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Confined to his vice by the weather, the Damp Angler finally brings the heron feather quest to a successful conclusion

Little and large: The heron feather next to a mallard primary.
Little and large: The heron feather next to a mallard primary.

There were no Christmas fishing trips this year. With rain and flooding continuing unabated across the North of England, I decided to sit tight instead and wait for the river to come to me. Whiling away the hours until its arrival and preparing for the spring offensive, my attention returned to Kite’s Imperial – a near legendary general trout fly – and the heron feather quest, which began many years ago after stumbling upon a tribute to its creator.

The tribute described Oliver Kite as a “trencherman” – a fantastic word I had not come across before. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it is a person who “eats well”, and if the account of a fishing expedition contained in the tribute is true, he certainly warranted the title. Rum trifles, cheese barrels, pies, beef Wellingtons and life-threatening quantities of booze – port, wine, Champagne and brandy – were all carried to the water’s edge in a giant hamper. What a sight that must have been. The tribute concluded with a recipe for the fly that bears the great man’s name and whose main constituent is heron; a bird that these days is better protected than the panda, making its feathers near enough unobtainable.

“The best place to find heron feathers is a heronry,” one fishing forum contributor helpfully advises. I kid you not.

Another suggests the riverbank in winter as a good source. Again – this advice is not terribly useful because there are feathers literally everywhere. Which of them came from a heron?

There are acceptable alternatives. According to the authorities any grey feather with long herls, such as turkey or goose, is close enough. But “close enough” is not how we roll.









At last: Wasting no time tying Kite’s Imperials.

The internet abounds with images of heron feathers; usually pictured next to such alternatives to show how similar they are in an effort to persuade anglers to buy them instead. Scanning the third page of images, I had a sudden recollection and caught my breath.

I found a feather identical to the one in the pictures on the banks of the Swale…several months ago…a giant grey feather I picked up and kept not because I thought it might be from a heron, but just because it was so unusually large.

With little else to do, I began a pocket by pocket, box by box, packet by packet and finally feather by feather search until finally it came to light mixed up with some mallard primaries. Holding the giant heron feather next to one of the mallard primaries and comparing the two is a fair representation of how much I have yet to learn. The internet forum folk I had been unfairly maligning were quite right. Winter is indeed a good time for finding heron feathers…in a very roundabout sort of way.

A Happy New Year to you all.

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