Swedish version

Dyed Serebrjanka fur, photo by Jurij Shumakov

The 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.

Photo by Jurij Shumakov

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...

Photo by Jurij Shumakov

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.

Photo by Jurij Shumakov

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.

Caucasian Silver Goat, dyed hot orange, photo by Jurij Shumakov
Fur dyed hot orange from young and adult animals.

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.

Photo by Jurij Shumakov
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.

Photo by Jurij Shumakov
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 couldn’t 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
Natural Serebrjanka fur

Keep looking for the new materials

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 sure...

Keep smiling too

Check out these flies tied with Serebrjanka fur:
Green Highlander (variant)
INSG Norwegian Wood

Jurij Shumakov 2002 ©




To get the best experience of the Magazine it is important that you have the right settings
Here are my recommended settings
Please respect the copyright regulations and do not copy any materials from this or any other of the pages in the Rackelhanen Flyfishing Magazine.

© Mats Sjöstrand 2006

If you have any comments or questions about the Magazine, feel free to contact me.

Mats Sjöstrand

Please excuse me if you find misspelled words or any other grammatical errors.
I will be grateful if you contact
me about the errors you find.