One of the most important ingredients in a trout fly (after the hook) is hackle feathers, and that’s why a recent trend in young women’s fashion is causing alarm.
It seems teenage girls have discovered hackle as an adornment, attaching small bundles in their hair. These feather extensions, as they’re known, are so popular that fly shops in Colorado and California are getting cleaned out of feathers that were originally meant for fly-tying.
Some background for the non-fly-tyer: Many kinds of flies employ hackle feathers, usually from a rooster or a chicken. On flies that represent aquatic insects, the feather is usually wrapped around the hook so that its barbs splay out. Flies meant to be fished underwater use feathers with softer barbs, like those of hens or partridges, because they wiggle around seductively like the legs of a struggling insect. Flies meant to float use long, narrow rooster feathers with stiff barbs, which help the fly sit on the water’s surface.
On flies meant to imitate small fish, the feathers are simply lashed to the front of the hook and dangle behind in the water, looking like the flicking tails of swimming baitfish.
“Hatches” magazine’s website reports Whiting Farms’ Eurohackle is the most popular brand for making hair extensions. One company, Fine Featherheads, sells extensions consisting of seven hackle feathers for $20.
That’s a lot more than fly-tyers pay for hackle feathers. We’re accustomed to paying less than $100 for an entire high-grade rooster’s neck, with hundreds of the best dry-fly hackles.
The new demand for hackle from non-anglers is driving up prices and drying up supplies. One Colorado fly shop told Angling Trade magazine, “We can’t keep hackle in stock in the shop. We get it in and the next thing I know some gal comes in and buys all the hackle we have.”
There’s no local shortage of hackle yet, said Tom Brewster from the fly-fishing department at Goldstock’s Sporting Goods in Glenville. But Tom Whiting, founder of the Whiting Farms hackle company in Colorado, said in a “Dear Customer” note:
“Whiting Farms is experiencing an unprecedented onslaught of orders for our EuroHackle saddles. This new traffic and business is welcome by the pro shops but we are faced with a real dilemma: orders vastly exceed supply!”
For 2011, he said, the company will no longer sell full or half skins of EuroHackles, but will sell the feathers in “Fashion Packs” of 16 for $20.
“We are making an extra effort to keep our flagship Whiting dry fly saddles, and the new High and Dry saddles, in good stock to supply all the fly tier’s needs,” and will try to grow a bigger crop of feathers for 2012, he said.
I know from experience how frustrating it can be to try to learn fly-fishing on your own. I also know how helpful it can be to take a class. There happens to be a good one starting at the end of this month.
The Clearwater Chapter of Trout Unlimited’s fly-fishing class will run 7-9 p.m. Tuesdays from March 20-May 10 at St. Joseph’s Parish Center on MacArthur Drive in Scotia. Weather permitting, the course will wrap up with an on-the-water outing in mid-May. The cost is $135, which includes a one-year membership in Trout Unlimited, which uses all proceeds of dues and fund-raising for coldwater conservation projects in the region.
To sign up or for more information, call Doug Howard at 399-8566 or Dick Hermida at 399-6272, or visit clearwatertu.org/Classes.
TU BANQUET SATURDAY
The Clearwater chapter will hold its 38th annual Conservation Banquet Saturday at a new location this year, The Century House in Latham. Cocktail hour begins at 4 p.m., with hors d’oeuvres at 5 and dinner at 6, followed by auctions and raffles. A Hornbeck BlackJack carbon-fiber canoe that weighs just 14 pounds will be raffled off, along with silent and live auctions of artwork, fishing gear and non-fishing items. The cost is $35 person. Reservations and information are available at www.clearwatertu.org or by calling Doug Howard at 399-8566.
Morgan Lyle’s commentary appears regularly in The Daily Gazette. Reach him at [email protected]
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