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Sheep Hair Flies
|By Bob Petti
Recently I've begun working with a material that was introduced to me through the tying of Dave Whitlock. In particular, his "sheep series" of baitfish flies. It's Icelandic Sheep Hair, although some distributors refer to it as "Streamer Hair" or "Secret Streamer Hair". I've found it to be a wonderful tying material for large streamer type flies.
For those of you not familiar with it, it is a natural hair from an Icelandic sheep. The hairs are between eight and ten inches long, with a soft underfur that's six inches long or less. The colors are dyed from white and the results are very very bright. In fact, I have a fluorescent yellow that I would swear is a synthetic, as it just glows so brightly.
One quality of the material that I like very much is that you can give an illusion of substance to a wing without using a ton of material. It's "fluffy", yet absorbs water and will sink readily when fully wet, unlike some other materials. It holds it shape underwater very well, so you can be confident that the results at the vise will be similar to what is observed when the fly is fished.
Another fine point is how it compresses so well at the tie in point, thus allowing you to stack colors without causing excess bulk. If you've ever tied bucktail flies that have multiple layers (such as Mickey Finns or a Black Nosed Dace), you know how hard it is to keep a neat and tidy head and to keep the colors separated. With the sheep hair, it is very easy to build a complex wing, as it compressed down so well and only a few wraps of thread are required to secure the material to the hook shank.
In the water, this stuff has EXCELLENT mobility. Much more so than bucktail. I haven't fished these flies yet, but I have given them the tub test. Side by side with a similar sized bucktail fly, the sheep hair fly was much more "alive". When I compared the two flies when fully soaked, the sheep hair fly definitely felt to be lighter than the bucktail fly. It seems that the fly will be very easy to cast with a 6wt rod, even using a fairly heavy hook (TMC 9394 #2). And it holds its shape well under water, even when stripped quickly.
It's very easy to work with and there is very little waste per package. The price is similar to a "premium grade" bucktail (if you can find one), at about $3.25US per package, but I believe there are many more flies you can get out of each package of sheep hair than you can from a single bucktail.
Obviously I can't comment on the material's durability yet, but given the feeling I got trimming it off the hide with scissors, it feels fairly sturdy. Time (and fishing) will tell.
The only drawback I've seen so far (without fishing the flies) is that it takes a bit of time to soak up water. It would probably pay to "pre soak" the flies prior to fishing them, otherwise you're going to cast a few floaters before they absorb enough water to sink properly.
The flies I initially tied were based on Whitlock's sheep series of baitfish flies. The first fly is in fact very close to one of Dave's patterns, with a couple substitutions. It doesn't mimic a particular baitfish, but rather uses the theme of Dave's flies with a color pattern I've found particular effective on largemouth bass (chartreuse and white).
|The following tying steps are my interpretation of the procedures
demostrated on Dave Whitlock's "Tying Bass Flies" videotape:
Along with Dave's published patterns (sunfish, shad, crappie), these flies could be tied to imitate all sorts of bait fish (alewife, perch, juvenile bass, etc.) as well as non-imitative attractor patterns like the one I listed above. The only limitations are the colors of the material available, but it appears to take a dye well so that could remove that limitation if you care to dye your own.
And those flies are just variations of a single theme. I imagine using this stuff on clousers, as the tail on mega-divers, anywhere I want to give the illusion of "bulk" without creating a fly that is difficult to cast effectively.
One problem fly fishing for species like largemouth bass and pike is that productive flies tend to be quite large. If you're not careful when choosing materials, you can wind up with flies that either cast like a kite or like a wet sock. Using synthetic hairs is one possibility, but I've yet to find any that appeals to me like a natural hair will. So far in my search, this Icelandic Sheep Hair is far and away my favorite for tying large warmwater subsurface flies.
Another kudos to Dave Whitlock. Thanks Dave!!