Fur Is Where You Find It


It isn't quite January yet but close enough. Here's the monthly installment in the way of a humor (hopefully) article.

Fur Is Where You Find It

Gene Trump

Have you ever noticed that fly tiers seem to own nervous pets? You know, a dog or cat that makes a beeline for the door the minute they hear a hook snap into a tying vise? The same animals with unusual areas of missing fur? A tuft of ear missing here, four or five shortened whiskers there, an obvious bald spot on the tip of the tail; you've seen the look. But these punk-rocker pets are not merely kept by avid fly anglers -- these pets belong to creative fly tiers.

A creative fly tier in search of new tying material should be considered armed (with scissors) and dangerous, or at the very least, a hazard.

Consider the case of Carl Smootz. Carl was a local tying legend and most well known for his use of nontraditional materials to construct new patterns -- like The Lazy Boy, a dry fly tied entirely with red vinyl and foam-rubber. His lust for the fly tying avant-garde was never ending. While attending an extremely career-important dinner party he let his passion for obtaining new tying material seriously hinder his chance for any upward mobility.

The trouble began somewhere around mid-party when Carl, confident that no other party guests were watching, slowly edged into the hallway between the kitchen and living room. There was something he had been craving to do all night. When the perky-liven-up-the-party wife-host suggested a poorly-received plan for charades, then proceeded to badger the employee-guests of her husband into compliance, Carl made his move. Once in the hallway he dropped to his knees and commenced an all-fours inspection of the carpet. The effort was to determine if the nap, as he suspected, was suitable for Golden Stonefly dubbing. He had spotted the carpet earlier on and was compelled by his material-lust to take a closer look. About the time he concluded the color was actually too light in color for his purposes, the male host of the party -- also known to be Carl's employer -- tripped over his kneeled body while bringing in a tray of mixed drinks from the kitchen. Evidently the charades in the next room would only continue under the influence of alcohol. As the gin and tonic dampened the carpet, and most of the living room furniture and party guests-employees, Carl was delighted to discover that the carpet was perfect when wet to duplicate the same colors of a Golden Stonefly nymph.
It wasn't until Carl, now full-blown obsessed with his flytying find and tossing caution to the winds, dared ask for a pair of carpet shears that his boss stopped sopping up gin long enough to ask the excited fly tier to exit the employer's house will all possible speed. Or words to that effect.
I hear Carl still works with the firm and has found that dumping out the trash gives him an unparalleled opportunity to search for his latest tying material: used typewriter ribbon. According to Carl, the ribbon is a dandy replacement for black chenille, but it does have a tendency to smudge up your fingers when tying a Montana Stone.

Not all innovative fly tiers are so careless or obvious. Some can be downright sneaky in their procurement of tying materials.

My attention was drawn to a nonchalant fellow standing oddly close to the chicken cages at this year's State Fair. Some of the chickens were adorned with dry fly quality hackle feathers and I had noticed that fact myself. That is why I was just a little suspicious of the man as he alternately whistled and hummed while seeming to ignore the prize-winning birds. I found my suspicions were justified when I returned a few minutes later from a mandatory run to the Men's room and found that not only was the nonchalant fellow missing, but so were a good number of neck feathers from the now frantically clucking chicken. I couldn't believe a fly tier would have a hand in such larceny until I noticed a telltale piece of oval tinsel glittering in the bottom of the cage.

Fortunately for the animal world, most fly tying material is purchased and not suddenly snatched from the back of an unsuspecting animal -- although there was a case where a flyfishing group was visiting a zoo and one of the polar bears ended up losing a patch of fur. And as most of us are aware, flyfishing shops are not the only retail establishment where fly tying materials are sold. Even if that retail establishments doesn't know it. Some master builders of the artificial fly are common frequenters of fabric shops and will wander the isles like gold miners in search of the mother-lode.

"Excuse me sir, can I help you?"

"I'm just looking, thank you."

"If I had an idea of what you need, perhaps I could help."

"Not likely, I'm not sure what I'm looking for."


Hours can be spent in the intense search for the unknown. Stops will be made to hold yarn up to the light or to inspect scissors and scrutinize spools of thread.

"Maybe you CAN help me. Does this thread come in a tad bit browner yellow?"

"I don't think so. Are you trying to match a fabric color?"

"No. A hatch."

"A hatch? You want to match a hatch?"

"Yep, a Green Drake hatch. If this thread was just a bit browner, I think it could be used to tie a dandy emerger."

All this is likely to cause confusion and frustration for a new employee at the fabric shop. She was lead to believe that the only terms she would have to deal with concerned fashion, material and sewing. This customer was talking about, as far as she could decipher, a green male duck emerging from an egg and this guy wanted to match the event with thread. None of it made sense and she couldn't find a hint of anything like it in any of the Vogue pattern books.

"Well, if you don't have that color of thread, I'll just take three yards of this yarn."

"Just three yards? Is that enough?"

"More than I really need."

"My, you must be knitting a small sweater."

"Actually, it's for some Green-butted Skunks. I think this bright color of yarn will work great for the butts, don't you?"

"Green-butted... skunks?"

If you are among those that are prone to seeking out new and different places to purchase feather and fur I highly recommend that you DO NOT enter a store that specializes in natural fur coats. Some of the best tying fur in the world is wasted in the construction of these very expensive coats and it's more than most hard-core fly tiers can handle. Even if you are able to overcome the urge to cut a full-length sable into small, usable patches, you may not be able to overcome something much more serious: you buy one in the guise of a present for your wife or husband. I know a tier that did exactly that.

He was simply so overwhelmed by the quality of the fur, he actually purchased an arctic fox fur coat for his wife. He couldn't really afford the long coat but rationalized that the savings in tying fur would, in time, offset the extreme cost of the coat. The best part, he continued to rationalize, was the fact that there was no real reason to give the coat to his wife before her birthday; and that was a good six months away.

Predictably his wife was thrilled when the six months passed and she opened her present. It was beyond her most extravagant dreams. How could they possibly afford such a luxury? She gently removed the item from the box and put it on. She was speechless as she looked in the mirror. This women felt she must have the most caring spouse on the face of the earth. Not many other husbands would actually spend the money to buy such an expensive gift for their wife. In fact, she couldn't think of one single person that had received such a grand birthday present as her: a genuine arctic fox fur scarf.

All in all, most fly tiers are relatively harmless and you have little to fear from them, but the most opportunistic of fly dressers can also be the most hazardous. These are the fly tiers with the bumper stickers that proclaim: "Warning. This Vehicle Stops For All Road-Kills!" These are the renegades that also carry scissors with them at all times and I suspect it was one of these types that did that mohawk job on the polar bear. You have to watch these types very carefully. They will absolutely never pass up any possible fly tying material. I remember one overnight fishing trip when I fell asleep sporting a full beard and woke up the next morning with just a mustache.