Perfecting Deer Hair Dry Flies

Spinning deer hair on larger bass bugs is easy, but crafting small deer-hair dry fly bodies is challenging. Learn how to tie them every time.

by Jerry Coviello

Hook: Standard dry fly hook, sizes 14 to 10.
Thread: Gray or black 6/0 (140 denier).
Tail: Deer-hair tips.
Body: Spun deer hair.
Hackle: Brown or ginger.
Wing: Natural deer hair.

I have always loved spinning deer hair. As a beginning tier, I thought spinning hair for bass bugs was a difficult process, but with practice I found that it is not as hard as it looks; it’s just a bit messy. While demonstrating tying at fly fishing shows, I found that many other tiers were intrigued on how I spun deer hair with ease, and they gathered around my table while I tied a few bass bugs, Muddler Minnows, and Dave’s Hoppers. It was as though I were a magician: make three loose wraps of thread around the bunch of deer hair and hook, pull tight, and— poof—the hair flared and spun around the shank. Today, you don’t want to invite me to your home to tie flies, because I always make a few requiring spun deer hair. Imagine the cleanup at the end of the night!

Larger flies are easiest for spinning deer hair; the real challenge comes when tying smaller dry flies. One of the biggest myths as regards technique is that you must use thick thread—usually size 3/0 (210 denier)—so it doesn’t break when wrapping and spinning hair. I, however, select size 6/0 (140 denier) thread, but I reduce the amount of deer hair I use for tying dry fly bodies. Don’t get me wrong: gel-spun and size 3/0 Monocord have their places when tying big deer-hair bass bugs, but you don’t need thread that heavy for making size 14 to 10 Goddard Caddises and Irresistibles.

Joe Messinger tied the original Irresistible, but the fly’s body was stacked purple and white deer hair; the purple was on top and the white was on the bottom of the fly. Today, pattern books and tying videos show the body as natural deer hair, spun and trimmed to shape.

Variations of the Irresistible were created, along with name changes when different materials were used. Harry Darbee’s Rat-Faced McDougal is one variation; instead of making a tail from deer hair, he used ginger hackle fibers. He also tied it on salmon hooks to fish for Atlantic salmon.

Goddard Caddis
Hook: Standard dry fly hook, sizes 14 to 10.
Thread: Black 6/0 (140 denier).
Body: Spun deer hair.
Hackle: Brown.
Antennae: Brown stripped hackle stems.

The Goddard Caddis is another popular fly showcasing a spun deer-hair body. In England, it is known as the G & H Sedge, named for tiers John Goddard and Clive Henry. Originally used for fish – ing still waters, it also gets strikes when skated across the surface of a stream.

Let’s look more closely at how to tie dry flies featuring spun deer-hair bodies. We’ll use the Adams Irresistible as our model. This is definitely an intermediate-level skill you will want to master.

Jerry Coviello is chairman of the Fly Tying Group board of governors for Fly Fishers International. Jerry lives in New Jersey