A Better Biot

Inspired by A.K. Best for nearly twenty years I now look back at all of my dying and bleaching notes in various drawers and files and I still am able to fuel my affinity for dying all of my own natural materials. For the last 15 or so years I have been dying and bleaching my own materials, quills, necks, deer hair, furs, dubbing silks, and biots. A.K. Best’s Book Dying and Bleaching Natural Fly-Tying Materials set my course on the right foot. My old place of residence looked more like a scene out of Silence of the Lambs than a bachelor pad. Industrial cafeteria equipment riddled my living room, hotplates, and 10 gallon buckets filled with bleach made for some interesting visits from the landlords as well.

I honestly felt the need to get better results from the natural materials that I used to tie flies. I learned all of the mistakes from what was, and still is, currently out in the marketplace. One example was the poor quality of quills. Due to excessive bleaching pre-packaged quills cracked constantly due to over-bleaching and the colors were not to my liking. I am not a production fly tyer but just another obsessive compulsive vice rat. I simply want my color close to what the naturals color represents.

 above: The Biot on the left was dyed to “med-dun” by myself,
the one deemed “med-dun” on right by supplier. 
Notice the white streak down the middle of the one on 
the right where the dye did not take.

Biots are typically dyed as a whole feather by the suppliers and the dye never really soaks into the inside portion of the turkey or goose feather. What you end up with is a biot that has coloration on both outer edges but fades into an anemic color towards the center of the biot (see above photo). Eventually back in 1995 out of frustration I broke down and started dying my own biots among other materials. I tye lots of flies with both biot bodies and wings, it is a great medium that has a waxy sheen much like the naturals (Caddis, and Mayfly patterns).

above: These biots I dyed to a warm medium dun color that I most 
often use for Hendrickson patterns and Sedge patterns. This is accomplished by first 
dying grey, then over dying with Rit Tan.

Dying Biots: I have managed to create recipees for smaller and more color fast batches of biots using a large tea infuser and some simple paired down techniques.

1~ I remove all of the longest biots from two matching undyed turkey feathers. The left feather biots go in one bag, the right go in another, this way if I am tying biot wings I have a left and right orientation. Biots have the same geometry as an airplane wing. If you turn one side of an airplane wing in the opposite direction than the other the damn thing is not going to fly right nor look symmetrical.
2~ Using a large tea infuser ball (above) I separate the compartments using a paper towel and place the undyed biots, right and left, in their own compartments.

3~ Find a 5 cup Pyrex measuring cup fill it with 4 cups of water and put it into the microwave for about 30 seconds. Make sure the temperature does not exceed 150 degrees. Remove the now heated water from the microwave.

4~ Mix in one tablespoon of distilled white vinegar and one tablespoon of your desired liquid Rit color. I mix all of my Rit Dyes to get my desired color palettes. I mix a concentrate of powder Pearl Gray #39 because Rit does not manufacture this dye in liquid form, they never have.

5~ Mix the contents thoroughly and place your infuser filled with the biots into the mixture and agitate it for several minutes. (above photo)

6~ After several minutes immerse the infuser in cold water (below), this acts as a stop bath for the dyed biots.
 7~ Repeat this process with different colors, over dye as needed to get the desired results for very subtle coloration. I typically never dye with “out of the tube color” it defeats the purpose of dying. If your going to spend the time dying materials, and tying flies to your liking then you better like the colors and not just settle for someone else’s defaulted color palettes.

This is a quick and easy way to dye limited quantities of biots with great results. Again I am not a production tyer so I have managed to pair down time and cost expenditure greatly. Its simple and somewhat relaxing to do in my down time during the winter months.
~Clint Joseph Bova