Product Reviews

Whiting 100's

by Ralph D'Andrea

Recently, there's been a thread in the FAOL Bulletin Board about the high cost of tying materials, particularly good hackle. As is typical for me, I was able to argue both sides of the thread: good hackle is worth the cost per fly, but so expensive to get into in conventional quantities that it's often prohibitive. However, I used a product this weekend that might just be the answer to that problem for recreational tiers like me.

First off, let me point out that I'm not a shill for Whiting Farms, I don't work for them, I don't work for a flyshop, and I don't tie professionally. I'm reviewing this product because I've actually USED it.

I'm one of those guys who ties for my own fly box. Since I've only been tying for two years, I'm REALLY familiar with the initial cost of acquiring fly-tying materials. The amount of money that I spent acquiring fly-tying materials during my first year was borderline obscene. "Borderline" means it cost me more than a decent rod and less than a Rolex. However, one thing I learned in my short tying career is how much I like tying flies with high-quality genetic saddle hackle. There's nothing like it.

As a compromise, I bought decent necks and half-necks. A rooster neck carries a much wider gradation of feather sizes. There's also other useful stuff on a neck, like spade hackles you can use for tailing, and butt hackles you can use for woolly buggers. But there's STILL nothing like tying with high-quality saddle hackle, and it eats away at you every time you tie with something else.

A decent rooster saddle can cost a lot of money. Anywhere between $50 and $100 U.S., depending on the brand and grade. Even though a decent saddle might tie between 500 and 1500 flies, that's still a lot of money. If you tie for your own box like I do, you like to have a dozen or two of whatever you're going to run into under actual fishing conditions. In trout-fly terms, that means about a half-dozen different colors of feathers over about a half-dozen or so fly sizes. Considering that a full saddle in one color contains only about three or four dominant sizes of feathers, you are looking at a pretty sizable investment.

A recreational tier like you or me is not going to need to tie 1000 size 12 Green Drakes. That means we're not likely to use up a whole saddle anytime soon. What we're more likely to want to do is tie a couple of dozen #18 BWOs if it's spring, maybe a couple of dozen #22s if it's fall. Trouble is, it's pretty easy to scalp even a top-grade saddle of all its #22 feathers. Then what do you do?

Whiting Farms has figured it out.

Half actual size

Whiting Farms is the largest producer of dry-fly hackle in the world. I recently ran across a product that Whiting produces which solves two problems. First, it lets the recreational tier like me have a very wide selection of sizes and colors; second, it lets me do so without taking out a second mortgage on my house. The product I'm talking about is called Whiting 100's. It's been on the market for a couple of years; the reason why it took me so long to run into it I'll speculate on a bit later.

Whiting 100's are packages of about 10 or so very nice, long, consistent saddle feathers. They cost anywhere between $11 and $14 retail. What? For 10 feathers? A ripoff, right? No, not even close. The Whiting 100's are designed to tie 100 flies. I've never tested that assertion, although I have no reason to dispute it. (As a matter of fact, I tied a dozen dark dun tape-wing caddises with one feather this weekend, still had 2 inches left over on the first feather, and 9 more in the bag.) I don't know what happens if you only get 99 flies out of a package of Whiting 100's. What I do know is that if 100 is a good approximation, that's less than 15 cents a fly, and about the cost of the fish hook. Compared to the cost of a Platinum saddle, at about 2-1/2 cents per fly, that's a little expensive. But most of us weekend tiers won't live long enough to use up a Platinum saddle. To the beginning fly tier, it is the initial cost of materials that is staggering. This product solves that problem quite nicely.

Here's the nicest part about Whiting 100's:
Actual Size The feathers are pre-sized and labeled according to size. When you buy a pack, the feather sizes you get out of it aren't a crapshoot. If you buy size 24, you get size 24. Now think about spending a less than 15 dollars to buy enough feathers to tie 100 size 24s. The way saddles work, there's no guarantee you'll even get 100 size 24 flies out of a $100 saddle. You with me so far?

The other nice thing about Whiting 100's is that they are available in the full range of colors that Whiting produces. Need Grizzly Dyed Orange for some weird fly? If you bought a full Grizzly Dyed Orange neck or saddle, your grandchildren would probably be willing it to THEIR grandchildren. I was watching Gretchen Beatty tie a fly in an unconventional color a couple of weeks ago, and she pulled the feather out of a package of Whiting 100's. Even a commercial tier like Gretchen apparently appreciates the ability to buy 100 flies worth of a weird color in a weird size for a few bucks. You buy what you're going to use. It's not just about convenience. It's about the fact that there's no waste.

So there it is. A way for the recreational tier like you or me to use high-quality saddle feathers, in a full range of colors and sizes, without that huge up-front investment. Although I have a grizzly saddle and a brown saddle that satisfy most of my tying needs, I won't be buying any more saddles from now on. I'll be buying Whiting 100's in just the sizes and colors I need.

OK, so why did it take me a couple of years to discover this product? Well, I suspect that a lot of fly shops don't stock as many of them as they could. The packages take up a lot of wall space and are a low-dollar item. So you have to ask your fly shop to order them for you, because the owner probably won't click to how cool they are all on his own. But if he's a Whiting dealer, you should ask about Whiting 100's. And if he's not, mail order them from someone who is. They are a good deal for the casual tier.

I had an occasion to talk to Dr. Tom Whiting this past weekend at a fly show. I told him how much I enjoyed the opportunity to use his feathers in only the sizes and colors I really needed, and told him what a great idea Whiting 100's were. He told me that it's a product that was specifically requested by weekend tiers, and that even though he has huge commercial accounts all over the world, Whiting 100's have become more than 25 percent of Whiting Farms' sales in the few short years of the product's existence.

I guess maybe there's more than just a few of us out there who like good feathers but hate the up-front expense. ~Ralph

Whiting Farms, Inc.
P.O. Box 100
Delta, CO 81416
Toll Free: 888-321-0003
Tel: 970-874-0999 Fax: 970-874-7117

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