Blue Ribbon Hair Definitions

Know your hair and its best use

Hairs from various animals are some of the most useful fly tying materials that exist. They vary widely in length, texture, color, and hollowness. Whether it be for wings, bodies, or tails, it is critical to have the correct type of hair for the job you are doing. We have selected six different types of hair for this selection that will cover the needs for just about any fly imaginable. Following is a description of each.

Sparkle Dun Deer

This hair is primarily used for wings on sparkle duns and compara duns. It is characterized by two things: the hair is hollow down into the tips, and the tips themselves are short and fine. The overall length of the hair can be from one-half inch to over two inches. That isn’t important, though many tiers make the mistake of thinking it is. It is the tips of the hair that count; they should be hollow and fine. This allows the hair to flare properly for all sizes of flies, and provides good floatation as well. Sparkle dun deer is most commonly whitetail deer from a cold climate, killed in early winter.

X-Caddis Deer

This is deer hair that is a bit denser (thinner fibers) than sparkle dun deer, with slightly longer tips. The hair is still hollow, but not to the extent that the sparkle dun deer is. It is typically darker in color as well, and makes for very nice bodies on Humpys. One to two and a half inches is the typical length. X-Caddis deer can also frequently be used for spinning purposes too, since the lower half of the hair is usually quite hollow. A very versatile hair.

Light Elk

One of the most popular of all hairs. This can be natural in color (which comes only from bull elk), or bleached (this could be bull or cow), but either way is a very light colored hair and therefore makes flies that are very visible. The best elk hair will have short black tips, and the hair will be hollow down into the tips. This is important because elk is a coarse hair, and without some hollowness it will not float well or tie down easily. It should be quite straight in nature also. This will allow you to use it for large caddis and stonefly wings.

Length can be anywhere from one to three inches, depending on when the animal was killed. Like all these hairs, the location on the body the hair comes from isn’t as important as when in the year the animal was killed. Light elk is most commonly used for wings (elk hair caddis), bodies (humpys and hoppers), and extended bodies (paradrakes), but can even be spun if it is very hollow to the base.


There are two types of moose: body hair and mane hair. Body is by far the most useful, and it included in this selection. It is a straight hair, two to four inches in length, and very dense-that is, it is not hollow, except perhaps at the very base. It is primarily used for tails because it flares very little and is stiff and durable. It makes lousy wings. It can be wrapped for bodies too and is quite durable when done so. Body hair also makes good antennae.
Mane hair is very long (usually four to seven inches), scraggly or wavy, and has both black and white fibers. It is good when wrapped for bodies, as in the Mosquito.


This is an extremely fine, hollow hair that will spin just by looking at it! Excellent for learning how to spin hair, and for very small spun patterns. We use it a lot for winging too-on flies like the improved X-Caddis, and the CDC Caddis. It is superb for winging because it is so fine and hollow. This permits us to get a nice flare to the wing and to tie even the smallest flies. Generally, caribou is medium to dark brown in color, and one to two inches in length. There are a tremendous number of fibers per square inch of hide, so a small piece will go a long way.

Caribou is not as straight as deer or elk, and consequently can be troublesome to stack, but we have found the fibers are often very even in length and frequently do not need to be stacked at all to make a nice wing. If you are stacking caribou, make sure the under fur (which is abundant) is cleaned out thoroughly with a hair comb.

Spinning Deer

The name says it all. This is deer selected for spinning purposes, as in Irresistible bodies and grasshopper heads. It is a hollow hair that can range from fine to coarse in texture. The nature of the tips is irrelevant. The longer the hair, the easier it is to work with, and our spinning deer is usually one and a half to three inches in length. Spinning deer can be whitetail or mule deer-the main thing is that the animal be killed late in the season, after its winter coat has come in. It can vary in color from quite light to medium-dark gray.
With the proper deer, spinning is an easy task. If you have had trouble spinning hair in the past, check your hair. It is most likely unsuited to the task.

A Final Note

Some of our hair is tanned, and some not. There is no particular advantage in tying to have one or the other. Properly chosen hair will work for its task-a tanned or untanned hide makes no difference at all. Be wary of tanned hair however; unless carefully done the tanning process can knock the “body” right out of the hair, making it very brittle and fragile. Ours is always carefully checked, and will give no problems to the tier.