Yak Hair

Article by: Kerry Pitt

They asked me to write a short bit on some of the tying materials that are available to us today and since I am having this love affair with the versatility of Yak hair, I thought “Hey I can do a quick bit on this topic, no problem!” Alas it was not to be, having uncovered the secret world of Yak hair, supply and harvesting, I realized it was worth more than a few words. I contacted several Yak farms here in North America to see if I could find out more about this amazing material and I found three very helpful farmers who took time from their busy schedules to provide me with some information.

Royal Yak cow and calf

Yak has been introduced to the fly tyer as a material specially suited to creating large, long saltwater streamers. The exceptional length that it is packaged in lends itself to those 12 to 14 inch hair wing streamers we see being used for the large game fish in the Pacific and the South Atlantic Coasts. While Yak is available in many colours, it is the saltwater colours that are of great interest to many tyers.

In the past it was necessary to use tandem hook streamers and synthetic hair to achieve those long hair wings that are the norm for saltwater flies. Yak has recently provided a very desirable tying material to adds a new dimension to the saltwater streamer. Not only is this hair very long, but it is also just as translucent as Polar Bear (and legal to ship to the U.S.). Yak is easier to find in longer lengths than Polar Bear and it also has another property that Polar Bear does not have. Yak is a long very kinky material and when you couple that with the translucency you get an amazing effect when it is incorporated into streamer patterns. The kinky property gives the hair a life of its own when it is moving through the water, the translucence causes it to shimmer and sparkle in the light, you can imagine the fish catching qualities of the flies tied with this material.

I have been asked many times “What can I use if I cannot find Yak hair?” My answer is always the same “Find some!” There is nothing out there that will replace it and the addition or substitution of this hair in a pattern will increase the effectiveness I have no doubt. The saltwater application has been so obvious that there has been a colour selection created called “Saltwater Colours” created for Yak users. I have tied patterns to imitate Pacific Herring using white, purple and Herring Back colours, designed for saltwater patterns.

The Herring Back was an interesting colour to me and I could hardly wait to get it once I put the order in. Upon receiving it I quickly tore into the package and held it up to the light to have a better look. Sure enough, it is that dark green, almost black colour of the herrings back and it still maintains its translucency!

Tying with Yak is pretty easy, no tricks to it but there is yet another interesting characteristic that the kinky property gives to this hair. When you need to trim it to length, pull the hair tight, so that all of the kinks are pulled out of it, then cut it. You lose the clean-cut ends that bucktail or Polar Bear would give you because the kinks pull back when the hair is released! I have used this material in many other patterns, Crayfish, Shrimp, and Clousers the list goes on. True the length of the Yak hair is definitely a saltwater friendly characteristic but the patterns you can adapt it to are endless and include many fresh water patterns where bucktail, Polar Bear or any synthetic hair would be used.

The price is generally around $8 - $9 Canadian, give or take a few cents and because there needs to be so little waste when trimming it, the percentage of lost material is minimal, making it one of the better deals out there. If you haven’t tried it yet I would suggest you go out of your way to pick some up, it won’t take long before you are sharing the same affection for Yak that I have, in a short period of time.

I would like to thank the following Yak Farmers for the information and materials provided to me while I was researching this article.

Spring Brook Ranch www.springbrookranch.com  |  Turkey Hill Yaks www.turkeyhillyaks.com  |  Pack River Yaks www.packriveryaks.com

I should note that Mike at Turkey Hill Yaks is working on a project to supply tyers with a more domestic source of Yak, I am sure we will hear more from him and others in the future.

Oct 15, 2010
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