8 Tying Materials to Imitate Any Forage

In July, I’ll be one of the lucky few teens to attend Trout Unlimited’s Teen Summit in western North Carolina. I’m ecstatic about the opportunity to connect with other fly fishers and conservationists my age, not to mention become more involved in TU itself. The Summit will allow me to explore and learn about a part of the country I’ve never visited, which is a prospect I am both excited and apprehensive about.

I say that because, while I’m sure there are plenty of fish to be caught, I don’t know exactly which flies they’ll eat. Trout fishing in New England is always about the same, no matter where you go; if you have a few patterns to imitate the “big three” (mayflies, caddis, and stoneflies) along with a couple streamers, you’ll do just fine. But maybe southern fish, and the foods they eat, are different. Maybe they are ultra-selective and only eat patterns that closely imitate the local forage.

Obviously this is a bit of an exaggeration. We’ll mostly be fishing small streams, and my guess is a small stream trout is a small stream trout; in other words, what works for six-inch brookies up here in New England will likely fool the same fish down in North Carolina. Still, it would be nice to imitate whatever we may find when snorkeling or doing stream surveys. Plus, I’ll want to have something to tie when everyone else pulls out their vise during down time.

The only caveat is, I can’t bring my entire tying bench with me on the flight. In fact, I’ll only have room in my luggage for a select few materials. So, to make the most out of what I bring, I had to consider which materials would be the most versatile in hatch-matching.

Some criteria I took into account included variance and naturalness of color, lifelike movement, versatility in tying patterns, and ease of packing. For example, purple Ice Dub is one of my favorite tying materials, especially when used in purple hazes and chubby chernobyls. However, it only has one set color, is far from natural, and can only be used in a few patterns, none of which specifically imitate a natural forage. So, while I may not use some of these materials as regularly as purple Ice Dub, they will likely serve a better purpose during my time at the Summit.

This list doesn’t just pertain to my upcoming trip. Pack these eight materials, and you’ll likely have everything you need to imitate whatever forage items you see in the water, on the bank, and in the air.

Brown and Grizzly Hackle Capes: Perfect for imitating any of the flying insects around. Hackle capes provide a wider range of sizes than saddles, making them more economical to travel with. A mix of the two colors perfectly imitates the gentle motion of insect wings, and a single color works well for patterns like caddis and damsels. You really can’t tie a good dry fly without some quality hackle.

Pheasant Tail: Widely used in many nymphs, dries, and wet flies, pheasant tail is a must-have in my opinion. This material can be used to form a segmented, life-like body, wing case, tail, or legs. Its mottled brown color looks just like many naturals. For ease of packing, I’ll likely cut a single feather in two since they can be quite lengthy.

Peacock Herl: How could you have pheasant tail without peacock herl? The iridescent, supple flues on peacock herl work perfectly in conjunction with pheasant tail, as well as many other of the materials on this list. Peacock herl is typically wrapped to form the abdomen or thorax of a fly, but can also be tied in to add some shimmer to streamers and wet flies. Plus, the herl can be stripped down to just the quill, which creates lifelike segmented bodies.

Comparadun Deer Hair: If I could choose just one type of deer or elk hair to use on all trout flies, it would be comparadun hair. This thin, slightly hollow hair is easily controlled when tied in, but flares enough to create perfect heads and wings. In a pinch, it could probably even be spun or stacked to create a small deer hair body. Comparadun hair is perfect for imitating the wings and heads of mayflies, caddis, stoneflies, and even damselflies.

Partridge: While it might be slightly bulkier than other items on this list, a full partridge skin offers incredible versatility that no other material could. The soft hackle feathers range in color from speckled white and black to dark brown. This spectrum of colors can imitate numerous insects, baitfish, and crustaceans. As an added bonus, small marabou plumes can be found in certain places on the pelt, which make for great tails or wings. All of the feathers that come from a partridge have perfectly lifelike action that drives fish nuts.

Hare’s Mask: It may be the creepiest looking item on this list, but a hare’s mask is useful in imitating a huge array of insects. The underfur and guard hairs make excellent dubbing that can be customized to suit the specific color and texture you’re trying to imitate. The guard hairs also make good tails. By bringing a single hare’s mask, you eliminate the need to bring numerous dubbing packets, or even worse, an entire dubbing dispenser.

Marabou: It is hard to make a realistic baitfish pattern without some marabou. Whether used as the tail or the wing, marabou breathes effortlessly under water with even the slightest current or twitch of the rod. While it’s tough not to bring a dozen colors, if I had to pick one, it would be olive.

Mini Rubber Legs: While many of the materials already mentioned on this list also make great legs, nothing beats mini rubber legs when it comes to enticing strikes. My all-time favorite color is barred root beer, which accurately represents the legs of many stoneflies, hoppers, and crustaceans. As an added bonus, rubber legs make great tails and antennaes.

Of course, I won’t be able to perfectly match every single insect, baitfish, and crustacean I see by limiting myself to just eight materials. But I hope it will force me to be creative, or at least good at asking others to use their stuff!

Are there any materials you disagree with or would add? Let us know in the comments!

3 thoughts on “8 Tying Materials to Imitate Any Forage

  1. I do fish parachute flies. I would add either turkey boot or skin. Zylon can also be used for emergents. Little cdc is also a good addition.
    Great article.


  2. I liked the article, don’t forget the larva lace, makes fantastic bodies. I have been trying for 40 years and fished most of Oregon. Caddis and hares ears are great here too! Good luck.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: