Allow me to introduce myself. I am an old flyfisherman/fly tier
of over 58 years. I have been breeding birds of all different
kinds from Exotic Pheasants to the Genetic Dry fly birds since
age 10, am now 68. I am Co-owner with my daughter Liz of
Conranch Hackle. I am not an
expert but do have a lot of experience in breeding the birds
and all aspects of fly fishing/tying.
All of this article is only my opinion and may differ from
what you believe. Again I am not an expert, facts of my breeding
records can and do back up my thinking and beliefs. No smoke
and mirrors, no marketing ploys. Am I attempting to sell Cree?
Nope, every Cree I raise is sold before processing, even before
grading. 'Nuf said. If you believe Cree is something other than
what I think, so be it. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion.
My thoughts are based on many years of actual breeding, not
something some expert has told me.
What is Cree? No one really knows but in asking around in our
fly tying circles we find more thoughts and opinions than one
should. Why? There has really never been a standard written
down as to what really comprises the color Cree. It has been
told that the Cree color has been named after the colors of
the Cree Indian Nation. In my search I can not find facts
that substantiate this. It may be true but the three colors
that are alluded to is just not so. Some say that the colors
are Grizzly, ginger and brown. Now I see this as being four
colors. Black, white, ginger and brown. But in looking at
Crees I see the colors as being 5.
They are Black, White, Light Cream, Ginger and Brown. There
may even be shades of the above to include Tan. Enter into
the ball game the color Variant. Many Variant saddles and
capes have many multi colored hackle feathers. Is this a
Cree? I say no, but they will tie into beautiful flies. If
the multi colored hackles are less than 20% I call them a
Cree/Variant. I place no higher value on them because of the
color. Many skins get offered to the fly tier with a false
color description on them but then who is the one to say
which color is which? If you the fly tier are willing to
pay extra for a skin incorrectly described, so be it. Just
beware the buyer. I do not feel any breeder or grader or fly
shop owner would intentionally falsify a color. I would say
it would only be because we really do not have a standard for
Four years ago we found a rooster at processing time that was
the most beautiful Cree colored rooster that I had ever seen.
It has over 95% multi colors. We do keep a very fool proof ID
system on every bird that we hatch. In checking we found this
rooster was from one of our very old Grizzly families. Never
in over 50 years had any outside blood been entered into the
family. Where did it come from? From the same place where almost
all Cree roosters come from. It has been said that the Cree color
occurs once in 250,000 birds. I for one do not know what kind
of record keeping proves or disproves this theory. Just figures
drawn out of the hat? Maybe so but never the less they occur
whenever Mother Nature says so.
This rooster was processed into a full skin and dragged all
over the country to different shows with a not for sale sign
on it. We just wanted to educate fly tiers as to what a "Real
Cree" was. We turned down many real offers for this full skin.
Three years ago I was in the third year of an intensive Blue
Dun breeding program and had in my mind that the Cree genetic
code could be broken. I had a selected rooster, single pen
mated to an outstanding hen and set 47 eggs from this pair.
I had 3 eggs that were infertile and hatched 44 chicks. 23 of
them proved to be roosters. Of these low and behold we had
hatched 9 Cree colored rosters.
Back into the records to see if we had the parents of both the
producing hen and rooster in our brood yards. Liz after a quick
search of the computer records gave me the band numbers of all
4 parent birds and where they were located in the breeding barn.
Yes, some shuffling took place and our Cree breeding program
At this time we are in the second generation and are producing
Crees. Not as many as I would like but we are satisfied and will
continue to work with this program. Our percentage of Crees is
on the upswing.
I recently took a young Cree rooster (second generation) to the
FAOL Fish-in at Lowe, ID and processed this bird in a show and
tell for anyone interested in seeing how we process. After it
was completed and on the board it was photographed beside "Big
Bird" (the Cree that had been dragged all over the country. The
one that was a "Nature Freak"). We had sold Big Bird to Dick
Lane and he stated that at the time of comparison he had already
tied over 200 flies from it. We show the two full skins here so
you can see the difference. One a Freak of Nature and the other
a planned breeding, (second generation). On closer inspection
we found that both the first generation Cree and second
generation meets all of the color requirements that I place
on "What a Real Cree should be."
The dry fly quality hackle of the birds should contain over 50%
of all 5 of the multi colors. The black barr must be complete
and form a slight "v" or chevron, or better yet go all the way
across in a straight line. Not all of the hackle has all of the
perfect barring but over 50% does. I am finding that there are
some feathers that are only partially gene-blended. (The colors
stop and start in full color, not blended like we want in the
Cree). Some of the feather may be the most beautiful blending
after the solid part. Very tie-able as a Cree.
In fact if the percentage of multi colors is below 50%, we call
then Cree/Variant. Some set the percentage at 20%.
The saddles and capes do color differently. We may find a
perfect saddle and a more ginger cape. It this cape a Cree?
Well, there may be a lot of Cree-like hackle that would be
perfect for Spruce Cree flies. The smaller dry fly hackle
may be only be light to dark ginger and may have some barring
on not. Some capes are outstanding in all respects to our
standard for Cree, but the over 50% rule must be met for our Crees.
We have chosen to process our Crees only in full skins and
after much conversation and discussion between Liz and I,
have set our prices for the full skin only, at between $150
and $250 ea., depending on the Cree quality. None are for
sale at this time. Sorry. We do have a list and will hold
to the list.
So far we have produced over 30 Crees in two years and we
only produce about 2,000 birds per year. This sort of blows
the 1 in 250,000 theory.
My advise to the fly tier that wants to tie with Cree is to
purchase with caution. If you are willing to pay extra for a
color that someone may or may not have labeled correctly,
it's your money. I seriously doubt if anyone would ever find
a Cree on E-Bay or hanging in a local shop. True Cree are
almost always sold before the brokers get their hands on them.
How many true Crees have been bred and offered to the fly tier
in the past 50 years? I am sure no one knows but I would suspect
that the low number would surprise all of us. The Cree is one
of my favorite colors to tie with (course I have an inside
source) and they do drive the fish crazy.
Many of our customers enjoy tying with the Cree/Variant. They
also do a fantastic job on our flies. Try to understand what
a True Cree really is before you spend your hard earned dollar.
Take a good look at the Barred Ginger because there are many
Cree-like hackle feathers on them and the price is far less.
Read and try to understand all that has been written about
Cree. Ask the author how many Crees he has produced. Does he
really know what he is talking about or is he just repeating
what someone else has told him? Remember just because someone
tells you something does not make it fact.
I am not trying to press my thinking on anyone. These are only
my personal thoughts and you may not agree. My records and many
visitors to the Ranch substantiate my statements.
Good luck to all. ~ Denny Conrad
Back to the Main Page