You know you’ve gone deep down the fly tying rabbit hole if you’re considering dyeing your own materials. First off, you have to tie a heck of a lot of flies and need a lot of materials, and second, you must be extremely discerning when it comes to color. Most of us don’t go even close to that far, but a few have gone all the way. A.K. Best might be the best of the latter camp, as he’s become an expert on selecting, dyeing and otherwise modifying fly tying materials over the years.
Best’s book, “Dyeing and Bleaching Natural Fly Tying Materials”, is a reflection of decades worth of experimenting to get just the right shade or hue to match the natural bugs on the many streams he’s fished. Best makes the salient point that insect body color can vary significantly based on stream type, time of year, and even the makeup of the substrate.
Now personally, I like throwing bugs at dumb, hungry trout, but we don’t always have that luxury. Sometimes the fish are keyed in on just one particular fly, and they won’t vary from it for anything. That’s when a little tweak in shade can make a difference.
In this book, you’re taken through the entire process of dyeing and bleaching hair, feathers and fur, and while methodical, the process really isn’t that complicated. Best lays it out step by step, with excellent color photos to guide you along the way. You can dye materials using a kit put together with simple household items and supplies you can easily find at the local hardware store. The process entails degreasing, dyeing in a hot water bath, and drying, with variations based on material type. The process is broken down for body feathers, bucktail, deer and elk hair, calf and squirrel tails, furs and other items.
How do you get the color you’re looking for? It takes some practice and tweaking for sure. There’s an entire chapter of dye mixes and recipes to start with. And with material like dubbing, you can further blend dyed materials for better results. Make a mistake? Best describes color removal that can save that expensive rooster neck that didn’t come out quite right.
A.K. Best is one of the most respected names in the fly fishing world, and not just because of his fly tying and materials dyeing work. He’s an accomplished angler and the oft mentioned fishing partner of famous angling writer John Gierach. In fact, that’s how I found out about the book in the first place. Gierach writes the book’s introduction.
I’ve had Best’s dyeing book for years, and I still haven’t gone head first into dyeing my own materials, but I pick it up off the shelf every so often and consider starting. It can open up an entirely new world of fly tying opportunities for those who dare to venture down the path, as if fly tying wasn’t a rabbit hole in itself!