The Genetic Hackle Beginnings

Yesterday killing some time at my sons soccer game while trying to distract my thoughts about hurricane Sandy I brought a book by Mike Valla Tying Catskill-Style Dry Flies to past the time between games.

If you are a fly tier the history of fly fishing the Catskills is like preaching to the choir, but to those unaware the birthplace of the American Dry Fly and Genetic Hackle has deep roots linked to this region of the United States.

This is not the first time I have read this book cover to cover, it covers multiple generations of famous fly fisherman such as Theodore Gordon, Roy Steenrod, Herman Christian, Rube Cross for their influence and style of fly tying linked to the Catskills.

But let us not forget the visionaries and legends of the genetic hackle Walt and Winnie Dette, Harry and Elsie Darbee. Many others followed locally in the Catskills such as Doc Alan Fried, their generosity to continue the established DNA forward has much to do with today’s Genetic Hackle.

Hackle growers such as Andy Miner, Charlie Collins, Whiting and many others benefited by the work first established by these pioneers.

Mike Valla as a very young boy stumbled upon this mecca of the greats by chance, it greatly influenced his life’s course, and is much reflected in this wonderful book he has written.

Today I turn to page 80 of this great book, to re-read about hackle. It starts off with hackle/feathers to make fishing flies has even earlier roots by some historians with Claudius Aelainn (A.D. 175-235) so wrapping hackle on a fishing hook has it’s real beginnings centuries before.

As descendants of Europe much of the early fly fishing influence in this region was from the British. They are well known to not underestimate the quality of the proper chicken feathers to produce good quality trout flies.

Their findings in the early 1890’s stressed the importance that quality over the exact color shades are as true today as it was in their times. Great care and judgement in producing chickens to meet the needs of fly fisherman were essential to a fly dresser.

Mike Valla was very fortunate to be taken under the wings of the Dette’s. I can recall my early years of stumbling upon fly tying legends to fill in the gaps of what printed literature could not provide. My heart goes out to Mike in his experiences. Mike from New York and the Catskills and I from Boston and its not so famous rivers and lakes. But all in all the footsteps that were laid before us had a profound experience on who we are today.

I highly recommend anyone who has a passion about these chickens bred for their feathers get a copy of Mike’s book. The writing is captivating and well written, the pictures and quality of printing is outstanding and worth the space on anyone’s bookcase. Just to let you know I have no monetary attachments to this book. I just feel it is a go to book on the history and knowledge of the beginnings of Genetic Hackle of America.


Tallow Hill Farms

P.S. Don’t Forget,  If you would like to participate in this conversation please comment or better yet if you would like to be a guest blogger and want to share your genetic hackle experience please contact me and lets get you expressing what you know about the genetic hackle business.

2 thoughts on “The Genetic Hackle Beginnings

  1. Ed you are right on about Mike’s book. Mike is a good friend of mine and I consider him among the most knowlegable regarding the history of fly fishing in the Catskill’s. His research is top rate and his writing style is easy to follow.

    This book is an excellent choice for anyone who has an interest in how Fly Fishing and Fly Tying evolved in the area.

    Ken Tutalo

  2. Nice to hear from you Ken

    Weathering out Sandy, the winds here are pretty high considering Boston is quite far from the eye of the storm

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