Streamer Four Packs

Hey everyone – I know I have just about always posted wet flies here.
Here is something different: some streamers, eight of them in two four-packs.
I am trying a new packaging arrangement for the shows this year, so the first photo features a Carrie Steven’s Quartet; the Gray Ghost, Merry Widow, Big Ben (the first actual fly where I cemented the wings beforehand), and America.

Gray Ghost, Merry Widow, Big Ben, and America.

They are mounted (wired) onto my streamer cards, (old phone number – don’t call it!), which are glued to card-stock, and packed in small gift boxes.

Update added July 29: Last night and this morning I was tying more Stevens’ patterns, and also reading the Graydon and Leslie Hilyard book, Carrie Stevens – Maker of Rangeley Favorite Trout and Salmon Flies (2000, 2011 – Stackpole Books); and noticed some photos of early authentic Carrie Stevens patterns. One was Pattern No. 11 and it is “wired” onto the card through the eye and at the bend, like I mounted these. Other fly tiers of the New England tradition actually used to “staple” their flies to the card, sometimes right through the cellophane sleeve locking the hook in place. The was done for expedience; hey, they were just fishin’ flies. I believe the wire idea is the best, though requiring a bit more effort. It certainly provides for the best presentation of the fly. I had previously used this same method to mount flies to mat board for framing, starting back about 1998, and at that time I had never seen any photos, much less originals, of Carrie Steven’s or anyone’s flies wired to cards. About eight years ago, I had a bunch of streamer patterns tied up for sale, and not wanting to use the staples, and wiring I thought, too time-consuming, so I used a small piece of scotch tape over the hook point to keep the fly in position. That worked alright, but the tape will likely deteriorate and discolor over time. Again, for fishin’ flies, it worked just fine. I have recently returned to the wiring method as being the most secure, and most attractive as well.

Gray Ghost and Big Ben

You know, when I first started tying the Steven’s patterns for framing in the early 1980’s, I used to use her “trademark” banded head. I simply believed it was the final detail to her patterns. Then for some reason I stopped doing it and didn’t do it for years. Actually I wasn’t tying many streamers anyway, after discovering the Wooly Bugger in the late ’70’s. The streamers I did tie were traditional patterns for use in Maine, since I first started fishing the Moosehead Lake area in 1986.

In 1998 the streamer chapter of over one thousand patterns was added to the book Forgotten Flies, for which I had replicated all the flies of all types from Ray Bergman’s books. I tied about 240 streamers for that chapter, plus I had already tied all the streamer and bucktail patterns that were published in Ray Bergman’s books. Most folks only know I did the wet flies, but I tied everything; drys, wets, nymphs, streamers, bucktails, and even the steelhead flies.

While some fly tiers may consider the banding Carrie’s signature, it is important to note that the colors she used are also integrated into the pattern design. She used different threads for the head and different colors for the band; like a red head with a black band on the Colonel Bates, black head with red band on the Gray Ghost and many others, a black head with orange band as on the Big Ben, and on the America, Casablanca, and Victory, what else but red, white, and blue. This triple-banded head is also on the General MacArthur. I suddenly asked myself: “How can I tie a General MacArthur with a black head?”

Can I make the head red only? Nope. Too distracting. White? Are you kidding? I think too overpowering. Blue? Uhhh…guess not. (I actually tied a general MacArthur last night, four days after I posted this – and the blue head didn’t look all that bad). Well, separately these colors may all match the pattern to a degree, but I think Carrie Stevens imagined and created her patriotic series of streamers with American patriotic colors in mind for finishing the heads.

And then I answered myself, “It’s gotta be red, white, and blue.”

Merry Widow and America

OK, so some may say that’s OK, in keeping with the theme of the patriotic pattern concept, but not on any of her other patterns.

I’m presenting more of my case here, please bear with me. Other known fly tiers, in particular Bill Edson (originator of the Edson Light and Dark Tigers, Bill Special, Dot Edson streamers), comes to mind. Bill designed streamers with different color heads; yellow, white, & silver for instance. In tying Bill’s patterns, would we be correct in changing the head color he specified? I don’t think so.

