and flares less, even though it holds almost as much air. As a result, elk is quite a bit more durable than deer hair.
Look for hair that looks clean, straight, and even. Hair that curves to one side makes it tough to work with, as your wing will cock to one side or the other. Also look for hair with short, unbrokn tips. Hair with long, filmsy black tips is difficult to even in a stacker, it is less durable, and it just gives the finished fly sloppy look.
Bull elk, often called "light elk," is relatively short, blunt, and coarse, with pale-cream tips. It offers just a slight amount of flare when pressure is applied with the fly-tying thread, and it si more durable than any other kind of elk hair. In its natural state, because of the light tips, it is also more visible on the water. It is the hair most commonly used for the Elk-Hair Caddis, Humpies, and imitations of the paler species of stoneflies. Typically, the tiny black tips at the very end of bull ekl hair are short.
Cow elk is often called "dark elk" by fly shops. The hair is longer, coarser, and flares more readily than bull elk. The tips are tan, ut a darker shade than the tips of bull elk. Cow elk is better for smaller caddis imitations, small Humpies, and anytime you want a darker win that flares slightly more than it would with bull elk. Cow elk is not as hard and durable as bull, but it compresses easier under tying thread, making it less bulky.
Calf or "yearling" elk hair is similar to cow elk and many tiers have trouble distinguishing the two. It is typically thinner and longer than cow elk, so it hasa wide range of uses, from very large Stimulators to timy Elk-Hair Caddis flies. It is also more difficult to find in fly shops. Because it is finer than cow or bull, it compresses into a smaller point on the hook shank, but because you can put more hairs in the same place, you can get a full wing or Humpy overlay without cramping space on the hook. Calf elk also tends to have shorter black tips than bull or cow, giving finished wings a clean profile.
You may also see elk mane, hocks, and rump for sale in fly shops. All of these hairs have little to no flare, and are best for tails on large nymphs and dry flies because they are stiff and durable. Elk mane is very long, dark, and stiff, and makes great tails for dry flies. It can be used as a substitute on any pattern that calls for moose mane. Elk hock is similar in color but shorter and finer, so it is better for dark tails on smaller flies. Elk rump is very coarse and stiff but is a pale cream color, so it is used for light-colored tails on large flies. Because elk mand and rump are so strong, winding a dark hair from elk mane and light hair from elk rump makes a strong and realistic banded nymph body.
This article by Tom Rosenbauer, Vice President of marketing with the Orvis company, can be found in the April-May 2012 issue of Fly Fisherman magizine.
English Hare's Mask With Ears: The short tan/gray guard hairs are mixed with the softer tan/gray underfur to form the boduy of the famous Golden Ribbed Hare's Ear pattern, among others. It is often blended with other furs to create certain effects for specific patterns.
Fitch Body: The underfur is used for dubbing. It runs from rich cream to beige.
Fitch Tail: The tail has excellent guard hair material shading from brown to almost black. Used very often for winging salmon flies.
Fox Tail: Fox tails come in a variety of natural shades of white, tan, gray, and mixed colors and are used primarily for winging material on bucktail and streamer flies. The underfur is also usable.
Gray Fox: The gray and black guard hairs are used by salmon tiers for winging the fly in a number of patterns. Underfur is gray.
Groundhog: See Woodchuck.
Hare's Ear: See English Hare's Mask With Ears.
Mink: The underfur from mink bodies is available in a variety of natural shades - white, beige, brown, gray and black. The white is dyed various colors. An excellent dubbing for the bodies of several dry fly patterns. Mink tail is also to be had in numerous natural shades. Tail guard hairs provide an excellent stiff material for winging a number of patterns, especially caddis imitations.
Mole: The soft gray fur of the mole is used only for dubbing.
Moose Hide: The coarse dark brown to black fibers are used for tails.
Moose Mane: By alternating strands of the long light and dark gray fibers from the mane of a moose, you can form flies which give the impression of segmentation. Also used for tailing.
Muskrat: The underfur is light to dark blue/gray. It is one of the most popular natual dubbing furs. Guard hairs are dark brown and rarely used.
Nurtia: The underfur is a lustrous tan to brown. Excellent for dubbing. Brown guard hairs are too short for most practical uses.
Oppossum (American): The underfur is a lustrous white, guard hairs are dark brown to black. It is strange that the fur and hair of this animal are rarely used.
Opposum (Australian): The fur is a rich creamy yellow on the underside gradually merging into a beige and finally a gray over the back of this animal. The yellow/cream portion is a favorite for the Light Cahill pattern. Guard hairs from the tail are dark brown to black. They are fairly silky and make fine winging material on bucktail and streamer patterns.
Otter: Otter is used primarily for its underfur, which ranges from light tan to brown.
Peccary Hairs Peccary: Known also as javelina or wild pig, the peccary has hair of an almost brittle stiffness in mottled black and tan. Itis used to make the legs and feelers of nymphs, especially stonefly nymphs.
Porcupine: The skin of the porcupine is covered with quills and bristles. The bristles are dark brown for the most part, though occasionally you come across one with white bristles on certain portions of the skin. The quills are white, brown, or a combination of both and hollow. They are used for some dry fly patterns. The bristles are used as feelers and legs on nymph.
Rabbit: Used for their underfur, abbit skins come in natural blue/gray, black, brown, and white. Natural white is dyed various shades. It is used mostly for the bodies of wet flies.
Raccoon: The underfur is a light brown, often bleached to shaeds of ginger for such light-colored flies as the Light Cahill. Guard hairs are a combination of brown and black.
Red Fox: The underfur, which is the most frequently used part of the fox skin, coms in a variety of shades suitable for various patterns. Colors range from cream through beige to gray. The belly strip of some foxes is urine-stained, resulting in a pinkish cast; this particular shade is highly sought after for the Light Hendrickson pattern.
Sable: The underfur is natural brown and used for dubbing. Guard hairs, also brown, are fairly long and soft.
Seal: Fur from two kinds of seal is commonly used - the coarse cream fur for the baby hair seal and the soft silky brown fur of the fur seal. The hair seal fur is dyed a number of shades for forming rough bodies for many flies. [Seal fur is now prohibited from importation. An excellent substitute, whicdh dubs much more easily, is a product called SEALEX.]
Squirrel Gray: The underfur, which is gray, is used for dubbing. The guard hairs, gray with a white tip, are occasionally used for very small flies. Sometimes both the guard hairs and underfur are blended to form rough, coarse bodies.
Squirrel Tail Gray: The long hair fibers, approximately 1-1/2 inches in length, are speckled gray terminating with a black band and white tip. They are used for wings on many bucktail and streamer patterns.
Fox Squirrel Hide Squirrel Red Fox: The underfur from the belly, which is reddish white, is used for dubbing. The underfur from the back is also used for dubbing and tailing material. Sometimes both the guard hairs and underfur are blended to form rough, coarse bodies.
Squirrel Tail Fox Red Fox: The reddish brown and black barred hairs are used for bucktail and streamer patterns.
Stone Marten: The guard hairs on the tail of this animal are fairly long, usually 1 to 1-1/2 inches. They are brown to dark brown and very fine, yet firm, making them an excellent winging material for larger salmon and buctail patterns. The underfur is soft and smoke gray.
Woodchuck (Groundhog): The guard hairs on the back of this animal are barred black, tan, and black and terminate in a white tip. The guard hairs on the tail range from a medium light brown to dark brown. Ons some animals the tail fibers also have a speckled effect or terminate in a whit e tip. One of the finest materials for wing and tailing of both dry flies and bucktail patterns. The underfur, which is sparse, is a soft dull black.