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Grizzly Hackle Shortage Tied to Feather Fashion Trend

Posted by on September 15, 2011
Toner Mitchell of The Reel Life Fly Shop in Santa Fe, NM says the  feathers are flying off his shelves to feed a fashion trend sweeping the nation.

It’s a fashion fad that many fly fishermen hope will fade fast.

Fly-tying feathers are being snatched up at an alarming rate by hairdressers who weave them into their clients hair for a flashy new look.

The growing fashion demand has since depleted a limited supply of special roosters bred and harvested to meet the fly fishing industry’s needs.
A grizzly hackle rooster. Photo by Bluedun at Backyard
 Now the feathers are hard to come by and expensive if found.

But Toner Mitchell, manager of the Reel Life Fly Shop in Santa Fe says he’s got a special order coming in and his longtime customers will get first dibs when the shipment arrives.

“I’m going to squirrel most of that away for my secret stash,” Mitchell says. “We’ll put the word out over the internet and let our regular customers know we have some behind the counter.”

And that’s what it has come down to as the solitary sport finds itself thrust into the fashion limelight.

The fad took off over the last year as celebrities, models and then the public embraced the fashion trend which employs the use of the long, slim, eye-catching feathers which are attached to their hair for a new style.

“There’s was a line of girls waiting to get them at a booth during Indian Market,” says Jesse Lee, a guide who also works the counter at the Reel Life. “She (the hairdresser) was getting something like $30 for a couple of feathers. What a racket!”

And of course the most popular fashion feather being used today is the one most widely used for western, dry-fly patterns, the grizzly hackle.

Reyna Robinson wears a single strand of grizzly hackle and a  blue feather in her hair.

Those who tie their own flies to avoid paying up to $2 a piece at a fly shop used to be able to pick up a “100-pack” of Whiting’s grizzly hackle feathers for about $20.

And inside that package they would have found about a dozen long, slender, uniformly sized feathers which could produce about a hundred, dry, flies.

Dry flies are typically used by trout anglers to catch fish feeding on bugs found on the surface of rivers, lakes and streams. They are tied in any number of patterns to imitate different insects with the most popular for trout being the Adams dry fly.

And the Adams is heavily dependent on use of grizzly hackle in its production.

Now those same long, slender, 10- to 12–inch feathers that once might have been used exclusively to produce this very effective dry fly are being quickly and easily clipped into people’s hair and fetching up to ten bucks a piece.

These feather extensions –as they are called — can last for months if cared for properly and produce a unique fashion statement that is very popular among the younger crowd, says Albuquerque hairdresser Reyna Robinson of Foxy’s on 14th Street in the North Valley.

“It’s different and unique” she says.

Noelle Dorrance, 22, of Albuquerque got some feathers attached to her hair during a recent visit to Foxy’s salon on 14th Street in Albuquerque’s North Valley.
And while fly shop managers like Mitchell might be inclined to put aside some of his supply of grizzly hackle for his regular customers, others in the business are more than willing to feed the fad.

“I’m happy to sell those feathers to anyone who walks through the door to buy them,” says Mark Sawyer, Manager of the Los Pinos Fly Shop in Albuquerque. “We are a retail store after all.”

And while business in the sale of grizzly hackle necks, saddles and packages of individual feathers was great for a while there the supply has since dried up, Sawyer says.

“I don’t think you can find a saddle anywhere in the state” he says. “They’re pretty hard to come by.”

The problem is the hackle industry only breeds so many of the highly specialized birds each year to supply the fly tying industry and when they’re gone, the feathers are too.

Now it remains to be seen how the industry responds to the sudden popularity of its products or if the fashion trend fades.

Mitchell said he expects to see an increase in the price of hackle and dry flies as well as a run on other fly tying materials as hairdressers experiment with other types of feathers due to the short supply grizzly hackle.

Various feathers typically found on a fly tiers bench are now part of a hairdressers inventory. 

The country’s largest supplier of hackle, Whiting Farms of Delta, Co declined to respond to emailed questions about the issue and what, if any, plans were in the works for addressing their longtime customers’ needs.

Mitchell says Whiting’s sales reps have been pushing “fashion packs” that include other types of feathers they hope hairdressers will take to.

In the meantime there’s a brisk business for the highly prized grizzly hackle feathers on the web at sites such as eBay.

“I’ll admit I’ve thought about doing that too,” Mitchell says. “But I think I’ll just stick to the high road and keep my regular customers supplied.”

Mitchell says there has been one thing he’s liked about the feather extensions fashion trend.

“I’ve never seen this many good-looking, young women wander into my fly shop before” he says. “And that’s been kinda nice.”

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