Quality Leather & Other Tricks

Have you ever been to one of those carnival midways and felt cheated by a unshaven, chain-smoking pitchman?  In South Texas I was about 10 years old when I saw a little TV that I could win if I completely shot out the red star from a paper target with only three rounds.  I drilled it!  I was so excited to have proven my rifle marksmanship and even more thrilled at the TV I had won!  But to my surprise, the booth scumbag pushed the red star back out with his finger and claimed that I had lost.  He even offered to let me try again for another 25 cents.  I was mad enough to shoot him right between his beady little eyes with his own pellet gun.  I was tricked.

Some companies use tricks to persuade you to buy products that are pitched as “high quality”.  But sometimes, their goods are not so good. So, I’m about to enlighten you about what to look for. This is especially true for leather products. It’s not what most companies do.  But some do, especially when it comes to leather.  There are also a lot of really great companies and products out there.  We know who they are.

You’re about to be schooled in what to look for and what to look out for as you shop for your first leather fly fishing piece. By the way, if I’m found floating face down in the Deschutes River, you’ll know why. I’m exposing what some don’t want you to know – the truth.

You’ll understand why leather can be so treasured by some or trashed by others. Also, you’ll learn what we do to make our Backcast Outfitters’ products last longer than your life expectancy and a few more, to boot. I’ve learned what makes a great leather reel bag great and what makes a cheap leather rod tube cheap. Here we go.

Backcasts’ Leather

Our pieces are made from heavy 4 – 5 oz. Full Grain Leather, oil tanned and made from 100% American hides. Avoid cheaper ”Genuine Leather” and “Bonded Leather” products. They usually spray paint those leathers so they look like Full Grain, but in no time they end up looking like somebody spray-painted some fake leather. Our leather looks better the more you use it since full grain leather ages so well.

Basically, there are 4 types of leather.

  1. “Full Grain” is the best leather money can buy. It’s thick, strong and will last the longest!
  2. “Suede” is the soft, supple bottom half of the hide. To make “Suede” the “Full Grain” is split into two high quality pieces. The bottom half is the soft “Suede” leather. Both are considered full grain used for the finest products.
  3. “Top Grain” is the top layer of the hide. But the “Top Grain” surface is sanded down to hide and blemishes, then sprayed with a finish that looks and feels like plastic. It’s used for products like cheap driving gloves, cheap wallets or inexpensive purses – where thin, inferior leather is used. Sanding off the surface compromises the structural integrity of the leather.
  4. “Genuine Leather” also known as “Bonded Leather” comes from the dust and shavings of the hide swept from the floor. The scraps do not have any structural grain. It wears out quickly. “Bonded Leather” is the “generic beer” of the leather world. It’s the dust and shavings of the leather glued and pressed together.  Then it’s painted and shined up to look like leather.  You’ll want to back away quickly from these products or you’ll get robbed!

Whether or not you buy a leather piece from us, you need to understand leather so you don’t get cheated. After reading this short page, you’ll know why some fly wallets, reel bags and rod tubes are so expensive and some aren’t. You’ll know why some leather cracks and tears quickly and why some leather doesn’t. And you’ll also know what to look for and what to look out for. Nice, fully tanned leather is vital to maintaining Backcast Outfitter’s good name and happy leather family, so please read on.

The difference between high and low grade leather is like the difference between a private jet and a hang glider. They both look good (well maybe), but you quickly know which one cost a lot to make and which one didn’t.

“Bugger Red” Heaven

Imagine this. It’s time to grill steaks and burgers. You’re on your way to the meat market and begin to wonder what happened to old “Bugger Red” the bull on my grandfather’s ranch in Mount Pleasant, Texas. “Bugger Red” dies and his soul goes to bull heaven, leaving behind his body.

1. The butcher skins him and takes the hide to the tannery where they remove the excess meat, fat and hair.

2. The tannery extracts the moisture, oils and natural preservatives and removes the remaining hair. At this stage, it’s called “Wet Blue”.

3. They put the wet blue hides into a giant round tumbler the size of a big brown motor home. They add new oils, preservatives and coloring and let it roll around for hours and hours. Depending on the thickness of the leather, it can take up to 10 hours for the new life giving fluids to penetrate all the way to the center of the hide. If your leather has a “bluish” line through the center, it’s not fully tanned.

4. Finally, the leather is pressed like they do at the dry cleaners, hung up to dry at a certain temperature and humidity level, treated with finishes and sealers and then pressed again.

FAQ’s – Pigs, Cows and Deer

Why does my leather have scars? Did the family dog play a little too rough?

Chances are you’re seeing the result of some scarring event during the pig’s or cow’s lifetime. Some scarring is expected.  And for some of our customers the more scars the better because they contribute to the rich character of the leather.

Cows, pigs, deer, sheep and most other livestock will try their best to scratch their itching back on a fence post, barn or cactus.  Sometimes they also play a little rough, if you know what I mean.

OK, back to the question. The best hides for making gorgeous leather products come from the female cows, pigs and other livestock hides.  Girls just have better skin. So, some of our leather products will show a ‘play around’ scratch and now you know why they’re so good.

It’s really about character & lifetime quality!  Unless you cut your package open with a new produce knife and slice the leather you are likely seeing indications of a scarring event somewhere in this animal’s history – like those crazy, fun loving cows and pigs.

Truthfully, scarring is a common in quality leather. It may have occurred along a barbed wire fence on the ranch or from an alpha male bite. (Our horses bit each other all the time – just horsing around.) It lends more character to the leather. Like a fly that’s hooked many trout, the value of that fly is worth treasuring. But unlike flies, our leather won’t fall apart after repeated use.

