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Jungle Cock Repair
Prime Jungle Cock necks are rare to come by. Learn how 'upgrade' fishing quality JC necks in this article.
Allow me to begin by adding a bit of atmosphere. As I sit and conjure up this piece, I am dining in San Francisco, at one of my favorite restaurants. Tonight, I did not choose one of my frequent San Francisco haunts, Scoma's, but instead a quaint 'Ye Olde' English style eatery that greets you at the door with "Gents" on the men's restroom door and "Wenches" on the woman's. The walls are adorned with pictures representative of the times a hard look will reveal a few wood-blocked prints of tail-coated fly-fishers on the banks of rivers 'angling' or 'dapping' as the merry English of-the-times would say. In all the prints, a horse is drinking from the stream bank nearby; obviously a fresh source of leader material in case one needs to 're-angle'!
Let me sidetrack a minute to discuss business via mail order (incl. Web-based businesses). Ask your feather merchant to send you a selection within your price range It will take some relationship-building to entice him/her to send you a dozen necks, but it can be done. Don't dilly-dally around with your selection, either. Make up your mind and promptly return the ones you do not purchase with remittance for the ones you do. Your promptness will go a long way towards building trust with the merchant for future orders. This is not an uncommon practice, but is handled with caution by most merchants. If you screw up once, or stiff the merchant Trust me, your name will be instant "mud" in the feather business and all merchants will know of your actions. Word travels fast and the feather-trading community is a small world. With the onset of email and chat groups, it's not difficult to spread the horrors of poor business ethics to hundreds of merchants and tyers around the world in less than a second.
Phew, enough on that.
A pianist is playing baroque. My salad contains heart lettuce, pickled eggs and dandelion greens served by a lady dressed in a long buttoned down dress, a strung bonnet and a neopolitan quilted vest. A gin and tonic involved no ordinary gin, but Boodles Gin. My prime rib au jus is served with Yorkshire pudding and creamed corn, replica of the fare found in 18th century England. The sourdough bread was rich in yeast and malted flour; it resembled fine wort of some of England's best brown ales.
I know it is a stretch to marry my dining experience to the selection and use of jungle cock, but somehow, this dining atmosphere enriches my experience of knowing what it would have been like being part of 18th century Europe. In some sort of odd way, I can envision a group of Isaac Walton-esque fly dappers dining in a dingy, dark tavern after a day of casting classic salmon patterns to the silver lads of the sea. As they tip a fresh ceramic pint of ale, they converse about the pattern they developed, named for their daughter or for the river in which it was designed. They all claim that their day's success was due to the uniqueness of the fly they fished. But let's face it, when wet, all the salmon flies of the era were nothing more than soggy and gaudy.
But all patterns had something in common, the skillful art of the tyer and the care of the hand-selected materials within. It is those gaudy flies we relish to tie today, wishing we could have just talked with Sir Isaac Walton and a person named Pryce-Tannatt. Back to the present. I just got off the phone with a friend from Europe where we discussed obtaining some very select jungle cock, among other exquisite tying feathers.
You see, a salmon fly tyer is always on the lookout for the exact materials used in 18th and 19th century patterns. So, it is fitting that I dine in the atmosphere common-day to those who created some of the world's finest classic salmon fly patterns.
Thus, the intro to the thesis of this article: there is nothing like finding good jungle cock to finish off a well-dressed classic Atlantic salmon fly. (see?, I told you it was a stretch ) But as anyone who has dabbled, fine jungle cock is hard to obtain and doesn't come cheaply. There are a dozen ideas for substitutes, but nothing comes close to the glamorously enameled beauty of a jungle cock nail. The following text represents mostly my working knowledge of jungle cock, far be it from being definitive. I've augmented my knowledge with some research, of which is also presented below. I'll also explore my technique of turning nails from grade 'C' or 'B' necks into a showcase quality tying materials. Onward
The Useful Parts of a Jungle Cock Neck
The Nail (Eye)
The prized feather of a Jungle Cock Neck is most certainly the nail. This feather is sometimes referred to as the eye. It is the enameled shiny feather that is black, white and orange. They are most commonly used as final side dressings on classic salmon patterns. Many times, more modern patterns display multiple pairs of jungle cock nails, sometimes up to a dozen pairs on one single fly.
The side spade makes for good soft hackle feathers.
The spear is used in some classic atlantic salmon flies.
Side spades are found on the sides of the cultured neck and are black with a distinctive white stripe down the middle and grey flanged edges. They are most commonly used as underwings and in decorative feather-body streamers and salmon flies.
There are just a few swords on each jungle cock neck. They are richly colored and generally tattered looking, but lack the shape needed for most salmonfly applications.
They can be used as underwings in place of golden pheasant swords or for New-England style streamers.
The Structure of A Jungle Cock Nail
The enamel is the most prized feature of the jungle cock eye. It is a naturally occuring addition to the feather which resembles a fine drop of glossy oil-based paint. It is hardened, yet susceptible to splitting and cracking. Near the lower middle part of the feather stem, the enamel is a true white, but as it progresses up the feather stem, the enamel turns egg-shell white and finally, at the very end of the feather, the most gorgeous colors of the sunset are contained within.
The feather barbules are wispy and bi-colored. They are white-tipped with black bases near the stem. As the feather progresses towards the tip, the feather barbules diminish and the the enameled black feather begins.
