Whip Finish


Ralph Long - September 26, 2011

Hi….My names Ralph….and I'm addicted to fly tying hackle….

In fly fishing, so much of our pastime and application lies within the attributes of our equipment. From the expenses of a rod & reel, to the countless accoutrements and trappings adorning the walls of every fly shop, many of us are constantly in the hunt for the next 'best' rod and precision reel to be found. We drool over catalogs and websites, ogle each other's setups and dream of everything from machined reels to custom bamboo rods. All of this adds to our enjoyment of the sport, if kept within reason. But while I'm right there with all of the others for me the real draw is hackle.

From the elegance of a top end genetic rooster neck to the natural iridescence of a single wild turkey flat, it all holds me mesmerized at times. Where some approach fly tying as a means to acquire the tools of our time on the water, others like me end up following a path that fully parallels that of fly fishing, and at times even passes it. Often blurred are the lines between the perfection of a Catskill Patterns stance and the natural beauty of the materials used to create it. The fact remains I am drawn to the hackle that fills my bins and desk drawers.

While one look in my bench shows that I am an addict of dry fly hackles, I can just as well sit and sort through my feathers and materials drawer and quietly admire the individual qualities of each one. The speckled fibers of Teal and Wood Duck are so perfectly fitted for legging of nymphs, winging & flat-wing applications that it's hard to imagine them as being created for anything else. Forgetting the perfection of the Eastern Wild Turkeys camouflage, the fact remains that almost every feather it wears has an equally perfect application in the tying world. With the countless variations of game birds to be found, each one is so different in its plumage that at times a particular bird seems to have a neon sign on it blinking the name of a particular fly pattern. The yellow-dyed Brahma hen in my desk screamed sulfur soft-hackle, and I had to have it, if for no other reason but that singular pattern in my mind. The rump marabou of a particular Ruffed grouse skin I found at a tying expo had the Ruffchuck pattern all over it. It sits in my drawer today and those specific feathers are treated like gold. I can't help myself at times. For 3 years I hunted for both a Ginger and Dark-Pardo Coq-de-Leon saddle with the "exact" shades I wanted for tailing. I still sit and stare at those saddles at times. They were like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack and the mere mention of "CDL" would send me right back to the urge to find them.

The list goes on, and keeps growing as well. My wife likens it to a 8 year old hoarding his favorite marbles, deciding whether or not to risk playing them, or to be just as content just keeping them to look at. And although it's sad to think that emotionally I have not come much further than an 8year old and his marbles and I can live with that. However, the dry fly necks really are my weakness, with the hen necks running a close second place. Over the years I have accumulated a number of very nice necks. Some are for particular patterns, while others have been based solely on the fact that I it was a particular shade that I did not have. Like my wife with shoes, "I just may need that one down the road". And even more so, I have a weakness for the anomaly necks. Those are the necks that are almost a once-in-a-lifetime find. The genetic anomaly that produces a blend of colors or a shade not seen otherwise, that somehow made it through the culling process and onto a shops pegboard. Even if I have no logical pattern that I would ever use it for, the fact that it is likely never going to come available to me for purchase again will drive that tiny little impulse telling me I "have" to have it. Like I said, it borders on addiction.

Then a few weeks ago my 8yr old son declared that he wanted to learn how to tie. And although it now comes with a whole new struggle, there was no way I could tell him no. So, I found myself over his shoulder tying dubbed nymphs, and chenille woolly worms, and the smile after each fly has been immeasurable. But the best part came when he sat down next to me the other evening as I tied some patterns for an ongoing swap that is due, and began going through my bench. One-by-one, like only an 8 year old can do, he began declaring which feathers he liked followed by "what is this one dad?" and "what are these used for?" Before you knew it I was no longer tying swap flies. I was hunched over the material drawers answering questions and picking my favorites out, showing him patterns and pictures of naturals that were the "perfect" applications for a particular material in question. With some, he would ask if he could have a feather and I would give him one for the cigar box that holds his tying tools and already tied patters. And with others, I would politely say, "no buddy, those are hard to find, and we'll keep them in Dads bench for whenever we may need to tie with them." This declaration would be met with a slight scowl on his part, but then acceptance and he would move on saying "cool, I like them". Sort of like two 8 year old kids hunkered down in the dirt over our marble, with each wondering what it will take to get the others, while shielding our own favorites as well. I guess two things are apparent now. My wife may have been right. I really have not come very far from being that same little kid when it comes to my hackles. But it looks like the propensity for hackle addiction just may run in the family.

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