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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tying with porcupine quills

         A little on tying with porcupine quills natures answer to a beautiful quill body fly.
         The cute little rodent in the picture to the left known as a porcupine. The porcupine inhabits most of the upper regions of  North America and can be seen roaming about usually in early evening and morning hours, as it is mostly a nocturnal creature .
        I learned sometime ago about tying with porcupine quills reading an article about extended body flys . But was more interested in tying with the much thinner guard hairs and smaller quills to create segmented bodies on small dry flys.
     So I set out on a hunt to find if there was an available source for these quills online. The only source for dyed porcupine quills was from Rob McLean in the form of McLean's Quills. Which are great quills to tye with but got costly quick as I was tying dozens of flys with them.
One day my fellow fly fisher,fly tyer and friend Jessy tossed out a great idea.. To keep a eye out for some road kill rodents of the porcupine persuasion . We were on our way to fish Catskills and it was in early spring so a perfect time to find one roadside, as they are stretching their legs from the long winters nap. It wasn't long before we found one Jessy was driving so she pulled over, we both got out and ran like little kids running to pick up the candy as if it were falling from a piñata.

    When we got to the little guy that found his fate beneath the wheels of a car , we each got out a zip lock bag which we were carrying for just such an event. We each plucked the quills we wanted to tye with, there are many different sizes and lenghths and hundreds of them , so it wasn't long before we had our fill of porcupine quills.

   I decided I would like to dye mine different colors to match the hatch . So I got out the Rit and mixed up a few dye baths in the colors I wanted to do. I dyed them in the following colors with good results, golden yellow,olive green , wine and orange yellow. Dying them requires a little time and patience as it takes more than just a few minutes for the dye to penetrate into the quill. I like to put the quills along with the dye into a small bowl with a lid and heat it every so often  to keep the dye bath warm.This enables the quills to absorb the dye a little quicker. Be sure the bowl you use is only to make dye baths in as you do not want to eat from it .

  Once they are dyed and dried it's time to tye ! I use porcupine quills in many of my standard dry fly patterns as well as parachute flys. I have posted here a few examples of my favorites to tye sulphurs and olives.

                As you can see porcupine quills create a beautifully segmented body with a great two toned appearance.  They are very durable as porcupine quills are very strong and bite resistant.They float like a cork and the fish love them!


  1. Great Job Al. Cant wait to hit that stream this year..Hint Hint

  2. I have had some quills for a little and never really used them. Might have to get off my butt and do it

  3. Thank you Paul and Dustin ! Paul won't be long now spring is just around the corner..

    Dustin give the quills a go you won't be disappointed , they take a beating and they look great on the hook and the fish love them!

  4. Hi Allen. I, too, love to tie with MacClean quills and I would like to dye some porcupine. Which hairs did you dye, regular hair, guard hair or both. Do you have some dye formulas to share?

    PS. I can send you my email address.

  5. Hi Bruce,
    The hairs are actually the finer quills you will see on a porcupine . They are located on the sides and underneath the larger ones you would use to tye extended body flies with. As far as dying is concerned I usually mix the Ritt dyes till I get the desired color. For the olives I use green with a bit of yellow mixed in to get the color I want. For sulphurs I use the golden yellow by its self.So your imagination is your only limits as far as color is concerned .
    MacClean quills are great but a little pricey and they are not available everywhere . The quills you dye will take a few hours of your time but are well worth the effort .. Good luck with them and let us know how you make out.