Foo Dogs and Buggers

Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

underwaterI don’t really know when the fly tying material commonly called Finn Raccoon (sometimes Finnish Raccoon) became popular. I had never really heard of it until I started my quest into tube flies. For steelhead and salmon flies, Finn Raccoon fur is often a common portion of the pattern. In the mid-1980s, Swedish fly tier Håkan Norling created the Temple Dog style of Atlantic Salmon fly by using “Temple Dog” fur for the wings. As far as I can discern, “Temple Dog” fur comes from some Asiatic Dog breed such as the Tibetian Mastiff, Chow Chow or Chinese Foo Dog which resembled Chinese Guardian Lions or Foo Dogs. I don’t think the Temple Dog fur on the market today comes from any specific species or breed. Today, Temple Dog style flies are tied with Arctic and Marble Fox, Goat and other long, supple furs to include Finn Raccoon.

As I stocked up on tube fly supplies earlier this year, I acquired a few pieces of Finn Raccoon in finnraccoonblack, olive and yellow and began incorporating the fur into the tails of my Pine Squirrel Woolly Buggers. In a general sense, Finn Raccoon fur can be used as a substitute in any pattern that calls for marabou or fox fur. The length of the fur and suppleness when wet is remarkably similar to typical marabou. J. Stockard handles at least ten colors of the fur in zonker form from Hareline. Wapsi Fly also markets Finn Raccoon. It is typically available in fur patches or zonker strips and the most common colors are those found in steelhead and salmon flies. A few entrepreneurial types have been dying Finn Raccoon in a myriad of subtle colors for saltwater and warm water applications such as Bonefish Tan, Shad Gray, or Cinnamon Crab.

Typical Finn Raccoon fur is about two inches long, fine, thick and studded with lightly colored guard hairs. When wet, the guard hairs provide exceptional contrasts and sense of motion. The fur is extremely easy to tie with and an excellent substitute for Arctic fox or marabou. Unfortunately, Finn Raccoon is not without some controversy in the global fur industry.

What’s in a name anyway. In my naivety, I always assumed Finn Raccoon came from a European species of Raccoon–Procyon , but I was wrong. The more I explored this material, I came to realize that Finn Raccoon is actually the fur of the Raccoon Dog, a canine species indigenous to East Asia, often called Asiatic Raccoon. The “Raccoon” element of the name because of an obvious likeness to the face of the North American Raccoon. The name itself—Finn Raccoon is controversial. Beginning in the late 1920s, Raccoon Dogs were introduced into Northern Europe and Russia and took on the common name of Finnish or Finn Raccoons. Well established by the 1950s, they were commonly hunted for their fur. They are also hunted for their fur in East Asia. Captive breeding of Raccoon Dogs in Russia and China began in the 1930s, and over the years, China has been severely criticized by animal rights groups for their captive breeding methods and global trade in Raccoon Dog fur.

frdogDespite the controversy over the global trade in Raccoon Dog fur, this is one fly tying material worth having in your kit. It is obviously a staple material for any tier who produces Temple Dog style steelhead and salmon flies and has been adapted into a lot of saltwater patterns. But the trout or angler who ties streamer style flies for trout or any freshwater/saltwater species should not ignore this material.

It is downright seductive in the water. Because it is a fine fur it tends to really create a sense of bulk and translucency in the water, yet binds down very nicely on the hook without creating large bumps or buildups. It is easy to layer, intermixing with flash or using different colors. It can be a bit unruly in dry, static filled environments, but like marabou, a quick caress with a bit of saliva on the fingers will bring it under control. In my view it performs just as well on the fly as marabou does is but with the added advantage of durability. Catch a dozen fish on a marabou tailed fly and the tail will be in tatters, while the Finn Raccoon tail will remain entirely intact.

It’s hard to imagine a Woolly Bugger without any feather components, but that’s what my Pine Squirrel Woolly Buggers with the Foo Dog Tail have become. Maybe I should start calling them Foo Buggers.

One thought on “Foo Dogs and Buggers

  1. Joe Duca

    Hey Mike, great piece. I had a feeling you’d really get into tubes and all the materials the European and Scandinavian tiers use. I became aware of these materials I believe from reading Dick Talleur’s column when he was with Fly Tyer. I remember the Finnish material providers had reindeer strips that you could wrap like zonker strips. I recently purchased a whole sliver fox tail at our NYS Fair for $15 that is gorgeous! Almost 2 feet long and thick with 3″ hair just like my hair was 45 years ago! ? I’ve bought other “fox” tails at our fair that weren’t as long but still beautiful in other natural colors and one that I think may be what was called blue fox by another fly tying materials house. I’ve yet to use them however, I don’t want to start hacking away at them until I know if there’s a preparation method for ease of handling and enhancing the material before I use it. There’s a video on YouTube I think from future fly that deals with preparing opossum. I’ve already got ideas for the silver fox and a Whiting American rooster saddle I have in a unique variant that would be a perfect match. I will have to look into the Finn and temple dog or whatever the hair is called before the weekend sale is over. Thanks Mike for another informative article, you certainly do a thorough job on research.

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