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Outdoor Adventure: Oh Deer! What to Do With You?

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By Indrek Kongats

Regular season deer hunting will be over next weekend. So what will you do after the season ends? And what will you do with your deer, (hopefully you got one!)? Well, here is an idea. Besides the venison, which we all savor, the deer’s hide is also of value, especially to a fisherman.

For the fly fisherman, the natural properties of deer hair make it ideal for spinning around a hook and creating famous flies like the Dahlberg Diver, the infamous Mouse, the Muddler Minnow, the Bomber and the Green Machine, to name a few. The common element in these flies is that they float due to the hollow cavity inside the deer hair that traps air.

The tail, more commonly known as the “Bucktail,” is used in the making of streamer- type flies, especially large ones for musky and pike. Regular fishermen can add Bucktail hair to their lures— to spinners for musky, to jigs for bass and walleye and dressing up the rear hook of some wooden plugs for pike.

As one hunter/fisherman states, “Having processed my own whitetail hides for 20 years, I am still amazed at the uniqueness of the hair on each whitetail deer.”

The flair quality of the deer hair makes it much better than other animal furs and, depending on where on the hide the hair is taken, it can vary in length and thickness, critical in tying small flies like the hair wing of the caddis fly (elk hair is also widely used for the caddis fly). Hair from the head or legs is short, while back, sides and belly has longer and coarser hair.

If you yourself aren’t a fly fisherman, then maybe one of your friends is, so ask around if they want your hide. If you are looking for a great hobby this winter, then fly tying is one of the best. You will save a ton of money by tying your own flies, or even make  some money on the side. Fly fisherman are always looking for unusual flies, so if you are good at tying deer hair and Bucktail flies, people will find you. List them on eBay or other similar sites and you could make $3-$5 for one of your hand tied flies. Not that you’ll ever get rich doing this, but you will stay out of trouble, sane and out of the funny farm over those long winter months.

To tie flies, you’ll need to have the following fly tying tools: A fly tying vise, a bobbin to hold your spool of thread, scissors that are sharp with sharp points, a whip finisher for finish tying the thread on the head of the fly, hair stackers, hackle pliers, bobbin threader and a dubbing needle.

Materials that you will need will be some tying thread, your deer hair, hackle or bird feathers and epoxy to hold everything together. Although there are literally thousands of different fly tying materials and catalogues displaying them in dozens of different colors, a fly only requires either a hair or feather body to start with.

Finally, you will need hooks to tie the material to. Although any hook will do, the size shape and style will be dependent on what fish you are tying the fly for. For example, large saltwater fish require large 1/0 to 5/0 hooks while the trout fisherman will go as small as a #20. For general purposes, a 2-12 size of hook will catch most of your salmon, trout, pike, bass and panfish.

There are many books, DVDs and internet Youtube videos that will teach you to tie flies, so I won’t go into that here, but keep in mind that the simplest fly that just takes a few minutes to tie will sometimes out-fish the classic salmon fly that takes many painstaking hours to tie. If you spend more than five minutes tying one fly, then you are tying flies for show rather than for fishing. You may be crushed when that fly snags on the bottom of the river or lake and you are forced to break it off. The less time that you put into your flies will save you considerable heartbreak.

The fly tying vise is your most important piece of equipment that you’ll buy for fly tying. Don’t be fooled by all the bells and whistles when shopping for a vise; you’ll need to become a master tier to effectively use all of them on an expensive one. On the other hand, a cheap or inexpensive vise will certainly be poorly constructed and will lead to frustration and possibly lead to you give up the hobby.

The jaws of the vise need to be well manufactured of hardened steel that are precise, not too soft as to leave a groove from a hardened hook, but not so hard that they are brittle and will crack if over-tightened. Sometimes vises will have three types of removable or interchangeable jaws— fine, medium and large jaws for those big 5/0 flies.

The tightening device or method for closing the jaws around the hook is where most vises fail, and rather than giving you a lifetime of use, may only last one or two years. Normally, there is a locking method that requires the tightening of a threaded bolt. Poorly made vises use cheap metal that can easily break or the threads can get stripped. If you can’t hold a hook 100 percent still in the jaws, you’ll throw up your arms in frustration and start pulling out your own hair.

The last piece of equipment will be some sort of table light with a magnifying glass built into it.  If you don’t already require reading glasses, you will shortly after you start fly tying, especially if you are tempted to tie a tiny #20 gnat. Beauticians light, one of those with a round neon bulb around a 6-inch magnifinying glass on a robotic type arm, are ideal and most department or office stores sell them. Make yourself a hot cup of coffee, light a fire and nestle in for that long cold winter at your fly tying table, tie a mouse or two—you’ll be glad you did, and so will your wife by staying out of her hair!

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