I know for a fact some won’t agree with me, but I just realized that if I’m tying Carrie Stevens’ patterns, then I think the fly should be true to her original design, right down to and including the head. I have become convinced of this, after years, a couple decades almost; of being in the camp of those saying “don’t copy Carrie Steven’s banded heads.

When Wendell Folkins bought the business from Carrie Stevens in the 1950’s, he continued to tie Carrie’s patterns with the banded heads. There are photos of Carrie’s patterns in the book Trolling Flies for Trout and Salmon, tied by Wendell. These are Carrie’s patterns, and when he replicated them and sold them to her customers, and to new customers he acquired, he used her head colors and the banding technique. Use of his technique was not forgery of Carrie Steven’s fly signature, it seems pretty certain that Mr. Folkins surely did it at Carrie’s request to indicate the patterns were of her origin or her variation.

So after years of being on both sides of this discussion, I think that designation ought to continue. I am doing the banded heads on Carrie’s patterns, and I will continue to do so.

The second box contains well-known Maine patterns; the Footer Special, Supervisor, Barnes Special, and Nine-Three.

Footer Special, Supevisor, Barnes Special, Nine-Three

The photos aren’t the best, but I was too busy today to really get intense with them…I hope you don’t mind. Thanks for reading this. I used Mike Martinek / Carrie Stevens Gaelic Supreme Rangeley Style hooks, sizes #1 and #2, 8x long to dress these flies.

Footer Special and Barnes Special

Supervisor and Nine-Three

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Steaming Feathers – Miracles Do Happen

The Miracle of Steamed Wing Quills

White domestic goose wing quill - pretty ratty looking - in a plastic display bag as they are usually sold; flattened, bent, folded, disheveled.

Close-up image of the same feather - you can clearly see the creases, and folds. Not in fly tying condition for sure.

I have been recently steaming duck and goose wing quills. Those of you that have never previously heard of this or done it, you are about to be enlightened. I took these before and after photos of the same feather, in this case, a left white domestic goose wing quill. Upon inspection once out of the bag, I could see there was no damage to the quill barbs, but in the “before” image, you can see the creases, bends, folds, separations, and wrinkles. By all appearances this feather is dog chew-toy material, or one you might saturate with catnip for you-know-who. It is certainly not a quality fly tying feather. Or is it?

This is the same feather - after steaming. Something about the combination of heat, vapor, and moisture does something good to improve and in some cases, totally rejuvenate and fully restore foul fowl wing quill feathers. What is miraculous about this, is that once the steam hits the barbs, you can sometimes see them moving, turning back toward their original orientation, as if they are alive. It reminds me of the way a flower follows the sun throughout the day.

Behold the miracle of steaming. Take a simple teakettle, bring the water to a boil, and hold the feather section over the opening, allowing the steam to flow over the barbs in the affected sections for a few seconds. Make a few strokes with your fingers pinched gently together to reposition and realign the barbs, marrying them back together in the state nature intended them to be. You may need to do a few more seconds of steaming, and presto! Perfection! From garbage. Now that is a miracle. All it takes is a little effort. It may take up to ten seconds of steaming in stubborn areas.

Be careful not to scald your fingers! Steam is pretty %#*(&%$  hot !!

Macro image of the same feather section. As you can see, in the initial photos, this wing quill was an apparently damaged, defective wing quill, but it has been restored to perfection by steaming. This feather is now suitable for tying even exhibition quality trout and salmon flies. In the package this feather would seem to be unsuitable for fly tying. It takes a trained eye to recognize a diamond in the rough, in other words, being able to see and analyze wing quills that are disheveled but undamaged, as opposed to those that actually have defects such as stress marks, broken barbs, and insect damage. A good fly shop should allow you to open packages if necessary - carefully - for inspection prior to purchase.

