The aim of this blog is to connect fly-tyers all over the world, to share, techniques, patterns, information and knowledge.

European Roe Deer Hair, tools and top tying tips

Here it is, working with deer hair, all three parts in one post, updated with new techniques  and images.

Deer hair is normally described as hollow, This doesn´t mean that it´s hollow

like a drinking straw, but that each hair is built up of hundreds of small air filled

cells.

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This type of hair structure is most defined in deer from areas with an

extreme winter climate. The result, the colder it is, the better the spinning

qualities, with some exceptions. The hair from our own reindeer and the north

american caribou. In order to achieve optimal insulation, these hairs hold so

many air cells that they have a tendency to be brittle, and break under the

pressure  of tying thread.

A cross section of European Roe deer hair which I photographed with the help of a microscope at X40. You can see that the hair isn't hollow as most people believe, but filled with many small air filled cells.

A cross section of European Roe deer hair which I photographed with the help of a microscope at X40. You can see that the hair isn’t hollow as most people believe, but filled with many small air filled cells.

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The winter coat of the Norwegian roe deer has many air filled cells and is ideal for spinning, packing and clipping. 

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While the hair from the summer coat is somewhat stiffer and extremely fine. A first class hair for tails and winging dry

flies. 

The colour varies from light red brown on the summer coat to dark grey

with darker barred tips on the winter coat. 

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The best hair for spinning is found

on the back of the roe along the spine. This hair is extremely dense, not at all

brittle, and floats like a cork. The chalk white hair on the rump is excellent for

dying, or for patterns that require white deer hair.

You should also be aware that the roe mask has a diversity of hair that is

difficult to equal. Here you will find hair in many different lengths, shades of

brown and coarseness. Ideal for dry´s from # 10 and down to the very smallest

comparaduns. Anyone who ties caddis flies shouldn’t be without a roe mask.

If you know a hunter or a game keeper, try and secure yourself a whole roe

skin, you wont be disappointed.

My top tools for deer hair:

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Hair stackers:

These are a must if you want neat, tidy and well balanced flies. I use three,  a small one for tails and wings, a medium one for heavier wings and spinning and a long one for streamers, tubes and salt water patterns.  The stacker you choose should be well engineered. Its extremly important that insert and inner tube are flush and that the stackers are heavy and robust.

4 Cut a large bunch of deer hair. The most common mistake in tying this popular pattern is to use too little deer hair. Remove all the under wool and short hairs with a dubbing comb.

Friction free Comb:
This is also a very important tool for removing the underwool and shorter hair from bunches of deer hair before stacking.  The comb I use is made from  deer antler wich is friction free, plastic or metal combs have a tendency to load with static , causing the deer hair to stick to it.

14 With an old toothbrush, remove all the soot from the head.

Toothbrush:
This is a great tool for so many things! Removing under wool from hair bunches, brushing out hair after spinning but before trimming, and removing soot after singeing. I wouldn’t tie deer hair flies without this.
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Scissors:

Throughout my many years tying flies, I quickly understood that one of the most important tools are the scissors you use. During this time I have accumulated several dozen pairs of scissors, in all forms, shapes and sizes, but if I am honest, I have only four scissors that are constantly in use. 

1. A pair of small extra fine pointed cuticle scissors for all the small detailed work and thread.

2. A General purpose serrated scissors for cutting tinsel, wire and heavier gauge materials.

3. A pair of long bladed straight scissors for larger jobs like preparing materials for dubbing loops.

4. A medium pair of sharp pointed serrated scissors for deer hair work.

Here are the best techniques for making deer do what you want it to do!

Anglo – Swedish caddis:

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This is a hybrid pattern that combines two great patterns, the wing and head of the Swedish streaking caddis and the body of the British Goddards caddis. There are a few techniques here that are useful when tying with deer hair. 

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Cut a thin strip of deer hair from a winter coat, rather like a deer hair zonker strip and attach a Magic tool clip about half way down the hair.

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With a pair long straight scissors trim off the hide from the deer hair strip. You will see that there is a little under fur left in the trimmed end!

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Using a tooth brush, brush out the loose hairs and under fur from the clip.

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Place a terrestrial hook in the vice.

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Cover the hook shaft with a foundation of tying thread. I use only Dyneema gel spun thread for tying with deer hair, if you haven’t tried it I recommend you do!

