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Hele historien om Pattegrisens fjer – fortalt af skaberen selv..

Whiting speyhackler er et enenstående fluebindingsprodukt. Læs her den fulde historie omkring tilblivelsen og tankerne bag Spey hacklerne skrevet af skaberen selv. Dr. Tom Whiting – en historie hvor Go-Fishing faktisk spiller en lille rolle.

Læs også om hvordan fjerene blev til Pattegrisen og Claus’s møde med Tom Whiting..

The Development of the Spey Hackle at Whiting Farms

af Dr. Tom Whiting

In the early days of Whiting Farms, roughly 1990 through 1995, many of today’s novel product lines had their start. Even though Whiting Farms was initially based on the acquisition of the famed Hoffman dry fly hackle and its further development, I had the fear solely dry fly hackle was too much of a “one house parade” and just too narrow of a foundation for the company. So right from the beginning I was thinking about other fly tying feathers that might be producible and sellable, out of the desire to have some greater diversity in the product offerings of the fledgling company. Right along with my own search quite a number of fly tiers emphatically bent my ear to encourage me to provide them with feathers that they felt they needed; so I listened. Gray Jungle fowl, or as they said “jungle cock”, was usually the first to be requested. Also, although Gray Partridge was readily available, tiers wanted better feather quality. Then there were various ways tiers articulated the need for “genetic” (meaning higher quality) wet fly hackle. Hard to come by feathers were also mentioned, including the Spanish Coq de Leon and the legendary “Spey Cock” from Scotland.

The early 1990’s being before the ease of Internet searching, I went through fly tying books and magazine trying to educate myself. Some of our early advisors, proto Pro Team Members, were also helpful in guiding me with their libraries and knowledge. But any tangible information on the elusive “Spey Cock” was paltry. There were a few vague references in articles in salmon fly books and magazines, and one idealized portrait of a Spey cock, but nothing clearly articulated what the feathers were like. Even one article mentioned the legendary Spey Cock was extinct. So where to begin? More often I found references to the various substitution of the Spey Cock feather, which at least provided some physical guidance. These included goose shoulder feathers, ring neck pheasant rooster saddles, Heron feather, and blue eared pheasant saddles. I even went to a fairly serious exotic pheasant farmer who had a pen of blue eared pheasants, and on closer examination of these large pheasants I noticed that there was one in the corner of their enclosure with a rather large hole in its back that the others were dining on. So these didn’t look like a very encouraging candidate to consider. Plus I had helped on a gamebird farm in my youth, and knew the challenges of raising wild species in captivity, so preferred to try and stick with domesticated chickens instead of dealing with wild species. On a side note, this was also the case with developing the “Brahma” product line, which was initially intended to be a substitute for gray partridge, but has turned out to offer even more uses than a partridge.

So after pondering the substitute alternatives, I decided to just start from scratch in developing a Spey Hackle. The fun begins.

Knowing about an ancient Chinese breed of chicken known as the Silkie, I thought they breed might be a good place to start. Silkies have a mutation that causes the absence of barbules on the feather barbs which prevents the barbs from “marrying together”, which is the normal form which creates the solid plane of a feather. The Silkie feathers at least crudely resemble Heron or pheasant rump feathers.

I called a mail order hatchery I had bought a few chicks from in my youth, McMurray Hatchery in Iowa, whom I now, ironically, sell my own “Whiting Blue” high production blue egg layer breeding stock to, and ordered about 50 white Silkie bantam chicks. I raised these at home to make sure they didn’t have any diseases that wouldn’t be good to bring into the hackle production facilities. I believe this was in about 1995 or 1996, so it was one of the last of the project beginnings of the early era. Silkies, by nature, are small, prone to broodiness (wanting to set on their eggs and thus poor layers), and a jumble of odd traits; feathered feet, vulture hocks, head crests, fibromelanotic (black skin and bones). Thus they were a long way from being a producible product line. So I started by crossing them with my American Hackle line, which was a good 5 years into its development. This cross brought some feather density and length, lessened the broodiness, and began taking away the fibromelanotic trait which would have made the pelt skins black or gray and unappealing to some fly tiers. This cross also introduced a huge amount of variability, which is an essential ingredient to developing any new entity. So then the fun could continue. Several fly tiers, whom shall remain unnamed, provided me with Heron feathers as used in tying. Heron being illegal to own, at least in the US, made this a bit of a dubious way to start such a project, but at least I could see and feel the actual feathers that they were seeking. But I want it known that I gave all these feathers back to those who leant them to me, and have none in my collection today, just for the record. So no raids thank you very much. Anyway I now had a visual understanding of what the feathers were like that the tiers desired. So with this visual I started the selection process, which is essentially producing a sizable number of these Silkie cross birds, and then retaining, for the next generation of breeders, those individuals that possess the closest to the target Heron feathers that I could find. This process accumulates the genes that contribute to the desired feathers. And each successive generation would get closer still, hopefully. Helping me discern the quality of these R&D feathers were a number of fly tiers whom I would send pelt samples to and ask them to critique them.

