All About Fly Fishing!

The Truth About Flyfishing Feathers

So much misinformation abounds about genetic hackle, fly tying, and premium materials.What's a fly tyer to do? Read Doc Knoll, that's what! Discover the truth.

While I was in college a marketing professor once said, "If something is essentially wrong with a product. . . then advertise the hell out of the product. Soon, they (the consumer) will be praising it (any product) as the best thing since sliced bread."

Every week or so I receive an e-mail from someone seeking to find the truth about "premium neck and saddle feathers." I also read, from the written laments of these beginning tiers, that they are confused with what they are either hearing or reading on this subject. Well, help has arrived. . . and it is I who is going to tell you.

I don't want this to sound like an advertisement for my feather and fly tying products so I will take a "neutral" position on this matter. Well, given this a second thought I might "pitch" something while I help to "clear the air" of a bunch of "glossy" advertising dribble and chat room drool. Which, for those of you who do occasionally look into these places, probably know the names of those "confused and lonely people" who really need to get a life.

First and most basic, because fly tying feathers come from "chickens", there is a huge difference between "standard" birds and "genetic" birds. The basic difference is that a "standard" bird is larger in stature and naturally produces feathers used primarily in warm and salt water applications. In these situations using these feathers is fine.

"Genetic" feathers (I really wish whoever penned this name would have used anything else. . . maybe Memphis or White Water.) however grow smaller (and thinner) in size and are used primarily for smaller flies and/or flies which are generally used for trout, salmon fly fishing and steel head. If you fish for any of these three fish; try to use genetic feathers. I don't care who's ... just do yourself a favor and use genetic feathers.

Can the two be interchanged? Yes, except a standard bird will not (numerically) produce the sizes needed by anglers fishing for trout. Then again, the (left over) genetic neck feathers which are larger then what is customarily used by trout fishermen can and are used by most commercial tiers for their warm and salt water applications. And, because of the genetic feather's characteristic "make up," these larger feathers will ultimately produce a more desirable fly then one made with the standard bird's feather. So, and for the finger pointers out there. . . yes they both will catch fish.

Secondly, and what I feel is the most important point of this article, is the misconception most people have about "genetic feather quality." Occasionally, because of my reader's questions which have been directed to me, I drop into Internet News and Chat Rooms as a lurker.

There, sometimes hidden behind a false "handle," I become shocked at the dribble a handful of tiers or fly fishermen are doling out to the general public. So let's clear the air for once and for all. (Except, I really know it won't happen.) And, for someone who wants to argue what I'm about to write... Yes, there are some newsroom tiers who do know their stuff. They do answer questions with precise information obtained through experience and not acquired by advertising or with belief in advertising's "useless dribble." In fact, sometimes I see people nearly copy advertising word for word and post it to a news group. Or even worse I have visited several sites and see the same person posting the same dribble again and again. . . I guess he must be on someone's payroll or is just some kind of a weird fly?fishing groupie.

Back to feathers. Right now there are a handful of genetic hackle producers. We all basically have the same.

Back to feathers. Right now there are a handful of genetic hackle producers. We all basically have the same common stock of birds (at least the last time I looked at mine. . . which was about fifteen minutes ago.) We all try to maintain a feeding regiment that is conducive with our "home" environments and we all naturally strive (in our own way) to produce a more desirable bird. So what is the difference between my feathers and that other guys.??? Nothing really to speak about?? much less have a conniptions fit over!!!.

We all produce #1's and we all produce culls (rejects). We harvest in one year's time and we harvest at two years intervals or whatever. Some of us produce a small crop and some produce more then they actually need. Some enjoy dying their capes and others enjoy producing variants. Some want to stay small and others would want to "have it all." Some advertise as procedure and others are never or rarely in print. The difference is in the reader's perception of what he is exposed to. A noted political author once said, "if you repeat a lie enough it will become the truth."

Yes, advertising is much like politics. Usually glossy advertising works by persuading people to believe in a subjected opinion. Anyone given enough advertising will fall victim and eventually even I will begin to believe the sun rises in the west. But, by comparing a company's package of ten selected saddle feathers to another company's complete neck is bogus. And, (for you beginning tiers and fly fishers) a "good" saddle feather cannot be compared to a "good" neck feather. It's like comparing apples and oranges. Besides, there is a very good chance that a given company's "selected" feather package, just like ones which even I provide, came from birds that (as a whole) had inferior or damaged capes and/or saddles. (So you elitist ego maniacs can now realize you probably have poo-poo feathers in your kit. !)

