Warm (Sometimes) And Fuzzy

Warm (Sometimes) And Fuzzy

A while back my good friend, Richard Corbett, was driving past my house on the way to a construction job when he got the sudden urge to pull into my driveway

  • By: Paul Guernsey
A while back my good friend, Richard Corbett, was driving past my house on the way to a construction job when he got the sudden urge to pull into my driveway for no other reason than to show off the superb specimen of a gray squirrel he had just salvaged from the side of the road.

"It's still warm," Richard marveled as I stood inspecting the handsomely pelted critter lying stone dead in the bed of his pickup truck. Richard was a veteran hunter, and he'd skinned lots of creatures larger than this. I knew he would do a professional job on the squirrel, and for his efforts be rewarded with a trove of fly dubbing and hairwing material-enough all-natural, 100 percent organic stuff not only for the coming year, but for many years to come.

I certainly admired him for his ambition. In addition, since I lacked his skills with a skinning knife, I felt a bit envious, and perhaps even a little inadequate. I also had to confess to myself that, owing to a weak stomach, I probably would never know the satisfaction of skinning my own freshly run-over rodent.

In fact, almost all the fur and hair I have ever owned has come off the pegboard in a fly shop. That's not to say that I am always able to resist the call of the wild when it comes to collecting materials. It was only the other day that I was moving things around in a closet and came across a paper bag filled with feathers from the turkey gobbler I shot a couple of seasons ago. Now, with two kids in the house closet space is at a premium, and here were more turkey feathers than I was likely to use in two lifetimes. Still, after I got done pawing through them, I carefully folded the bag and put them right back on the shelf. Wouldn't think of tossing them.

I own similar bags of ruffed grouse, mallard and wood duck feathers, along with the elegant tail feathers from innumerable pheasants. Although no matter how long I live I will end up only using 10 percent of these at most, like the turkey feathers, they will always be with me.

And if I ever come across that envelope filled with peach-faced lovebird feathers, I won't dispose of them either, despite the fact that I tie no patterns requiring such exotic ingredients. (Are there patterns that call for lovebird feathers?) The same goes for the swatches of caribou hair and the hank of zebra mane that somebody gave me a while back…

Even with all the manmade alternatives available, most of us are still fascinated by natural fly-tying materials-and some people won't craft flies with anything else. That's because natural furs and feathers possess a magic that even the finest-looking artificial materials can't come close to matching. And if tying with natural materials is a magical experience, then it just makes sense that gathering and preparing your own ingredients only adds to the power of Mother Nature's spell.

But how far should an angler and fly tier go in seeking this sort of enchantment?

Far, certainly, but perhaps not quite as far as the edge of the highway-at least according to FR&R fly-tying editor Darrel Martin in this issue's "Ask FR&R" column. Darrel tells us that no matter how tempting it might be to do a little road-kill rustling, there are a few good reasons beyond mere squeamishness to think twice about harvesting these bruised windfalls of the open road.

On the other hand, under other conditions collecting and caring for natural fly ingredients can be both safe and extremely satisfying. I enjoyed reading Darrel's wry and informed insights into this offbeat subject, and I hope you will, too.