A solution to the hackle problem…

It happened. In the weird way that all the ‘I never thought it would happen to me’ happens. Like swine flu. Or bankruptcy. Or a getting run over by a bus full of clowns.

My fiancee came home from work the other day with a piece of saddle hackle in her hair.

I knew it would happen sooner or later. Lady CFS works in the media, and her job has a significant fashion component. She blamed it on the fashion editor, who apparently went around the office doing it to all the ladies, sewing a perfectly good piece of hackle into their hair.

It’s been in there about two weeks now, nearly invisible, surviving all her washing and drying ministrations, but always standing out to me.

As the days have gone by, there have been a steady stream of media hits offering a subtle reminder of how up-in-arms the cantankerous bunches of still-lifers that follow our sport can be.

It’s an apocalypse! Think of the costs! Our industry! Ruined!

The bellyaching has gotten tiresome.

Sure, businesses that sell feathers and rely on fly production will have to adapt to a sudden increase in demand for their component products. Hackle will get more expensive. You can unload some on eBay. But it most certainly won’t be apocalyptic. More roosters will hatch and grow beautiful feathers. And we will yank them out and use them to catch fish.

The Lady, meanwhile, seems blase about the stash I’ve got in the other room. I could do 80% of her hair in grizzly if she wanted. But like most fishing-related things, it’s in the blind spot. Remember the parents’ voice in the Charlie Brown movies? That’s what happens when I talk about fishing. ‘Bwah bwah bwah bwahhhh.’

For all the attention, I think we’re missing the point.

Heaven forbid some enterprising shop owner print up a pamphlet introducing all those newcomers to the fantastic world. ‘Come, have some flashabou! Put some rubber legs in your hair. See all these interesting things? Here’s what we do with them. It’s really fun.’ It’d be easy to gain converts.

Sadly, this has probably brought more excitement around the sport since the last big movie turned attention to rivers and those who angle them, and the wizened guardians of the sport are pulling into their shells, sticking the feathers behind the counter, and turning the other way when prospective fisherpeople step up.

At any rate, the trend is not likely to survive very long, just like the long-legged roosters once they reach their peak. Soon after she came home, another friend from work did her research and sent around the result to all the ladies who’d had the treatment: hackle in your hair is cruel to birds.

‘They come from roosters that are genetically bred and raised for their plumage,’ she wrote. ‘In most cases, the birds do not survive the plucking.’

Far from what you might imagine, that the birds’ feathers are plucked, and they’re given a free-range retirement, bald and happy, the opposite is true. Grow your feathers, and that’s that.

Is that another tack, potentially? Slip the info that the feather harvesting is cruel to roosters to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and let them remind their celebrity spokespeople of the poor suffering birds? Indict Stephen Tyler and pressure him to swear off the mayhem he’s started?

I was passing through Boulder this week and stopped in to see the fine group at Front Range Anglers at their new location on Pearl St., and we got to talking hackle, with Lady CFS in attendance and apologetic for her role in the unfolding tragedy.

They showed off this beautiful rooster, who would probably fetch enough on eBay to put a new fully-loaded 18′ Clacka Max Bench in the garage, and it hit me.

If the ethical route doesn’t work, then it’s all about some sort of decoy. A step-by-step plan:

1) Contact some friendly Chinese synthetic feather manufacturers via AliBaba (like these guys! There are hundreds.)

2) Copy the natural coloration that Whiting et al use.

3) Create a new brand of synthetic hackle designed to look like it’s coming from a fly-fishing brand (‘False Cast Hackle‘) but priced to use in hair.

The properties that make these feathers so useful for us aren’t as important in hair, but by disguising these as a new kind of feather approved by flyfishers, we’ll have a way to say ‘oh yeah, you’ll want one of these’ when the Whiting is all out.

4) Problem solved, as demand shifts entirely to the in-stock, multiple-colors-available brand. We could even Avon-ize it and supply beauticians and salons directly.

So, whaddya think? Time to open the throttle on the innovation side of the sport to combat this menace, as opposed to passive grumbling? I reckon so.

Shoproll: Front Range Anglers, 2344 Pearl St., Boulder, CO 80302, (303) 494-1375

UPDATE: PETA has weighed in!

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