Weekend Short Report – Update
I went fishing fairly early yesterday morning at my favorite Susquehanna River access in Apalachin. As I rigged up, a forest green late-model Dodge Ram pickup pulled in with boat in tow. The driver positioned his pick-up perfectly in line with the ramp, parked, and began to load the boat with his gear.
I headed down to the ramp to enter the river and stopped to see what this angler was up to. “Fishing for walleye?” I asked. “No, smallmouth.” was the reply. There was something familiar about this guy. His head was shaved and his tan and working clothes suggested he worked outdoors. He was neat and orderly – laying out his rods just so. “You tie your own flies?”, he asked, most likely noting several that I had on my vest drying patch. “No”, I said. Then he mentioned that he made a living raising hackle chickens for the fly tying industry. That’s all I needed to hear to realize I was talking to none other than Charlie Collins, the owner of Collins Hackle Farm. I had once heard him speak and show his quality hackle at an Al Hazzard Chapter TU meeting. Here’s a little background info from the internet on Charlie, and his business:
Collins Hackle Farm. Charlie Collins started breeding hackle chickens in 1980, using stock from Andy Miner, Harry Darbee, and Dick Bitner. Collins’s main genetic emphasis is in breeding birds with thin, flexible quills that wrap true and don’t split or twist. “If you can’t wrap the feather, all the other hackle traits are worthless,” he says. “No trait is more important than quill quality.”
Collins has a relatively small operation, hatching from 4,000 to 8,000 chicks annually at his farm in Pine City, New York. He breeds for neck qualities exclusively and doesn’t sell his saddles individually–he includes them with his necks. For about $50, you can purchase a top-grade neck and saddle directly from Charlie. He has a wide array of natural colors passed down from the Miner stock (Bitner raised grizzly almost exclusively) and is especially proud of his colored barred stock, which many tiers admire because of its buggy appearance and stiffness.
Collins’ avows his approach is nonscientific compared to a large-scale producer such as Whiting or Metz. He approaches his hackle herding in the old-school manner, producing feathers that are very desireable for traditional Catskill tiers. He has walked the fine line between advancing hackle quality and retaining some of the feather characteristics that appeal to traditional Catskill tiers who don’t necessarily want densely hackled flies.
While large-scale growers such as Whiting and Metz micro-monitor each chicken’s environment, interestingly, Collins takes an almost exact opposite approach. Collins feels that his hearty strain of mountain-bred bird is not only truer to the backyard breeders of the Catskill era, but also makes for a healthy, strong, and relatively disease-free flock.
We chatted a while about smallmouth bass, how game they were, and how the best time of the year to catch a trophy, was upon us. Charlie said we needed just a little more of a drop in water temp to really get things going. “I’m getting some good fish, but they’re here and there, mixed with small ones”. “Once the colors turn, it will get really good”, he added, with a big grin on his face.
I mentioned to Charlie that I had a blog and I would be glad to list his website on the blog, but he was quick to point out he only does business by phone and mail. “I’m just too busy to run a website”, he said. So here’s some contact info for those of you who are fly tyers:
Collins Hackle Farm
436 Kinner Hill Road
Pine City, NY 14871
I left Charlie to getting his boat in the water and I started wading down the river, with some of his words still in my head: “I mean look at this – a beautiful fall morning and you and I are the only ones on this entire section of a great smallmouth river – I mean it just doesn’t get any better than this”. Indeed, he was right…
I fished my favorite section of the river – a hole that Charlie was familiar with and one where he had hooked a big muskie last year. I noted that the river was up some and had a little murk to it. It was eerily quiet early in the morning, but eventually the bass started popping bait. I fished several streamers on a sink tip line without success. I experimented with colors and still nothing. Every time I was in the midst of changing flies, the bass would erupt. I’d then cover the area without a hint of a take. Frustrating…
I moved downriver to try some bank water and then moved back to fish the hole again. Clouds invaded the bluebird sky and with the clouds came the wind. Leaves fell to the water and the air temperature dropped. I watched the resident osprey soar with the wind like a sailplane, surveying the river all the while, but apparently fishless like me. The bass were still chasing bait sporadically and eventually I had a decent “chunk” blow up on a pencil popper I worked across the pool.
The wind kept blowing harder. The water frothed up in whitecaps and casting got harder. I gave up the ghost after a few hours, thankful I had not been skunked.
As I waded back to the access, the sky to the east and south was dark and brooding. Rain was on the way. I left the river hopeful for a little more fall. Charlie’s grin from our morning chat was still fresh on my mind.