Fashion trends typically come and go with the drop of a pillbox hat, but currently the must-have hair-care craze is not feathering the nests of fly tiers and fly anglers.
The best and the brightest of the rooster chicken feathers are being gobbled up by women, determined to crow over their new hair accessory.
Where once entire shields — or “necks” and “saddles” — of feathers were sold for reasonable prices and used for fishing flies, these items are instead now being broken apart and doled out a single or a few feathers at a time. Such a fashion trend has led to greatly increased prices. Some of best single feathers are costing upward of $10 — or even much, much more.
All of which is hitting fly fishers pretty hard in their wallets as well as their fly-tying materials chests. That situation is due to what some raisers are doing — or not doing, say some within the tight-knit fly fishing family.
Instead of selling their product to their usual fishing-related clients, these raisers of genetically specialized roosters are selling to hair stylists. That is where the big money resides.
While some rooster farmers are jumping on the fashion bandwagon, not all are.
The same goes for some fly fishing product suppliers.
Still, what is happening now even OPEC members would be stunned at the profits to be made by selling feathers to hair salons and not to grizzled steelhead trout fishers.
“The fashion trend is driving up the price of the really good feathers — but more importantly the demand on the supply is being overwhelmed,” said George Vosmik of Rocky River, a member of several local fly-fishing groups.
“I have felt the push because my granddaughters now want grandpa to make feather earrings out of my best hackle feathers. And of course I do, but these are the same girls that tie flies with me — so what the heck?”
Vosmik has managed to stay one step ahead of the fashionistas. He’s had decades to accumulate “lots of necks and saddles over the years.”
“So I have had no specific problems,” he said. “It reminds me of the salmon fly feathers of exotic birds years ago; a serious problem.”
Like Vosmik, Joe Valencic of the North Coast Fly Fishers also has a good inventory of feathers to keep himself occupied at his fly-tying vice.
“I’ve got enough feathers to last several lifetimes,” Valencic said.
That’s not the case for many — if not, most — other fly guys. For the fly-fishing anglers who buy the finished lure product or are do-it-yourselfers, the demand is choking the supply pipeline, according to Chuck Smock, a spokesman for
Nebraska-based Cabela’s, a leading outdoors store and catalog retailer.
Cabela’s has an extensive arsenal of fly-tying products, including the feathers that are in the most demand by anglers and the fashion police.
“I spoke with one of our retail managers, and he said that it’s been on our radar for about 10 months,” Smock said. “Both the price has gone up and the supply has become more difficult.”
How Cabela’s first got wind of the tilt toward using feathers for fashion instead of attracting fish occurred at one of the firm’s three Texas retail stores.
“We began to notice how well-dressed and how young the women were that were coming in and buying the feathers. We finally asked what was going on, and we were told they wanted the feathers for their hair,” Smock said.
Smock added, however, in spite of the huge surge in demand, Cabela’s has resisted passing on the increased cost to its customers.
“But we do have suppliers who have said they won’t sell to us because they can make more money selling to the fashion folks,” Smock said.
Just when Cabela’s thinks the interest in feathers for fashion has peaked, it rises
again to a new summit.
“Of course you can’t add a third shift and manufacture more chickens overnight,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s been pretty remarkable, that’s for sure.”
Yet some raisers of the high-quality roosters needed by fly fishers and the fashion industry are pushing back. They do not want to abandon their longtime fly-fishing clients for the lure of a greater profit margin.
Count one West Coast rooster farmer and feather supplier as an such example.
Wishing to leave his name anonymous, the rooster rancher said the typical saddle has about 300 hackles, or feathers. With the going rate of up to $40 for a package of 10 feathers, “you do the math,” he said.
That math, says the rooster raiser, has led to others in the industry being not so fair to their loyal buyers who’ve been there through thick and thin.
That is why, the farmer says, he “will not play the game,” nor give in and “sell to this fad trade.”
“One of these days, it will be all over and forgotten about,” the raiser said.
“I have always raised top quality dry fly hackle and plan on doing so for many years. I do not sell to the good (’ol) boy dealer network, so none of my hackle is ever offered to fly shops. I control to whom I sell, and the grade and price is a fair one.”
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn