By: Katie Zezima
NY Times, June 28, 2011
In an improbable collision of cutting-edge chic and a hobby that requires drab waders, fly fishing shops around the country are suddenly inundated with stylish women looking to get in on the latest trend: long, colorful feathers that are bonded or clipped into hair.
Demand for the feathers, before now exclusively the domain of fly fishermen, who use them to tie flies, has created a shortage, forcing up the price and causing fly shops and hairdressers to compete for the elusive plumes.
“I’ve been out for probably a month,” said Bill Thompson, the owner of North Country Angler in North Conway, N.H. “There is that worry that next year, fishermen won’t have materials they’ll need.”
“For someone to use them as a fashion statement is just sacrilegious,” said Bob Brown, 65, a fly fisherman who lives in an recreational vehicle parked in Kennebunk, Me. He said he had been tying flies for 50 years and this is the first time he had ever heard of a feather shortage.
“They’ve been genetically bred for fly tying, and that’s what they should be used for,” Mr. Brown said.
Fly fishing feathers — which individually are called hackles and as a group called saddles — are harvested from roosters painstakingly bred to grow supple feathers. It takes more than a year for a rooster to grow feathers long and pliable enough for use by fly fishermen. Because no one could have predicted the fashion trend, there are not enough to go around.
The feathers, anglers said, are used to help the flies that mimic bugs that sit atop the water, which are called dry flies, as well as wet flies, which sink below the surface and are supposed to look like bait fish.
Dry flies typically use brown and neutral feathers, which women prefer for a more natural look, and flies that sink often use feathers in colors like yellow and electric blue, which deliver more pop as a hair accessory. Some feathers come in solid colors, and others have patterns of contrasting colors.
The qualities that make the feathers so attractive to anglers — pliability and durability — are also what appeal to hairdressers. The feathers can be washed, blow dried, curled and flat ironed, and typically stay in hair for a few months.