"I understand that using the feathers is fashionable and creative, but the really serious fly fishermen are up in arms," Westra says. "We have one or two women come knocking every day asking about feathers, but right now our regular amount of fly ties is basically out of stock and backordered for a long, long time." Luckily, a local rooster breeder is supplying Westra's San Francisco store with his personal stock of feathers, but other shops haven't been as lucky or well prepared, leading to a nationwide shortage (and concomitant rise in price) of fly ties, which help fly fishermen's hooks sit above the water.
Westra says he initially noticed the uptick in demand for feathers from non-fishermen last August, right before Burning Man, when many women began coming in asking about using the feathers to make earrings. Then, more recently, rumors started circulating from Colorado about women using them in their hair, and now things have escalated into a full-blown feather shortage. Westra has been getting large feather orders from salons as far afield as New York, where salons are selling them for upwards of $50 an extension.
So why is it so hard to get these feathers, and why don't people just use other ones? Well, it turns out that growing the long, slender feathers that are fashionable takes a long time. "The feathers fishermen and salons are competing for are rooster's saddle hackle feathers, the long eight to 13 inch feathers that grow off the bird's side," Westra explains. "Particularly a feather called a grizzly white saddle hackle, which is a nice white and black variegated feather that looks good and is easy to dye."
It takes a rooster over a year to grow saddle hackle feathers, so there's no getting more for a significant period of time once you run out, leading to the shortage that we're encountering now. Salons have tried other feathers, but they're usually not long enough, and the pin running down the center of the feather is usually thicker, making them harder to use and style.
So fashionistas and fly fishermen have reached an impasse, and it looks like feather prices are just going to continue to skyrocket until someone finds an alternative or the trend goes away. But right now, there are no signs the feather extensions are going anywhere. "I'm looking forward at the day when we won't be able to get ties at all," Westra says. And then trend followers and anglers alike will be out of luck.
Source: Flickr User Don Hankins