Recently, there's been a thread in the FAOL
Bulletin Board about the high cost of tying
materials, particularly good hackle. As is
typical for me, I was able to argue both sides
of the thread: good hackle is worth the cost
per fly, but so expensive to get into in conventional
quantities that it's often prohibitive. However,
I used a product this weekend that might just be
the answer to that problem for recreational tiers
First off, let me point out that I'm not a shill
for Whiting Farms, I don't work for them, I don't
work for a flyshop, and I don't tie professionally.
I'm reviewing this product because I've actually USED it.
I'm one of those guys who ties for my own fly box.
Since I've only been tying for two years, I'm REALLY
familiar with the initial cost of acquiring fly-tying
materials. The amount of money that I spent acquiring
fly-tying materials during my first year was borderline
obscene. "Borderline" means it cost me more than a
decent rod and less than a Rolex. However, one thing
I learned in my short tying career is how much I like
tying flies with high-quality genetic saddle hackle.
There's nothing like it.
As a compromise, I bought decent necks and half-necks.
A rooster neck carries a much wider gradation of feather
sizes. There's also other useful stuff on a neck,
like spade hackles you can use for tailing, and butt
hackles you can use for woolly buggers. But there's
STILL nothing like tying with high-quality saddle
hackle, and it eats away at you every time you tie
with something else.
A decent rooster saddle can cost a lot of money.
Anywhere between $50 and $100 U.S., depending on
the brand and grade. Even though a decent saddle
might tie between 500 and 1500 flies, that's still
a lot of money. If you tie for your own box like
I do, you like to have a dozen or two of whatever
you're going to run into under actual fishing
conditions. In trout-fly terms, that means about
a half-dozen different colors of feathers over about
a half-dozen or so fly sizes. Considering that a
full saddle in one color contains only about three
or four dominant sizes of feathers, you are looking
at a pretty sizable investment.
A recreational tier like you or me is not going to
need to tie 1000 size 12 Green Drakes. That means
we're not likely to use up a whole saddle anytime
soon. What we're more likely to want to do is tie
a couple of dozen #18 BWOs if it's spring, maybe a
couple of dozen #22s if it's fall. Trouble is, it's
pretty easy to scalp even a top-grade saddle of all
its #22 feathers. Then what do you do?
Whiting Farms has figured it out.
Whiting Farms is the largest producer of dry-fly
hackle in the world. I recently ran across a product that
Whiting produces which solves two problems. First, it
lets the recreational tier like me have a very wide
selection of sizes and colors; second, it lets me do
so without taking out a second mortgage on my house.
The product I'm talking about is called Whiting 100's.
It's been on the market for a couple of years; the reason
why it took me so long to run into it I'll speculate on
a bit later.
Whiting 100's are packages of about 10 or so very nice,
long, consistent saddle feathers. They cost anywhere
between $11 and $14 retail. What? For 10 feathers?
A ripoff, right? No, not even close. The Whiting 100's
are designed to tie 100 flies. I've never tested that
assertion, although I have no reason to dispute it.
(As a matter of fact, I tied a dozen dark dun tape-wing
caddises with one feather this weekend, still had 2
inches left over on the first feather, and 9 more in
the bag.) I don't know what happens if you only get
99 flies out of a package of Whiting 100's. What I
do know is that if 100 is a good approximation,
that's less than 15 cents a fly, and about the cost
of the fish hook. Compared to the cost of a Platinum
saddle, at about 2-1/2 cents per fly, that's a little
expensive. But most of us weekend tiers won't live
long enough to use up a Platinum saddle. To the
beginning fly tier, it is the initial cost of materials
that is staggering. This product solves that problem
Here's the nicest part about Whiting 100's:
The feathers are pre-sized and labeled according to size. When you
buy a pack, the feather sizes you get out of it aren't
a crapshoot. If you buy size 24, you get size 24. Now
think about spending a less than 15 dollars to buy enough
feathers to tie 100 size 24s. The way saddles work,
there's no guarantee you'll even get 100 size 24 flies
out of a $100 saddle. You with me so far?
The other nice thing about Whiting 100's is that they
are available in the full range of colors that Whiting
produces. Need Grizzly Dyed Orange for some weird fly?
If you bought a full Grizzly Dyed Orange neck or saddle,
your grandchildren would probably be willing it to THEIR
grandchildren. I was watching Gretchen Beatty tie a fly
in an unconventional color a couple of weeks ago, and
she pulled the feather out of a package of Whiting 100's.
Even a commercial tier like Gretchen apparently appreciates
the ability to buy 100 flies worth of a weird color in
a weird size for a few bucks. You buy what you're going
to use. It's not just about convenience. It's about
the fact that there's no waste.
So there it is. A way for the recreational tier like
you or me to use high-quality saddle feathers, in a
full range of colors and sizes, without that huge
up-front investment. Although I have a grizzly saddle
and a brown saddle that satisfy most of my tying needs,
I won't be buying any more saddles from now on. I'll
be buying Whiting 100's in just the sizes and colors I need.
OK, so why did it take me a couple of years to discover
this product? Well, I suspect that a lot of fly shops
don't stock as many of them as they could. The
packages take up a lot of wall space and are a
low-dollar item. So you have to ask your fly shop
to order them for you, because the owner
probably won't click to how cool they are all on
his own. But if he's a Whiting dealer, you should
ask about Whiting 100's. And if he's not, mail order
them from someone who is. They are a good deal for
the casual tier.
I had an occasion to talk to Dr. Tom Whiting this past
weekend at a fly show. I told him how much I enjoyed
the opportunity to use his feathers in only the sizes
and colors I really needed, and told him what a great
idea Whiting 100's were. He told me that it's a product
that was specifically requested by weekend tiers, and
that even though he has huge commercial accounts all
over the world, Whiting 100's have become more than
25 percent of Whiting Farms' sales in the few short
years of the product's existence.
I guess maybe there's more than just a few of us out
there who like good feathers but hate the up-front expense.
Whiting Farms, Inc.
P.O. Box 100
Delta, CO 81416
Toll Free: 888-321-0003
Tel: 970-874-0999 Fax: 970-874-7117