The Beginner’s Guide To Fly Tying Material

So you took the jump into tying your own flies, welcome! As you will quickly find, there are so many things to learn. This guide is to familiarize you with some of the more popular materials.

Naturals
Naturals are the foundation of tying materials. They include any material that came from an animal: furs, feathers, hairs, etc. While synthetics are becoming more and more popular, naturals still have a place in the hearts of many a fly tyer due to their incredible movement. Some of the most popular naturals are:

  • Marabou
  • Hackle, capes, saddles, quills (aka feathers)
  • Deer hair
  • Calf tail/squirrel tail
  • Body hair (finn raccoon, arctic fox, woodchuck, coyote)
  • Rabbit

Synthetics
As fly tying is growing and getting more advanced, so are the man-made materials that create new opportunities at the vise. Synthetic materials are generally way more durable and typically easier to work with. The most popular synthetic materials are:

  • All EP materials
  • Craft fur/Pseudo hair
  • Flashabou
  • Faux bucktail
  • Chenilles
  • Krystal flash
  • Microlon
  • Mirror image
  • Super hair

Taking a Look at the Natural Materials:

Marabou
There are two main types of marabou, strung and extra-select.

Strung marabou, as the name implies is strung together at the base keeping all the plumes together.

Extra-select comes with a full, long feather with a defined stem. Strung marabou is shorter and has a smaller, less defined stem with more fluff at the tip.

Both make for great tails on shrimp and baitfish patterns. In terms of a tail material – strung bulks together easier, to make thicker tails. Extra-select is stiffer and makes a longer sparser tail. Extra-select is also better for palmering a flowing collar.

Marabou is known for its incredible movement and undulation in the water.

Hackle, capes, saddles, quills
We can spend a lot of time talking about different kinds of hackles and feathers but in this beginner’s guide, we are going to be taking a look at a few of the more common ones.

These feathers can be used in SO many ways for fly tying. From claws, tails, collars, splay tails, or lateral lines.

First, we have strung rooster neck hackles (or saltwater neck hackle.) These are from the base of the neck and are the longest and widest neck feathers available. The barbs of these feathers are stiff, symmetrical, and generally come to a fine point. The stem is stiff and will hold its natural bend.

Schlappen is an extremely wide and webby feather. It is generally used for large, flowing collars or large tails for tarpon or shark flies. The barbs on schlappen are more supple and easier to manipulate in a direction.

Next up is saddle hackle. These feathers are generally finer tipped and more symmetrical. Which makes them perfect for splay tail tarpon flies. Large capes such as the METZ saddle hackle give you a few options for size, width, and length of feathers.

Deer hair
The two main types of deer hair are bucktail and deer belly hair. If you put deer hair under a microscope, you will find out it’s hollow and has individual air pockets at the base. This plays a huge role in why and when people use deer hair in the world of fly tying. Belly hair is used to create heads and bodies for naturally buoyant flies given the floating nature of the hollow fibers. When you are “spinning” or “stacking” deer hair, you’re using belly hair.

Bucktail comes from the tail of the deer and generally ranges from 4-8 inches in length. Bucktail is used for flies like clouser minnows and deceivers for its ability to create a nice body or tail profile without too much bulk. The closer you tie to the tips of the bucktail the less it flairs, making it easier to handle.

Calf tail/squirrel tail
The short, stiff hairs of calf tail make it perfect for propping up other materials or separating materials. Such as splayed hackle on a tarpon fly. The fine wavy hair also works great as a wing on bonefish flies.

This material comes in a multitude of colors.

Cutting at the base of the tail and putting the hairs in a stacker gives you incredibly even tips. The average hair length is approx. 1.5 – 2″ long. The same goes for the squirrel tail but with straighter hairs. The squirrel is also a little softer, which attributes to a better movement.

Ostrich, Rhea Plume
Ostrich and Rhea are known for their long single feathers with incredible movement. These two materials are generally great for stacking clumps to make a full tail, or just adding a few strands into an already established tail to add great contrast and added movement.

As an example, the RIO Dread Pirate fly has insane movement and great contrast with the single stack of the ostrich.

Rabbit
Rabbit is some of the best, most popular, and most versatile material on the market. Rabbit strips come in so many different sizes, colors and styles.

