Birds of a feather

Seems all the chicks are doing it.  You know, driving up the cost of your fly tying materials.  I’ve read several articles and heard countless people talk about it—it’s not exactly new news. Some folks have their hackles all in a bunch over the matter, but I’ve dismissed it as something that doesn’t affect me because I don’t tie flies. Why I don’t tie is a boring story for another time, so let’s focus on the matter at hand: the latest craze whereby women are getting feather extensions stuck into their hair and in doing so depleting the supply of tying materials.

Like I said, it has no bearing on me. Or at least it didn’t until my daughter, who is off at college, sent me a Facebook message that went something like this:

So if you haven’t heard, putting feather extensions in hair is the cool new trend! Just so happens that these fun little feathers I have in my hair are purchased from fishing stores. I guess everything really does have something to do with fly fishing…

The last sentence was a little jab at her old man’s tendency to turn every conversation into something having to do with fly fishing, which I defended a long time ago and in doing so silenced my teenage critic. My reply to her message above was, of course, “As long as you don’t pierce your tongue or get a tramp stamp, I don’t care what you do to your body.” Or something like that.

Anyway, since this industry phenomenon has now struck close to home it prompted me to look into the matter a bit more closely so that I might better gain some insight into what this whole feather-brained fascination is all about. I put on my journalist’s cap and issued forth some tough questions:

UA:OK, since we’re on the topic of hair and feathers, tell me a bit more about how you got the tying material in your head…where, who did it, how much, where did the feathers come from (which end of what kinda bird) etc. Seriously, I’m gonna blog it up ’cause its a hot topic in the fly industry. How many other chicks are getting it done?

Daughter of the UA:Well there is a girl from (another sorority) who learned how to do it from a Youtube video! She said she got them from a fishing store and I have no idea what kind of feathers they are but they are thin and one is tan and black striped and the other is pink and black stripped. It cost $4 for a bundle (3 thin feathers) and I have 2 sets of feathers.

At least half the girls in my house have them done and SO many girls on campus are wearing them. It’s the cool new thing because it isn’t permanent and doesn’t ruin your hair. It is clamped in like a hair extension. Let me know if you need more information haha 🙂

(she likes to insert smiley faces and hahas–must be another chick thing)

UA: I want to know what fly shop she got the feathers at. This is all in the name of responsible journalism. Readers want to know. FB her for the answer. Please.

Daughter of the UA:Okay. I just messaged her and I will alert you as soon as I get a response!

(There was a long delay while the request for information was being processed. Unfortunately a response never materialized, so this journalist forged on).

The fact of the matter is that this craze, while it may have made the price of tying materials spike like rivers gorged with Spring runoff, is temporary. And it’s obviously good for those selling feathers. Wholesalers are moving product, albeit into a non-traditional market. Obviously that increased demand is forcing fly shops to jack the price as well, but it’s helping sustain one segment of the fly fishing industry at a time when the revenue stream could stand for some increased flow.

A brood of chicks gather at Orvis Bellevue to shop feathers.

But this supply and demand phenomenon is not without its dark side, and in addition to driving up costs it’s also forcing the rise of another, uglier business practice:  the black market feather merchant.  Opportunistic bottom feeders solo entreprenurs are tapping into their own personal stashes of hackle material and selling it out of their trucks to hoards of young fashionistas everywhere. We can only hope that no backyard chickens were harmed during the harvest of black market hackle.

Chicks flock to "Black Market Bill"

Black market feather feeding frenzy.

If you’ve not seen firsthand where your tying material is ending up, I’ve managed to capture a few photos for reference.

In this last photo the feather extensions can also be seen woven into the hair of two young chicks. Apparently lime dental implants are all the rage now, too.

Just when I was about ready to jump in and finally start tying my own flies, it’s now economically impractical. I have to save my money for gas anyway. And 3 more years of my daughter’s college education.

For now, you can still purchase your tying materials, but whether you’ll find them at your local fly shop or a neighborhood hair salon is yet to be determined. I just hope Thingamabobbers don’t become the next fashion fad.

