León’s Rooster – Old World Versatility

Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

Tucked away in the foothills of the Cantabrian Mountains in northern Spain is the provincial town of León, Spain. Not large by any standard, at approximately 130,000 people, Leon isn’t on many radars outside of Spain. However, for the fly tier, the Leon region is the origin of one of fly tying’s most ancient and versatile materials—the Coq de Leon hackle.

Gallos de Leon as they are called in Spanish (why the French spelling–Coq de Leon– is preferred outside Spain is unknown) are reared in the Curueño Valley along the Curueño river. The villages of La Candana de Curueño and La Vecilla are the origin of this rare breed.

The feathers of the ‘gallos’ (cockerels / roosters) have been famous for their fly tying qualities for centuries and references can be found in the earliest of fly fishing books.

What makes the true ‘Gallos de Leon’ feathers so special? It has to be their exceptionally long stiff barbs that glisten and quiver with life. The sheen and shimmer of these feathers add a very special quality to your flies at the vice and a magical semi-translucency in the water. Just move them about under a light and you’ll see what I mean! The sites below provide a lot of detailed information on the history of these feathers. See WFI on the Fly March 2018 for “Colorado Coq de Leon” and Barrio Fly Fishing on History of Coq de Leon

I don’t know why I acquired my first Coq de Leon saddle and it turned out to be years before I really found a routine use for these great feathers. I don’t tie that many dry flies, so I certainly didn’t buy the saddle for tailing fibers. I remember trying the saddle hackles on typical woolly buggers, but they were too stiff and the individual fibers much too long. I do remember however being intrigued by the marvelous mottled coloring the feather had. My first saddle was dark Pardo in color, but I had no idea what that meant. I eventually learned that “pardo” was Spanish for “brown” and that there are at least a dozen variations on the “Pardo” colors found in Coq de Leon. Another, somewhat less common in the U.S. is the line of “Indio” or grayish colors. Now that Dr. Tom Whiting is breeding Coq de Leon in the U.S. there are more color lines and variations being produced and available to the fly tier, including dyed colors.

Several years ago, when I started incorporating Coq de Leon into my Montana Temple Dog flies, I began acquiring a wider variety of colors and variations to include dyed colors. In the U.S., Whiting Coq de Leon is generally available as full necks, saddles and tailing packs. Several fly-tying materials providers offers undyed and dyed quarter saddles at reduced prices. Hen necks and saddles are also available. More importantly, is understanding what Coq de Leon can be used for. So here are some ways to take advantage of those long, stiff and mottled hackle fibers.

Tailing: The long, stiff hackle fibers make excellent tailing for may fly patterns. One hackle will provide fibers for dozens of flies. A single tailing patch will provide fibers for 100s of tails but the feathers are too short for other uses with the exception of Trude style wings.

Trude style wings: Tying a bunch of Coq de Leon hackle fibers as a horizontal, Trude style wing makes for a good-looking caddis pattern. The mottled nature and subdued coloring of natural Coq de Leon pardo hackles resembles many caddis adults.

Hopper and other terrestrial wings: Using Coq de Leon hackle tips as wings on hopper patterns is an easy way to replicate the delicate mottling on splayed wings found in hoppers, crickets and damsel flies.

Deceiver style wings/tails: Coq de Leon saddle hackle tips make excellent Deceiver style wings and tails. There stiffness resists the feather’s fouling around the hook that is so common with traditional long saddle hackles.

Traditional hackling: In general, the long stiff hackle fibers of Coq de Leon are not suitable for traditional hackling. The exceptions are large spider patterns like traditional soft hackles. However, for very large flies like the Montana Temple Dog where stiffness is desired, traditional hackling works well.

Coq de Leon Sculpin: There are hundreds of species of freshwater and saltwater sculpins. Most of these small, bottom dwelling fish are mottled in color with large heads and eyes. In most the U.S. they are a common baitfish that has been replicated by dozens of different fly patterns over the years. The omnipresent and effective Muddler Minnow is a classic sculpin pattern. In most SW Montana rivers, the Mottled Sculpin, Cottus bairdi, is a very common resident and sculpin fly patterns do very well throughout the year.

I tie two versions of a Coq de Leon Sculpin pattern combining a variety of techniques to create a light weight, large profile mottled pattern that is easy to fish in both shallow fast water and deep pools. Both incorporate Coq de Leon hackle tips tied in at the hook bend Deceiver style with a bit of flash. A small clump of fox fur is used on the top of the hook bend to maintain a fat profile. Bodies of both are comprised of Zonked Pine Squirrel palmers like my Pine Squirrel Woolly Buggers. Then two or three long Coq de Leon hackles are wrapped at the head of the fly. One version relies on the stiffness of the hackle fibers to create the large profile head typical of a sculpin. The other version incorporates the Featherhead technique by creating a solid head with eyes.

Coq de Leon is a fantastic, natural tying material with lots of applications. Thanks to Tom Whiting, U.S. fly tiers have access to all manner of traditional, dyed and new color variations Coq de Leon. Try some and you may find lots of interesting ways to use the feathers from León’s Rooster.

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