Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

Feathers-in-hair fad irks fly tiers

Grizzly saddle hackle hair extensions

On the way home from work yesterday afternoon, I dropped by the local fly fishing shop to shoot the bull with the owner.

While there, I noticed a large bare spot on the wall where a display of dry fly saddle hackles used to be. “Oh, no,” I said. “What happened? Did some featherheads raid the store?”

He grinned. “Yep. Two beauty-shop owners came in and completely cleaned me out.”

Oh boy. The “featherhead” fad has come to ol’ Wild and Wunnerful. For those of you not familiar with it, check out the accompanying photo. Women are paying big bucks to have long, skinny feathers from the backs of chickens — saddle hackles — woven into their hair.

The fad has just about dried up the supply of dry-fly grade saddles countrywide. The demand is insane. Yesterday, on eBay, a purple-dyed grizzly saddle sold for $328. Before the craze, it would have sold for about $50.

It’s easy to see why beauty-shop owners are scouring every fly shop in the country in search of these feathers. A good-quality saddle contains 200 to 300 feathers, and the shops get $10 a feather to weave them into womens’ hair. The profit margin is insane.

Fly tiers, of course, are indignant. They’ve seen an abundant supply of top-quality dry fly hackle disappear practically overnight. Some fly shop owners now refuse to sell to anyone who isn’t a bona fide fly tier. 

Like many fads, this too will pass. My hope is that chicken farmers will dramatically ramp up production to meet the current demand, only to have the phenomenon fizzle. Should that happen, there would be a glut of top-quality saddles on the market and prices would plunge.

If that happens — no, when that happens — I’ll be waiting, credit card in hand, to buy some nice, cheap dry-fly saddles.