One of my favorite materials that I use on a weekly basis is Moose Hair. I am often asked why I use so much moose hair for fly bodies. In my opinion, it's one of the most underrated fly tying materials. Whenever I am developing new tying techniques, or just messing around with patterns, I use moose mane and peccary as a blanket material because I like the aesthetic appeal of it. Then I change that base to something to that matches the fly that I am trying to replicate. The other reason I use moose hair is because it is actually extremely buggy and on its own can be extremely effective for a variety of insects. The contrast of the white and black hairs provides a definite segmentation of of a bugs body and sometimes can be a sleeper for catching fish. Talking to other tiers, this is a material that is challenging to use because of its brittle and delicate construction. Here is a quick explanation of what exactly you can expect when using moose hair and a few tips on how to use it without a few of the most common problems that tiers run into. I hope after this brief discussion you will see it make its way back into some of your flies.
This discussion will be based mostly on moose mane and its use as a body material. Moose mane hairs are some of the longest hairs found on the animal. These hairs are taken from the back of the animals neck and can reach lengths of up to eight inches. Each patch of moose mane is a great mix of colors. Each hair can be white, grey, brown, dark black and often a slow perfect blend of those colors into each other. These longer hairs are excellent for wrapping dry fly and nymph bodies. It is extremely buggy and can be tied to match any insect your wanting to replicate. As stated above, this hair can be difficult to acquire and work with. I have highlighted some of the problems that are most common and below I have offered 7 tips to help you tie better moose mane bodied flies.
1: Select a Good Patch
If you can find unprocessed hair it works much better than processed hairs. The tanning process strips the natural protection from the hair, which reduces its pliability and makes it more difficult to wrap without cracking, breaking, or splitting. Having said that, most hair you will find will be processed and each batch you buy may vary drastically in quality. My best advice is to buy in person or to buy multiple batch's and select your best. Your going to be looking for long flexible hairs that don't appear to break easily when you bend them in your fingers. The longer they are the easier they are to wrap and are more versatile on a variety of patterns.
This is a patch of high grade moose mane. Great color variation long and flexible hairs.
2: Get it wet
As stated in my first tip these hairs can become fragile in the tanning and cleaning process. In order to make them more flexible and wrap with out breaking or splitting soak them in a small bowl of hot water. I have tried both hot and cold and I believe even slightly warm water can make a difference. Even if you have a great patch of hair that doesn't seem to be to brittle, soaking can't hurt and will avoid some frustration of your body splitting half way up your wrap and then having to start over. I don't recommend putting any materials in your mouth to soften them because of the possibility of getting sick. Over the years I've wondered if I have gotten "roosters revenge" and in this case I guess it wood be "moose revenge." If your just starting out tying don't get in that habit of putting materials in your mouth, just soak it.
I use a spoon dish like most people have in there kitchens. Its shallow and easy to grab the hairs out one at a time when ready. Third photo is a dry hair that easily cracks when bent, the forth photo is soaked flexible hair.
3: Don't use Hackle Pliers
This tip is a bit of personal preference. I do not use hackle pliers for anything. If you do prefer to use them, go ahead and skip this tip. But, I would encourage you to give it a try without. When wrapping multiple small hairs at the same time, I find that they slip out of the hackle pliers easily, break more easily and also are more likely to get twisted. The dexterity to do this will take practice and patience, but will pay off in the future with a variety of techniques.
A few common hackle pliers that i have around and do use for a variety of tasks. The two with wood handles are much more delicate on hairs and quills.
4: Solid Thread Base
I understand this is a little bit of common sense but don't make this mistake. After coaching people through this process over the last few years I've found that a lot of tiers don't get a solid thread base before wrapping these hairs in. If your try to wrap anything in on a bare hook or an uneven thread base, it's going to want to shift, slide, and make you pull out your own hair. This is an easy one to avoid; make a solid even thread base before you wrap these forward. It may not always matter on a dubbing based bodies but for any hair or even quills its crucial.
Wrapping nano silk on a bare hook, adding moose mane, and wrapping it forward tightly.
5: Anchor it Tight When these hairs are tied in and wrapped forward, it is necessary to make sure they are as tight as possible. I receive a few pictures a week asking what someone is doing wrong with materials like moose, peccary or quills. Often at first glance its obvious the material is not tight. If these hairs are not tightly wrapped they will move and any movement will allow them to shift, rub, and break. The result is a blown out body and a ruined fly. It can be a tough ask to wrap such a delicate material without snapping or breaking it. But there are many things in life that require us to be both strong and delicate, and this as good a place as any to practice that.
A few are flies display a clean tight wrap that will no shift or loosen and hold up over time.
6: Color it
One thing you can always do with a white hair is color is with a sharpie. A quick glide down either side of this hair with any color will give it an extra pop of color to match whatever insect your trying to replicate. I don't do this for most patterns, but I do regularly for my red quill patterns. I find that the white and black contrast looks just buggy enough to match anything. Just like your grey dubbing on, say, a parachute adams. If your dead set on green hair, and having a difficult time finding quality green hair, give a quick coloring to a white hair and you're ready to go.
I recommend sharpies because they come in endless colors are cheap, easy, and dry quickly.
7: Use a UV Resin
This is a crucial step. Using a UV resin is going to seal these hairs to your hook and keep them from breaking. Because we soaked them to make them more flexible, we now have to ensure they stay in place. After they cool down and dry they will likely want to return to their previous form, resulting in a break or a crack, making all your hard work in vain. As we all are aware of it's lack of durability, your going to want to make sure you coat it in UV to improve its life on the stream. Those hairs can pop off after a few casts or a few fish. Making sure you coat the body immediately after tying will make the fly more durable and have more longevity. I have tried almost every UV on the market and hands down the best I've found for this application is Solarez Bone Dry.
Solarez Bone dry dries fast is not tacky and holds up over time in your fly boxes.
Moose mane is an amazing and natural material that is often avoided. I hope that by sharing my experience with this material it helps you to put it back on your vice, or to put it on for the first time.