Rabbit can be put in dubbing loops, palmered for a collar, or used as a stand-alone tail. Rabbit flows, flutters and pulses extremely well.

Taking a Look at the Synthetics:

EP Fibers
EP Fibers are one of the most popular and versatile materials ever created.

The original EP Fibers come in approximately 1/4oz packs and they are 10″ long. Most other EP products, like brushes contain the original EP Fibers or an EP variation of them like EP Fibers 3D.

These fibers are incredibly durable which makes them great for saltwater patterns. They stack, fold, and form extremely well so their most popular use is to create baitfish profiles and silhouettes. As a synthetic material, they shed water easily so you can make a larger fly that casts well for it’s size.

EP brushes are easier to tie with than the stand-alone fibers. Simply palmer a brush like the EP Minnow Head Brush around the hook to create a full body or minnow head, then trim to desired shape and size.

Brushes come in many different shapes and sizes with different materials in them: such as fox, flash and micro rubber legs.

A big tip when tying with EP: less is more. When starting, use 1/2 of what you think you need to tie a pattern.

EP fibers blend with flash and other materials incredibly well.

Craft Fur
Craft fur is another one of the most popular materials, you’ll probably use a lot of it. It’s most commonly used for tails on shrimp, baitfish, and impressionistic streamers.

Craft fur normally comes on a sheet or faux hide and is around 3-4 inches long. When cutting craft fur off the sheet, cut as close to the base as you can. You’ll get a better taper this way but don’t forget to pull out most of the underfur so it doesn’t bulk up or fall apart after you tie in your bundle.

Craft fur is soft and has incredible movement. It also takes markers extremely well for easy barring.

Putting craft fur in a dubbing loop or brush is also a great way to add more movement.

Some tyers will tie craft fur in tips facing forward then fold it back for a hollow-tie effect.

Flashabou & Polarflash
Flashabou is a flash material that has incredible movement, tons of color options, comes in different widths, and adds dimension to any fly tied with it.

Blend Flashabou into a long tail to grab the attention of fish quickly or use it as a lateral line on pelagic baitfish flies.

Flashabou also wraps incredibly to make bodies for flashy nymph patterns.

Polarflash has similar uses with even more dimensions. The mixed crinkled look that Polarflash has provides great depth and shine. Polarflash is a soft and supple material as well, offering tons of movement.

Faux Bucktail
Faux Bucktail is a synthetic version of bucktail.

It is a little stiffer than natural bucktail, and you do not get the same flare, which makes it easier to use for patterns that you don’t want to flare.

It comes in at 6 inches of totally useable length with fine, natural-looking tips.

This material makes for incredible tails or a stiffer platform to build off of. Mixed with some hackles, this material provides the bulk and length to make great deceiver-like flies.

Braids & Chenilles
The four most popular chenilles are: ultra chenille, palmer chenille, estaz, and sparkle braid.

Ultra chenille is most commonly used by wrapping it around the hook shank to create a slim body profile, or to make a bump to prop up other materials such as hackle.

Palmer Chenille has a braided core with flashy thin mylar off one side. This makes it perfect for flashy collars or for using as a space filler.

Estaz has flash material all around the braided core. The flash material is shorter and curlier. It has a ton of applications. One of the most popular is to make a hot spot egg sac with hot orange, amber, or red estaz. The famous schminnow fly uses estaz for the entire body and head.

Krystal Flash
Krystal flash is the standard all-around use flash that fits perfectly in almost any pattern. A few strands can drastically boost your pattern’s desirability. It reflects light in a pseudo-natural way – more similar to scales, wings and fins than other flashier materials.

Super Hair
Super Hair is an extremely durable material making it perfect for offshore patterns or large streamer patterns.

At 10.5″ inches long, this medium-stiff material makes for great baitfish tails and bodies for flies such as Surf Candies and Eat Me’s. It has small micro crimps giving it a more breathable look. It’s transparency also adds a bit of realism.

I hope this post helps you feel a bit more comfortable choosing material for your flies. Now branch out, find some new material and experiment with your own fish fooling patterns.

Sign up for more fly fishing goodness like this delivered straight to your inbox