The Potent Possum Flies
Andrew Pender looks at what is one of the most easily found fly tying materials - possum fur.
Brush tail possum fur certainly seems to have come into vogue as a fly material over the past few years. I had heard about the potential of possum fur plenty of times, but always dismissed it as just the same as any other fur. That was until a friend gave me some to try out.
The fur was really light in colour and was quite suitable for dying. I saved some as natural colour and dyed up some claret and some olive. The next day my friend and I had planned a trip to the lakes and I put some possum nymphs and parachute emergers together that night. On that trip to Arthurs my mate and I did some serious catching. Sure there was a good dun hatch and there were fish everywhere, but the parachute emergers were really functional. The fish ate them when we were good enough to get the fly in front and they held together really well.
A few weeks later my friend turned up with a possum tail he found blowing around on the road, courtesy of some possum that forgot to look both ways! This is where my liking to possum really took off. There were just so many uses for the tail. As you may have already been able to guess there are two main types of possum fur of most interest to the fly tyer - tail fur and body fur.
Possum Body Fur
This is most suitable for dubbing. The base of the main fibers and under-fur are both really soft and dub really well, while the tips of the fur are stiffer and stick out like guard hairs. These fibers really add that buggy appearance that the fish seem to like so much. They also help dry flies to float somewhat, acting in the same way a hackle would, holding the surface tension, preventing the fly from penetrating the water surface. Being so soft at the base, the fibers also move in the water, and as a result nymphs and other wet flies tied out of possum really come alive in water when given a little twitch.
The body fur also makes an excellent post for the parachute hackles. The fibers flare slightly like deer hair and once cut to the appropriate length from a sparse, yet highly visible "pom-pom" that floats exceptionally well.
At first glance, the tail has wavy, robust fibers that are very similar to squirrel tail or maybe mohair, and hence these fibers are an ideal substitute for both. The flies tied from the wavier tail fibers seem to work better than the original patterns however. I have a theory that the wavy fibers create more disturbances in the water than the more traditional fibers. This makes it easier for fish to find the fly, especially in times of low light of in murky water. Another use for these fibers is to use them as a dubbing. They are almost identical to seals fur. With the decreasing availability of seals fur, these fibers may be just what many fly tiers have been trying to find for years - a good seals fur substitute. Most of the substitutes available at present really aren't all they're cracked up to be.
At this stage I have only used the natural black and haven't tried to make any other colours as yet, this is something that I will work on in the future. The stiffer fibers certainly have many uses and the butts are similarly useful. The butts are much softer and they float much better than the body fur does - particularly those fibers at the base of the tail (closest to the body). As a result the butts make fantastic floating wings. In fact, the fibers float so well that there is no need for a hackle, nor floatant for that matter. This has lead to the creation of many no hackle dun and emerger type flies that, to me, are far more effective than the older style stiff hackle, quill wing flies.
Many people opt to make a wing with the butts simply pointing back towards the tail at the head, just like any other fiber wing. I do this for some patterns, but generally I prefer a loop wing. This is achieved by tying in some fur, about half way up the fiber, with the tips pointing over the eye. Bringing the butts back over towards the eye forms the loop. Remember that the butts are the part that floats, so attempt to incorporate as much of the butt section in the loop as possible.
Fishing Possum Dries
When I'm on a boat I feel underdone if I am not fishing with three flies; whether I'm fishing wet or dry. When fishing dries from a boat I like to give them a bit of movement. I normally cast the flies out with one roll cast to lift the flies off the water and then a single, firm false cast to both dry the flies out and to deliver them. After leaving them there for five seconds or so I usually give them a gentle pull. If your leader is degreased and sunken, the flies will duck under the water. A lot of "normal" fries will then sink after this but possum flies will consistently bob back up to the surface - the fish absolutely love this. If this hasn't produced results I'll strip the flies back, skating them through the waves and finally I dibble them. After a brief pause, which allows the flies to bob to the surface once more, I'll roll cast the flies off and start again. On days when there is good chop on the water you can afford to strip the flies back really quickly, but on stiller days more subtlety is often required. In this style of fishing I have a real preference for the loop wings as they push more water, therefore they are better for dibbling than the strait wing ties.
Another thing I always try to do is cast the flies out the side of the boat, across the wave not just straight in front. Now, consider that on a windy day, most fish feed up wind. Therefore, it stands to reason that you'll cover a lot more fish by casting to the side, as you will be more likely to draw the flies past the fish's path. I also try to avoid constantly covering the same spot over and over again. Drifting from a boat helps avoid this, but even in a boat think about where you're casting. Cover edges of weed patches, especially the down wind side or just pick out a wave and cast to it. By casting to features and practicing accuracy you're more likely to get it right when you do cast for a fish.
When fishing from shore, the same basic principals apply. Remember to present your flies to areas that are likely to hold fish, however, all too often I see beginners wading from shore casting into water that would be thirty degrees - way too hot for fish - and remaining in one spot covering the same water over and over again. I remember a day at Arthurs Lake in the Cow paddock late last season when I was wading about in about waist high water, catching fish after fish. An elderly gentleman standing knee deep in water got zilch.
Deciding it was time for lunch after about the twelfth fish I waded in and ate my peanut butter sandwiches. The elderly gentleman walked up to me. "You've had some luck!" Feeling sorry for him, I couldn't tell him he wasn't fishing where the fish were, but I offered for him to wade alongside me after lunch. He did so and copied me directly casting to new water with each cast, wading along as he went. He finished up catching quite a few fish. Needless to say, we both had the best time for the rest of the day. I even scored a few flies, a warm coffee and a warm handshake at the end of it all.
Remember to degrease your leader if it is floating. At all times, fishing wet or dry, I like the leader to sink. Using fluorocarbon leader helps here, it sinks as it is more dense than normal monofilament and the water. It will sink, provided that you can break the surface tension. This is where a detergent applied to the leader is so useful. You should also use an abrasive on your leader of some sort. This seems to do a few things; firstly it helps the leader to sink, like the detergent and then secondly, it helps to reduce the shine, which may spook fish in bright conditions. There are a few products on the market. I use Orvis "Mud" and Mucilin "Quick Sink" and there is also a Peter Hayes "Leadersink'. If you normally fish with your leader on the surface I urge you to test the difference between a sunken and a floating leader. I bet you'll get plenty more refusals with your leader sitting high on the water.
When it comes to applying floatant to your possum dries, think about how each should sit in the water. Those parts of the fly that you want above the water should be greased. The parts that should be below the surface should be left entirely alone. In most cases this means you should grease the wing and the top of the thorax. I always use Gink and since using it I won't even touch all the other half-empty bottles of floatant I have lying around. It is the best I've ever used and the day it leaves the shop shelves will be a sad day for me indeed.
So strap together and strap on a possum fly, whether wet or dry they are fantastically functional flies that the fish just can't get enough of.
It is the dries that are tied from possum fur that are the most original and used the most by me. Pictured are four of my very favorite patterns, that demonstrate the various uses of the possum.