Sustainable Fly Tying

It isn’t long after one starts on their journey into the world of the classic Salmon fly, that words such as endangered, rare, expensive, etc., present themselves. It was a big surprise for me, that the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species, CITES in short, came about as a result of the fly tying world, bringing the Grey Jungle Fowl to the brink of extinction. Before I read this, I had no clue that fly tying could have such a devastating impact on wild life. To me, this was an eye opener.

Exotic feathers appeal to us, because of their beauty and brightness. It is easy to understand why these materials have always been in popular demand. Certain materials sell a fly to a fisherman, while others offer the best contrast under water, potentially appealing to the fish. Contrary to popular belief, however, many of these materials have always been in short supply. It was only since the Golden Pheasant was domesticated, that tails, tippets and crests became affordable and readily available. Initially, these materials were more expensive, and harder to find, than Blue Chatterer.

When thinking about substitutes, we no longer think that they are inferior. Indian Crow and Toucan subs, such as the ones that were developed by Ryan Houston, for which the tutorials are available on this website, have shown us that substitutes can even be better than the originals, depending on what you want your subs to do. Ryan’s IC subs glow more than original IC, and are less fragile. Is is also interesting, that in the old days, Gallina dyed blue, was often used as a Jay substitute when longer fibers were required. Also Cotinga,never in great supply, was often replaced with Kingfisher, Banded Gymnogene for Teal and the list goes on.

Sustainable Popham, using Ryan Houston's IC subs and Kingfisher...

Sustainable Popham, using Ryan Houston’s IC subs and Kingfisher…

Working with substitutes has always been a common thing. The idea of an artistic Salmon fly, the type that is beautiful, but can’t be used to fish with, only exists since the nineties of the last century, and for the most part, relies on misinterpretation. Fortunately, for the heritage, more and more people understand and truly appreciate the beauty and skill that true classic Salmon flies have to offer. We see now, that a Salmon fly doesn’t have the be sold by the beauty of the materials used. A perfect proportionate flow and appreciation for the result of the tier’s skill, have accidentally opened up for a new and important development within this wonderful craft: sustainability.


Identifying Potential Substitutes

There are two ways to substitute a feather. We can find natural feathers that are a close enough match, or we can take a completely different material, and process it to our need.

It is important that a substitute feather offers the same characteristics of the original material, when submerged in water, rather than that it visually reassembles the original when dry. Ideally, we’ll have a bit of both. Take Turkey Marabou, for example. Dry, it looks exactly like a Golden Eagle hackle, save for the thicker rachis. Wet, the two materials look and behave nothing like eachother. Neck hackles from the Great Bittern look nothing like Golden Eagle when dry, but submerged, it behaves and glows in a very similar manner.

The Materials Gallery on this website is intended to show references of what the original materials look like, along with suggestions for substitutes, with the above in mind. Lots of research has gone into this information, with hopes to pave the road for a sustainable future.


Sustainability and Traditional Fly Tying

The old saying comes to mind: change the world, start with yourself. Most of us that have been trying to collect a decent stash of feathers, understand to a certain degree, which feathers are widely available, which feathers are hard to obtain, and which feathers are illegal to have at all.

Looking at materials such as India Blue Peacock, Macaw and other Parrots, Jungle Cock, Argus Pheasant, and the likes, we know that these are endangered species in the wild, but through breeding programs and domestication, we have access to feathers of which the income most of the time contributes to the animal’s well being. To use these materials in a sustainable manner, means to buy them through authorised channels only. Use common sense. There are lots of poachers from countries such as Kenya, Senagal, India, etc., that use Facebook and other social media, to find naive fly tiers to try and push Bustard and Jungle Cock capes at low rates. Even an idiot understands that these channels are harmful to efforts to sustain wild life.

It isn’t always that easy, however. So, if you aren’t sure about a source, ask for paperwork. A CITES permit isn’t all that expensive, and should be easy to obtain, if the feathers were acquired legally. Remember that when you import feathers from a different country, the authorities demand that you have the paperwork emailed to you, before the item is shipped. When your package gets stopped in customs, and you fail to produce the required documents, there are no excuses. At the least, your item will be confiscated for destruction or donation to a museum, but in the worst case, you risk fines of up to $5.000 per item and 6 months in jail.


Sustainability on a Personal Level

It is up to each of use to define for ourselves, to what degree we wish to contribute to sustainable fly tying. Some people will go as far as to say that they can never use any materials that are listed on any of the CITES appendices. Others find enough comfort in using materials that come from domesticated birds, and thereby exclude materials from birds that don’t breed in captivity, such as the Western Tragopan, Indian Crow, Cotinga, Houbara Bustard, Indian Bustard, Arabian Bustard, and the likes.

The good thing is, to tie classic Salmon flies, you don’t need most of these materials anyway. Kori Bustard provides both the light and dark Bustard feathers, and can be obtained through breeding programs in both the US and the UK. There are lots of patterns that don’t call for rare and exotic feathers, and also, most of these rare materials can be substituted with more affordable and more sustainable materials.

There is an extensive materials overview on this website, with lots of substitute suggestions and references.

We will all get tempted along the way. Just ask yourself this single question every time: are those feathers legal?


The Green Gallery 2.0

In an attempt to promote sustainable fly tying through inspiration and examples, please have a look at the all new Green Gallery, featuring only classic Salmon flies that were tied with sustainable materials.

Follow our lead, for a sustainable future!

Coming soon…