Saturday, September 18, 2010

Blazing Saddles

Birds of a feather pulse together
The bluish gray saddle feathers from a blue-eared pheasant are conspicuously different than those of a tweedy rooster cape.  Wanting nothing to do with the stiff, floating world of hatch matching, they’re a dry-fly hackle’s nemesis.  That probably has a lot to do with where they come from.  Instead of growing up at some slow-moving chicken farm, blue-eared pheasants are native to the Himalayas and mountain forests of northern China.  Before the Internet, you had to know a guy who knew a guy who knew a Yeti in order to get your hands on one.  Today it isn’t too hard to find a decent skin, but you probably won’t see them hanging on the pegboard at your local fly shop. 

Blue-eared pheasants don’t have much in common with roosters or their famous fear of getting wet, but they do have a lot in common with the men who tie and fish with their feathers.  The unity between blue-eared plumage and spey fishermen starts with the way they’re viewed amongst their peers.  Typically calm, and non-flighty birds, they’re not as glitzy as tragopan, germain’s, or peacock pheasants.  Indeed, you could say that blue-eareds are the dirtbags of the pheasant family. 

Like steelheaders of the Northwest and Great Lakes, they’re extremely hardy.  Not only do they prefer snow and violent weather, they thrive in it.  The same can be said of their feathers.  Once wet, those long, wispy barbs freely pulse and undulate in the current.  The jungle cock, bronze mallard, seal fur, and shiny tinsel might grab the attention of other fishermen, but it’s those grooving barbs that will seal the deal on a fresh, ocean-run steelhead. 

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