In starting this review of guinea feathers I’d like to share my frequent reminder that it it normal to find a lot of variation in the contents of a package of feathers. Far as I know, guinea feathers are strung (sewn) after being organized in size from the short to the longest feathers. When the distributor gets these long strings of sewn feathers, maybe four feet long, they proceed to cut these into sections of roughly 3-4 inches long to package individually. So the packages will contain a nice chunk of the sewn together feathers, but they each package will not contain the shortest to the longest feathers.
Nope. Each package will contain the length of feathers that were found at a certain point along the string, of course there will be a few longer feathers at the short end of the string and a few shorter feathers at the long end of the strihg, but overall, each package will have a characteristic feather size. The photo above shows what I would consider a package of short feathers (lower left), medium feathers (lower right), and the largest feathers (upper row in photo).
Now I’m a guy who prefers the largest feathers for my big Intruders, but now and then I get on kick tying summer steelhead flies and want the small feathers for these. Be advised that the best way to get the feathers you want is to pick them off the rack at your local fly shop.
Waste ratio. This is a very odd material in the realm of natural feathers that I purchase, in the sense that the vast majority of the feathers in each package will be of the highest quality. I took note yesterday when I was preparing a bunch of guinea feathers and found that I often was able to find roughly 50 feathers per package. I found my self usually discarding only 10% of the feathers in a package. Far as I’m concerned, this is great.
Twisty feathers. Ok, so most of the feathers looked good, but not all functioned as well. Some seemed to twist as I would them on tube or shank, and some have thicker stems than others, and some are nearly symmetrical while others are more lop-sided and more difficult to tie with. This is normal and you should pick and choose the feathers that perform the best for your tying needs.
If an individual feather fails to cooperate – toss it out. I find I will give up on one feather in five because I just can not get it to behave.
Feather marking. Guinea feathers have different markings as shown here and I like the look of both.
Stem thickness. It is difficult to discern the difference, but the stem on the left above is thicker than the stem on the right feather.
I find it difficult to wind individual feathers if the stems are too unruly or thick, so I will strip the barbules off one side of the feather. I always tie these feathers in by the tip.
Although guinea feathers are more of a challenge to wind than saddles or schlappen, the effect is well worth the effort.
You will see the effect of both guinea and wood duck feathers in micro Intruder.
I hope some of these thoughts give you reassurance and confidence to tie with guinea – if you have resisted to date.
My best to everyone.
Jay Nicholas, February 2016