The Spin Doctor is In

Spinning deer hair is a specialty fly tying skill you can learn. Discover simple tricks for creating beautiful bass bugs no fish will refuse.

[Gerald Hererra, PhD]


SPINNING DEER HAIR IS ONE OF THE SPECIALTY TECHNIQUES THAT CAN BECOME AN OBSESSION. The quest to carve fine sculptures with corklike density out of masses of hair that look like something a cat coughed up can lead tiers to spend countless hours at their vises. You could call me one of those “hair guys.”

From the moment I made my first Muddler Minnow, I began my quest to master the art of tying with deer hair. I absorbed any information I could find: magazine articles, books, and videos. I wanted to learn everything that had to do with tying with deer hair.

The late Chris Helm influenced me most in tying with this material. His videos were first rate; I was always impressed with his methods, and he had a natural ability to connect with his students. Before he passed away, I had the honor to have several conversations with Chris. His critical thinking impressed me the most. I ran many ideas by him, and he criticized them all. His critiques were always constructive, and I am grateful. If you are seeking more in-depth instructions on working with deer hair, get Chris Helm’s videos; you won’t go wrong.

In this article, we’ll focus on the importance of good material control. To take your fly tying to the next level, you need to develop proper material control, which means learning how to achieve command of the ingredients, tools, and techniques you use to tie flies. Good material control is one of the traits that separate the great tiers from those who just make ordinary flies.

Diagnosing Common Problems

Spinning deer hair is a fundamental skill to have in your fly tying arsenal. When done correctly, spinning hair allows you to symmetrically distribute hair completely around the hook shank. If you end up with uneven hair density around the shank, the final trimmed bug will appear uneven. If you notice any of these signs in your finished hair bugs, the most likely cause is uneven distribution of hair.

Gaps or Holes in the Body of the Fly
After trimming a hair bug, have you ever said to yourself, I just can’t seem to get the density to come out right? Proper distribution of hair around the shank is the solution.

Uneven Bands of Color
Tying multicolored hair bugs can be very humbling. When you are trying to get nice, even bands of color, do you instead get bands that look more like wedges? When one is tying with multiple colors of hair, the final results are revealing. If the hair is evenly distributed around the hook shank, the bands will be even; if the hair is not evenly distributed, the clipped body will have wedges of color.

Uneven Hair Texture
If the texture of the bands of hair is uneven—if it alternates from fine to coarse—this might be from using materials of different coarseness. However, it is also very common to spin a single band around the hook shank in an asymmetric manner, leaving fine tips of hair on one side and the coarse, “meaty” butt ends on the other. Always cut the hair as close as possible to the hide, and unless you need them for a hair skirt, clip off the fine tips. And tie the fly using the longest coarse hair you can get.

Thoughts about Spinning Deer Hair

When tying a clump of hair to the hook, the thread should divide the clump evenly into two halves. As you will see in the accompanying photographs, the thread bisects the hair so that half the length is slightly above the hook shank, and half is below the shank.

As you spin the hair, half the bunch is reoriented vertically as the material flares and spins around the hook shank. When properly divided in the beginning, the hair spins evenly around the shank. This evenness creates nice bands of uniform color and density in the finished bug.

In the tying photographs, we shall make a pattern called the Powder Puff. I teach students basic deer-hair-spinning skills using this fly. It is a practice pattern, but the best part is that it also catches fish. Tie up a bunch of Powder Puffs, and you’ll quickly become proficient at working with deer hair, and you’ll have a group of nice surface flies for great evening topwater action!

Powder Puff

HOOK: Tiemco TMC8089, size 6.
THREAD: Heavy gel-spun thread such as GSP 200 denier.
BODY: Coarse deer belly hair in your choice of colors.

Tying the Powder Puff

Practice Makes Perfect

Practicing the following skills will improve your material control and have you well on your way to becoming a master at spinning deer hair.

  • Practice cleaning the underfur from clumps of hair of various sizes. Minimize the amount of handling required from the time you cut the hair from the hide to when you tie the material to the hook shank.
  • Practice stacking hair in a hair stacker. When removing the hair from the stacker, try not to pass it from one hand to the other before tying it to the hook.
  • Practice your spinning skills. When spinning hair, make sure not to trap any of the material you already tied to the hook. Also, to achieve uniform bands of color around the shank, focus on applying even thread pressure using your tying hand as you slowly release the hair from your off hand.

Gerald Hererra takes a careful, meticulous approach to all his tying. And why not: he’s a trained research scientist! (And he is a regular contributor to this magazine.) Gerry writes our column titled Technical Tier, and is eager to hear your suggestions for future articles. Contact him with your ideas at www. facebook.com/TechnicalTyer