They seemed quite eager to help, and gave excellent feedback. I can clearly remember fly tying book author Dick Talleur tactfully suggesting that I strive to eliminate any frayed tips on the neo Spey feathers, and try to make the individual barbs as bulky as possible. This kind of guidance is essential in my work, as I am not a fly tier. Rather I am a poultry geneticist who is happy to make the fly tiers happy. The project is my fun, not necessarily the feathers intended use. Fly tiers get to have fun with them. This foundational selection program went on from around 1997 until the early 2000s, producing a generation about every 12 months, with a few hundred individuals per generation in the initial years to 4 or 500 later on. I was developing several more colors besides just white, including grizzly, but also badger and brown and whatever colors might drop out on their own. I can’t remember selling these R&D pelts, but they did go out for a few bucks to various folks who peddled some of our early R&D pelts.

By about 2005 the cape feather mass and length were coming along nicely. I was principally only selecting for the cape feathers, to concentrate my efforts and progress onto a single pelt because to select for too many traits or different feather tracts will slow overall progress. So I was pretty well ignoring the other pelts, such as the saddle. An ingenuitive fellow that worked for Whiting Farms at the time, Steve Schweitzer, came up with the grand idea to call the orphan rooster saddles “Bird Fur”, the novelty of which made them instantly sellable. Bird Fur is a half rooster saddle, dyed a variety of colors, at a modest price. While the Bird Fur was becoming a popular item, I concentrated on improving the primary pelt, which was the rooster cape. We made a proper pelt board for the new Spey Hackle product line and the product line slowly started to sell. Most or our fly shop customers weren’t too sure why they should stock them, or what their customers might tie with them, but some started to be seen and hopefully used.

A few pelts made their way to Scandinavia, which has always been a strong market for our other fly tying product lines. Apparently a serious fisherman and fly tier named Claus Erikson from Denmark, was searching for a feather that could tie a believable shrimp imitation in pursuit of seatrout in the seas around Scandinavia. He tried some of the early Spey Hackle cape feathers. Claus worked on the flies, and tested them fishing, and evolved what he called the “Pattegrisen” shrimp pattern, using a Spey rooster cape feather dyed salmon color; it really worked well. It worked even in daylight fishing, which prior to the Pattegrisen, most seatrout were fished for at night. So this pattern literally turned seatrout fishing upside down. It has been so successful that on November 18, 2016, the Danes even celebrated the 10 Year Anniversary of the Pattegrisen fly pattern! They take their fishing and fly tying seriously in Denmark. I asked Claus recently what Pattegrisen meant in Danish. He informs me that it translates to “small newborn piglet” and was actually not named by Claus but rather by the early users of the fly pattern.

So all of a sudden we couldn’t produce enough Spey capes! The shops and distributors in northern Europe were clamoring for them. Initially, all they wanted were the white dyed salmon color rooster capes, as that The Development o f the Spey Hackle a t Whiting Farms was what the Pattegrisen called for. So in an effort to lessen their frustration we were dying even the grizzlies salmon, and these were taken, albeit reluctantly, as well as the other few colors in Spey we had. With such intense demand I steadily increased the number of Spey chickens in the system.

And with greater numbers the selection effectiveness increases as well because the more individuals you have to look at, the more likely it will be to find outstanding individuals or ones that possess all the traits you are striving for. So the program cranked up, but, nonetheless, we are still trying to catch up. Other parts of the world have found uses for the Spey, including steelhead, bonefish and tarpon flies. This is classic fly tying, whereby tiers love new materials to tinker with, and they are innovative. So away they go creating new patterns. We know the Spey Hackle product line has “arrived” when it is selling into all the market sectors in which we sell, including selling to commercial fly tying companies, because that means that this novel material is now part of standard fly patterns that the fly shops they supply are regularly ordering those patterns.

Our customers are now requesting and ordering an ever widening range of colors including hot pink, gray, shell pink, purple and even fuchsia. So, as you can see, the Spey Hackle line has now gone way beyond a single shrimp pattern. It is now 20 years since the initiation of the Spey Hackle project. The first 5 or so years was just trying to form the foundation. The next 5 years was spent trying to catch up with the tiers desired elements for the product. And in the last 10 years it is spreading into other fish species and beyond with seemingly a momentum of its own. This is gratifying to me. I like to create things, where there was nothing before. Whether that be new product lines, facilities, organizations or whatever. That is what drives me. But I have to thank the fly tiers who support these endeavors. So thank you all.

Dr. Tom Whiting


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