camel hair magical dubbing

camel hair magical dubbingGuest Blogger: Michael Vorhis, author of ARCHANGEL suspense thriller, OPEN DISTANCE adventure thriller, & more to come

I recently obtained a dense clump of “exotic” under-fur, and just knew it would make terrific dubbing…you could tell by the softness…and I also knew I was the first one on Planet Earth ever to consider it for that purpose.

So I stuffed it in my pocket when no one was looking…I was standing near the camel enclosure at the zoo, you see, when the breeze blew a bit of the beast’s fur up against my shoe…and defying all the possible health and contraband laws that may or may not have existed (and if they did exist then I’m making all this up), I vowed to spirit it on home, there to tie a Bird’s Nest nymph with it and see how it handled.

But meanwhile I began to see each new creature through a hook-dresser’s eyes.

“Hey Daddy, look at the long beak on that toucan,” my daughter said. “Look at those excellent toucan hackles…” I salivated.

“Hey Daddy, I like those lemurs,” my daughter observed. “Yeah, those striped tails look like a huge kwan pattern!”

(My wife was doing essentially the same thing, albeit centric on her own fancy culinary hobby: “I like those African warthogs a lot!”  Why?  “Well their meat would be really tasty!” It’s a wonder we weren’t tossed out of the place in disgrace.)

My Camel's Nest
My Camel’s Nest

Once back home, the exotic tying of the “Mike’s Camel’s Nest” pattern began, mixing in just a little of my own ratty human mane from the last time I got a haircut, to get the guard hair action going. The camel hair specimen I acquired is a very nice natural…uh…camel color.  Very buggy and really spins well on a thread–perhaps more easily than Aussie Possum, and that’s saying something. The results on the hook are not bad at all…to my eyes anyway, although I have yet to let it safari itself past a trout.

And then, to my surprise, the cursed internet burst my pioneering bubble by revealing that fly tyers have used this particular hair for years! (In case you don’t have time to get to the zoo, you can purchase Camel Dubbing @ J. Stockard).

Wapsi Camel DubbingSo I began to think about all the animals whose fur and quill has ever been tied to a hook. We’ve tried so many, from so many regions of the globe, stretching from the jungles to the planet’s poles. What are we searching for? Why on earth would we think a trout would go into a frenzy at the site of a piece of camel, or goat, or fox?  I suppose a trout or salmon might find some ironic justice in attacking bear hair, but fox? And I’m pretty sure trout don’t know that camels exist.

We don’t appear to be thinking very clearly…we haphazardly bumble from herbivore to canine to…marsupial…hoping to happen upon some unknown mystical, ethereal quality of hair or hide that no trout can resist. Are we after fibers’ semi-translucent ability to refract UV light? Or its reflectivity? Or its wiggly motion? We may spend more time hunting exotic skins than we do fishing them.

I now imagine that every animal species on the planet, from sloths to yaks to dingoes to platypus to weiner dogs, has probably donated some fuzzy stuff to the art at one time or another. We’re all looking for pure magic–such is the nature of obsessions. In fact I probably wasn’t anywhere near the realm of the exotic—camels were probably only about fifteenth or so down the line, right after reindeer, what with all the lore about Englishmen engaging in North African Sahara expeditions on their way to the Congo and all. Just guessing…but suffice it to say I’m not the first, dang it, and you can even buy packets of just about any exotic dubbing you want, all cleaned and dyed and weighed and price-tagged. It’s disappointing, since for just a minute there I imagined hanging out of a convertible in a ticker-tape parade, clutching signed ‘partner’ offers from Simms and Orvis and J.Stockard.

Oh well. Respond to this post and tell us the most exotic natural material you’ve used on the tying bench! It would be great to hear some stories better than my now-admittedly-lame camel hair tale…or that I use bits of my own mop on occasion (such as is left of it).

(An existential question: Has anyone tried the hair of one of those fur-bearing trout?)

Anyway, the next time you’re at the zoo with your children or grandchildren, keep an eye out for tufts of this or that, near the enclosures and railings. Bypass bits of acrylic sweater and opt for the rare and natural. You may find yourself tying the exotic fly of a lifetime, and getting that parade. (Anything found is probably worth washing, or freezing, or both.)

Just a final word to state the obvious (especially in light of the news coming out of my home town of Cincinnati last week): Best not to hop any zoo fences to wander back into the shrubbery looking for fur; you may find it attached to teeth and still under its original ownership.


  1. Just be careful when you’re hanging out at the Zoo looking for potential dubbing. Once, many years ago, a Zoo animal tried to collect my hair! Some friends and I had taken a break from our college studies to visit the Philadelphia Zoo. We were standing along a fence in the Petting Zoo when a Llama wandered over and took a liking to my (then) long, blonde hair. I can only surmise that it looked like hay to him. He grabbed a mouthful and gave a hearty yank. I managed to escape, although there was a bit of a tug-of-war. And I wound up with lots of Llama spit in the hair he didn’t get. It may have made pretty good styling gel, but I was not happy about it.

  2. Funny! But you’re staying with that story, Mary? And you’ve stayed with it all these years? And everyone has bought it? And you never admitted to a soul, in all this time, that it was actually an old flame who had been cheeky enough to nibble those golden locks?

