What to look for when buying...
Published Apr 12th 2013
This article series will give some tips on buying tying materials, and go through different groups of common materials like hackle, bucktail and hair.
Another aspect of selecting can be to get what you need. Hackle might be a fine quality, but still the size and softness might differ between each patch, and you want the one that suits your needs.
How to look
When you look at fly tying material in a flyshop, furrier, craft shop or where you are buying, you feel.
...you feel. Literally!
It's very important to get things out of the bag or package and run your fingers through it, bend it, inspect it and check the backside, the texture - even the smell if it's natural materials.
Shops that have things hermetically sealed or won't allow this, aren't worth visiting, and in the best shops, clerks and shopkeepers will actually endorse you to check the materials and even help you find the best.
Because the best might not simply be the best quality, but what is best suited for your needs. Most materials are actually quite good, but you need to check texture, barb length, coarseness of hair or other aspects to get the best for your application.
The method is simple: open the bags and get the material out! Most bags are Ziploc or have an adhesive strip that allows it to be resealed. Do this with care and make sure you don't mess up anything and leave things as you found them, on the right pegs or in the right boxes.
Good and bad
You want clean, even, regular materials.
You don't want grease, dirt or dust.
Generally soft and pliable is good and stiff and dry (like in brittle and fragile) is bad.
Dyed materials need to be evenly and controlled in the color with no pale patches or more densely colored areas. And the color must be permanent and not rub off or come off in water.
Deformed materials is generally bad. Deformity often comes from harsh treatment like bleaching or dying under very hot conditions.
You want whole tips (hair) and unbroken barbs (feathers). See more under each material type.
You don't want hairs or feathers falling off the skin. Look in the bag. The fewer loose parts there's in there, the better.
Strongly smelling is bad. Whether it's a chemical smell or a natural odor it's not wanted. Chemicals indicate a wish to kill something living. Not good! Materials smelling "naturally bad" may have decayed or have smelly dirt in them. Some materials have a slightly soapy smell, which is just a sign that they have been cleaned or washed.
The growing use of online shopping makes the "feeling strategy" rather difficult, and you are fully in the hands of the one who selects and packs your order.
You can call and order or add a note to your order to convey what you will use the material for: hook sizes, tying methods or what type of fly or pattern you will tie. This will help the one who packs the materials select the best. Some shops will take great care in this respect and only send the best while others just pick the first and the best. The only way to find the thorough ones is by trying or by listening to friends and fellow tiers who have had good experiences with certain shops.
You can also read the following articles and use that as an outset to describe in detail what you want - and don't want.
Articles in the series
Articles in this series about selecting and buying material
- Buying Bucktail in Tie Better. Published April 13th 2013
- Buying Deer Hair in Tie Better. Published April 17th 2013
- Buying Dry Fly Hackle in Tie Better. Published April 22nd 2013
- Buying Soft Hackle in Tie Better. Published May 7th 2013
- Buying Marabou in Tie Better. Published July 1st 2013
- Buying Fur and Skin in Tie Better not scheduled for publishing yet.
- Buying Saddle Hackle in Tie Better not scheduled for publishing yet.
Articles about material selection and cleaning
- Cleaning hair in Tie Better. Published December 28th 1995
- Cleaning fly tying material in Tie Better. Published October 25th 1996
- Selecting deer hair in Tie Better. Published February 10th 1997
- Washing your materials in Tie Better. Published September 3rd 2012
- Steaming your materials in Tie Better. Published September 25th 2012