What is Marabou Anyway? Fly Tying
April 15th marks the end of spring steelhead season and until Memorial Day weekend, when trout season opens, fishing is not allowed in the rivers and creeks of NE Oregon. Anglers miss out on some great hatches during this time. Skwala and Yellow Sally Stoneflies make their appearance, but the real show is the Mother’s Day Caddis. If you are driving and your windshield is suddenly peppered with little green blobs, you have driven through a caddis hatch. These blobs are actually the egg sacks of the caddis and if you try to windshield wipe them away you will turn them into an epoxy strength smear that even the most enthusiastic gas station attendant will concede defeat against. Best to let them dry.
The end of everything is concurrently the beginning of something else and for sportsmen the end of steelhead is the beginning of spring black bear and turkey season. Spring bear hunters who draw either the Wenaha or Sled Springs tags are welcome to join Winding Waters on a supported bear hunting trip down the roadless section of the Grande Ronde. If you didn’t draw a spring bear tag (I didn’t) you can buy a tag over the counter in Idaho or Montana or you can focus on Oregon’s Rio Grande Turkeys.
There are Easterns, Meriams, Osceola, Gould’s and Rio Grande Turkeys living wild in the United States. Meriams dominate much of the west but Oregon traded some elk for some turkeys a while back and the turkeys we have, except for a small batch of Meriams on Mount Hood, are the Rio Grandes.
Why pay $22.50 for a turkey tag when you can pay a comparable amount for a butterball at the store? In a word, marabou. That poofy feather you buy in bundles died in every color of 80’s fashion to tie undulating, pulsating, fish-catching flies with comes from the underside of a turkey. Without die it is a slate gray and very closely imitates a swimming leech for stillwater application. Add some color to it and find yourself limitless. Many would agree that the wooly bugger is responsible for catching more trout than any other fly. I say a fly box without a wooly bugger is no fly box at all. A responsible angler ought to keep one in their wallet. The thing that makes the wooly bugger so deadly is those wispy fibers of feather used in the tail that have been provided by a turkey. The venerable muddler minnow uses primary flight feathers from a turkey wing for the tail, and Dave Whitlock’s hopper uses it for the wing casing. Those iridescent bronze feathers from a turkey’s chest are well used on mayfly nymph patterns and the fibers from his beard make good legs and tails on stonefly nymphs. Get creative. Be the hunter/gatherer-fish-whisperering-uses-every-part-of-the-critter-outdoor-action-hero you may or may not claim to be and catch a fish on a fly you tied using feathers from the bird you hunted and see how proud of yourself you’ll be.
If you did draw a bear tag and do get a bear (color me green with envy) you might take some bear hair and tie a fly affectionately known in Montana as the brown bear brown, blonde bear blonde, black bear black…you see where this goes. There are so many variations and people claiming to be the original producers I dare not give credence to any. However, early river conservationist and fly tying savant George Grant would sometimes use bear hair to tie his hair hackle flies, which are true works of art in that they are beautiful but also function as intended. This fly in the picture is simply known as a George Grant fly. There are only a handfull of guys who can weave hair hackle like this today. My friend Tom Harmon was one and local fly-tier Darrel Perkins is another.
While we may mourn this time when we cannot fish in the cricks, there is still sporting to be done. Get out there this spring and harvest something you can use to tie flies with. Post your turkey feather or bear hair flies to our facebook page and bring them with you when you come fishing this summer. Happy hunting.