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Salons clean out fly-fishing retailers’ supply of fly tying feathers

Some fly-fishing retailers are having a hard time keeping rooster feathers for fly-tying on their shelves. SNEWS chats with a few retailers about the latest fashion craze that is taking feathers away from fly-fisherman.

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What do Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and fly-fisherman have in common? They both shop for rooster saddle feathers – but for very different reasons.

Fly-fishing retailers said customers have mixed feelings about the rooster feather shortage due to the latest hair fashion craze spurred by Tyler, who is credited as the person who started putting rooster saddle feathers in his long locks.

“(Customers) just think that it’s all kind of funny,” said Keith Shidemantle, the assistant manager of of Idaho Angler in  Boise, Idaho. “(Fishermen) can’t believe there’s actually a big interest in these feathers.”

The media has further spurred the craze, including an Associated Press story by Jessie L. Bonner, which claims the fashion trend has nearly depleted the resources of the rooster feathers intended for fly fisherman.

Much of the supply of the saddle feathers comes from Delta, Colo.-based Whiting Farms run by Tom Whiting. Whiting declined an interview with SNEWS, but according to the AP story, Whiting Farms raises the roosters until their saddle feathers, the ones “on the bird’s backside,” are as long as possible. Those feathers are then plucked and the bird is euthanized.

“Keep in mind these birds have to be killed in order to get these feathers,” Jim Coveney, the department manager for Great Outdoor Provision Co. stores in both Chapel Hill and Raleigh, N.C. told SNEWS. “You can’t just pluck them and have them run around naked.”

Though Whiting declined to comment on the future of his business, some retailers said more birds will be “harvested” within the next year, which would infuse the market with more feathers.

Unlike many fly-fishing shops across the nation, the Ugly Bug Fly Shop in Casper, Wyo., isn’t one of those stores having a hard time.

“It really hasn’t become a problem,” said Marty Robinson, who works at the Ugly Bug. “We definitely have sold a lot of feathers to hair salons but it has not yet become a problem for us. I know the feather dealers seem to be doing alright and we’re not having too much trouble getting the feathers we need for our clients.”

But elsewhere in Wyoming it’s a different story.

“Basically we got cleaned out before it was apparent” feathers were being purchased for use in hair salons, said Brandon Specht, a manager of the Laramie, Wyo.-based West Laramie Fly Store. “We haven’t been able to replace the inventory since.”

For now, customers must make do with other types of flies, Specht said. Coveney also said it’s been difficult to keep feathers on the shelves at his stores in North Carolina.

“I’ve noticed in both (stores), as well as in speaking with other managers, that it’s getting very, very difficult to find specific feathers for tying flies,” he said.

Specht said he ordered more rooster feathers about three months ago and was told it would take up to nine months to receive more. The fishermen who shop at his store “are annoyed,” he said.

“We can’t keep up with demand,” Idaho Angler’s Shidemantle said. “We’re back ordered until summer 2012 for most of our feathers that are referred to as saddle feathers.”

Coveney said he thinks women are attracted to the grizzly saddle feathers because they have spots on them that don’t fade even when the feather is dyed different colors. Synthetic feathers just won’t do for either fly fisherman or hair stylists.

“Natural material is far more effective than using a synthetic in most conditions,” Coveney said. “The fish can tell and there are certain species that are extremely effective at detecting the slightest variances.”

Kathy Matzkey, a stylist with Tanglez, a salon in Wilmington, N.C., said the rooster feathers “just look cool.” She said the feathers are popular because they are temporary, don’t damage hair and they help people who want to “look a little rough around the edges.”

Salons prefer rooster feathers, Matzkey said, because they can be washed, blow-dried and styled whereas synthetic materials will melt.

According to the AP, some retailers have refused to sell the feathers to stylists, specifically women. Coveney acknowledged his advice to other retailers is sneaky, but effective.

“When you do get some of these (feathers), stash some of the stuff away,” Coveney said. “Keep one or two packages specifically for fly-tiers.”

Shidemantle advised retailers to wait it out. “It’s a fad and it will not last,” he said. “It’s short-term.”

“I don’t begrudge the women at all. I think (the feathers) are kind of pretty, but the only issue here is that this is going to be a temporary thing,” Coveney said. “Styles come and go but the fly-tying will stay.”

–Ana Trujillo