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Bleached and dyed squirrel tails

By Magnus Angus

Well prepared and bleached.
Well prepared and bleached.

Natural grey squirrel tail is a fairly common tying material. A fine straight hair, squirrel tail is slippery and does not compress or flare even when tied in with the toughest tying threads. Naturally barred with white tips and warm grey/black markings, squirrel tail is commonly available dyed. The tips take on the bright colour and the darker marking are overlayed and show through the dye-colour.

Less commonly, squirrel tails can be bleached so when dyed they are more or less a solid colour. Bleaching a squirrel tail is a tricky job, if the tail is in the bleach bath too long the hair melts, as they dry after bleaching the hair can fall out of the skin or in the worst cases the skin can simply fall apart. Once the bleached tail has been prepared it then goes into a hot dye bath – which reactivates all the problems caused by bleaching – plus getting colour into bleached tails is not easy. The bleaching process seems to change the nature of the hair so dye (particularly blue dyes) is very reluctant to bond to the bleached fibres. All in all, the process of bleaching and dyeing squirrel tails is a tricky task, part chemistry, part artistry, part luck and the number of rejects can easily outnumber the successes (Yes, I have bleached and dyed squirrel tails.)

These tails from Chris Eastwood at Lathkill have been well prepared and bleached. The hair feels dry, but still has the consistency of squirrel tail and the delicate tips are nice and pointy – bleach-burned tips go curly and fuse into clumps.

I’m guessing these were bleached to a ginger, so some of the original markings may show on the finished dyed tail, how much of the original marking shows depends on the type and colour of dye. So, looking at these tails, the fluoro pink, orange and olives are solid colours. The more translucent fluorescent yellow and chartreuse dyes allow gingery traces of the original barring to show through, far more subtle than dyed natural tails.

In terms of tying and fishing I need strong hair and I prefer if the tips are not melted into lumps. Having the hair exactly the same shade for its entire length is not as critical. So, in my opinion, these err on the right side. At the moment this is the full colour range. I would like to see a hotter (redder) orange, among other colours, for salmon dressings and I am fairly sure someone will be asking for blue tails as I write. Hot orange should be possible, dyeing bleached squirrel tails blue is particularly difficult.


Price: Priced at £2.50 per tail these are a steal!
From: Lathkill Tackle. Tel. 01422 322954 (www.lathkill.com)

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