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Natural or Synthetic Dubbing, Is One Better?

Blog by: David Coulson , CO 1/20/2014

During the drive to the ISE Tom asked me what I thought was better, natural or synthetic materials?  I lean toward natural for a couple reasons. The primary reason is the variation that exists in natural materials, whereas synthetic materials are general very uniform. 

While it might seem counter intuitive to want variation in the materials youíre using to ďmatch the hatch,Ē the reality is we canít match a species exactly.  Disagree?  Think about it. What is the exact color of a dog, cat, cow, human, you name it.  Simply, there is no exact color, shape, or size of any living species, only general representation.  Even for an individual thereís variation in color. Thus, I feel natural materials capture this variation better than synthetics.

I recently blogged about making your own dubbing, variation of color in you dubbing is another reason for blending dubbing.  So when I canít get the color I want from natural materials alone, Iíll often mix several different colors to achieve the desired color. This gives me a dubbing that has a little color variation.

Interestingly, many tiers match the color of whatever their trying to imitate with dry materials, something that Iíve done myself.  This also occurs when we select flies from the bins at the tackle shop.  The problem with that is we donít fish the flies ďdry,Ē especially nymphs and streamers.  When you wet a fly youíll quickly realize that the color may not be what you thought you had.  I tied some cream colored nymphs once, that looked tan when wet.  They caught fish, but they sure didnít match in color the nymphs I was trying to imitate.

It doesnít stop with color shifts from dry to wet.  Some materials that seem opaque may become somewhat translucent when wet.  Consequently, the color of the materials underneath the dubbing may show through to some degree.  If you know about this, you can use it to your advantage through careful selection of the underbody materials.  For example, a tinsel underbody can add a bit sparkle to your patterns when the dubbing is translucent.

Wrapping up, consider using natural materials or blending different colors to produce dubbings that will add a little variation to your patterns, much like we see in nature.  Second, when color is critical to you, make sure the material holds its color when wet.  Finally, be aware that what appears opaque when dry, may have some degree of translucency when wet and adjust for that according to your needs.

Knowing your tying materialsí properties will go a long way to making you a better tier and possibly a more productive angler.

Blog content © David Coulson
Blog Comments
opencage, 1/20/2014 12:51:20 PM
Yep, this is basically what Dave told me Saturday. Good stuff here. Another thing Dave mentioned then was that synthetics are usually cut square while most things in nature simply don't have that exact shape and use natural material will give a more natural slightly rounded shape as well, e.g. marabou tail or clouser minnow.
FISHRANGLER, 1/20/2014 6:28:30 PM
I have a question for you Dave you may know the answer. It kinda fallows the topic. Why is it fly fisherman are allowed to use materials that are natural on Flies and lures pond lakes and rivers, but bait fisherman are not allowed to use nautural bait? Please explain the difference if you know.
David Coulson (Flyrodn), 1/20/2014 7:34:09 PM
That is a good question, and I suspect if fall under historical acceptance, and a view that somehow fur and feather are not edible therefore don't have the same attractive ability as the "flesh" we normally use as bait. I'm sure there is some truth to that. At one time I thought flies from natural materials were fully artificial, and only attract fish through sight. While I believe that is mostly true, I also realize that fur and feather may retain some "taste" and "smell" properties that would cause a fish to retain natural materials longer than artificial.