quest for the Silver Fleece
By Jurij Shumakov
Two years ago I visited my parents in the
Northern Caucasian region of Russia. My wife, a very brave Swedish woman, wanted to see
high mountains, so we decided to go to one of the small Caucasian republics, called
Karachaevo-Cherkessija. Its very well known and popular ski resort Dombai is the real
pearl of the Caucasus mountain range.
Despite all claims in the media (and by
my relatives!) about ethnic tensions in the region, we fortunately met with a peaceful
landscape, without any apparent signs of unrest. Only a couple of armoured vehicles and
police carrying unusually heavy personal weapons at the crossroads around Cherkessk, the
capital of the republic, showed that something was not normal. But in the Caucasus it is
to be expected that not everything is always exposed in broad daylight...
However that may be, the problem - if
there was a problem - didn't touch us. Local people were very friendly towards tourists,
because tourism is an important source of income. We spent three days enjoying the
beautiful nature of the Dombai valley, a national park which is very well preserved.
Perfect Caucasian cuisine and wine for a very reasonable price crowned an experience out
of the ordinary. On the last day of our stay, we went to a local open market to buy some
souvenirs. And this is where we get back to fly-fishing! Goods for sale were lying on the
grass or hanging on ropes attached to trees. From very far, my eye was caught by something
extremely shiny and snowy white. Curiously I came nearer and found ...a smallish skin of
some animal I couldn't quite identify. When I inspected it closely I could hear my pulse
start beating madly with excitement. The fur was almost transparent, like polar bear, but
long and soft with a structure similar to Arctic fox. Since it was slightly curved, and
each hair didn't have a cylindrical shape, sites shine at different angles to all sides
produced an effect similar to certain synthetic materials. I was so excited that I paid
immediately and forgot all about following Oriental market traditions, which require you
to haggle and bargain the price.
Last year I returned to the region hoping
to find another magic fleece. I visited many different markets in three different
republics, and only once I found something very similar, but the fur was much longer
(20-23 cm) and extremely mobile. Later I realized that the first skin belonged to a young
animal which hadn't had its fleece sheared. I don't know why, but most of the skins I
checked out didn't have that marvellous transparent shiny hair. I guess that only the hair
from animals that graze the highest mountain pastures produce the highest quality. Animals
from the lowlands just don't give the same quality.
I expect that you are waiting for the
name of the animal. Or am I mistaken?
Let me introduce - the Caucasian Silver
Goat. At least that is how I have tried to translate 'Serebrjanka', the local name of this
goat breed. 'Serebro' in Russian means silver, but I suppose you could say "silver
shiny" goat too. In the region this goat is mainly appreciated for its hair, which
can be woven into outstandingly warm, soft and strong winter cloth.
Fur dyed hot orange from young and adult
I tried the fur for tying, and it proved
to be excellent for all kinds of salmon flies. "Young" fur worked best for small
flies tied on doubles 6-8 and tubes up to 1 inch. Fur from the "older" skin was
perfect for long-winged flies like Sunray Shadow, and as the roof and extension of
silhouette for Scandinavian style tube flies. Since Serebrjanka fur is much softer than
polar bear, you can easily use it for the smallest summer salmon flies tied on short tubes
in UK style with a wing around body.
Dyed blue Serebrjanka fur (to the right) and
Arctic fox (to the left) are
exposed to the sunny sky. Both furs are dyed in the same bath.
Dyed orange Serebrjanka fur (to the right)
and Arctic fox (to the left) are
exposed to the sunny sky. Both furs are dyed in the same bath.
When used the fur as under wings, the
silver fleece has a beautiful shine under wings made from Arctic fox. The transparency of
the hair provides an additional benefit: if it is exposed to sunlight it will not fade the
way Arctic fox does. Serebrjanka fleece can easily and effectively be dyed using standard
Veniards dye and the colours do not affect the transparency.
I couldnt keep my secret material
long time. Friends are friends. Flies tied with the use of this material have caught many
salmon and sea trout in Scandinavia last season.
Natural Serebrjanka fur
Keep looking for the new
P.S. A final word of advice. Before you
decide to go "hunting" the new fly-tying "Silver Fleece", remember
that in unstable regions like the Caucasus the situation can change very quickly and your
own skin may become a welcome prize too. The best way is to have a local guide, but that
is almost impossible. I would not recommend you to explain to the locals for what purpose
you want to buy the skin. It is far too implausible. Last time I was there they suspected
me of being a federal agent in disguise (or something of the kind!), as I started to
describe what the Fleece should look like and telling them about its quality.
Moreover, don't show your particular
interest in the skin and do not use special devices such as a magnifying glass - it would
raise both prices and suspicions. In the Caucasus, Serebrjanka skins are traditionally
used to cover front and drivers' seats in a car. But don't tell them you need the perfect
skin for your Mercedes. Otherwise the price you pay will be more than the price of your
Mercedes. The more expensive you look, the more you pay. So look shabby, but not
suspiciously so. Start to learn Russian well before you go to the Caucasus. A good local
accent can make prices drop. Strong Moscow accent will double the price, but a strong
foreign accent will raise it to the sky (and I am trying not to think what an American
accent might do...). Baltic accents are welcome, but you will still pay as a Moscow
citizen. All things considered, it is probably a good idea to find a similar breed of goat
in more stable regions. But what can I recommend? Turkey? The Balkans? Well, I'm not so
Keep smiling too
Check out these flies tied
with Serebrjanka fur:
Green Highlander (variant)
INSG Norwegian Wood
Jurij Shumakov 2002 ©