Deep Dive into Bucktail – Q+A with Jay Nicholas

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Question:

Hey Guys… starting to tie bait fish flies using the buck tails I bought from you awhile back. I have noticed that most of the hairs towards the bottom are curved; is there a way to remove the curve so they are straight as the ones near the tip?

Jay’s Answer

If you are asking how to remove the natural “kinkyness” that occurs in some bucktail - I am referring to the individual hairs being wavy or crinkly – I have no useful advice. All deer have tail hair that exhibits different amount of curliness depending on the individual deer. This is true with human hair – some people have hair that is absolutely straight and limp while others have hair that is straight and thick and some have hair that is wavy and some have hair that exhibits tightly wavy or curly hair.

This bucktail  has been commercially dyed and packaged. Then I soaked it in soapy water with fabric softener and let it dry to allow the hair and the tail dry in it's natural shape. NOTE PLEASE: This hair is naturally curly, and no amount of soaking will remove the curl from this hair.

This bucktail has been commercially dyed and packaged. Then I soaked it in soapy water with fabric softener and let it dry to allow the hair and the tail dry in it’s natural shape.
NOTE PLEASE: This hair is naturally curly, and no amount of soaking will remove the curl from this hair.

If you look closely at this photo, you will see, i hope, that the hair on this bucktail is rather straight when compared to the brown hair on the tail above. the relative amount of straight and curve, like the character of hair length, thickness, and so forth, is a matter of differences between individual deer.

If you look closely at this photo, you will see, i hope, that the hair on this bucktail is rather straight when compared to the brown hair on the tail above. the relative amount of straight and curve, like the character of hair length, thickness, and so forth, is a matter of differences between individual deer.

If I look at a hundred bucktails that have all been washed and rinsed and dyed, I will see tails with hair that ranges from very straight to very kinky or crinkly. I my opinion, the proposition of taking the curliness out of bucktail hair that has already been washed and dried on a flat surface is pointless. I do not know of any means of doing this. It might be possible to take a bucktail to a hair salon and ask to have the hair straightened, and it might be possible at the cost of several hundred dollars – if you could find a stylist who would work with the stink and grossness of the tail hide on un-tanned tails.

Now if on the other hand you are asking about how to get the curve out of tails that have been smushed into packages in such a manner that the hair has an “un-natural” wave to it, well, I can help here and my remedy goes also for bucktail flies that have been put away wet or stuffed into a box that caused the hair to dry in a curved shape.

The solution here is to throw the tail or the flies into a tub of warm soapy water. The soap is intended to remove some of the grease that is present in un-dyed tails. Dyed tails will be less affected by the soap because they have been soaked on a formalin solution prior to dying (most likely). The formalin removes grease and helps the hair accept the dye. Using soap with a dyed tail will probably remove excess dye (if any) and won’t hurt the process.

Let the tail soak for at least a half hour. Flies that started out straight and ended up with curved hair don’t need as much time in the bath, maybe 10-15 minutes. This is not science, it is just a matter of allowing the hairs to soak up wome water and this in turn will allow the hair to return to its original confirmation/shape. So this will not remove kinky hair but it will allow “bent” or artificially “curved” hair to return to its natural shape.

If you have been soaking “raw” un-dyed bucktails you will need multiple rinses and soakings, because you might (or might not) find considerable dirt and grease that needs to be washed and thoroughly rinsed out.

Here are some white bucktails that I threw in the wash basin with laundry soap. I wll let these soak and stir these around as much as required to get any dirt and dust out of them, then rinse several times.

Here are some white bucktails that I threw in the wash basin with laundry soap. I wll let these soak and stir these around as much as required to get any dirt and dust out of them, then rinse several times.

Now after a final rise in clear water (cold or warm) it is time to lay the tails or flies out on newspaper or cardboard in the sun to dry in the natural shape of the hair. You can press tails or flies in paper towel if you wish but make sure you wave the tail or fly in the air to let the hair fibers separate and begin the drying process.

These colorful bucktails are drying in my garage on an old towell. The hides were twisted but after soaking I was able to "straighten" the hide to make trimming hair off the hide a more orderly task. These tails need to be turned over several times and the towells replaced to make sure the tails are completely dry. Yes a hair dryer helps but make sure you have permission to use it first and don't let the hair dryer get stinky from unwashed bucktails.

These colorful bucktails are drying in my garage on an old towell. The hides were twisted but after soaking I was able to “straighten” the hide to make trimming hair off the hide a more orderly task. These tails need to be turned over several times and the towells replaced to make sure the tails are completely dry. Yes a hair dryer helps but make sure you have permission to use it first and don’t let the hair dryer get stinky from unwashed bucktails.

You can speed the drying process with a hair dryer and it is important that you allow the deer hide to COMPLETELY dry before you put the tail away; a damp hide will mold and you should make sure that the tail really really really dries before you turn your attention to other matters. No, you don’t here to watch the tail minute by minute until it dries (could be several days or more) but keep returning to see if it is dry before putting it away.

I have had 100% success removing “un-natural” curve from bucktails and flies in the manner described here. For treating the flies only, you might find success holding the fly (carefully) in the steam over a tea-kettle. The steam will allow hair and feathers to return to their original shape, and will make many grungy flies look nearly fresh and new again, unless of course they are gummed up with dirt or fish slime, and in that case you need to give the flies a soapy bath as previously described, with as many rinses as are needed to get the grunge out.

Question:

Thanks Jay… I appreciate you taking the time to help me out, and I think that will solve my problem of the tails being curved; and while I’ve got your attention… I’m tying the “Bucktail Baitfish” created by Martin Bawden, who I imagine you are familiar with. I notice that when I tie in the buck tail, that it’s very sparse at the tip, nothing like his images. Can I use a hair stacker to line up the tips so it looks better?

BTW, I have watched many of your tying videos on the Caddis website… well done!

Jay’s Answer

So here is the issue with your dilemma. If you look at the hair on individual tails, you will see that some have individual hair fibers that are quite substantial all the way from the base to the very tip of the fiber. Other tails will have individual hair fibers that are very slender or may start out substantial at the base of the hair but become progressively slender toward the tip – and some fibers are super slender at the tips or you might find bucktail with many broken tips.

You can do some tidying-up by stacking your hair, although stacking bucktail is not an easy matter.

I suspect that you are faced with a dilemma common to all of us who watch youtube fly tying videos. Many of the tutorials show competent tyers using PERFECT materials. I try to avoid doing this myself — I have seen people tying with the MOST PERFECT bucktails, deer body hair, saddle hackles, marabou, ostrich, and the like – and find myself thinking “my gosh how can I get materials like that.”

Fact is that most of us, me included, CAN NOT get the perfect materials. Many (not all) of the tyers featured on youtube have industry connections that allow “first choice” in selecting materials. So you might see someone tying with materials far better than you or I can ever get out hands on. I have tried calling fly shops all around the country and asking the employees to hand pick materials for me. They always do their best, and sometimes they hit it out of the park, but they too are limited to picking from whatever they have in the shop.

So we watch the videos, get the best materials we can procure, and resign ourselves to the fact that the glamor fly on the video might loo a little better than our fly, but ours will catch fish with the best of ‘em.

The above q+a post was a customer service correspondence with Jay Nicholas we thought many would benefit from.

CD

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