Bob Petti's Bass bugs

By Bob Petti

Deer hair bugs are an artform in and of themselves. Guys like Chris Helm, Dave Whitlock, Jim Stewart and others have taken deer hair bugs to a whole new level. They can pack and shape deer hair such that it looks and performs like a hard headed popper, yet they are barely a fraction of the weight. Stewart takes it one step further and makes deer hair bugs that mimic casting lures.

Dahlberg's Rabbit Strip Diver, white deer hair and rabbit strip
I get great satisfaction out of spinning and stacking deer hair. It's hard work, and messy, but the end results are just fantastic. As bass bugging has become so popular, we're starting to see more and more suppliers appearing that sell "deer" hair processed and dyed specifically for bass bugs. I put deer in quotes because it is often used in a generic sense to include hair from deer, elk, caribou, and the like - hairs that are hollow and flare well. As with most fly tying, it pays to seek out high quality materials.
For deer hair, I suggest contacting one of the specialty shops, or stick with a reputable brand name like RMD (Rocky Mountain Dubbing). Make sure you specify hair for making bass bugs when ordering. Using hair that is not appropriate for spinning or stacking will give you nothing but grief. If you can't find a supply, give Chris Helms a call. He advertises in most flyfishing magazines and can send you the exact type of hair for any bass bug you are tying.

The two basic operations with deer hair are spinning and stacking. Spinning takes a clump of deer hair and "spins" it around the hook so that it flares out and completely encircles the hook shank. When you stack deer hair, you still flare it, but you do not allow it to spin around the hook. The best way to learn how to work with deer hair is to get live instruction. If that's not available, get one of the many videotapes available. Chris Helms, Dave Whitlock, and Jimmy Nix all have excellent videos that illustrate the various techniques used in creating deer hair bass bugs. It certainly does take some practice to become proficient with deer hair, but it's not as hard as it looks at first glance.

Whitlock's Frog Diver, a frog like olive deer hair bug
Once you get the hair spun or stacked along the hook shank, you need to trim it. This is where people get really inventive. Take Larry Dahlberg's diver, for example, trimmed to a point in front with a high "collar" of hair resulting in a fly will dive into the water when the line is stripped. A stroke of genious, if you ask me. I usually "rough cut" the body with scissors and then do the final shaping with a double edged razor blade (split in half lengthwise). The razor blade cuts very cleanly and smoothly, as long as you use a fresh one with each bug.

You can also tie a flat faced popper that is meant to "pop" and "bloop" along the surface much like a cupped face hard foam popper. I learned a trick from Carl Bradley at a flyfishing show once that helped me create nice flat faces on my deer hair poppers. What you need is a piece of flat metal with a small hole drilled in the middle. Carl used a half dollar, but any sturdy flat metal will do. After you've rough trimmed the body, dribble some Dave's Flexament in the hairs behind the "face". Cut your thread and push the piece of metal over the eye of the hook (the hook eye goes through the hole in the metal) and clamp it in place with a pair of hemostats. Set it aside for a few hours so the flexament has a chance to dry. When you come back to the fly, take off the clamp and you'll see that the face of the popper is perfectly flat and quite stiff. You can finish your trimming, confident that your fly will "bloop" quite well.

One advantage deer hair bugs have over hard bugs is their weight. When dry, they are virtually weightless. Thus, they are good to use in situations where you want the fly to land softly, like shallow and clear water. A good design in this case is a fly that has a rounded face so that when it's pulled through the water, it doesn't make much noise but rather leaves a wake behind it like a small boat. This style of fly, called a "slider", is especially useful for skitterish smallmouth bass in clear streams and rivers.

Deer hair offers multiple possibilities for coloration.
Lef: Whitlock's Most Whit Hair Bug - Fruit Cocktail
Right: Whitlock's Frog Diver

The drawback to deer hair bugs is that they inevitably soak up water. There are methods to delay the process, but you really can not eliminate it alltogether. The best solution I've found is to have a few duplicate flies on hand. As one gets wet, clip it off and tie on it's twin, with yet another fresh one waiting on deck.
By rotating flies, I've found that it's possible to keep fishing with a good floating deer hair bug all day long. Even so, I do treat my deer hair flies with a waterproofing spray. I cut a notch in a piece of cardboard or paper plate and stick the notch between the tail of the fly and the body, as I want the spray to be on the deer hair only. It's a messy and smelly process, but it does seem to double or triple the amount of time I can fish the fly before it needs to be swapped out for a fresh one. Any silicone based waterproofing spray will work well. I like Scotchguard. I also like to do the spraying before I install the eyes and rubber legs. I only want the spray to interact with the deer hair - nothing else. Normal dry fly floatant pastes and "gels" will also help.

Weed guard on a Dahlberg's Rabbit Strip Diver
Choosing a thread is important when tying deer hair bugs. If you use your normal 6/0 or 8/0 thread, you're either going to break the thread or cut through the deer hair. Although you might get by with 3/0 monocord, something like either "Flymaster +", a heavy waxed thread with a bit of twist, or "Flat Waxed Nylon" is much more suited to spinning and stacking deer hair. When I tie a bug, I usually start the weedguard and finish the tail and skirt with 6/0, to make the tying a bit easier and less bulky. When it's time to do the hair work, I switch to the heavier thread.

It is worth your while to learn how to work with deer hair. They are harder to tie than other bass bugs, but they fish equally as well or better than their hard headed cousins.

Read more about bass bugs

| Bass bugs | Hard head | Soft foam | Deer hair | Personality |

User comments
From: NYCflyangler · nycflyangler·at·  Link
Submitted February 28th 2012


With three kids it sounds like you've got the makings of a sweat shop for fly tying. Let the little bastards know they don't get any allowance and are grounded until they deliver dad three dozen hand tied bass bugs each. ;-)

From: Mike · asdf·at·  Link
Submitted February 15th 2009

Alan, it shouldn't matter the brand or tier. All hair bugs are great and anything at your local fly shop will work great to find your kids some nice fish.

From: Alan Goodman · alan.goodman·at·  Link
Submitted February 19th 2007

As a two year covert from spinning rods and thoroughly obsessed with fly fishing (my wifes comments) could you tell me who ties the best Deer Hair Bugs that are available for purchase. As a dad of three under 13, another obsession with fly tying is out of the question.

Thanks for you help

Alan Goodman

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