Mixing dubbing

Disclaimer – I am not an expert on mixing dubbing materials.

I do occasionally use dubbings straight out of the packet but to be honest that is pretty rare. Instead, I almost always add something else to the fur. In my head this adds ‘life’ to otherwise flat colours. Whether the fish appreciate my efforts we will never know but I like to think it can make a difference. Let me say from the outset I do not have a secret stash of killer dubbing mixes. There are some ideas which have worked for me over the years so I’ll pass them on to you today but what works for me is not guaranteed to work universally. My aim here is to sow the seed of an idea that using mixed dubbings might be something for you to try out for yourself. For me fly tying is about experimenting and trying out new ideas rather than slavishly following exact patterns.

Here in Ireland the idea of mixing different colours of body fur is as old as fly tying itself. This was probably out of necessity as much as anything else, flies were created with what was available from the farmyard or what nature provided. Dyes were natural and as such variable so mixing different colours was second nature to the old fly tyers to try and achieve a desired shade. Now we simply look through the hundreds (thousands?) of perfectly dyed materials in the shop or on line and buy the ones we want. I think the old fly dressers would find it hard to recognise their colours today despite all our technology. I’m not running down modern materials, we are so very fortunate to have access to the vast range of natural and synthetic furs, all I am saying is that we can make small improvements to some of our flies by not relying solely on the suppliers and do a little mixing ourselves.

Of course pre-mixed dubbings are available and are rightly very popular. I use them too and particularly like the Frankie McPhillips blends. When I am in a hurry I turn to these, they are easy to dub and come in a wide range of hues.

If I was more organised I would label all my creations and note the quantities and colours I use on each packet. In reality I just fiddle about adding a bit of this or a few fibres of that and see how it looks. For me it is a very intuitive process and not an exact science, it needs to look ‘right’ to me (what ever ‘right’ may be).

I will pass on some of my mixes now but please, do not over do the quantities of coloured fur you add. I literally add a few fibres. I can’t give exact percentages but I suspect in most cases we are talking about 1% or 2%.

A black seals fur body with a hint of green in the dubbing

I have never been a huge fan of plain black fur bodies. There was just something unnatural looking about them and so very early in my fly tying career I began to experiment by adding a dash of other colours to my black seals fur. A few fibres of green or blue seal are my normal additions but orange and claret also make an appearance.

Yellows are a great base colour and I add just about anything you can think of to vary the shade to meet my requirements. White lightens and ‘deadens’ a bright yellow which can be useful on mayfly patterns. Red works well in tiny quantities but I have never found orange to be as good. Green is an obvious one to add but I like putting a few blue fibres in too. On a bigger scale mixing different shades of yellow is something I habitually do. Everything for the yellowest of golden olives right through to deep amber shades are possible.

Shades of olive are beyond counting so it is very hard to be exact. Every angler has his or her own idea of what a green olive or a golden olive should be. I add tiny quantities of greens, yellows, reds, fiery browns or sooty to my olive fur, sometimes tapering the colour to deepen (or lighten) towards the bend.

Brown/Tan/Ginger – all these types of base colours can be enlivened with reds, clarets, oranges or yellows.

Greens benefit from the addition of yellow or black while blues can be livened up with green, red, purple or black. Don’t run away with the notion you can only add one or two additional colours to your blend, use what you want and what looks good to you even if that is 3 or 4 different hues. Just be wary of chucking in loads of different colours just because you can. I also make my own greens by simply mixing blue and yellow fur in relatively equal quantities.

The Green Peter at to top of this page was made using my blue/yellow mix

You can add just about anything to creams or white fur but I am careful about which coloured fur I add. Soft, fine fur will blend into the white making it lose the base colour. Use stiffer fibres in the tiniest of quantities (seal for example). Whites and creams are the most difficult by far, so build your skills with easier colours before attempting whites.

Clarets and fiery browns are obvious choices for a dash of red or orange.

Reds benefit from a sprinkle pink or blue or purple in my view but again, try what you think looks right.

Mixing natural and dyed furs takes us into a whole new realm! Seriously, I could write a book on this topic alone. Think hares fur for example. It can be dyed all sorts of colours and then spiced up with highlights of dyed seal. The combings from a squirrels tail are a lovely neutral shade which takes other colours well. Dyed squirrel comes in a whole rainbow of shades so the possibilities are endless. Mole’s fur with a dash of claret through it as the body of an Iron Blue Dun, blue rabbit under fur with some black and white seal to make an awesome Adams, the list just goes on and on.

In addition to blending different furs I add other things like chopped up glo-brite floss, deer hair, chopped up wool. Wool can be very good. Readily available and in every conceivable colour, the fibres are strong and stand out well when dubbed in tiny quantities. Occasionally I’ll use flash of some description. I recall when ‘Glister’ came of the market and was excited to try it out but in truth I found it too thick and so I rarely use it now. If I want to add flash to a fly I tend to stick with adding a couple of strands under the wing or in the tail rather than try to blend it into the body.

Of course you can use any of the plethora of modern synthetic dubbings too. While I am personally not a massive fan of bits of plastic in my flies the odd few fibres can be useful when blended with natural furs. Many of these are already mixes themselves so things can get a bit complicated but go by your eye.

In terms of the actual mixing process I have two methods. If I am just sitting at the vice and want a small amount of fur to make couple of flies I just use my fingers to tease out a pinch of fur then add the coloured ones and mix them in together. It only takes a few seconds. On the other hand, if I am setting out to make bigger quantities I use an old coffee grinder which makes a great job of mixing. I never bother cleaning out the grinder, the odd few fibres left will just go into my next mix!

There is a strong argument that a couple of strands of coloured fur in the body of a fly is not going to make a bit of difference to it’s attractiveness but I am not so sure it is that simple. When making flies I strive to add ‘life’ and just maybe my odd few strands of red or purple could be a help. Who knows?

2 thoughts on “Mixing dubbing

  1. I was told years and years ago that there were very few pure colours on insects by a chap that used to like a bit of purple in his black dubbing.

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