On the list of worldly problems that piss off fly fishermen, rock stars and teenage girls are usually pretty low; newbies who stomp around and spook the fish are much worse. But that's changed over the past six months or so as girls began tying "saddle" feathers into their hair as part of a fashion trend — one that pop star Ke$ha and other celebrities pushed — and caused a serious run on the long, barred and brightly colored plumage that fly fishermen use to lure pike, steelhead and other fish. And then came Aerosmith great Steven Tyler, who wore feathers in his hair during a recent episode of American Idol — just as fly-fishing season began.
"Yes, they are fighting over them," says Cody Hoeckelberg, a staffer at Trout's Fly Fishing, 1303 East Sixth Avenue, who notes that the shop has been sold out of feathers for a while. That's the result of "girls from the salons" who came in to buy packages of several hundred feathers for $40 to $80 each. "Some of the old fly-tiers get annoyed, but we serve any customer with a smile," he adds. "I enjoy good-looking girls coming in and buying feathers. We're used to just the typical fly fisherman."
So is Thomas Whiting of Whiting Farms, a rooster-breeding specialist who supplies 78 percent of the fly-fishing industry's saddle feathers with the 65,000 birds he raises on three farms around Delta. "It has been wild. It has been bizarre," he says. "I thought the fly-tiers of the world were picky, but it doesn't compare to the fashion world."
When demand for his feathers intensified, Whiting initially held off on selling to the fashion world, preferring to save the saddle feathers for his regular clients. But then he discovered that many fly-fishing outlets were buying his feathers at regular prices and then reselling them for crazy sums; those $40 to $80 packages were going for $300 to $500 on eBay, while hair stylists were (and still are) selling feathers at anywhere from $10 to $40 apiece. So Whiting, who had been selling the feathers wholesale for twenty cents each, stopped selling to the fishing stores altogether and began raising prices for the fashionistas.
"As of last week, I'm getting a couple of bucks a feather," he says, pointing out that it takes a year to raise each bird and a lot of science to breed roosters for the longer feathers. He can get about 200 feathers from each bird. But Whiting also knows the craze could fly away as fast as it landed. "The fashion world churns them and burns them," he says. "I'm not counting on it lasting. I'd be a fool to do that." Instead, he's using the extra money to invest in the future of his business.
But for now, the trend shows no sign of coming in for a landing. "We've been calling across the country, and it seems like everybody is out," says Tanya Williams, who works at Hot Heads Salon of Cherry Creek. "We were pretty fortunate that we were able to find a good supplier early on."
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And who is that supplier? Williams won't say. So far, Hot Heads has managed to keep its prices consistent at $5 per feather, but that may go up soon. "People are going crazy for them, and it's not just a young-person trend," she says, adding that women and even men — like Tyler — are getting feathers braided into their hair. And so far, no fly fishermen have stopped in, trying to lure away their lures. "We have had entire parties of girls who come in, and they all want feathers," Williams adds. "But that's the only drama we've had so far."
What's a fly fisherman to do? Well, he can always switch to salmon eggs and nightcrawlers — Ke$ha's not likely to tie those in her hair anytime soon.
Lady Gaga, maybe. But not Ke$ha.