The trend these days is for more and more synthetics in fly tying. While I use a wide range of these wonders of the chemical industry I still fall back on more natural materials for most of my tying. Let’s take a look at a very old material which has fallen out of favour, hair from a horse’s tail.
More years ago than I care to remember I discovered that hair from the tail of a horse made a good body material for trout flies. I recall there used to be an early type of buzzer pattern called the Footballer which had an abdomen made from a single strand of black horse hair wound alongside a single strand of white horse hair. If memory serves me correctly, the thorax was of dubbed mole’s fur and the head was a couple of turns of bronze peacock herl. I have no recollection of ever catching a fish a Footballer but I was keen to try horse hair on other flies. I liked the segmented effect hair gives when wound and the ‘glow’ of the under body if you use clear hair on top. Since those far off days I have used horse hair in a number of trout flies, so here are some ideas for you.
- My Horse Hair Partridge. A general copy of an olive, this one used to be almost ever present on my springtime casts, but for some reason I haven’t used it for years now. Tying silk/underbody is Pearsall’s olive (no. 16) or Yellow (no. 4) and the hackle is a Brown Partridge feather taken from the back of the bird, tied sparse. The over body is of a single strand of clear horsehair and you can add a couple of turns of bronze peacock herl for a thorax. Varnish the horse hair to give it a bit of strength. I nick Helen’s clear ‘Hard as Nails’ for the job. I must give this one a swim again this season. A variant uses a strand of clear wound with a strand of black horse hair and a golden plover hackle.
2. A dry variation of an Adam’s which consists of replacing the grey fur body with strands of clear and black horse hair wound together and then varnished. This fly works well in a hatch of small olives when tied on a size 16 hook.
3. Connemara Gold Spider – Tied in sizes 14 to 18, Pearsil’s Yellow silk is used to tie in a flat gold tinsel under body which is then over wound with clear horse hair before varnishing the lot. A sparse hackle of either a starling body feather of a hen hackle dyed black is wound at the neck. 4. You can make a good dry copy of the Yellow Dun by winding clear horse hair over an under body of yellow tying silk and varnishing it. The hackle is sparse cock hackle dyed yellow and the tails are some fibres from the same feather. By using hen hackles and adding wings made from the secondary wing feathers from a thrush you have a reasonable wet version of the Yellow Sally
5. Mike Harding gives a spider pattern called the Grouse and Gold in his excellent book ‘A Guide to North Country Flies’. This wee pattern has a dark grouse hackle and a body made of Pearsall’s no. 6A (Gold) over wound with clear horse hair (varnish as usual). A lovely looking fly but as yet untried by me. Maybe later this season…………..
5. In the same book, Mike also gives the dressing for an olive spider. Pearsall’s olive gossamer (no. 16) forms the underbody with clear horse hair over wound and varnished. Hackle and tails are grey partridge hackle dyed olive. The illustration in the book shows the colour of olive to be light, but I suppose it is a case of matching the colour to the naturals which are hatching.
Using Horse Hair as a rib has a very long history. An early copy of the the Downlooker featured a strand of black horse hair as a rib over a yellow silk body. I personally have never seen a trout take a Downlooker (natural or artificial) and I am unconvinced it is a fly you need to carry around with you, but it fun to tie.
It can be hard to find good quality horse hair, especially the lovely translucent kind. Buying on line can be a bit hit and miss and I advise you to get yours from a retailer who will allow you to examine the product closely before you buy it. Brittle, poor quality hair is a nightmare to use, constantly breaking under the slightest pressure. I know many of you are thinking ‘I can use stronger/more translucent/easier to work with synthetic materials now’. Yes, you can, but I like the old ‘traditional’ approach sometimes and horse hair is a nice material to work with. Try it yourself sometime, it is cheap, readily available and nice to use. Oh, and the trout seem to like it.
It was a very last minute decision. Given the choice I would have been in South East London, at the Valley to be precise, watching Burnley play Charlton Athletic on the last day of the season. Instead, I was at home after working in the morning and felt an hour on the River Robe might be worth a look. Even as I joined the traffic I was unsure of exactly which stretch would receive my attention. Running the options over in my mind I finally settled on a rough and under fished part of the river between Claremorris and Ballinrobe.
Parking up on the verge one field from the river the conditions looked to be favourable. A light mist veiled the countryside and a steady wind was cool but not cold. Through the grass to an impressive new barbed wire fence which barred access to the bankside. I found a gap and wriggled, worm-like under the wire. The river looked very low but my first glance upstream showed the fish were rising. It was now a I made a poor decision and headed off downstream to some inviting looking water.
I new this stretch of the river was not developed and the banks would be rough, but the next couple of hours developed into an assault course rather than a peaceful distraction. I elected to get into the river to avoid the vegetation but this strategy came with its own hazards. While most of the river was only a few inches deep there were some nasty holes in the bottom , making progress ‘interesting’. I slid down into one of these holes and only prevented a ducking by grabbing a tree branch. I can recall how many times I hooked up in bushes, trees or other bankside vegetation but it felt like a never ending saga.
Spiders, cast upstream or down caught plenty of trout but nothing of any great size. Large Dark Olives hatched continually for an hour after my arrival, inducing a great rise and a feeding frenzy among the swallows and martins.
The mist gradually morphed into steady, soaking rain and while the river badly needed lots of fresh water it was taking the edge off of my enjoyment. That and the lack of any deep water combined to cut short the afternoon for me and I retraced my steps back up to the gap under the fence. Looking upstream there seemed to be a slow, deep pool just on the next bend, exactly the kind of water I had been searching for in the other direction. The rain drummed on the hood of my jacket – was it worth another ten minutes? To hell with it, I waded up through some thin water, taking another three brownies on an upstream wet fly before I eased into the tail of the deep pool. I picked up another couple of small lads then had the bright idea of dropping the cast into a little pocket just where the water broke at the tail. just as expected a trout pounced on the spiders and thrashed on the surface as he felt the hook – a nice trout of around the pound and a half. This wily character shot around an underwater rock and snagged the line which parted after some tugging from my end of the connection.
I had suffered sufficient humiliation for one afternoon and wound in for the last time. The lesson was plain to see, more diligent observation before starting to fish would have led me to decide on exploring upstream instead of down. Ah well, you cant win them all. Unless you are Burnley football club, who soundly thrashed Charlton while I was catching tiddlers and hooking trees.
And Burnley did win. 3 -nil. Finished the season as champions. UTC