Hair salons covet them.

Fly fishermen want them but are finding them increasingly hard to get.

It’s fashion versus tradition.

There’s hot competition these days, in Maine and across the nation, for dry fly-tying feathers, also known as hackles.

Industry officials say the shortage of feathers, which come from roosters, has been building for about a year. Cabela’s in Scarborough and L.L. Bean’s retail store in Freeport – two of Maine’s largest sporting goods outfitters – reported this week that they are having trouble keeping the feathers in stock.

Spokeswoman Carolyn Beem said L.L. Bean is “experiencing the same demand for rooster feathers as everyone else.” At the Freeport store, “if we’re not wiped out, then we are close,” she said.

The people who work in the store’s fishing department say that hairstylists and salons have been buying feathers, Beem said. Fly fishermen seem to have accepted the fact that the supply is tight.
“As with all trends, they come and they go,” she said. “Eventually, the supplies will catch up.”

The roosters that produce the feathers are bred to have long plumes on their necks. The few dozen farms in the U.S. that raise the roosters have been unable to keep up with the demand.

“We are out of stock,” Rich Pschirrer, who manages the Cabela’s store in Scarborough, said this week. “You don’t grow a rooster overnight, so there can be a long wait.”

The long, slender feathers are used in the vast majority of traditional dry-fly patterns. Fishermen tie them near fish hooks, and the dry flies float on the surface of a lake or stream, appearing like tasty insects to fish.

Hairstylists who use them bond the feathers with extension beads and clamp them to the hair. The feathers can be shampooed, blow-dried or curl-ironed and can last for several months.

Pschirrer said stylists have been coming to the fishing department at Cabela’s to buy feathers.

Hairstylists blame the shortage on Steven Tyler, the lead singer for Aerosmith, who was a judge last season on the Fox reality TV show “American Idol.” Tyler appeared on the show with a long mane of hair accented with feather extensions.

“It’s kind of crazy, but the whole thing came from Steven Tyler and ‘American Idol,’” said Peggy French, who owns Studio 114 in Scarborough.

Two weeks ago, French, who has two feathers in her hair, put a sign in front of her business that reads “Get Feathered.”

Clients ranging in age from kindergarten to 55 have been paying $25 to have multicolored feathers attached to their hair.

French, who relies on a private distributor for her supply, says she doesn’t expect the trend to continue for long.

“It’s a fad that will be here today, and be gone tomorrow,” she predicted.

Cara Michaud, the owner of Cara and Company in Falmouth, agrees that the popularity of feather extensions will decline eventually. “I think, like anything else, it’s a fad,” she said.

Her full-service salon just began offering feathers, after the demand peaked over the summer. The feathers can vary in length from 4 inches to a foot. Most customers at Cara and Company ask for two or three feathers.

Michaud charges $15 to $35, depending on the quality and the number of feathers a client wants. She has been buying feathers from Cabela’s but can also order them from a variety of online retailers.

The demand this summer put a strain on companies that cater to fly fishermen, such as Eldridge Bros. Fly Shop in Cape Neddick.

Gordon Thompson, who works at the shop, said supplies are beginning to stabilize.

“At first, we were getting five to 10 phone calls a day asking if we had the feathers in stock. Now it’s more like two or three calls a week,” he said.

For a package of 16 hackles, Eldridge charges $40. A fly-fishing package, which can contain several hundred feathers, goes for about $60.

“The fly-fishing industry has tried to grin and bear it,” Thompson said.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]