Arctic Fox, Marble Fox, Fin Raccoon, and American Possum

Various fur that is useful in forming wings on salmon and steelhead flies. Shown from left to right above: Arctic Fox Tail medallion; Pro Sportfisher Marble Fox Medallion; Pro Sportfisher Finn Raccoon Piece; Finn Raccoon Zonker Strip; Arctic Fox Zonker strip.

Various fur that is useful in forming wings on salmon and steelhead flies. Shown from left to right above: Arctic Fox Tail medallion; Pro Sportfisher Marble Fox Medallion; Pro Sportfisher Finn Raccoon Piece; Finn Raccoon Zonker Strip; Arctic Fox Zonker strip.

For years during the 1970s, I tied summer and winter steelhead on traditional hooks with calf tail or polar bear wings, sometimes with Squirrel tail wings and occasionally with brown bear hair wings. None of these wings had flash in them.

Over time, polar bear hair became a rarity and it also became more difficult to obtain calf tail with consistently suitable properties to use as winging material. As these materials were becoming more difficult to obtain, we began to see Arctic fox for use as wings on our steelhead and salmon flies.

Arctic fox makes very nice wings as it compresses  better than a hard hair like calf tail or polar bear. The properties of Arctic fox make it possible to tie in a nice size wing and still finish the head of the fly in a fairly slender conformation. Initially we had about two options of Arctic fox: white and black.

Over time, we have evolved to a point where we now have Arctic fox, Marble Fox, and Finn Raccoon to craft wings on our flies.

This post represents my effort to introduce tyers to several products commonly used to tie steelhead and salmon flies. These materials have very different properties and I hope this will help folks who have not already seen and tied with these products have a better idea what they are getting before the package arrives.

Before discussing some of these options, I’d like to comment on general qualities of a few of these products.

Color consistency: you should expect considerable variation in the color of each packet of fur. In my experience, this is less so with Pro Sportfisher fur than with other suppliers, but I have also seen other suppliers that have provided very consistent colors for a period of months, only to find that their “purple” changes through time. Some of this is caused by the nature of the fur they are dying and some is caused by inconsistencies in the dye process from one batch to another.

Color brightness: you should expect some pieces of fur to be brilliantly colored and some to be far more subdued in color. Again, I have found differences in the colors offered by different suppliers and these have varied over time. Reds are difficult to dye and produce a brilliant hue, but blues tend to be a very nice blue. Where color hue is concerned, seeing is believing and it is impossible to tell you outright what a specific color will look like from any supplier until I can see an individual packet. I will say that to date, my experience is that Pro Sportfisher fur tends to be the most consistent where color is concerned.

Hair length: generally, Arctic fox is shorter, Marble fox is longer, and Finn Raccoon is the longest of the three furs I am reviewing in this article.

The first products I’ll show are medallions cut from an Arctic fox and a Marble fox.

Pro Sportfisher Marble Fox medallion on left and Arctic fox medallion on right.

Pro Sportfisher Marble Fox medallion on left and Arctic fox medallion on right.These are about the same diameter. The Arctic fox has black tips on the guard hairs- but you will not find this to be the case with every tail medallion.

Generally, the medallion (a cross-section piece of tail) on the Marble fox is a little larger than the medallion of the Arctic fox, but this is not always the case. These tail furs make very good wing materials on steelhead and salmon flies. Maximum hair length is probably 3″ but may only be in the range of 2″ to 2.5″ on some tail pieces.

I will re-emphasize here that you should expect the color of each piece may vary somewhat. This is the unavoidable consequence of dying a natural fur because the fur on each animal will absorb the dye a little differently – thus the color variation.

Arctic fox body fur zonker strip (dark purple at top) versus Finn Raccoon zonker strip (light purple at bottom).

Arctic fox body fur zonker strip (dark purple at top) versus Finn Raccoon body fur zonker strip (light purple at bottom). Both zonker strips are labeled as purple. The both zonkers are cut from body fur, but the Finn Raccoon zonker will always have longer fur.

Please note that the zonker strips shown above have not been steamed – they are all crumpled from being right out of the package. Steaming these would allow the hair to loose the kinks.

You may usually depend on the fur to be longer on the Fin Racoon zonker than on the arctic fox zonker strip. You will also find the hair length to vary between different packets of either kind of fur.

Comparison of two Arctic fox body fur zonker strips, showing different har length and color (both are purple).

Comparison of two Arctic fox body fur zonker strips, showing different hair length and color (both are purple).

Several colors of Pro Sportfisher Marble Fox tail fur.

Several colors of Pro Sportfisher Marble Fox tail fur.

Several colors of Pro Sportfisher Finn Raccon fur pieces. This is body fur that has very long guard hairs and makes for beautiful wings on steelhead and salmon flies.

Several colors of Pro Sportfisher Finn Raccoon fur pieces. This is body fur that has very long guard hairs and makes for beautiful wings on steelhead and salmon flies.

This is a packet of Pro Sportfisher American Possum fur on the hide. This is more often best suited for spinning in a dubbing loop because only a few packets of this fur will be long enough to make for good wings on steelhead and salmon flies. The color of each piece will vary as will the length of fur on each piece. This fur is very different from the tail fur previously discussed.

This is a packet of Pro Sportfisher American Possum fur on the hide. This is more often best suited for spinning in a dubbing loop because only a few packets of this fur will be long enough to make for good wings on steelhead and salmon flies. The color of each piece will vary as will the length of fur on each piece. This possum fur is very different from the tail fur previously discussed. The length of this fur is more likely to be in the range of .75″ to 1.25″. American Possum can universally be counted on to have dark tips, but dark tips on guard hair of Arctic fox and Marble fox is not usual.

I use all of these furs throughout the course of a season, with my choices based on the color and hair length on each piece. The Arctic fox and Finn Raccoon body fur is generally finer and less crinkly than the tail furs but I’ll use both furs for wings depending on my mood more than anything else.

I hope these remarks help a little.

Jay Nicholas – winter season 2016/17

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