Paul Davis looks at a slightly obscure hide not often found in the fly tiers collection - African impala - perfect for hair wings on tiny emergers.
I have to admit I am a complete fly tying materials tart. I have ultimate admiration for those tyers who stay no I don’t need this new ‘must-have’ material. As soon as I see something different my mind goes in to overdrive and I want to get to the vice ASAP to see how I can incorporate it into a fly. I have to admit it is not just restricted to official materials for sale and I am always eyeing up my friends and family’s pets, carpets, packaging etc for that new wonder material. Fortunately I recognise the symptoms of my disease (which has been classified and named as Flytyer’s Eye*) and recognise that the cure is regular trips to the tackle shop to stock up on materials. Now fortunately (or unfortunately from my wife’s perspective) I walk past Grangers tackle shop on my way home from work in South Kensington and am only 10 minutes drive from Pete Cockwill’s shop in Albury. It was on one of my weekly visits to Pete’s shop (or if my wife is reading this yearly visit) that I noticed he had a couple of packages of Impala hide. I don’t need to say much more other than money changed hands and I left with some Impala.
Now for you older tyers (or American tyers) impala used to be the name given to calf tail hair. However this impala is from the genuine antelope variety from Africa (Aepyceros melampus if you want to be precise about it).
A female impala (Aepyceros melampus) – note the black M on the rump and tail – a good field identification tip.
Hair of African mammals is rarely used in fly tying and this, as much as anything is probably due to fly tyers being predominately from the developed countries of the northern hemisphere and therefore their lack of access to these materials rather than their suitability for fly tying.
All hair has different properties and as fly tiers we have exploited this in innumerable patterns especially the hair of species in Northern Europe and North America. Species of Deer, Elk, Moose form the staple heart of our hair based dry fly patterns and using the hair from these species to create hair wings are nothing new. The elk hair caddis being a particularly good pattern for overall shape and ‘floatability’ and the Deer hair based Sedgehog and Halfhog (Buzz lightyear or Hogwarts of some authors) also being particular favourites of mine.
Whilst getting to grips with the feel of the impala hair – it became clear that as a hot climate species there are fundamental differences that can be exploited as a tyer. Firstly impala has no underfur (the down fluff-like fur that has to be combed out when using deer hair etc) – basically living in the heat on the Veldt in southern Africa doesn’t require a second level of insulation provided by the underfur. This adaptation to warmer climate also gives the fur another property in that each individual hair is near to parallel as possible. If you look at say Moose hair you can really see the taper on individual hairs – this is again needed for insulation, with the wider at the base hairs providing a denser and warmer coat next to the skin.
It is this fine nature of the impala hair caused by it tapering very steadily that provides some nice properties to the tyer. This fineness allows the hair to take the form of the body it is tied to without the manic splaying and spinning seen in deer hair etc. This means that very precise and shaped hair wings can be created.
An impala hide – notice the grading of colour from the dark bown at the spine to the light fawn at the flank.
I have been messing about and creating various emerger patterns using fine wire shrimp hooks (Kamasan B100’s) and flexifoss for the abdomen and seals fur for the throax. When I put the impala hair onto this as the wing the final result didn’t look too bad. Various colours and shades of abdomen and thorax were tried along with the various shades of brown that can be found as you travel from the spine area (dark brown) on the impala hide towards the flanks (very light fawn).
Hook: Kamasan B100
Thread: Uni Thread 8/0 Camel
Abdomen: 2 different colour strands of flexifloss wound together and slowly releasing the tension as you reach the thorax
Thorax: Seals fur blended to suit colours of the abdomen
Wing: Impala hair
Head: Built up with thread to give the impression of a emerging head
A black and claret emerger with a brown impala hair
An oblique view to show how the impala hair forms a lovely semi-circular wing
I have cast these flies in ‘anger’ both on the Upper Ouse for Brownies and on the Test for Grayling and both times they were very successful – especially when caddis flies were hatching.
If you fancy getting some impala to try out this fur then give Pete Cockwill a ring on 01483 205196 or pop into his shop in Albury (the pieces I bought were about £3.50 for a 3 in x 4 in square).
I would also like to thank Colin Spicer, Secretary of the Surrey FDG branch for taking the excellent photos of the flies.
* Extract from ‘The Doctor will see you now’ by Mike Harding in Fly Fishing & Fly Tying December 2008 on page 47;-
Flytyer’s Eye (Oculusitis mosca): A condition whereby the sufferer finds it impossible to pass anything furry, feathery, made of wire, glass or plastic without wondering whether he or she can make a fly out of it: pearls of the bridesmaid’s dress, whiskers off the cat, fur off a spaniel’s ear, feathers of the budgie (we now have a flightless bird)… mea culpa to them all.