    Just asking. : )

    – Mike

    1. Mike
      Unfortunately for those of us with “fly tier’s disease”, picking up odd bits of feathers and fur as we trek through the hinterlands can be somewhat compulsive. In YNP (thats Yellowstone for you California types), the volume of Bison, Elk and Antelope fur available for the taking on the ground is damned near limitless. I used to have bags of the stuff. However, I much prefer the high quality materials that J. Stockard provides. Much safer in the long run, because on a serious note, such fur scraps can contain insect eggs or larvae that might infect all your tying materials. For those of you that do harvest scraps from the field, step 1 is to seal the material in a plastic bag and freeze for at least a month. Step 2 is then throw the stuff away. BTW, in YNP, never let a Bison lick your hair.

  3. While on vacation in the mountains of north Georgia, we tripped upon an alpaca ranch with a welcome sign. Girlfriend said to stop. (Having my 5 wt and a trove of flies, I was looking for trout stream accesses.) So, OK I stopped to satisfy her. What great folks. Glad to have us there.
    They happened to be shearing at the time under a pole barn. Amazing experience. As a fly tier myself, I began to look closely at the material that drifted by my feet. Picked some up and was already designing flies in my head. So, I asked the ranchers if I could buy a small amount for my fly bench. They said no problem. One of the lady farmers took us off to ‘meet’ the rest of the herd. Great animals. When I got back to the barn, one of the hands came up and said here! Presenting me with a LARGE plastic bag of wool clippings. I asked for the bill to pay up, but they said no charge, it was some of the waste clippings.
    Most of it has been processed in my coffee grinder for dubbing. (HOURS of work) But it is fun to work with. Differing textures and colors from different animals. I won’t need to buy alpaca dubbing for the rest of my life.
    (Note: shampoo and dry your raw dubbing first before putting it up to keep the ‘barn’ smell from your bench. WOW!)


    1. Yeah, I like the differing textures too Thor. I really like Aussie Possum for its bugginess and workability, but so far the camel “works” every bit as well. But it’s a little different texture, just a little more “substantial” you might say, and so I think it has it’s place when I want the fly to be just a little more durable.

      I’ve begun to mix the possum with the camel and with a little practice I should be able to get the best of both worlds.

      I’ve tried the Angora Goat and it’s buggy as blue blazes, but the fibers are so slick that without high-tack dubbing wax (or using a loop) I can never get it to hang onto the thread as I twirl it. Possum and camel are worlds easier to work with, per my clumsy digits anyway. I now mix just a little Angora Goat in with possum or camel or synthetic, and can usually get by that way.

      Texture makes the world go round.

      I once was part of the shearing team on a New Zealand farm. The “wasted clips” were usually from the butt area and full of “cling-ons.” I wouldn’t use that coffee grinder for coffee. 🙂

      – Mike

  4. The parasite risk to other tying materials never occurred to me, although the health risk did. I froze the camel hair I’d found for two days, which is probably not enough but I just had to give it a spin. It works very well for tying. I bought more camel from J.Stockard in several other colors and it works the same…and doesn’t require me to pay for parking at the zoo. I quite like the stuff. Mixing it with a little Aussie Possum (for the movement that the fine possum guard hairs provides) or with a little coyote (for a rattier look) produces some very buggy nymphs. It seems to spin on a fine thread and of course works with a dubbing loop too if needed.

    Naturally getting supplies from J.Stockard is far more cost-effective, offers far more selection, and is far easier, but still it’s fun to experiment. I’d still like to hear others’ most exotic materials stories…this could really be a great thread.

    I keep the camel hair I found in a plastic bag, so I guess any lice that may be present will have no chance to eat my other materials until they’re in the fly box. Them’s the breaks. We all pick up a pretty feather here or there and use it. AHIR (Art Hath Its Risks).

    > BTW, in YNP, never let a Bison lick your hair.

    Don’t tell me you have a story too, Mike…a Bison, you say? Ah ha. A Bison.

    Listening to you folks, I get the feeling I haven’t lived.

    – Mike

  5. <>

    (The reply button above kept kicking me off, thus the copy here.)

    Oh Mike, that’s so wrong on so many levels. And way too kinky for me! And yes, the story is true and I’m sticking with it. Besides, I have at least three witnesses.

    1. Wrong on levels? I don’t know what yer talking about Mary…I’m always wrong but almost never on the level. Anyway, witnesses are always a good thing, so I retract the question.

      Hey, this has proven to be a fun little thread. Most of us stick with the retail material of course, but the occasional tale of tying stuff harvested “au natural” (no kink intended) is always interesting. Myself, I continue to try to catch something on a few little flies I tied to include a few strands of my daughter’s hair. She’s perpetually on the edge of her seat awaiting the good news.

      Thanks all, for the anecdotes and tips.

      – Mike

  6. With regard to parasites and other pests in fly tying materials harvested from other-than-commercial sources, gentle washing will remove most of them. I use a mild detergent such as dish washing liquid in warm water followed by a thorough rinse under cool running water. Then lay out on newspaper or paper towels and fluff occasionally until dry. If not practical to wash, I prefer to seal the material up in a zipper bag with some Paradichlorobenzene nuggets (such as the Moth Ice brand) and leave for a couple of weeks. This fumigation will kill any pests and their eggs without putting nasty stuff in your freezer. This is a lot of work, however. I used to do a fair amount of this, and I also used to dye my own materials. I have just about completely given up on both of these pursuits. The easy availability, incredible selection, and very reasonable prices of commercially available tying materials make it seem just not worth it. Occasionally, however, fly tying “targets of opportunity” present themselves, and it’s hard to resist giving them a try.

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