Various rabbit and Finn Raccoon Zonker strips make for great flies, but there are some properties of the material that can be confusing and intimidating.
The first thing that might disappoint you is the extent to which the strips might be matted and kinked as you remove them from the package. This is normal – after all, the strips have been wadded together and stuffed into a small bag and have probably taken on lots of odd shapes. It is impossible to tie a nice looking fly before I take these strips, hold them in kitchen tongs, and hold them over a tea kettle. The steam will allow the strips to loose the kinks acquired in the plastic package and you will now be able to stoke and straighten them out and tie a very nice orderly fly.
This photo shows the same Rabbit strips first pictured after being steamed and straightened out – much nicer!
The two photos above show Finn Raccoon Zonker strips before and after steaming – illustrating the value of steaming the strips over the tea kettle before tying.
Another natural feature of rabbit and Finn Raccoon Zonker strips is the fact that the hair length can vary considerable from package to package – just as the leather on some hides is thicker than it is on others. So don’t be surprised if you find variation in hair length and hide thickness in different packets of rabbit and Finn Raccoon.
Remember also the fact that the hair on each animal is not the same length or texture on the entire hide. This means that for both Zonker strips you are likely to find variation in hair length along the strip.
Cross cut rabbit tends to have shorter hair on both ends of the strip and longer hair in the middle of the strip.
Zonker cut rabbit strips tend to have shorter hair at the shoulder end of the hide and longer hair at the rump end of the hide. Zonker cut Finn Raccoon may have similar length hair along the entire strip but you might find a gradient in the hair length along the strip, plus a gradient in the amount of guard hairs along the strip.
I usually purchase entire rabbit hides rather than individual packets of strips for two reasons. First, they are usually not as crinkled and mis-shaped from being stuffed into little bags. And second, I know that I will have strips from the entire rabbit hide and I can select hair from various portions of the hide according to the desired properties for the flies I am going to tie.
The photo above shows 4 strips I took from the middle of a stripped hide. Note how straight they are – with no steaming. In this photo the shoulder of the hide is at the right and the rump of the hide is at the left.
The photo above shows a short piece cut from one of the strips photographed above. Although this rabbit has hair that is very similar in length at the rump and shoulder ends of the strip, the texture is clearly different, and many strips have hair that is noticably shorter at the shoulder end of the zonker strip.
Depending on the properties of the individual strip, I may not use more than half of each strip for my steelhead flies, because I tend to prefer strips with very full, fluffy hair and this is most commonly found at the rump end of the strip.
I hope you have found a few morsels of useful information here, and will not despair when you find rumpled rabbit strips or hair that varies is length along each strip.
Jay Nicholas, December 2016