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Make a dubbing loop at the rear of the hook, make sure that the two ends of the loop closest too the hook shank are touching each other! If they are not the loop will remain open and will not grip the deer hair.  Wind your tying thread forward out of the way toward the hook eye.

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Un treated deer hair is quite fatty, If you wax your thread it has a much better purchase on the hair and reduces the chances of it slipping in the loop.

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Place the loaded magic tool clip in the dubbing loop and trap the deer hair centrally in the loop.

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Start to spin your deer hair in the dubbing loop. You can see in this image that the loop is not fully spun as you can still see the core of tying thread.

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You must continue spinning the loop until the core is no longer visible and the hair is evenly spun.

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You can now start wrapping the deer hair dubbing brush as you would a traditional palmer hackle along the whole hook shank.

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Make sure that you brush the deer hair fibers back with each turn so as not to trap them with the next turn!

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Once you have wound the whole dubbing brush tie it off and give it a good brushing with a tooth brush in every direction. This will free any fibers the have become trapped and give a better result when trimmed.

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With a pair of serrated straight scissors trim the hair from the rear of the hook.

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Once fully trimmed you should have a Goddard caddis type body.

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For the wing you will need a generous bunch of deer hair. Remove ALL the under fur, if you dont, the hair will not spin fully.

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Once cleaned stack the hair in a hair stacker. Measure the wing on the hook.

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While holding the hair in place at the correct length on the body make two loose turns with tying thread around the bunch of deer hair and then tighten.

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Make a few tight turns of tying thread through the remaining deer hair towards the hook eye to secure it and whip finish.

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Remove your tying thread and once again give the flared deer har head a good brushing.

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Now, while resting your scissors on the hook eye trim the head all the way round.

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The under side of the head should be trimmed level with the body and cone shaped.

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Take a lighter and singe the trimmed deer hair head. Take care not to set the whole fly on fire!

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Once the head is singed give it another brush with the tooth brush to remove the soot. And there you have it , the Anglo Swedish caddis.

Here are a couple more quick techniques, for making cork like bodies from deer hair and a deer hair guard.

14This is another technique if you would like a very tight spun body. As you cover  the hook shank with spun deer hair using a finger and thumb at the rear of the hair and at the front push and twist your right hand to pack the hair tight together.

15Once the body is finished brush out all the fibers with an old tooth brush before you start trimming. This is very important!

16Trim your body roughly to the correct size.

17Now using a gas lighter, petrol lighters and candels give off too much soot. Carefully burn the surface of the hair body. Taking care not to set it on fire!

18The singeing of the hair will tighten the packing and coaterize the tips making it tight and even. Brush off the soot with a tooth brush.

19The result is a almost cork like body of perfect spun deer hair with a smooth even finish. That also floats like a cork!

This is another trick for whip finishing large deer hair flies. If you have problems getting in to the hook eye to whip finish, before starting tying cut the end off a rubber washing up glove and make a hole in the finger tip with a dubbing needle. Place the glove finger tip over the bobbin as shown.

Once you have finished your fly the bobbin and finger tip are as shown.

Now for a easy trouble free whip finish just slide the finger tip over the hook and deer hair. Remove the tip after you have whip finished and removed your tying thread.

5 responses

  1. Andy Cox

    SAn excellent tutorial and oinformationm about deer hair. I don’t know if others have had this problem, but none of the pictures showed the head of the fly. All the pics were too far to the left to see much more than the back half of the fly

    February 5, 2014 at 4:23 pm

  2. Absolutely fantastic step by step view of the tying process. Wonderful post. Very cool. Great looking pictures aw well.

    February 7, 2014 at 2:17 pm

  3. Chris Watson

    Great to see you at the BFFI this last weekend. I had quite a few questions about deer hair on the Fly Tying Clinic there this weekend. There are so many tyers that know very little about how to select the right hair to the fly. This problem is often exacerbated by patterns in magazines and books just saying ‘deer hair’ in the dressing and not specifying exactly what type to use. This means a lot of tyers are using the wrong type of hair and wondering why they cannot tie their chosen fly successfully. A few years ago stayed with Chris Helm in the States and the knowledge that he shared with me was so useful. I would personally add some more tools to my essential list of deer hair fly tying tools – a hair packer, razor blades and a cauteriising tool.

    February 10, 2014 at 2:39 pm

  4. Pingback: G and H sedge - Fly Fishing Forums

  5. Pingback: Arrrghh - Deer hair - Fly Fishing Forums

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