Over 40 years ago when I started 'serious' fly tying
obtaining the appropriate materials was not as painless
as it is today. The sources of fly tying material were
few and far between, and local sources were nearly
non-existent. Companies that specialized in fly tying
materials were few, and since it was impossible to
personally select the necessary material you paid your
money and took your chance.
By Neil M. Travis, Montana
The other option available to the aspiring fly tyer was
to secure material by using the hunter/gatherer method.
This added a whole new dimension to the art and science
Both Castwell and myself were avid hunters so gathering
materials by gun or bow was a logical extension in our
quest to secure fly tying materials. Michigan, with its
numerous lakes, rivers, and swamps, is the heart of some
of the best waterfowl hunting east of the Mississippi.
Small game was abundant, upland game birds were plentiful,
and whitetail deer could be found in almost any woodlot.
Soon our fly tying larder was amply stocked with skins and
hides from our prowess in the field.
As every fly tyer knows you can never have enough fly
tying stuff, so in the off-season we resorted to the
gathering method to continue to enlarge our collection.
This method also allowed us to secure certain species
that were not normally game animals.
The burgeoning human population of southern Lower Michigan
in the 60's brought the demise of not just a few unfortunate
critters that attempted to cross one of the many highways
which spread across the countryside like a spider web. Why
did the chicken cross the road? The simple answer to that
question in Michigan was because it was tired of living.
If you had patience and spent a lot of time driving you
could ultimately find all of Michigan's fauna flattened
on the asphalt by a set of Goodyear's.
For those of us that were fly tyers, and possessed of a
certain peculiar bent the demise of critters on the road
was manna from heaven. Flying along at breakneck speed
suddenly a choice specimen would appear on the road ahead.
A quick check in the rearview mirror to assess the traffic
approaching from behind, a swift glance to check to see if
there was sufficient room to pull over, and a speedy
application of the brakes was necessary to secure the
choice specimen. It also took a trained eye to determine
the state of the departed critter. Flat was rarely good,
bloated and threatening to explode was generally unacceptable,
and mutilated was definitely out. All of these conditions
needed to be determine very quickly. This was not a game
for the slow or the timid!
If the choice specimen had met its demise on a highway
I traveled on a daily basis I would instantly know if it
were fresh, and fresh was definitely good. This eliminated
the bloated and threatening to explode issue. If it appeared
to be intact then it likely was an acceptable specimen.
For years I had plastic bags stuffed under the front seat
of my car so that I could take advantage of any choice
specimen that I might encounter. A quick stop, scoop up
the specimen, stuff it in a plastic bag, and I was on the
road again. Over the years I scooped up opossums, raccoons,
squirrels, rabbits, foxes, muskrats, quail, pheasants, and
a plethora of other small critters that had committed the
ultimate sin of attempting to cross the road without looking
Larger game, like deer, were generally untouchable, since
they were too large to stuff in a plastic bag, and the public
game officials might not understand that I was only attempting
to secure some hair for fly tying. However, in those days they
were glad to get someone to pickup the smaller animals that
littered the highways.
Collecting road kill was not without its downside. Arriving
at the work place with a dead coon in a plastic bag presented
a certain dilemma, especially during the warmer months of the
year. Stuffing it in the refrigerator where everyone else kept
their lunches was seldom a viable solution, but I was known
to have resorted to that technique on more than one occasion.
Most of the folks I worked with in those days knew better than
to ask. What you don't know hopefully will not hurt you. Perhaps
we invented the don't ask, don't tell concept.
Once I chanced upon a beautiful cock pheasant lying right
on the shoulder of the road. He was so perfect that he did
not look like he had even been hit, and when I arrived on
the scene he was still nice and warm. Since I was not headed
for work I just tossed him in the back and resumed my journey.
Imagine my surprise when I glanced in the rear view mirror
and saw a black beady eye staring back at me. Apparently the
bird had only been stunned and now was alive and well in the
back of my station wagon. The fun got started in ernest as
he began to fly around the vehicle trying to escape. It
wasn't pretty, but I prevailed.
In today's world it is no longer acceptable to pick up most
road killed animals. Unless you live in a state where certain
animals are classified as varmints, possession of any animal
or bird is likely illegal. It is generally illegal to pick
up any animal unless you have killed it with the proper
license and during the proper season. Federal law protects
all migratory birds, and the possession of any of their parts,
including feathers, can result in a hefty fine and perhaps
sometime breaking rocks at the crossbar hotel.
In those halcyon days before life became what it is today
we filled our fly tying larder with all manner of quality
fly tying material, compliments of the automobile and
Goodyear Rubber. ~ Neil M. Travis, Montana
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