Selecting deer or elk hair for comparaduns

silver creek

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Rothschld, Wisconsin
A recent post about comparaduns and the proper hair prompts me to post this. I wrote this for another BB and repost it here:

Please forgive me for this long post but seeing tyers use the wrong type of deer/elk hair for flies is one of my pet peeves.

The selection of deer or elk hair is critical. Here is a primer.

All deer and elk hair have a hollow body section and a solid tip section. The hair also undergoes a color change from darker to lighter to darker from bottom to top. Most of the time, the solid tips are of a darker color that are distal to the lighter section. For comparaduns, you want hair with short and even tips. By even tips, I mean the solid tips section of of equal lengths. When you stack hair with even tips, the color break from the lighter hollow section to the darker solid section will occur at the same place on all the hair and the wing of the comparadun will look even. If the tip sections are not of equal length, the hair may be of equal length when tied in, but the wing will look ragged because the color break point looks ragged.

Secondly, try to get hair which not only has even tips but even length. This is difficult to do, but when you do, the tips are even on the fur. With this type of hair, you can tie the flies without stacking because the tips will be lined up on the fur and the tips will be even when cut from the fur. When examining hair insert a piece of white paper behind the hair to examine the dark tips. I take a 3X5 card with me for this purpose.

Thirdly, the hair must be resilient, and flair evenly when compressed. Do not buy hair that will crack when compressed. You can check this by taking the hair out of the package and pinching the hair at the point you are going to tie it in. I pinch it between my index finger and my thumbnail. It should flair evenly and the hair should not break. Hair that is bleached or dyed can become brittle, so always check bleached or dyed hair for brittleness.

Finally, the best hair has minimal under fur. The less under fur, the less you need to remove before tying the the hair. This is a minor point but I mention it for completeness.

I never buy hair that I cannot examine. Hair should not generally be bought sight unseen unless the seller knows exactly what you want and will preselect it for you. In every fly shop that I visit, I look at their hair selection. Whenever I find an excellent piece of hair, I'll buy it because a lot of it is not very good.

For SMALL flies, it is CRITICAL to get hair with SHORT TIPS. If the tips are long, most or all of the hair you tie in will be solid and not hollow.

Here are some photos of two patches of excellent comparadun hair.

This shows two patches of dark and light hair side by side. Although the hair may look long on this close up, it is actually about an inch from skin to tip.

This is a closer view of the dark hair for better contrast to see the even tips and the coloration changes. Notice that the hair shafts that are on the same relative "row" of the pelt line up so that the tips and lighter bands are even across the row.

Here is a close up of the tips taken with white paper to bring out the tips. Notice how you can now see the very short dark colored solid tips above the lighter banded section. The length of the hair is only about an inch so that the solid tips are very short although they may look longer on this macro photo. Notice how even the tips are across the white background. This is what you are looking for.

Now compare the hair above with the hair on the GFF comparadun. Look at the hair on the pelt and notice that the pale section of the hair is less even than on the pelt above. That means the tips lengths are more irregular. If you look at the stacked hair, you will notice that the dark tips are pretty even but that the hair in the pelt above is better and more even. Look at the finished fly and you will see some irregularity or fanning of the color change that makes the wing look a bit irregular even though all the hair is equal in length. The fly is well tied but it would look better if the hair tips and coloration were more consistent.

I buy my deer hair at Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone, Mt. The reason is that they have bins of hair, but there is considerable variation in the hair. Hair is like hackle. I want to feel and examine it myself. Since the price of a bad piece of hair is the same as an excellent piece of hair, why not buy the best?

You also need to know that comparadun hair is not good for elk hair caddis or for any "down wing" pattens. Hair that flairs gives you a high wing profile and when you see a caddis on the water, it has it's wings folded flat over it's back. So you want hair that does NOT flair as much.

Al Troth, when he first published his EHC, noted that it should be tied with hair that did not flair, but that fact has been lost on fly tiers. This type of hair is difficult to find especially for smaller patterns and now virtually every EHC now is tied with a prominent flaired wing. Commercially tied flies tend to have high profile wings because that is the hair they have to tie the flies.

Larry Solomon and Eric Leiser's "The Caddis and the Angler" published in 1977 has the original elk hair caddis pattern on pg 200. You will notice that the hair on the pattern is tent like and does NOT flair much.

Al Troth's original EHC from "The Caddis and the Angler. Notice the flatter tent like wing profile like a natural caddis.

Here is an EHC patterns close to the original.

Compare this with the hundreds of Elk Hair Caddis images on the web.

If you only have hair that flairs and want a flatter wing profile, bend the front 1/3 of the hook shank up as in Gary Borger's Poly Caddis. You tie the hair in on this bent section of hook and it will lower the wing profile.

I label the hide side of my hair with the pattern like "EHC", or "Comparadun, or "Stimulator", and the size of the pattern that the hair is for. For example, I have size 14-16 comparadun, and size 18-20 comparadun hair. Since the black tips must be very very short and even on size 18-20 comparadun hair and this hair is extremely rare, I never use my small fly comparadun hair for larger flies. It is simply too precious to waste.

I get to Blue Ribbon every time I go to Montana and I sort through the bins until I find the hair I want. Never use Comparadun hair for EHCs and vice versa and never use small fly deer/elk hair for larger flies.

I want to emphasize the importance of a white background when sorting hair. I said to carry a 3x5 card to use as a background. It also works for grading hackle. I simply write what I want to buy on the lined side of the card and use the plain blank side to sort hair. But if you have no 3x5 card, I use the white side of a business card for the background. I keep a plain business card in my wallet just for that purpose.
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Grapevine, TX
Thank you for the good advice looks like I have good comparadun hair for smaller flies and loads of good elk hair for large caddis flies...