Beaver Fur For Fly Tying the RS2 Fly

I think one of the more interesting points of Rim’s method is that he was the first to offer flies in different colors, of the same pattern.  It was common back then that fly patterns came in different sizes, but no one was doing different colors back then, for example an Adams was always grey, which is not always the case today.  The RS2 was designed with the idea of six colors and six sizes, which would then allow you a reasonable semblance of matching the prevalent insects in any given stream. This point was also lost on many commercial companies such as Orvis, who offered the RS2 only in grey.  Umpqua offered several colors after Rim mentioned it to their higher ups, though he has never been given any royalties by any of the companies who sell RS2s commercially, nor are any of them tied correctly.

I am often asked where to get the beaver fur used for tying the RS2.  We dyed all of our own pelts over the years, but here are some sources of current commercial versions, in a few colors, that may work well enough.

Dying Beaver Fly Tying Materials

You can start with grey and brown beaver pelts, they are readily available on the fur and I see bits of the pelts sold all over the Internet now, but Wapsi also sells beaver on the pelt.  Just get the longest fibers you can find (the Alaskan beavers have longer hair than a beaver harvested in Colorado) and you want at least 3/4″ to the underhair (the guard hairs are always much longer and were the original tails of the RS2 before Rim found microfibbets were more durable, which were invented much later).  You can “bleach blond” a brown piece with hydrogen peroxide and you will have cream

Soaking a piece of fur in straight bleach is not what you’d expect; the bath starts to heat to the point where it may melt the plastic bowl, likely a reaction to chemicals the hide was steeped in during the tanning or hide preparation process, then hair and flesh start vanishing and the rest turns into a flesh colored slag that covers what’s left of the fur with a gooey bubblegum residue.  Eventually you kind of back away until the temperature lowers to the point you can throw what’s left into the trash.

In fact, bleached hair patches and lightened colors on furs and feathers have typically been treated with Hydrogen Peroxide or similar lightening agent, not bleach.

Hydrogen Peroxide is available in any supermarket or local drugstore, it’s an antiseptic and is sold as a 3% solution in the aisle with medical supplies and liniments. This concentration can lighten hair (human and animal) with numerous applications or one long soak.

The center color above was “bleached” in a single bath of 3% peroxide. It took 92 hours to achieve this color from its natural gray. Four additional pieces I’ve dyed yellow ring the bleached color. As it is now, tossing a chunk into a drawer ensures a lifetime of Light Cahill’s.

Natural beaver is much too dark to be able to dye into light colors, at best it’ll turn muddy-dark. The above pieces were dyed in the identical pot for the same amount of time. Only the bleached hide can achieve the light olive I was attempting.

So long as the fur is completely submerged the peroxide bath will ensure consistency of color. Note in the above photo how the Olive color is uniform from downy underfur to the tips. This is done by first pumping the back of the hide to force all the air bubbles out of the material, then dumping the result straight into the solution without wringing.

Beaver guard hairs will resist the dye mightily, and might only take on a tint of the desired color, this is true of most tough hair, especially those of the aquatic mammals.

Hair stylists use a powdered lightener along with Hydrogen Peroxide to avoid “orangey” colored hair like the above. Internet forums mention that straight peroxide often yields an orange effect on human hair. Once the fibers are any shade close they should be pulled and dried anyways, as they’ll lighten into a tan-orange which is perfect for our later applications of dye.

Peroxide is available in food grade as well; solutions ranging between 8% and 35% and a cost commensurate. These will cut the time down significantly, 12% took the same beaver from gray to tan in just over 18 hours, but the solution costs around a dollar an ounce at that concentration. Most of the higher concentrations have to be mail ordered and signed for by someone over 18 as well.

Every animal is a bit different both in qualities and texture of their hair, and degree of lightening needed to reduce their natural color to something light enough for dye. It’s best to experiment with small chunks to determine how long the base 3% will take to render an appropriate shade for your use.

Just tuck a large bowl of the cheap stuff ($2.00) into the garage, carve the hides into 5×5 pieces and check the mix come the weekend, there’s little risk of it getting too light.



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