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Feathers for salmon fly tying

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#21 Trad. Fly.

Trad. Fly.

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Posted 24 May 2018 - 12:25 AM

Since the old days of "The Salmon Flyer", I have written articles from time to time on the subject of obtaining materials.  That first one in the Flyer was written in the early years of my own quest for feathers.  These days, tiers new to the quest have many more resources.  The publication of THE FEATHER THIEF could well give new tiers the wrong idea, however.  There is no "feather underground".  From the start of my own tying decades ago, there were always  legitimate sellers.  Some of the things needed could be obtained, then and now, from your friendly local fly shop that mainly caters to trout tiers.  Then, there were specialists.  I bought much of my early stuff from Jim Krul at English Angling Trappings.  And Phil Castleman at Castlearms.  Phil is still in business, but Jim has moved on.  Then I discovered Kim Rasmussen.  And later, Jens Pilgaard.  They have both moved on as well.  Ken Sawada was a source for many years, but he is closing up shop this month.  Now John McLain, Aaron Ostoj, Doug Milsap, Steve Cooper, Mike Chan, Paul Philipone and others are active dealers.  eBay frequently has feathers we may use, mainly sold by breeders or bird pet owners. But also taxidermy and feathers from the old millinery trade turn up from time to time.   It is good to keep up with "About Feathers" on Facebook.  There is  trading that goes on between tiers.  And collections that tiers sell when they have to give up tying or their estates sell.  It never hurts to look in antique or curio stores.  I found a wonderful old Java Green Peacock taxidermy stuck under a stairwell in a curio shop one time!
Buying feathers for tying salmon flies is not like pulling out the Harbor Freight catalog and ordering up whatever tools you happen to need whenever you think you need them.  It takes patience to pull together a collection of feathers so that you may tie the traditional flies with the traditional materials.  Not every seller has every needed feather all the time.   
Today, it is thoughtful to avoid those feathers that come from endangered species; with the proviso that it is likely reasonable to use those, such as from the Scarlet Macaw, that can be obtained as molts from pet or zoo birds.  Or those that you are sure come from antique taxidermy or old millinery feathers. 
Then there is the ongoing issue of provenance for those feathers that are part of the 62 birds stolen from the Tring Museum by Edwin Rist and sold to salmon fly tiers around the world that have not yet been returned.  I am trying to obtain a current list of the remaining missing birds.   I will share it when I get it.  I do not know how to advise tiers seeking to collect feathers to tie traditional flies with traditional materials when it comes to feathers that could be from those stolen birds.  It would make all tiers lives better if those birds were returned!  Meanwhile, there are many excellent substitutes available for the feathers of a number of those stolen birds. 
If anyone new to the quest for feathers needs more specific information on obtaining particular feathers, you may message me with your  search and I will be happy to provide what help I am able.  But, dealers such as John McLain will likely be able to help you with a broader knowledge of what can be found than I possess.