Joanne Palmer: Feathers leave fishers aflutter |

Joanne Palmer: Feathers leave fishers aflutter

Thanks to a new trend, anglers are finding a plumage shortage

Joanne Palmer

In 1989, Joanne Palmer left a publishing career in Manhattan and has missed her paycheck ever since. She is a mom, weekly columnist for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, and the owner of a property management company, The House Nanny. Her new book "Life in the 'Boat: How I fell on Warren Miller's skis, cheated on my hairdresser and fought off the Fat Fairy" is now available in local bookstores and online at or

— Thanks to a new fad, women are causing some ruffled feathers in the fly-fishing industry. Yup. The fad is feathers. Women, and Steven Tyler on "American Idol," are wearing feathers in their hair. Plumage producers can't keep up with the demand. Simply put, there is a feather shortage.

Right now, feather hair extensions are the rage. Many of the long, shiny feathers women are adding to their hair are the same feathers used to tie flies. There are not enough feathers for women and fishermen.

"Enough is enough," grumbled one of my big ol' fly-fishing guy friends. "Men have to draw the line somewhere. Women want to wear men's boxers to sleep in, and now they want to wear fish food in their hair!"

My friend directed me to an article at (not a site I normally peruse), and here's what I learned. One of the largest producers of specialized feathers for fly tying is Whiting Farms in Delta. Whiting ships out 65,000 bird hides every week. Wow! That's a lot of feathers.

According to the article (and I'm going to quote a lot of it because it's interesting and funny):

"Company founder Thomas Whiting has a degree in genetics and specializes in breeding roosters that produce plumage with 'grizzly' — a special black-and-white feather pattern prized by fly tiers. Recently, he took to one of the farm's enormous barns (Whiting Farms has 250 million square feet of chicken roosts) seeking refuge from the buzzing phones at his office.

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"'I had to get away from the aggressive salon owners,' he said via cell phone, a cacophony of rooster calls filling the background.

"'I've been doing this for 22 years, but it's been almost exclusively for fishing flies. I've been trying to find other markets for the feathers for years, through crafts. About a year ago, this exploded.'"

Steamboat Flyfisher confirmed there has been an increased demand for feathers. They anticipated the demand and stocked up. Now they are shipping them to other fly-fishing shops around the country.

It could get ugly. Picture a fly-fisherman walking down to the Yampa River when a feathered beauty walks by wearing

tiger-striped feathers in her hair. Hmmmm …

Bailiff: The jury will now hear testimony in the case of Mr. Fishy vs. the Hair Goddess.

Lawyer: Your Honor, my client, Mr. Fishy, has been searching for hackle dyed feathers for months. He ties his own flies, and he needed those feathers to pursue his passion for fishing.

Woman: He ripped the feathers out of my hair. It hurt! I have a right to wear feathers. Steven Tyler on "American Idol" does it, and I want to do it, too.

Judge: Fashion vs. fishing, that's an impossible decision. We're gonna have to take it to a jury.

In the case of fashion versus fishing, what's a girl to do? I was just about to get a feather, and now I feel guilty. Women can stop wearing feathers in their hair (highly unlikely), people can start raising more birds for their plumes (somewhat likely) or trout will have to hunger for something else (really, really unlikely).

Plumage producer has a nice ring to it — it might be something to consider adding to your resume. At the moment, it looks like a pretty recession-proof job.

In the meantime, until this fad is over, I'd like to put out an alert to birds everywhere to duck and cover. Birds of a feather flock together and then … hide!

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