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What do you do with leftover fly tying materials

Blog by: David Coulson , CO 12/10/2013

Vanish recently emailed me this question,

“Do you tie anything using the other half of the buck tail (since I just use the tips for the clousers)?  Especially on the small 1.5 - 2 inch clousers I wind up with a lot of the hair left over.”

The condensed version of my answer for buck tail was, “I use the outer edge as far down to the butt as I can. Even hair that flares can be used to tie Clousers by using thread wrapping techniques that minimize the flaring. 

Depending on the color, I use some center hair for winging, clousers, and some of the softer butt section (flaring hair) can be used to spin bass bugs.  Other creative uses might include nymph/mayfly tails, wing cases, caddis wings, hopper bodies, madam X style flies, and I’m sure there are other uses. However, with all the buck tails I go through that still leaves a lot of unused material which I try to give it away or trade, but the reality is I end up tossing a lot of it.”

Questions like this are common, especially with beginning tiers.  They lay out good money for materials and then when the contents of the waste sack is greater than the pile of flies on the tying table, they can’t help but wonder if some of that waste couldn’t be put to good use.  The answer is yes/no/maybe, it all depends on what you tie, plan on tying, and how willing you are to "mess” (deal) with the dregs you create while tying.

First and foremost the best thing you can do is to make sure you minimize waste from the start.  For example, I’ve known tiers to cut off a piece of wire to rib their fly.  I spool all my wires, then load them onto a bobbin, just like a spool of thread.  In that fashion, I rarely have any bits and pieces of wire to toss.  I do the same with flosses, small yarns, etc. 

Here are a few cases where “waste” can be turned into fly patterns, but the questions are: “Do you fish such patterns?” and “Is it worth your time to mess around with the waste?”  I know in my case the answer to both questions is often no, but there are a few waste items I do save and use.

Rabbit strip (zonker) patterns often have leftover bits and pieces of rabbit fur.  I clip off the fur and save it for dubbing.  The same can be done with any fur strip, such as squirrel.  A favorite pattern of mine is the foxee Clouser, which I tie in a variety of colors and sizes.  In tying it, I remove part of the underfur, most of which I retain for dubbing.  Speaking of underfur, if you have a cat or dog that gets a regular brushing you have a source of dubbing that need not end up in the trash.

While we’re on the subject of dubbing, yarn can be cut up into one inch or less pieces and run through a blender producing another source of dubbing.  By blending these yarns and fur scraps I meet most of my dubbing needs without hitting the fly shop.

Marabou scraps from woolly buggers can often be retained and turned into a form of dubbing.  Don’t overlook the “marabou” from the base of feathers and the down-like feathers from capes  and saddles.  Dubbed marabou makes for a rather buggy looking body and is especially nice in damsel nymphs.  Speaking of feathers, the base sections from a wrapped feather can be the source of material for tails and wing cases. 

Guard hairs pulled from fur before turning it into dubbing can be used as mayfly tails.  As can the leftovers from hair tails. It’s just a matter of dealing with the stuff.  Something I rarely am willing to do.

The remnants from quills/feathers, such as pheasant tails, can be soaked, split, and wrapped to produce quill bodies or ribbing material.  Again a lot of work, but the material can be put to use rather than being tossed.

These are just a few “waste” materials that can be given a second life.  For me, I mostly retain the dubbing materials and toss the rest.  I am curious though, what tying waste do you retain and for what purpose?

Blog content © David Coulson
Blog Comments
moosegoose, 12/9/2013 8:33:24 PM
Wow, that is a lot of great info. I have a coffee grinder, a trick member Epic showed me, It does a fine job of mixing that material up for dubbing and was only 2 dollars at the thrift store.
opencage, 12/10/2013 7:37:31 AM
Wow, I thought you had told me most of your secrets, I see now that was only the tip of the iceberg. This blog complements Alan's pretty well. These are great tips to keep costs and waste down. When then blade broke off our coffee grinder recently, we bought a new one for the coffee, but I just super-glued it back on and now I have a great dubbing machine. Nice write up Dave.
Ajax5240, 12/10/2013 8:57:17 AM
Great write up as usual Dave! Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us newbies!!
ColoradoDad, 12/10/2013 9:32:10 AM
When I tie, I keep a Tupperware container that I put all of my 'scraps' in. I use these scraps when teaching newbies (especially kids) to tie. When initially learning to tie the most important thing is to learn how to build the fly, so it doesn't matter if you are using the best materials as long as they see how to tie them in correctly. When teaching kids I realize that most of those flies will never see water, so the main thing is to make sure the flies look cool
Vanish, 12/10/2013 10:11:42 AM
Sweet, I helped inspire a blog! :D
David Coulson (Flyrodn), 12/10/2013 10:35:12 AM
Yes you did. I get a lot of my "inspiration" from others. Thanks. Having a container on the table to deposit things for future use is a good idea. Often I just pile things on the table and then stuff them into ziplock bags. I save all the bags from my tying purchases to store "leftovers" in.
tracks, 12/10/2013 1:42:14 PM
Let' Fishing, Hunting, shooting, camping hiking, work and TEENAGERS... Nope no time to tie my own again yet, good try though! Great Blog Dave! Always inspirational!
Coyute, 12/11/2013 9:54:25 AM
I like to make Christmas wreaths out of my yarn and feathers dregs and give them to my fly fishing friends.