Jungle Cock Nail Feathers – Part II

The story I wrote and posted recently titled, “Jungle Cock Nail Feathers” has more topical variation within its paragraphs than one might perceive from the title alone. It started with a simple idea to post a photo; then grew into a thematic concept to feature an in-depth story centered on a vintage package of fly tying materials. This idea in turn was spawned by one of my fly tying projects requiring the completion of two sets of six streamers flies, and for those I needed some jungle cock nail feathers. The original story details how I came across the vintage packs while looking for something else. I have a number of full jungle cock capes; four or five of them are very well used, and some others are still safely tucked in bags, brand new; beautiful in their intact state, yet at the same time, calling silently with the allure of their fascinating beauty, waiting to depart their collective place of origin and move onward to adorn the splendor of a classic streamer fly, salmon fly, or fancy wet fly pattern. Yet it was nothing more than the little cellophane packets of jungle cock nail feathers that started this story.

As one reads through “Jungle Cock Nail Feathers,” the reader discovers that a reflective theme of the good old days is woven through the topic. I enjoy writing essays like this and I have done so in this case with the hope of providing informative reading pleasure, and for those who read my work, perhaps provide a brief respite and departure from the present electronic, digital, cellular, instant-gratification society we live in by way of awakening personal recollections of their own memories of the “good old days.”

Such it was with Jack Tokach, a friend of mine from Maryland, a fellow I met back in 1994 at the Somerset, New Jersey, Fly Fishing Show. Back then, I had an eight-foot table and my wife, Lou Anne, along with Ronnie Poles, a delightful, rather comical man who lived near Benton, Pennsylvania, and worked as a fly fishing guide for Cathy and Barry Beck at the time, and me were meeting and greeting friends and customers. We were also promoting my first-ever fly tying class, which was scheduled to be held a few weeks hence at The Blue Heart Bed and Breakfast, near the Beck’s fly fishing shop; owned and operated by Ronnie and his wife Dottie. Ronnie was originally from New Jersey, and at one time he had operated a fishing and hunting store called Antler and Fin, and he had many friends in the surrounding area of new Jersey. Through our mutual employment with the Becks, and later the operation of my business, Ronnie and I became good friends, and there are many stories I could relate with our friendship as a foundation. Perhaps another time.

Jack and I have been friends now ever since our first meeting seventeen years ago. He is a little older than I, and as he read “Jungle Cock Nail Feathers,” for some reason, the words had an effect on him, triggering a flood of his own memories. The words that follow here are mostly written by him, and are printed with his permission from the progression of e-mail exchanges that took place between us. I felt Jack’s recollections of his youth in the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton area of Pennsylvania were enjoyable, interesting, and deserving of being published as a follow up essay to my story. I do hope Jack’s written account provides enjoyment and perhaps, again, will spark more pleasant memories for others. One should read through the original story before starting with this writing.

Monday July 18, 2011; Jack’s reply:

“Nicely told story, Donnie. Really a shame to lose another of the old time fly shops like that one. As for the jungle cock, all I can say is that it’s a good thing they aren’t long enough to weave into hair extensions or the price would be even higher…”

Don’s reply:

“How about it? Ma (Note: “Ma” is the nickname of a friend of ours.  She, as we affectionately refer to him, is a bachelor who, for better or worse, is part of my close circle of hunting and fishing companions. The story of this nickname is a topic for another time), was telling me Friday about an article in the NY Times, stating someone paid $1000 for a Whiting grizzly Euro-hackle cape. I have three feather packs, bundled, of those long hackle feathers, assorted colors; they ought to be worth about $400.”

Jack’s reply:

“Sorry to hear about Hille’s fire. I routinely stopped there (when I used the route through Williamsport to the New York tributaries) and always found something of interest. I remember attending classes you gave there. I remember the fella who worked there and later became a preacher; I can’t remember his name, I used to see him at Somerset (NJ, Fly Fishing Show) also, Ray was it? He tried his best to duplicate a stonecat fly that I purchased about 40 years ago at Zambor’s Sport Shop (then in Pittston and later in nearby Duryea, PA).  I still have one left…they were tied by some guy from Tunkhannock.”

“Your comments on memories at Hille’s brought back some memories of my own about early visits to fly shops. My Uncle, George Mattis (Bernie Kalemba’s stepfather – Bernie fished with us in Maine for two years) used to take me as a child to Stan Cooper, Sr.’s fly shop in Plymouth, PA, south of Wilkes-Barre.  I was seven or eight at the time. You might remember I gave my last Cooper’s Hair Frog to Rick Whorwood in return for a (Bob) Veverka Spey Fly that he tied and you framed for me.  Stan was said to have tied a million flies for Orvis. George had fished with him some. Of course there’s a TU Chapter in Kingston named after Stan. His son, Stan Cooper, Jr. continued in his father’s footsteps and created a reputation for himself.”

“I had a connection at Zambor’s also. The family of one of my best friends, Tommy Damiani, was friends of the Zambor’s, and both were members of an Italian Club that had a camp on Lake Wallenpaupack.  Tommy, myself, and Gene Zambor spent time at the camp each summer. Gene was the son and later took over the tackle shop and built it into a large hunting/fishing distribution business.”

“Another memory was of my first fly tying lesson. My Uncle George used to buy most of his flies from an old curmudgeon named Johnny Hague. His flies sold for ten cents apiece, thirteen for a dollar. I usually went with my uncle when he picked up his flies. His order would normally be mostly soft hackles…Orange Hackle, Yellow Hackle, Black Spider, Breadcrust, maybe a few winged wets and a few Bivisibles. After some resistance (I said the guy was a curmudgeon) George arranged to have Johnny give me fly tying lessons. So I arrived eager to learn. All I remember is that he was tying below about a 40 watt light bulb, was chewing tobacco and spitting into a spitoon. He kept saying “Get closer sonny or you’ll not see what I’m doing.” As I got closer and smelled his foul breath I kept backing away. When I arrived home my uncle asked how the lesson went. I said OK but that I wasn’t going back because I couldn’t stand his breath and could hardly see anyway. There was a lost opportunity for me to learn fly tying early from a really good tier.”

“Thanks for the memories.”

Wet Fly Fishing Testimonial

For your enjoyment, and perhaps enlightenment; I wrote this introduction which is followed by a wet fly fishing testimonial from one of my customers. I trust you will find this report intriguing and interesting…

While I was displaying my wet fly frame collection at the Valley Forge Fly Fishing Show this past March, a fellow stopped by my table to admire the display of framed flies. He informed me that he stays in the Adirondacks every year, several times, and fishes for brook trout. He expressed interest in ordering some wet flies from me, and he did not want the usual Royal Coachman, Brown Hackle, Professor, and Gold-ribbed Hare’s Ear. He was interested in fishing with and wanted to try some “fancy” historic wet flies on the trout up there. So we agreed on an order of four dozen, size #8, and the patterns I tied were assorted, four of this, two of that, three of those; some I pulled from my stock, and the rest I tied specifically for his order.

I don’t have a written list of the flies I sent him, but I recall some of the patterns were the Babcock, Hopatcong, Ferguson, Colonel Fuller, Ibis and White, Brook Fin, and Undertaker.

I was hopeful and anxious to hear a report from this customer, and the results were, I can only say, delightful. Here is his written fishing report to me regarding his trip in May. (Note his mention of the weather, most folks will recall how much it rained, and rained, and rained in May). By the way, the name of the pond is unnamed for the sake of, well, you know, the consideration of not divulging a ‘secret’ fishing spot.

“Hi Don, I just got home to Jersey yesterday after what had to be the most dismal weather I’ve ever experienced up in the Adirondacks, I arrived on the 11th and it rained every day, oh well? Having said that, I got the flies and quickly put them to work, the results of which I believe will be very pleasing to you; I caught fish on every one I tried, “Brook Fin,” “Neverwas,” “Undertaker;” I can’t remember the name of the red feathered one with the silver body, but I think it was the Jane something? (Note from me: it was actually the James, a pattern very similar to the Silver Montreal and Quack Doctor), and that worked too.”
“Just for kicks I tied on Wooly Buggers and Gray Ghosts behind yours and the Brookies chose yours over them! All the trout I caught were native “?????? Pond” Brook trout, ranging in size from 12-18,” although I did lose a very large brown next to the boat on a Brook Fin. I can’t thank you enough for getting them out to me, and can’t wait to get back up there and try some others!”

“It really was a hoot experimenting with them, especially given the results. Needless to say a friend I fished with up there has contracted a rather bad case of fly envy and I suspect will be reaching out to you…”

Thanks again! — Rich
“These flies are more than just beautiful, they still catch trout!” — Don

Gray Ghost Streamer Testimonial

This additional account was added today after I received yet another report from the same customer. The Gray Ghost photo is the exact fly this man bought from me at the Valley Forge show. $15.00 for a Gray Ghost, it was supposed to be a ‘collectible” tied on an Edgar Sealey hook, but he, or rather, his wife, fished with it. shocking.gif And read what he said about the fly and her fishing. And the pictures are proof. That’s funny, but also I think pretty darn cool. shades.gif
And there’s not a single thing wrong with that… clapping.gif

Note the info on the packing card (disregard my phone number, it’s different now); he mentions his recollection of it being an antique hook. Anything in parenthesis is my comments…Peter’s additional report and photos:

“Hi Don,

I don’t mind at all (if you post this online), its great stuff, and the truth is that the flies work, and they work well, just because time seems to have forgotten them doesn’t mean they still won’t catch fish.”

“I just got back from another week up in the Adirondacks, and thankfully the weather was finally clear and sunny, although still very few hatches to be seen. My wife it seems, has always had incredible luck when it comes to fishing, which is partly why I married her, and let me tell you she put the Gray Ghost I bought from you at the show to task this trip. The fly I believe was tied with an antique English hook? (Yes it was, an Edgar Sealey hook – Don). In any event she killed ‘em with it, and the poor fly at this point is in tatters, so I’ll have to order more…check out these photo’s of the ridiculous Rainbow and the massive 21″ 4 – 5 pound Brook Trout she boated with your Gray Ghost.”

“I also caught a nice 17″ native brookie on one of your other fly’s and I apologize for not remembering the name, but it was Black with a silver body and orange tail?” (that would be the “Black and Silver” in Shaw’s Book, or the “Silver and Black” in E. C. Gregg’s book; same fly -Don).

“All in all I can’t thank you enough for your wonderful flies, and look forward to trying the Adirondack patterns, so let me know when you have a bunch ready and I’ll put them to the test…All the best!”

RP

Gray Ghost tied on antique Edgar Sealey hook - this is the exact fly that did the deed.

Happy angler with the Adirondack brook trout that ate the Collector's Edition Gray Ghost

It appears that this Adirondack rainbow is also into classic streamer flies...

Collared Peccary Soft-Hackle Wet Fly

Bill Shuck's Collared Peccary Soft Hackle Wet Fly

This beautiful soft-hackle was originated and tied by a friend of mine, Bill Shuck, from Maryland. Bill lives near Bel Air. He is retired, loves to fly fish, and does some commercial tying for Great Feathers Fly Shop in Sparks, Maryland, where I am scheduled for wet fly classes on the weekend of October 8th and 9th. (see the post here for information of these classes). He calls it the Collared Peccary, and here is his recipe:

Collared Peccary Soft Hackle

Thread: Pearsall’s gossamer #11A, scarlet, highly waxed with some tying wax that he cooked up himself.

Hook: Daiichi 1550, #14

Body: Peccary bristle, with a very light coat of the same wax used on thread

Hackle: Fiery brown India hen back. I didn’t ask Bill, but I am guessing there is only a single turn of the hackle, it is sparse – and beautiful. Just right!

Isn’t the basic simplicity a nice feature about flies like this? With just two ingredients, the Collared peccary is nothing like a fancy married wing wet fly, but to me, it is still as much fun to tie, and a thing of beauty nonetheless, especially as illustrated here; well-tied and photographed by my friend Bill. Thanks Bill! Keep up the good work!

After I placed the Collared Peccary soft hackle, Bill sent me another original her created a few months back. It’s a Tenkara style, called the Spring Grey. Here is his recipe:

Spring Grey Tenkara Soft Hackle

Hook: Daiichi 1530, #14

Thread: Pearsall’s Gossamer #3, Primrose

Tag: Thread wraps

Abdomen: Two strands of heron herl wrapped together

Thorax: Natural mole fur in dubbing loop

Hackle: English waterhen upper covert

This is a more complex, yet still beautiful soft-hackle, representing a tying style I admittedly know little about. Thank you, Bill, for this fine specimen of your work.

Spring Grey Tenkara, tied by and photographed by Bill Shuck

Great Feathers Wet Fly Class – the date is set.

Great Feathers Fly Shop in Sparks, Maryland

I just got off the phone with Mike Watriss, owner of Great Feathers Fly Shop in Sparks, Maryland.  We have set a date for an instructional wet fly class with me teaching, on Saturday October 8th. Sunday October 9th is being reserved as an encore day if the Saturday class fills up.

Here is the contact information for Great Feathers Fly Shop:

Great Feathers Fly Shop

14824 York Road

Sparks, MD 21152-9317

(410) 472-6799
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Hours:  Monday – Saturday: 10am-5pm; Sunday 11am-4pm.
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I am really looking forward to this class – Great Feathers operates in an old, historic stone farmhouse, over 200 years old. This region of the state of Maryland is in the heart of an area with numerous heritage farm estates and plantations where the wonderful sport of fox hunting with horses and hounds has strong, deeply rooted  traditions.
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Check the link on the right to Great Feathers Fly Shop to look for class infomation, soon to be posted.
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Feel free to contact me, Don Bastian, at my e-mail:
dwbastian@chilitech.net
with any questions or concerns about the class. I always try to accommodate student’s specific areas of interest as well; there is a real good possibility that we’ll also include a traditional blind-eye wet fly pattern in this class. I added this classic style of tying to my past few classes this season, and it has been very well-received, except for one fellow, who remarked, “Is it OK if I cut this  &*(^*%#!?#@!  leader off so I can finish tying the fly?” Ha!

Jungle Cock Nail Feathers

On this Sunday morning, I am currently tying two Black Ghost streamers, in the process of tying two sets of the streamers from my DVD, Traditional Streamers and Bucktails. I am sending one set to Darren MacEachern of Canada, author of the Daily Fly Paper Blog, for inclusion in his Streamers365 Project. The other set is for Kevin McKay of http://www.maineflyfish.com. I donated a copy of my DVD to the forum for the site’s monthly raffle (this item is set for the August prize) and I told Kevin when I had breakfast with him last March in Brewer, Maine, that I’d also send him a set of the six flies from the video to go along with my donation.

Last night I tied two each; Mickey Finn and Footer Special. I’m using the Mike Martinek Gaelic Supreme hooks, #2 8x long. The first Black Ghost is done except it is patiently waiting for its cheeks. As I held a somewhat used jungle cape in my hands, I suddenly got an idea, which resulted in a diversion. Turns out the diversion was, shall we say, time consuming to say the least. (‘Bout time I wrote a new post here anyway, something with some substance). This idea started with my post on www.classicflytying.com Then the idea morphed into something larger which is manifested here. I ran across these packs of jungle cock nail feathers, in the photo, the other night while rummaging through my fly tying stuff, looking for something else. Isn’t that the way it is? At the time I just returned them to their little place in a drawer.

I decided that I’m actually going to use these feathers up, but I’ll probably save the pack intact with the price tag on it, because I have some other vintage fly tying stuff too. It would be nice to preserve these historic artifacts “as is.” One item in my possession is really cool – I have two unopened cellophane packages from E. Hille Co. – marabou feathers with hand-lettered labels, written in ink, clearly done in a woman’s handwriting, or perhaps a man with extremely delicate penmanship. It could happen, but I’m sticking to my assumption that it is feminine handwriting. Definitely a woman. These packages belonged to my dad, Donald R. Bastian, and were in his fly tying stuff that he gave to my brother, Larry, and me after a brief tying lesson when I was twelve years old. My dad stopped tying altogether before I was born. These packs date prior to 1950. Imagine the labor involved of hand-lettering and stapling labels to packages back then.

Anyway, I’m writing a longer story about this topic that I think is interesting – these packets of jungle cock nail feathers shown here are vintage stock from E. Hille – The Angler’s Supply House, formerly of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, 1936 – 2011. I bought them myself, years and years ago.

Memories of the good old days…

E. Hlle Angler’s Supply House was started in 1936 by Ernest Hille. He was from Germany, and spoke English with a thick accent. His wife also worked in the shop. Their daughter, Doris, and son-in-law, Bill O’Connor, also worked there. Ernie died back in about 1978, and his wife passed some years after. Bill and Doris ran the place until he sold it in the early 1990’s I think.

One of the local fellows in my home area, Robert M. Rinn of Muncy, Pennsylvania, and along with Ernie Hille and others, co-founded the Susquehanna Chapter of Trout Unlimited back in the 1960’s. This is in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, near my hometown of Williamsport. The Susquehanna Chapter was the first Trout Unlimited Chapter in Pennsylvania. Bob knew Ernie and occasionally fished with him. He once told a group of us at a TU meeting how Ernie would take his wife along fishing. She would follow along the banks and wait on her husband hand and foot. Ernie would call her by name (which I can’t remember), and then instruct her; “Would you please bring me my pipe,” or some other menial task.

Hille’s was one of the first fly tying shops in the country to prepare fly tying kits for World War II veterans who needed “therapy” to help them recover from the devastating effects of the War.

At one time, Hille’s was the only place within a 75 mile radius where one could buy fly tying materials. Vince Marinaro, author of Modern Dry Fly Code and In the Ring of the Rise, for one, used to make the two-plus hour (at that time – the 1960’s roads), drive from Carlisle, PA, on occasion to buy fly tying materials at Hille’s.

Also interesting, the Carrot dry fly in the second edition of Ray Bergman’s book, Trout (1952), was submitted by Ernie through a local (Williamsport area) man who at the time was a young tier. His name is Albert Eschenbach, he was a contemporary of Bob Rinn, and also member of the Susquehanna Chapter of Trout Unlimited for many years, I’m not sure if Al is still living. Nevertheless, I recall a few years back on the Catskill Flies Forum, someone started a thread about the Carrot. Someone posted how they had tied some up. In desperation one fishless day on the Delaware, this person tied on the Carrot, where it was summarily taken by a large trout, which was lost because the strike so surprised the hapless angler that he struck too hard and broke the tippet knot.

Ernie’s submission of the (Bergman renamed) “Emergent Dry Nymph” (Dry Fly Plate, New Dry Flies, No 17, second edition of Trout), may well have been the first “no-hackle” dry in history. Surely predating Swisher / Richards…you can read the story from Ernie Hille’s letters, published in the second and subsequent editions of Trout.

Now, back to the jungle cock photo and topic; I learned tying largely through trial-and-error and from Bergman’s Trout, E. C. Gregg’s How to Tie Flies, Ray Overton’s Tactics on Trout, and other books. I tied traditional streamers and bucktails. My favorite list of these flies in the early 1970’s included the Gray Ghost, Mickey Finn, Black-nosed Dace, Black Ghost, Edson Tigers Light and Dark, Sam Slaymaker’s baby trout bucktails, the Yellow, White, and Black Marabou streamers, and one of George’s Harvey’s favorites, the Black and Yellow Bucktail.

To dress these flies, I bought packages of jungle cock nail feathers as in the photo from Hille’s. At that time, as illustrated here, ten to a package was the only way they were sold. At least that was Hille’s decision, because they knew some well-to-do fly tiers would buy the remaining stock of capes and there would be no more. Jungle cock feathers from existing stocks within the US borders at that time were legal to sell.

In the 1970’s I played drums in a rock band, having restarted this a year or so after I got married. Playing gigs most weekends, no kids yet, I always had $50 to $100 discretionary cash in my wallet. Our rent was $60 a month. One day I walked into Hille’s shop during an afternoon break from my truck-driving job. That dates this account after 1975 because I was driving for a now-defunct firm in Williamsport called E. Keeler Company. Keeler’s was established in Williamsport in 1865, and I worked for the supply division which sold plumbing, heating, electrical, and industrial supplies. When I walked into Hille’s that day I was amazed to see several jungle cock capes lying in the glass display case. This was the first time I had ever laid eyes on one, other than “the one” mounted in one of many of Hille’s two-by-four-foot glass-front display cases on the shop wall that contained one of every item in their inventory. What was even more amazing was the price tag – they were for sale at $20.00 each. That sounds really cheap now, but that was a lot of money back then. The yearly national average price of gasoline was $.69 cents a gallon in 1977.

Bill O’Connor, Ernie’s son-in-law, told me that the ‘Feds’ had recently announced that after the upcoming January 1st, (in just a few months) it would be illegal to sell any jungle cock whatsoever, single feathers or capes. A total ban on the sale of jungle cock feathers was the easiest path for efficient law enforcement. That is why the whole capes were for sale. Bill said, “Vince Marinaro just left, he bought five of these.” There was a bit of hesitation on my part; remember that at this time, the days predating the genetic hackle of Metz, Hoffman, & Whiting, the best grade capes were Chinese and sold for eight dollars. Temptation ruled the day and I bought four of those jungle cock capes for a total of $80.00.

A couple years later, while delivering in the State College area, I stopped at Flyfisher’s Paradise (when the shop was still located in the little village of Lemont), and co-owner Dan Shields was there that day – and this is the first time I ever saw Metz dry fly capes. He had some, grade #2, priced at $12.00each. I still had band cash in my pocket, but I was so used to paying $8.00 for dry fly necks, and this seemed like a lot of money for feathers. I remember Dan’s comment that sparked me to open my wallet – “Sure they’re a little expensive, but let me ask you this: Have you ever seen a better dry fly neck anywhere?”

No, I hadn’t so I bought a light dun and a ginger for twenty-four bucks. Those were the days…pardon the slight digression from the jungle cock story, but I felt this account was relevant to the topic.

Unfortunately, Hille’s had a fire this past year in their new South Williamsport location on March 4th. They were asked by the owner to move out almost immediately, because the man who owned their building was freaked out by wanting to get the insurance settlement and renovate the place as soon as possible. I guess he thought Hille’s business would be in the way. Hille’s was really thrown a curve by this tragic turn of events. Fortunately, it occurred on a Friday morning rather than at night, or the loss might have been total because the fire would have had more time to burn. One of their employees was in the shop at the time, smelled smoke, found the fire in an overhead ceiling area in their office, called the fire department, and in the interim used a fire extinguisher to quell the flames. Computers, office supplies, and inventory were affected by the fire extinguisher chemicals.

I have been informed that Hille’s is eventually going to relocate to Chester County, PA, and operate mainly as an internet business from a private residence. This is the end of an era, and sad to say, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, my home town, no longer has an active fly shop.

I can still recall old Ernie Hille, white hair, always dressed in a white shirt and a black tie as he waited on his customers; a large man, tall, and me as a teenager going in the shop; I was always a bit intimidated by him, but that’s another story.

Note the price – the late 1960’s and early 1970’s – these packs of 10 jungle cock nails were sold for $.75 cents each. I remember when these packs were $.50 cents, before the price increase as the one is labeled in the photo. L. L. Bean currently sells ten jungle cock nails in a pack like this for $10.95. They went from 7- ½ cents a piece to over a dollar each, an increase of about fifteen times the 1970 price.

Ah, the good old days…

Packets of Jungle Cock nail feathers from E. Hille Co., Williamsport, PA, circa 1970's

Cover of Hille's 1950 catalog. Photo taken through display case glass at the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum in Livingston Manor, New York. The address here was before my time, though this location would have been conveniently located within walking distance of both homes I lived in as a boy and young man. At this address I could have stopped by the shop on my way home from high school, though, perhaps that might have had unintended consequences. I knew Hille's at their Railway Street location, in the east end of Williamsport.