PS- if you need some grizzly hackle for tying or decorating your hair, I know a guy…and can get you into some top grade material  for a reasonable price. I’m your Unaccomplished Middle Man.


  1. Patrick

    As a modest fly tier, there’s an acceptance that one is likely to buy more material that they’ll ever use, driving up the per-fly cost to an unprofitable level. This fad certainly doesn’t help.

    Even so, my wife advised the wait staff at a little café we frequent for breakfast that the use of feather extensions will curtail my ability to fly fish, meaning that they’ll have to serve this grumpy not-so-old guy more often. And certainly there will be no relationship between the tip I leave and the quantity of feather hair extensions adorning the head of my server.

    P.S. It’s very likely Jan. 19, 2011, can be circled as the beginning of this fad that started these young sheeple people down this dark path — that’s when Steven Tyler appeared on American Idol with these new fangled extensions in his hair.

    • Kirk Werner

      So we have either Steven Tyler to blame, or thank, depending upon whether we are a retail customer or a wholesaler of feathers…hmmm.

  2. Dave

    Being a tier myself, I consider myself fairly fortunate to have stocked a reserve of said feathers. Over the course of the last year, I’ve tied maybe 4 intruders and probably half as many Pick ‘yer Pockets (with all the time and effort into each pattern I can buy them for a lot less and usually do). So, ladies, those Euro hackles in the pinks, blues, teals, yellows are all yours! Just stay away from the dry fly hackles sz 10 and smaller!

    This is not a new fad. I noticed it about a year ago when I went into my local fly shop and saw almost every cape was missing. I kindly asked Chris (the owner), did somebody break in and steal all your hackle? To which he replied (with a HUGE smile) no, the ladies are buying them up by the truck loads for jewelry and hair extensions.
    Shortly after, I also noticed the prices on said feathers began to climb. Now what cost $35.00 a year ago costs near $60.00 now. Chris can’t keep feathers in stock. He buys them by the train-load and sells them by the truck-load. He told me the other day, he bought over $50,000 in feathers. They arrived and he sold out in 2 days.

    Now there is a true dark side to this craze, and I’m not sure that it has really sunk in across the board. These feathers are getting more and more difficult to come by and the supply isn’t exactly limitless. After all it takes a while for the chickens to age. Then they are killed for their feathers. For those of us who tie, it does make things more difficult and costs us more. But for you non-tier types, you’ll pay for it eventually in the elevated cost of flies. Each fly at my local shop costs $2.00 and up. I keep watching for those prices to climb per fly soon. So, all of you who think you’re safe from the feather craze, thar be an ill wind a-blowin’.

    • Kirk Werner

      Well said, Dave…as always.

  3. Kevin Breen

    My Daughter and her friends are conspirators of this new fashion trend….sorry all you Fly Tiers… of which I am not!

    • Kirk Werner

      Maybe after they’re done wearing the feathers, Kevin, you can sell them on the black market…

  4. Frank

    Hmmmmm, seems like it’s time for Daddy UA to conjure up a tale to tell UA Daughter of how putting feathers in her hair can lead to some kind of chicken foot disease of the scalp that will make her go bald. Once that hits the twitter and facebook world, I suspect the craze will come to an end rather abruptly and we can claim what’s rightfully ours again. 😉

    • Kirk Werner

      Interestingly, Frank, my daughter emailed me today and said she removed her feathers. I’m not sure if it was a spontaneous act or whether my blog had anything to do with it, but I was shocked at how quickly the fad ran it’s course. Then again, maybe she’s got bigger plans for the future like a full Indian head dress…and she just had to clear some space for what’s to come?

  5. Fred Telleen

    I actually got a voice message on the mystic phone the other day from a girl wanting to know if I needed to purchase any feathers. Seems some of the chicks are stocking up and trying to resell back to fly tiers. I’m also saving my money for gas.

    It must be a great time to be a fly shop guy.

  6. Rebecca

    I don’t know what to say.

