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Montana Fly Shops Welcome New Customers: Hair Stylists

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Marian Lyman Kirst | Jul 14, 2011 05:00 AM

Despite their reputation as hangouts for brawny hook and bullet types, fly-fishing shops--particularly the fly-tying sections--have always been a tad swishy.  No matter how you slice it, scores of straight-faced men poking through purple Krystal Flash and pearl Flashabou or inquiring about the next shipment of pink chenille isn't exactly manly.

But a recent women's hairstyle trend has upped fly-fishing's "fabulous" factor another notch: rooster feather hair extensions. According a recent NPR story, the trend originated at western music festivals like Burning Man and Sasquatch, but has since spread to various pop celebrities, most visibly, "American Idol" judge and Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler. Feather Hair Extensions

And while some fly tiers decry the increased competition--and higher prices--for their materials, a few fly shop owners are happy to see a boom in business.

Beginning early this year, eager young women and hair stylists around the country started buying fly-shops out of their striped and dyed grizzly and brown saddles, patches of long, supple rooster back feathers that fisherman use to tie essential fly patterns like stimulators, the Parachute Adams, and the Royal Wulff.

"It's funny, we started seeing the trend in February or March," says Mike Patron, a salesman at The River's Edge fly shop in Bozeman, Mont.  "We'd been warned by our manufacturers to look for it," and now, he says, "we've been sold out of (grizzly and brown saddles) for three months. It's crazy."

For guides and fly-tiers in states like Maine and Colorado, where the spring and early summer fishing has been good, the hair trend is a real pain in the tail feathers.

The Seattle Times catalogued fishermans' woes in a recent piece

Fly fishermen are not happy, bemoaning the trend in online message boards and sneering at so-called 'feather ladies.'

'It takes years and years and years to develop these chickens to grow these feathers. And now, instead of ending up on a fly, it's going into women's hair,' said Matt Brower, a guide and assistant manager at Idaho Angler in Boise.

In Montana, however, where record-breaking spring flooding and an unusually snowy winter combined to create unfishable conditions in many of the state's best streams, fly-shop owners like Richard Romersa are more welcoming of the trend and the business it's drummed up in the face of a slow spring season.

"It's been a good boost to business. The truth is everyone in the business has made money in hackle because of this [trend]," says Romersa, owner and manager of East Rosebud Fly and Tackle in Billings, Mont. He says while some of the “whining” about hackle supplies from other shop owners is understandable, the trend has allowed people to sell it for such exaggerated prices that "everyone is making money." Indeed, grizzly saddles that normally sell for forty to fifty dollars each are selling for hundreds of dollars online.

"It's cool. It looks cute," says Patron of the trend, "but I'm really indifferent to the whole thing. It's just a bummer for the fly-tiers because they aren't willing to pay as much for the feathers as the stylists."

As a fly-fisherwoman myself, I can't help viewing the trend as a great opportunity to get more women into the sport, which is dwindling in popularity, especially among young people. I asked Romersa if he talks to any of the "feather ladies" about fly-fishing when they come in. "No," he says, "but I gladly sell to them." At The River's Edge in Bozeman the stylists who come in don't hang around to chat.  Patron says, "They come in, look for the saddles, and walk out."

Marian Lyman Kirst is an intern at High Country News.

Image courtesy Flickr user gingerfringe

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