Each stem has a slight curvature inward, which when tied on the side of a fly as a cheek, will nicely drape the winging of the fly. Looking at the stem close-up reveals that it's cross-section is oval in shape. This explains the reason why jungle cock eyes want to flare out or sit awkwardly when tied in. Taking a pair of flat pliers and carefully pinching the stem to flatten it will help resolve the flare-out issue.
Selecting Jungle Cock
Anything goes is the motto here. If you are going to use jungle cock in the flies you fish, use the least expensive and most damaged nails. Remember, jungle cock was first used in tying patterns to mimic the eyes of baitfish, thus it's name, a jungle cock 'eye'. So, if all you are doing is imitating the eye, select a nail that has good contrast between dark and light colors. Buying a 'B' or 'C' grade neck should suffice. Refer to my trick below to spruce up sub-standard jungle cock nails.
Many substitutes have been offered over the years. The two most common are using a pared-down guinea feather, leaving only a few of the white dots showing, and; painting eyes on a dark feather, like starling, to immitate the natural enamel of the jungle cock. These substitutes are fine for every day fishing situations but lack the showmanship qualities of the real thing.
Washed out necks like above have pale enamel, are sparsely filled, have odd-shaped nails and lack good color graduation.
Higher quality necks are more densely filled, richer in color and are more uniform in shape.
It's hard to put a priority on selecting necks. First you must assess your need and that will determine the quality you are seeking. If you are tying fishing flies you're in luck! The necks required for fishing are much less expensive and are more plentiful. If you are tying museum-quality flies, you will be looking for the near-perfect jungle cock neck. Just as in diamonds, the more perfect, the more costly.
When I look for JC necks, I prefer these priorities: Coloration, Splits, Quantity, End-Feathering. Let's discuss.
Start with quite a few necks in front of you. Never go in a shop and select from only 1 or 2 necks on the wall. Those most likely are the remnants of a shipment which has been picked through by customers prior to you. Ask the shop owner when additional shipments are expected, or ask to have some brought in. I equate my salmonfly tying materials purchases to buying a diamond. I want the diamond dealer to put as many choices in front of me as possible.
With coloration, look for the rich, deep vibrant sunset colors in each nail as described above. The brighter the whites and more vibrant the oranges, the better. Next, look at how many nails on the skin are split. While splits can be repaired, having no splits is more desirable. Also look for the nature of the split. Is it a short one or does it extend to the rakus (stem) of the feather. The longer the split, the less desirable.
After I have culled out the bland-colored and heavily split necks, I now look for quantity. It's hard to estimate a desirable quantity on a neck, but you'll instantly see the difference in a neck that has a few plucked out versus a full, prime neck. Finally, I go a step further than most. I look at the feathering on the end of each nail. I like the ones that have a very sparse paint brush effect. This is the most difficult quality to satisfy. Make it of less importance when selecting jungle cock.
Now, test your judgement. After you get a feel for what the market is selling JC necks, go into a shop, lay a few in front of you and start to determine it's retail value. If you can come within $5-$10 of the sticker price in a reputable shop, you are becoming a good judge of jungle cock quality. If you are way off the mark, ask the store expert to help you determine why the JC's are priced the way they are. Sometimes, by doing this, you'll stumble across an error and may find a bargain in your lap!
These JC nails are not only washed out but they have too many deep splits. These should be used on fishing flies.
Making Good Use of Lesser-Grade Necks
Let's explore my technique of turning substandard nails from grade 'C' or 'B' necks into a showcase quality tying materials. This technique was borne of my own frugal nature in buying lesser quality necks and wishing I had bought the best. Now I buy the best I can afford, but I still have a few Grade 'B' necks lying around. It's those 'B' necks I use for everyday fishing flies, until I discovered that quality art markers are just the trick to fine-tuning the coloration of the eyes of the nails. A marker touch-up and a thin coat of clear fingernail polish can turn a 'Witch of the West' nail into a 'Sleeping Beauty'.
Restoring the Natural Coloring
Adding just a touch of color with high-quality permanent ink markers is a piece of cake. Again, remember not to overdo it here. Just a smidgen of color is all that is needed on such a small surface. I have experimented with many brands of markers and many colors. My final determination is that permanent art markers in yellow-orange, yellow-brown, orange-yellow, and orange-brown are the ones to have. Go to an art supply store, standard discount-shop permanent markers don't have the color range options, true durability or pin-point tip to properly apply on the nail. And don't use chisel tips, you'll need the accuracy of a pin-point tip.
COMPARE these two nails. The one on the left is pale and washed out. The one on the right was also pale, but was touched up using permanent markers. Albiet it has a major split, it can be used for dressy fishing flies.
Properly colored nails have a 3-step color graduation from egg-shell white to yellow-orange to orange-brown-red. Most off-grade jungle cock is already naturally egg-shell white, so applying the other two colors becomes a piece of cake. Simply color the nail accordingly with the color markers of your choice, Allow ample time in-between each color application to thoroughly dry. Don't rush it or you'll get a nail that looks like it's been colored by a 5-year old with wax crayons. After I apply the coat of yellow-orange, I use a Q-Tip, a small dry-bristled brush or my fingerpad to mildly blend the colors outward to the tip of the nail. Do the same with the final color application of orange-yellow or orange-brown-red. Wala! You've restored a
sub-standard jungle cock eye!
Now you have some tips on selecting, repairing and using jungle cock feathers for tying flies. With some good markers, some practice and maybe an ounce of artistic skill, you too can have vibrant colored and showcase quality jungle cock at an affordable price!
Sharp points, flat thread and happy tying!