Recently I loaded up some of my fly tying material so that I would have what I need to tie a few flies during our winter sojourn in Arizona. As I went through the drawers and boxes where I store my various materials I was reminded of the early years when I was just beginning to tie flies. I soon realized that many of the materials that I needed to tie flies came from birds and animals that lived around my home in Michigan. It seemed logical that I could collect many of my own materials. Thus began several years of hunting and gathering furs and feathers right from the source.
At the time one of the materials that were hard to procure was wood duck, especially the lemon tinged feathers. Wood duck numbers had fallen due to loss of habitat and suitable nesting trees so procuring the feathers was difficult and expensive, especially for a newly married man with limited disposable income. However, I loved duck hunting and I knew some places where occasionally wood ducks could be found. Although wood ducks were scarce we were still allowed to shot one as part of the daily bag limit. Over time I managed to bag one or two but I soon discovered that not all wood ducks are created equal. The best lemon-colored feathers are found on older adult male birds. The first ones that I collected were from young birds with only a few of the treasured feathers. Still I had some wood duck feathers and I treated them like gold. Then, one day while hunting ring-necked pheasants I was working the edge of a small pond in the middle of a large corn field when I flushed several wood ducks. Duck season was open, wood ducks were legal, I had a duck hunting permit and with one quick blast from my old 16 gauge Mossberg I harvested my first mature drake wood duck. Suddenly I had a life time supply of prime wood duck feathers. I skinned out the entire bird, salted the skin and added it to my collection. I still have the skin in my collection and it remains one of the finest wood duck skins I have ever seen.
Over the years I added many other types of fly tying material to my growing collection. I collected bags of barred mallard flank and mallard pointer feathers, pheasant skins, wild turkey and the assorted skins of various other game birds. Buck-tails from white-tailed deer along with patches of hair, rabbit skins, ears and masks, and squirrels tails. When I moved to Montana I got to add elk, pronghorn, bison and moose hair to my growing collection.
Over the years hunting and gathering furs and feathers from legally harvest game animals and select specimens from creatures that lost their lives along the roads have filled my fly tying larder to full and overflowing. Many of those treasurers are still in my collection and I have tied countless flies from these materials that I gleaned from my outdoor adventures. Although they lost their lives through various causes they live on in the flies that I have tied with them.
The ability to collect many of your own fly tying materials is still available. Gathering materials that you can use to tie your flies adds another layer of enjoyment to the process. Not only will you be able to catch fish on flies you tied yourself but you can tie them with materials that you procured yourself.
Today I have far more furs and feathers that I will ever use in what remains of my life, but as I look through the various drawers each piece brings back a fond memory. Perhaps, in the final analysis that's what it's all about, the memories of good times. I hope you are making some memories of your own.