Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Fly Tying Trials of Skunk vs. Polar Pony Hair

  The quest for skunk tail started when I discovered, on-line, a Clouser-like musky fly made with 'Polar Pony'.  My fly material sources didn't know what it was, but Google did.  It comes from a pony which lives in Iceland.  Evidently, Icelandic pony hair is a very special thing since a package of it, with dimensions similar to flashabou, runs about $14.  Now, if that Clouser-like musky fly could guarantee me one 50"+ musky this season, I'd buy it.  However, I never saw that claim on a package.
   So....that is what led to my desire for skunk tail.  Frankly, I no longer remember how or if skunk tail is similar to Icelandic pony hair.  However, we all know that once one starts looking at a particular fly pattern, then looks for substitute material for said pattern, other discoveries are made.  Then, the initial search is temporarily forgotten due to the curiosity elicited by discovering the potential for yet a different fly tying material.  This is why a particular fly tier can gather a lifetime of tying material in a couple of years. 
   However, I do believe there is a correlation between an Icelandic pony and, well, a skunk. I want to tell you that the reason for the high cost of the Icelandic pony's hair is that the pony also values his hair and has developed a defense mechanism to prevent would-be fly tiers of Icelandic pony hair from creeping up and cutting off its mane or tail.  I want to tell you the pony lifts its tail and tries to spray those wanting to steal away it's long, shiny hair. Therefore, one can understand why the hair is so expensive; it’s hard to get & hard to get rid of the smell if sprayed.
   However, if I told you all that I would be lying.  The truth, if I remember correctly, is that skunk hair is said to be long, shiny and almost translucent. Somewhere in my memory banks, skunk hair sounded like a nice substitute for Polar Pony.
   'John', a hunter and fisher, goes to K&K Hardware every Tuesday to visit a friend who works at the store.  I occasionally stop by to visit with 'the boys' & to shop for fly tying material.  John is also becoming the man who provides me with 'excellent tail'.  I was given my first tail shortly after deer hunting season.  It was prime bucktail.  The bone had been removed and the tail had been dried.  I later thanked John with home-made cookies. 
   So, when I first started thinking of skunk tail, I thought of John.  If 'the boys' were out hunting and happened to run across a dead skunk on the side of the road --in good shape, perhaps just a head injury-- maybe John would be willing to harvest the tail for me.  Unrealistic to find one in good shape?  Perhaps, but I tend to be optimistic. 
   It just so happened that when I asked John about skunk tail, his neighbor had trapped one that day.  I can't say I like it, but these boys are hunters and John says skunks eat the eggs of the birds they hunt; he said the skunk wasn't going to be around much longer.  I emphasized I didn't want a skunk killed for me, but if it was going to happen, why should the tail be wasted? 
   A couple weeks later, I came into the store and John just as quickly left.  Soon, he came back with a smile and a sealed bag containing the skunk tail.  We could smell the tail through the bag.  John noted that his cats, Connie Chung and #5, wanted that skunk tail more than catnip.
   So, I took the tail home, did a little research, and soon the tail was double-bagged and sitting in borax.  I only needed a nice day to be able to mix up a ‘cocktail’ which has been known to neutralize the odor created by skunks.  Now, I live in a little slab home with an attached tiny garage in a tiny yard, surrounded by neighbors who don’t like the smell of skunk.  It’s also been raining a lot.  Due to the smell, the rain, and the fear of a cat carrying my tail away, it’s been sitting for a month or more in the bag in the garage. 
   But today, it did not rain.  I took the tail outside, mixed up the ingredients (1 pt 5% hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup baking soda, 1 tablespoon liquid dish detergentuse when freshly made) then placed the tail in a bowl with the ingredients.  The mixture frothed up like the head of steamed milk on a cappuccino.  It pushed half the tail out of the bowl.  I waited at least 5 minutes, pushing the tail back into the liquid.  I noted the greatest odor was coming from the bag which now only contained borax.  I sniffed the tail before and after rinsing it off and estimated at least 75% of the odor was gone.  After letting the tail sit outside for a while, I sealed it in another bag filled with fresh borax.  I would buy the recommended fresh hydrogen peroxide soon and give the tail another bath. 
   Then, I left for the fly fishing club meeting.  Upon returning home, I noticed a slight odor in the garage…  I'd been wrong.  I now estimate the tail odor has actually been reduced by 50%.  I can’t say the tail is fly tying material yet, but it’s getting there. 
   (By the way, when the tail is ready and a fly is tied, I’ll post a picture.  Perhaps it will be a Clouser-like fly tied with a great substitute for Polar Pony.  And, while researching how to deodorize and dry a skunk tail, I came across a very funny article about ‘The Skunk Hair Club’. This is the link: