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…”
“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.”
“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.”