A Good Hair Day

Moose hair is one of the most underrated materials for tying flies. The author shares his favorite mayfly imitation and a great tying technique using this terrific ingredient.

[by Barry Ord Clarke]

The moose is the largest remaining member of the deer family, but it has been the source of some confusion. In the United Kingdom and Europe, a moose is known as an elk, and in my home country of Norway, it is called an elg. In North America, an elk is more comparable to a European red deer and it is not a moose at all. All the subspecies of moose are found across the boreal and subarctic regions of the entire Northern Hemisphere. The North American species of moose is much larger than those found in Northern Europe.

In my humble opinion, moose hair is the most underrated of the deer hairs for tying flies, but it should be included with the best hairs. A moose provides us with a huge amount of interesting and useful material. A moose hide is almost like the ring-necked pheasant skin of the deer world: the possibilities for tying fish-catching flies seems almost endless!

Two Types of Moose Hair

Moose body hair is dark brown to jet black, straight, and ranges from medium to coarse in texture. You can spin moose body hair to create a spun-and-clipped body, but this requires extreme thread pressure.

Moose body hair is two to five inches in length. It is stiff with a broad diameter at the base that slowly tapers to a fine tip. It is extremely buoyant and has many uses, such as making tails and wings on dry flies. Moose body hair is good for making extremely realistic legs and feelers on nymphs and terrestrials. Moose body hair is also an excellent choice for creating the wing cases on Humpies and similar patterns where durability is a prime consideration.

Moose mane hair, especially from an adult bull, is the longest hair. This material is located on the back of the neck of the animal, not from the bell as many fly tiers believe. Mane hair can range from three inches to nine inches in length. This hair is not suitable for spinning.

The color of moose mane hair is a wonderful salt-and-pepper mix of white, gray, brown, and jet black. It is especially good for wrapping quill bodies on dry flies and nymphs. I find that untreated hair that has not been washed and tanned is the best for tying quill bodies. The washing and tanning process removes the natural waxy fats from the hair, which reduces its suppleness and makes it more difficult to wrap.

Being a moose hunter, I always have moose body and mane hair on hand, but you will most likely have to purchase packages of moose hair at your local fly shop. Be aware that just as with any other natural material, not all packages of moose hair are alike. The patches of hair will come from different animals of varying age, diets, and regions of the country. Try examining the packages of hair before you buy, and don’t pick the first pack hanging on the fly shop Peg-Board. Carefully examine all the packages and select the material that best suits your needs; the length and color of the hair are the main priorities.

Realistic Moose Mane Bodies

Moose mane hairs are ideal for wrapping realistic-looking segmented bodies. Here are a few ideas for making great match-the-hatch imitations.

Rejuvenating Moose Hair

Soaking individual moose hairs in warm water for 20 minutes or so before using them will restore some of the suppleness of processed material. Tying in one dark and one light-colored hair by the tips and then wrapping them together creates a great-looking segmented body. If you tie regular or even Double Humpies, this long hair is perfect for the wing cases and wings. And weaving different colors of hair, which is a more advanced fly tying technique, creates an exceptional nymph body.

My Reverse Moose Mane Mayfly patterns are just a few of the flies that I tie using this great material. I make these very effective flies using a unique tying technique. I also want to show you how to make great match-the-hatch bodies by combining different colors of moose mane hair. This method works for tying nymphs, emergers, subimagoes and spinners, and most mayfly duns; choosing the correct hook size and combination of hair colors is all you have to do. Using two hairs of the same color also creates an extremely realistic segmented body. For the tails, use moose body hair; on close examination, you will find a great combination of colors and various tip markings that will cover just about any mayfly tail.

Reverse Moose Mane Mayfly

Hook: Mustad C53SNP-BR, size to match the insect you are imitating.
Thread: 50-denier gel spun.
Tail: Moose body hair.
Abdomen: Moose mane hair.
Thorax: Cul de canard.
Wing: Bleached elk hair.

Tying the Reverse Moose Mane Mayfly

Barry Clarke is a regular contributor to our magazine. Although he lives in Norway, his flies catch fish all over the world. If you want to learn more about Barry’s patterns and watch his great tying videos, go to his website, www.thefeatherbender.com.