I think there is no more difficult part of learning to tie flies - and it is a continual learning process - than learning how different materials are suited to different applications. There is a daunting array of materials available to the fly tyer and not all materials are created equal - at least not for a particular application. Learning what material works best for what application - particularly for natural materials like deer hair, chicken feathers, duck CDC or flank feathers, marabou feathers, etc. - is really difficult and largely a matter of preference and experience. And go and look at the diversity of synthetic materials - chenniles, "hair", flash materials, tinsels, dubbings, etc. It is daunting, I totally get that. I've been at this fly tying thing for a good number of years and I'm still learning about how different materials work in or for different applications.
My hope is to demystify the diversity of fly tying materials. It is mostly aimed at those getting into fly tying but I think there will be something for most fly tyers.
I am sure I've used this idea already but it is the golden age of fly tying. There have never been so many materials and resources for the fly tyer. There are amazing resources out there - books, websites, videos, etc. - for the fly tyer. The amount of stuff on YouTube alone could keep a tyer informed and busy for quite some time. If there is one largely gaping hole, I think that it is a lack of good information about what to look for in materials. Though, to be clear, that information is out there - often in the tying videos of Kelly Galloup, Gunnar Brammer, and a number of others that give quite detailed descriptions of what materials they chose for a particular pattern and why.
For some materials, finding "good stuff" is really easy - like dry fly hackle. Buy some good genetic hackle like saddles and capes (necks) and you'll have good hackle for years unless you tie a lot more than I do. Hackle has never been a good as it is now. The feathers are long, the barb density is high, they are mostly free of web (softness), and the stems are straight and pliable. These are certainly the good old days for dry fly hackle. Other things - like picking deer hair to match a particular purpose and understanding the massive diversity of synthetic materials - are not so simple. I think that is a very important point - there are tons of great materials but they are often geared towards particular purposes.
Bucktails are a widely versatile natural material that, like most natural materials that are not raised primarily for fly tying - basically EVERYTHING other than genetic hackle birds - the qualities of the materials vary greatly. Different tails may be wanted for smaller flies versus larger flies. Different parts of the tails will have more or less flare and produce very different results when tied in as a tail or a wing as well as when reverse tied. I covered some of this ground in "Project Clouser" (search for earlier posts).
In the next couple of "these" posts, my goal is to highlight a number of tying materials - both natural and synthetic - and discuss application of different materials and how to choose specific materials to meet the needs of certain techniques and patterns. I'll start with marabou - a common streamer material - that has a number of different properties that will greatly affect its fly tying applications. We'll move on to deer hair, probably my most commonly used material. And from there, we'll see where things go.
Drop a comment below if you have a type of material you are particularly looking for more information about. I'll try to get to as much as I can over the "tying season" which here in Wisconsin runs until at least March, maybe April or darn near May depending upon the year.