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The loud double-gobble broke the silence of the pre-dawn air, with adrenalin raising the hair on my forearms and instantly increasing my heart rate. Without hesitation I knew I needed to close the distance as fast and quietly as I could before the roosted gobbler decided to drop down and walk away with his hens. It was opening day for New Jerseys Spring Gobbler season and I was excited for 2 reasons. First, I simply can't get enough of chasing Gobblers. It's in my blood and part of who I am. And secondly, it is by far the single most fun fly tying material excursion of the year.
The Eastern Wild Turkey at first glance appears almost black when viewed from a distance. Yet up close they are a beautiful display of metallic copper, bronze & greens that only nature can produce. A single bird will provide more hackle than the average fly tyer can utilize in a lifetime of tying, however the best part is sharing among friends and then renewing the supply each spring season. For my own purposes, nearly the entire bird is put to use. The meat is obviously used, which to me is one of the best eating game birds found anywhere. The primary feathers on the wings are kept, split and ground for custom arrow fletching among myself and friends. The wing bones are used for wing-bone turkey calls, which are an art that I am getting "somewhat" proficient at over the years. And then my efforts turn towards plucking the most useful feathers to stock my bench with.
The most obvious hackles are the tail feathers of the gobbler, which are used for everything from hopper wing-cases to beetle shells, caddis wings, and a myriad of additional applications. Both natural and shellacked, I tend to consume them at a high rate throughout a season. Next are the secondary wing feathers or what are commonly referred to as "mottled turkey rounds". Most popular as the winging material for muddler minnows, they are another staple on a bench that tends to become a regular purchase for an active tyer. With 4-6 of them per side, they become a premium for matched pairs. After that I move on to the flats. The three most used flats on my bench are the barred, the copper & the green. All have their applications, from streamer wings to classic wets and nymph bodies their uses are only limited by your imagination. The most valuable hackle to my bench however are the soft-hackles found on the outer side of the lower legs. They are a naturally barred hackle ranging from #12 to #8 that I have never found anywhere in a fly shop. They are perfect for Carey Specials, steelhead and streamer collars and large nymph legging. Their attributes are very much like a Hungarian partridge hackle, but a bit more durable in my opinion. Each leg gives up about the same amount of hackle as one would find in a standard dubbing packet. To me, they are the gold found on every eastern wild turkey.
Though it may not be so for every fly tyer, I find the satisfaction of catching a fish on a pattern that I not only tied, but harvested the materials in which it was tied with to be that much more enjoyable. It is an aspect that helps to bring me full-circle in my outdoor pursuits. Add to that the sharing of patterns that others tie with those same hackles and the gifts from a single gobbler are endless.
So on this morning, as luck would have it, the hunting gods were on my side. That double gobble was not just a single turkey, but a trio of gobblers bent on a battle of the strut. The ghost of the morning mist materialized from the cedar grove from which it had first gobbled, with antagonists in trail. I admired them as they displayed their plumage with heart-pounding exhilaration as gobble after gobble they put on a display for that unseen hen in the timber. It wasn't until the lead bird broke from the group and turned in my direction that I found my opening, and shortly thereafter stood over a gift of nature's fly shop. There would be an amazing dinner to be had. And there would be countless flies tied as a result of this gathering of hackle.