    The inner fly tyer in me has yet to embrace the actual practice of tying my own flies, so I’m at the mercy of whatever I can buy, beg or borrow in the fly department. So I’d hate for the price to go much higher on the little fly soldiers.

    Being a ‘chick’ I understand new fads, especially when it doesn’t involve a permanent change. Neither of my daughters have come home with feathers in their hair…yet, but when it happens, I’ll explain to them about the poor flies for trout they are potential denying me of.

    • Kirk Werner

      Rebecca, come on…you’re sporting some hackle in your hair, aren’t you? You can tell me…(I won’t say anything to anyone else)

  7. Fontinalis Rising

    I couldn’t wait til Friday to read this one. Reading it prompted me to check Ebay for saddle hackle, as I was shopping for it there a year ago. Top grade whiting saddles sold then for $80-100, and Metz #2’s sold for about 30 (they were available locally for $25 retail.) I found a Metz #2 grizzly for $182.50, a grade 1 Whiting saddle bid up to$355 so far, and a very nice cree saddle for $335 with two days left to bid. Buy it now prices on grizzly saddles are over $400. With all of the info I’ve had to wade through to “learn” hackle, I wonder how the chicks do it. I think that the size 12 and smaller grizzly appears to be the most popular, so would they know not to buy saltwater or bugger saddles? Do they have any use for chickabou? Also, I think that if they wear feathers in their hair it justifies us referring to them as chicks. Ohhh, here’s a grizzly saddle I just found with bidding at $405

    They must be doing it for their own sakes, because the only guys I hear talking about it are fly fishermen.

    • Kirk Werner

      Wow. I mean, WOW. I’m speechless, and that doesn’t happen very often…

  8. cofisher

    I finally found a ladies hair salon that will let me buy back any returns from ladies that are done with their feathers and at a fraction of the cost. I expect that in time, I’ll have a pretty good stock.

    • Kirk Werner

      Interestingly, my daughter emailed me today and said she removed her feathers. She offered her spent decorations to me but since I don’t tie, would you like them? 😉

  9. Swamp Thing

    I am a DIYer in many categories but about 3 times over the last 15 years I’ve tried to work out the economics of fly tying. Each time (as the price of store-bought flies, raw materials, and tying tools increased), the analysis worked out, over a 5 year period, that you would have to go fly fishing 100 days a year, and each time, lose 5 flies that you can tie on your own, to make it “profitable” to tie your own. And that assumes that losing 5 flies per day is an acceptable lifestyle. I cannot believe that tying your own flies saves you money on fly tackle, any more than duck hunting saves me money on bird meat.

    And to claim a profit “selling” flies basically means breaking even on materials and not charging for your time, expertise, or testing of the prototypes.

    None of this addresses what should be the focus of fly tying – which is the art and science of the thing, and the ability to conquer an adversary as tricky as a wild trout, salmon, or bass using materials you made with your own hands. The achievement is NOT insigificant.

    That being said, I’ll keep buying flies from local shops that stock flies made in the USA and Canada.

  10. David G

    I don’t want to be the bad guy here, but I think it is a great thing. Fashion fast moving and short lived. When producers up the ante by producing more, the fad will die. Leaving them with an excess of material to sell off to cover loses. Which would be a great time to stock up again. Now, if a company was smart, they would be trying to develop a synthetic material to out perform the real thing. Jacking up the price of this stuff is going to really help these companies. I welcome it and don’t ming paying the inflated price if it means helping pay the salaries of a handful of American workers.

  11. chuck

    If ya tie flies just because it’s economical ya just don’t get it! There is nothing better than catching a fish on a fly that you invented or tied! Yep, I have a fly that I tie – while not totally original it is somewhat unique. I have caught untold numbers of steelhead with it and all my buddies ask for them each season! It’s a great source of pride!

    I hope this little fad has been a shot in the arm for some fly shops!

    • Kirk Werner

      Tying flies is like Tai Chi, Chuck.

    • Bert

      This comment is useless without pictures…and a pattern recipe.

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