Does the same kind of scarring occur with the cowhide as pigskin?

This is an “urbanite” question, but it’s to ask. The answer is NO, not usually. Hogs and sows can get a little rough with each other. Most bulls are real gentlemen in their manners with the heifers.  We don’t do business with any “mad cows”.

Are any animals ever tortured before they are slaughtered?

NO WAY! Backcast primarily uses three hides; cowhide, pigskin, deer hide and sheepskin. OK, that’s four. Some pigs get teased on the way down the chute, but cows are more cooperative. They just ‘mooove’ along. Sometimes we have to lock horns with our deer or a really big bull like “Booger Red”, but we never hurt any animals. Never! (“Booger Red” is the bull up there…) The Sheep are a bit more stubborn, but they are never subjected to things like sheep deprivation or mind control.

Will water damage my leather? What about saltwater?

Like you and me, our leather likes being near water. Our leather is tanned with special oils and repels water. Our Hopper Tan leather is 100% waterproof like super strong hiking boot leather. You can fish in the rain or slip and fall in the river. Your leather will look just fine after you dry off.

If you happen fall out of the boat into the ocean, then get back in the boat! Move quickly because you’re now part of the food chain. Soak your leather product in freshwater for 24 hours. Change the water about 12 hours. Your leather will amaze you and your friends. If you only get a little sea water on it, clean it with your last bottle of fresh drinking water and then oil it. The metal hardware may corrode, so the faster you rinse it, the better.

How can I get ink off of my leather?

OK, here’s where you’re pretty much screwed. But, it’s not the end of the world. Take it to your tattoo artist friend and have him/her draw a fish, a fly dressing or something cool like that. It’ll look even better and you’ll have a great blog story!

How do I get scratches out of the leather?

Personally. I like all of my self-inflicted leather scratches as it reminds me of so many wonderful adventures. But, if you rub the heck out of it like a genie bottle you’ll get most of them out or use a quality leather conditioner and it’ll clean right up.

How do I darken or lighten my leather?

PLEASE – DO NOT USE STAINS OR DYES. DO NOT USE THOSE SPONGE BOB SHOE SHINE BOTTLES, EITHER!  Use only oils. Mink oil darkens leather and so do a number of other oils you can find at a local horse tack store or online leather supply store. Try a small, inconspicuous part of the leather first, so that you don’t botch the whole thing.  If you don’t like it, try something else. (Our leather looks soooo good, you won’t want to dye it, anyway.) If you’re from Seattle you know how tanning beds work. Sunshine will darken cowhide just like it does human hide. It just takes a little longer. Unlike tanning beds, you can lighten your leather back up a bit by bending or scratching it.  (Don’t try this on yourself after you’ve over done it in a tanning bed.)

My Reel Bag has deer skin.  How should I care for it?

Deerskin leather is softer, more breathable and lighter in weight then cowhide leather. Deerskin leather is a really good for for shoes, wall hangings, handbags and numerous other garments. Deerskin leather, while durable can be damaged if not cared for properly. Fortunately, deerskin leather is easy to clean and can withstand repeated rainstorms and without causing harm to the leather. Some put deerskin in their washer & dryer. I recommend hand cleaning just like your cowhide. Please don’t throw it in the dryer with your wading boots or jeans. Deerskin leather provides a long lifetime of use if maintained and given a little care. Clean it just like you would any other leather. Read more: How to Clean Deer Skin Leather | eHow.com. You can also learn your hat size or how to cut cantaloupe.

Which leather care products do you recommend?

Baby Oil – good stuff and it doesn’t stink if you use the “unscented” kind. Mink oil waterproofs whatever it touches and darkens leather. Lexol Conditioners and Oils are good, too. Another favorite is Neat’s-Foot Oil.  I’ve used it for our horse tack and it works great. Google it.

How do I care for my leather?

After you’ve had your leather product for 6-12 months it should look even better. If it’s really dirty, use mild saddle soap, a soft brush and clean off the dirt, grime and dried fish snot. Oil or condition it after that. Don’t do this too often, because you’ll saturate the leather with too much oil – just like fried eggs cooked in way too much bacon grease. It’s just not cool. You might really love your leather even more if you just wait a full year’s fishing season before doing anything to it.

Is it possible to order a reel bag or rod tube with special scarring?

Well, you can always ask. But they’re hard to find. Our leather is that good. There’s no way to know in advance what degree of scars will show up on our hides. They’re sought after and usually come at a premium.

Which color should I get?

Pick the one that fits who you are. I use two different leader wallets. The tan one is for trout and smaller game fish. The brown is for salmon, steelhead and larger game fish. Get one of each and get organized.

Some choose based upon social style.  For example, trout bums who like to go for days without a shower, tend to like the tan products.  Doctors and attorneys like the darker brown leather, but they usually buy both. To help you decide, you can visit a website like this: http://www.mypersonality.info/personality-types/ to take a personality test.

You’ll be amazed at how it helps you decide. Remember, your first inclination is usually the correct one.

I live outside the USA.  Will it cost me more?

The last time I checked there were 196 countries in the world.  So, import duties, taxes, and charges are not included in the item price or shipping and handling costs. These charges are your responsibility. Please check with your country’s customs office to determine what these additional costs will be prior to buying.

Customs fees are normally charged by the shipping company (such as UPS) or collected when you pick the item up. These fees are not additional shipping charges from Backcast Outfitters.