Understanding Ostrich (a little)

This is an excellent ostrich plume, probably several years old. I do not remember the origin.

This is an excellent ostrich plume, probably several years old. I do not remember the origin.

I tie with a lot of ostrich and realize that things I take for granted might not be understood by all fly tyers. The fly tying industry competes with the fashion industry, the costume industry, and the auto industry to get the best ostrich at the best prices possible. Over time, I have seen quality and availability vary considerably. All ostrich is useful but the fact remains that individual plumes have different properties that affect the performance of the flies we tie.  The various commercial providers of ostrich get the best plumes they can, but the raw feathers they are able to obtain are not the same from week to week, month to month and so on.

If I want to tie with ostrich – I take the best I can get through time, and adapt to a shifting playing field. Many beginning tyers do not understand how much ostrich can vary, and may blame the commercial providers for differences they see. In my experience, every commercial distributor is doing the best they can to provide first quality feathers – but from time to time they must pass on whatever is the best they can get in order to provide any ostrich at all.

The preferences of individual fly artisans vary too, with some wanting fluffy ostrich and some wanting slender strands on the plume that are similar to Rhea.

The following photos will illustrate a few points to consider. I tie with the following brands, and will limit my remarks to these.

OPST barred ostrich

OPST dotted ostrich

MFC premium ostrich

Hareline ostrich 

Other distributors of ostrich probably deal with the same issues I will discuss. I encourage anyone who loves ostrich to stock up when you are in your local fly shop and find the PERFECT ostrich. Of course, your tastes for ostrich may shift over time, but it is unlikely to imagine a future when ostrich is more available or higher quality than we see today.

Here goes – – – – – -

These ostrich barbules have consistently sharp tips and are tapered from a thick base.

These ostrich barbules have consistently sharp tips and are tapered from a thick base.

This ostrich plume (the same we have  been looking at) not only has shlarp tips but also very firm base to each fiber. this means it will stand out if spun in a loop and hold a lot of loft.

This ostrich plume (the same we have been looking at) not only has sharp tips but also very firm base to each fiber. this means it will stand out if spun in a loop and hold a lot of loft.

These ostrich fibers are sharp but a little scraggly and have some broken tips. Still good stuff and quite useful.

These ostrich fibers are sharp but a little scraggly and have some broken tips. Still good stuff and quite useful.

The fibers on this ostrich plume are not quite as firm at the base as on the orange plume, still reasonably firm though.

The fibers on this ostrich plume are not quite as firm at the base as on the orange plume, still reasonably firm though.

This is the portion of the ostrich I most appreciate if it is in fact short and firm engough to wind about three turns around the hook shank, intruder shank, or tube as you would wind a feather stem. I save these for my most special occasions. Rare stuff.

This is the portion of the ostrich I most appreciate if it is in fact short and firm engough to wind about three turns around the hook shank, intruder shank, or tube as you would wind a feather stem. I save these for my most special occasions. Rare stuff.

The fibers must be firm and short and with no broken tips. Never expect these qualities and never take them for granted.

The fibers must be firm and short and with no broken tips. Never expect these qualities and never take them for granted.

Some ostrich is packaged two plumes per, and in these cases it is customary for the two plumes to vary in quality or properties wth one large and one small. No one is tricking you here, it is normal industry practice. The largest nicest plume in the package will be in front. These plumes were in a single package and illustrate size difference. Both are useful and serve different purposes on different size flies.

Some ostrich is packaged two plumes per, and in these cases it is customary for the two plumes to vary in quality or properties wth one large and one small. No one is tricking you here, it is normal industry practice. The largest nicest plume in the package will be in front. These plumes were in a single package and illustrate size difference. Both are useful and serve different purposes on different size flies.

The charateristics, color, and quality of ostrich from the same distributor will shift over time due to circumstances beyone their control. These plumes are both by OPST, both are very good, and both are very different, obtained about two months apart. This is normal and expected.

The charateristics, color, and quality of ostrich from the same distributor will shift over time due to circumstances beyone their control. These plumes are both by OPST, both are very good (obtained in two different packages), and both are very different, obtained about two months apart. This is normal and expected.

These two plumes were in the same OPST package and are very similar is size but the fibers on one plume are a little fuller with fewer broken tips than on the other plume. Again, this is normal, and the fish do not shy away from a few gnarly tips.

These two plumes were in the same OPST package and are very similar is size but the fibers on one plume are a little fuller with fewer broken tips than on the other plume. Again, this is normal, and the fish do not shy away from a few gnarly tips.

Illustrating the size and tip quality differences in a single package of dotted OPST ostrich.  This is all good stuff and I'll use every bit of it on various parts of my flies.

Illustrating the size and tip quality differences in a single package of dotted OPST ostrich. This is all good stuff and I’ll use every bit of it on various parts of my flies. I should note here that OPST has enlarged the size of the dots on their ostrich and I like the big dots much better than the smaller dots of the old style.

This photo shows a black Hareline ostrich plume alongside a barred MFC plume. They are both large but their properties are extremely different. The Hareline ostrich is full and fluffy, while the MFC is slender and sleek, perfectly barred. While both plumes are superior, they will produce flies with a very different look.

This photo shows a black Hareline ostrich plume alongside a barred MFC plume. They are both large but their properties are extremely different. The Hareline ostrich is full and fluffy, while the MFC is slender and sleek, perfectly barred. While both plumes are superior, they will produce flies with a very different look.

SAMSUNG CSCThis photo shows a closer view of the slender MFC barred ostrich compared to the fully fluffy Hareline ostrich. I use both in my flies and simply want to let the novice tyers understand that these differences are normal and in fact useful to our creative palate.

This is by no means the full story of ostrich, but I hope these photos and notes help many of my fellow fly artisans understand the variability and usefulness of these fine feathers.

I have no way of knowing what we will have in the way of ostrich a year from now or five years from now. Same goes for every natural feather we use.

Jay Nicholas February 2016

 

 

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