Fly-Fishing: Hackle getting scarce

The fashion trend of wearing hackle feathers in one’s hair has been a bummer for people trying to bu

The fashion trend of wearing hackle feathers in one’s hair has been a bummer for people trying to buy feathers to tie flies — but it’s been a boon for almost everyone else.

The beauty industry has been making a mint. Salon owners have had to do some resourceful procurement — visiting and emailing fly shops and scouring eBay — but once they’ve gotten a supply of hackles, their customers are paying handsomely.

Even if they pay $300 for a rooster saddle that would have cost $60 on the fly-tying market, they’re still way ahead — they’ve got 200 or 300 feathers they can sell for $5 or $10 apiece.

But don’t feel too bad for fly-tyers. Some have been going through their Tupperware bins, unloading saddle hackles for big bucks.

“I’ve sold almost 30 saddles,” said Mike Daley of Mechanicville. “All went to hairdressers. Some were sold on eBay, but most went to a single buyer in a negotiated sale. With the money I raised, I was able to buy a new rod, reel, camera, laptop and pay for a Disney vacation for my family. Since selling the saddles, I’ve tied with capes and haven’t missed the saddles in the least.”

After all, hackle feathers from rooster capes, or necks, were trad­itionally used for making dry flies. Only in recent years have saddle hackles become long, slim and stiff enough for dry-fly work.

Fly shops have been torn between loyalty to longtime customers and the demands of commerce.

“You feel kind of bad doing it,” said Vince Wilcox, owner of Wiley’s Flies in Rainbow Lake, 10 miles north of Lake Placid. Salons in Salt Lake City and Austin tracked him down in the northern Adirondacks — the reach of the Internet! — and cleaned him out of saddles, though he has held back a few Whiting 100 packs for fly-tying customers.

The rooster farmers themselves have benefitted enormously from the boon, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. They were facing soaring prices for fuel and feed, and the recession had depressed consumer spending.

“The’ve bought a tremendous amount of product from the industry, and a lot of fly shops have made a lot of money,” said Bill Keough, owner of Keough hackles in Mendon, Mich.

In the meantime, if the shortage of hackles has you wondering what to use for dry flies, consider these proven patterns, which use no hackle feathers at all:

— The Comparadun. Slender, elegant, flush-floating dries that fool even the fussiest trout on the most demanding streams.

— The Usual. Shaggy and impressionistic, it’s made of snowshoe hare’s foot fur, which may bring good luck. Trout do like it.

— The X Caddis. An Elk-Hair Caddis without the palmered hackle, this fly from the vise of Yellowstone guru Craig Mathews catches trout coast to coast.

Or, as a friend of mine remarked, forget the dry flies — hackled or not — altogether and swing subsurface flies hackled with feathers from partridge, starling or pheasant. “Let ’em fish wet,” he said.


Tom Rosenbauer, a vice pres­ident of the Orvis Co., widely read fly-fishing author and Fly Rod & Reel’s Angler of the Year for 2011, will give a talk on “Fly Fishing Small Streams” at the Cambridge Hotel in Cambridge Monday at 6:30 p.m. The talk is free and open to the public.

Morgan Lyle’s commentary appears regularly in The Daily Gazette. Reach him at [email protected].

Categories: -Sports-

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