Road Kill Questions

Road Kill Questions

Dealing-or not-with the "raw" materials of fly-tying; balancing a rod & reel

  • By: Buzz Bryson
  • and Darrel Martin
Everywhere I go I see road-killed dead critters-squirrels and possums and raccoons and whatnot. Not only do I hate to see the waste of these tiny lives but I'm thinking maybe that if I only knew how to handle the carcasses, at least the freshest ones, I could save some money on fly-tying materials for myself and my friends. Only thing is, I've never been a hunter, and don't know how to skin or cure a hide. I hear you have to rub the skin with Borax to cure it once you remove it from the creature. Anything else I need to know about this process from the standpoint of practicality or safety?

Many years ago when the world was young, I attended a small, two-room country grade school built by the Weyerhauser Lumber Company. I can remember that some of our school meals were road kill-especially deer. Apparently the State Patrol would turn a fresh carcass over to the school cooks. These days, I like to feel that I have graduated from road kill in any form.

In fact, it now may be against the law in your state to pick up road kills; you'll need to check your game laws. It may also be illegal to have in your possession certain species of road kills, particularly if you lack the proper state-issued license for dispatching them-and I don't mean a driver's license. Even some varmints have legal restrictions.

There is also the safety hazard of picking critters off the blacktop in traffic; on some busy highways you could become road kill yourself. Also, consider that the rapid "verminization" of road kills (by this I mean maggots, fleas, mites, ticks, etc.), combined with the damage done to fur and feathers by passing treads and a hot sun quickly turns a road kill into an undesirable and unhealthy mess.

There are better ways to save money and time in fly-tying. One of the best methods of gleaning goods is to befriend a hunter and pluck the CDC from his ducks or skin his elk. A little research helps. Try to find Eric Leiser's Fly Tying Materials (perhaps the best book on the subject) or the older Herter's Science of Modern Taxidermy (1972). I'd probably take that elk or deer hide to a tannery for its final processing; I can't tan as well as a professional can, and I doubt that you can, either.

As for the "waste" of a nice, fluffy-looking dead raccoon, I don't agree. It will not go to waste, because it will pass back into the food chain and nature-in the form of crows and other creatures-will benefit from it. I would rather buy quality, clean and legal items from the various companies that take pride in their products. - Darrel Martin

I have a few ducks. How do I prepare the skins so I could use the feather for future fly-tying? How do I prepare the wings? What part of the duck could I use?

For me, cleanliness is the game; I do not like flesh in my tying goods. And I certainly would not use mothballs or crystals to protect materials from insects, as they are carcinogens. Therefore, for the wings I match the primaries and secondaries (by counting feathers) and cut them off, pair them up right and left, tape them together and place them in individual Ziplock bags. This saves much time later-and I actually get true-paired wings, something that is seldom seen in commercial packaging. Any other feathers, such as scapularies, are cut from the wings, matched, labeled, dated and put in plastic envelopes.

For the body feathers, I also cut them off and place them in labeled Ziplock containers. For example, I have Ziplocks with breast feathers, flank feathers, rump feathers, etc. Date these bags also; fresh feathers are far better than old feathers. If necessary, I will warm wash with Woolite any body feathers that may need it. I do not do that with wing feathers.

Soiled CDC (cul de canard, or "duck butt") feathers can also be gently washed. Afterward, if they require it, you can treat them with CDC oil (available in fly shops) to reconstitute them. I certainly envy you; I wish I had a few fresh duck wings. -Darrel Martin

What is the ideal balance point for an assembled rod and reel? And at which of the following three stages should the assembly balance at the ideal point: 1) Before there is line or backing on the reel; 2) After there is line and backing on, but before the line has been threaded through the guides, or 3) After the line has been threaded through the guides.

It is tiring to cast a rod that is not properly balanced. However, the balance of a rod is similar to its action in that "right" is not absolute but personal. Generally, you want the weight of your outfit distributed so that after some time on the water, you don't find yourself thinking, This rod is tip heavy, or This rod sure has too much weight on the butt end; I need a lighter reel.

As a starting point, the fulcrum-when the loaded reel is mounted and the line is threaded-ought to fall a couple of inches in front of the grip. Adjust from there to fit your casting style. -B.B.