I like to believe a feather is a feather. If it can be used to catch fish then it must be a good feather. Continually, I've monitored chat room arguments which have started about who (company) has the best necks and saddles. Is it company X? Y? or Z? Sorry guys. . . I know who gets my "best" feathers and it certainly isn't anyone who would sit in front of a computer and argue when not adequately informed and like I stated before; we all produce really good stuff and we also have some not so good necks and saddles.

If you stop into my shop in late September and try to pass judgement on what is hanging on the shop's wall (probably all #2 & #3's) I might not (visually and at that moment) compare to any other genetic producer's #1 neck. But, to pass judgement by coming to the party late and saying, "it was dull and all the girls were all ugly," only tells me that the observer isn't too smart. Sorry guys, (that is the writers of this useless dribble) for your information the people who contact me and now question your wisdom are pretty much beginner fly fishers or beginning fly tiers. So let's face one sure fact; some of you "informative people" are likely going to ruin.

So let's face one sure fact; some of you "informative people" are likely going to ruin a potential angler and sportsman even before they get started. I guess some people can teach and others really should sit on the bench. . . or maybe in the bleachers and become spectators.

FYI when feather "grading" first took shape a neck or a saddle was "graded" by the NUMBER OF USABLE FEATHERS in the neck or the saddle.. Naturally, even before I got into this business, some people began to "miss count" and give a better rating to any given neck and therefore command a higher price. Now I've been recently informed by some of my customers that the established feather grading system is about to go the way of the credit card. . .platinum, gold and plutonium or something. I wonder if this is good? I don't plan on changing.

Well, all I can say is good luck to all of you in this wading pool of advertising. I bet if my college professor was still alive he would tell me , "Doc, if you wrap a two dollar wrapper around some culls I bet you can get $20 more for it... And someone will be crowing that its the best thing since sliced bread." I won't take him up on it.

The last time I checked? (now about twenty minutes ago) a #16 feather from a #2 or #3 neck was just as good as a #16 feather from a #1 neck. I'll continue to fit the customer 's wants to the neck or saddle they really need and choose not play this game of illusion.

In fact, just so all of you might know; most commercial tiers don't want our #1 necks and plead with us to sell them #2? #3's . They don't want the ridiculously small feathers some tiers say they tie in quantity. In actuality, on most Montana and western streams an #18 fly is small enough.

I've had some small feather tiers, who also happen to fit the descriptions of the news room boys, in my shop and when I ask them to show me their flies I've seen some really ugly stuff with hackle proportions out of balance for the fly. So, apparently their well touted #1 neck didn't tie down to a #24. Maybe they should have taken out a gauge. But... this is life.

You know it's also very funny (to me) that people believe that cost is the ultimate factor in quality or product reliability. Nothing here could be further from the truth. Many of these same "News room" experts extol the virtues of custom rods over "generic" brands. And, after listening to this nonsense, I really doubt they have ever caught a "good fish" on some of the brands they report as "exceptional" ?just to use one word which I often read.

I will not give names but some (and more then one) well advertised, glossy printed, four color $400-$600 "custom" rods are known to collapse into several pieces if even a 5?6 pound fish is hooked. Yet, this advertising is persuading anglers that their products are the best. And in light of that; the "average" angler believes he or she is really holding a good instrument in their hands. Sorry. . . just because you were sold a ABC brand rod by a metropolitan salesman (who normally fishes for "10 inch stockers or some stocked pond for trophy fish") doesn't mean it is worth half of what you paid (except for paying for his bad habits) . Sure, the rod is pretty and the case is handsome and durable but if you go fishing with me on the Yellowstone I might tell you to leave that "fancy rod" in your car. . . because there is the chance that we're gonna catch some big fish. And, I'm not letting you lose that lifetime dream fish to a collapsed rod. . .

So next time you step into that chat room or read over some information in a news group remember this. . .some of these guys really haven't a clue.

I remember one little girl (a novice fly fisher) who asked what fly she should use to catch blue gills in her father's pond. The "experts" started naming stuff (flies) that wouldn't be found in hundreds of miles from the pond and then the "pros" started naming makes and models of rods, reels, tippet weights, paraphernalia and other "needed" stuff that would weigh her down so much she wouldn't make it out of the back door. The girl only wanted to read, "use flies which look like ants and other terrestrials (bugs) or a if need be use a big juicy worm or a small ball of squeezed bread. . .)

Most of the chat room guys are there just to see their name on the computer screen and flaunt the fact that they are fortunate enough to buy a few "big ticket"items (some good and some which really suck.) It's just an ego thing which confuses more people then it helps. And, by informing you of this ....that's why we say, "at Knoll's we're bringing a new reality to fly fishing."

Find out more about Knoll's Yellowstone Hackle as well as the Absaroka Knoll Farm- and if you want, feel free to ask Doc a question.