Unless you’re one of those fly tyers who spend hours flipping through the latest delivery of Whiting or Metz feathers, you’re probably unfamiliar with the name “Gallos de León”. A specialized breed of chicken from the Curueño Valley in the province of León, Spain, Gallos de León are the world’s oldest known genetic hackle bird, and their capes and saddle are still widely regarded as some of the finest available amongst fly tyers. In fact, the reason the name might sound familiar is that there’s likely a pack of Coque de León feathers tucked somewhere in your tying kit for mayfly and nymph tails.
According to Bridget Ryder, a writer for EarthIsland.org, “the Gallos de León can only truly be raised within the 15-square-kilometer Curueño Valley in the province of León in northern Spain. The rural, almost unspoiled area sits at the foot of the Cantabria Mountains, out of which run over 3,000 kilometers of trout streams.”
Not only are the bird developed to fish those trout streams dwindling, so are the streams and trout in their historic home region. León is not just famous for it’s feather production but also as a historic sight for the sport of fly fishing. Fishing with flies in the region has been documented as far back as 1624 AD when “a cleric named Juan de Bergara from the city of Astorga, about 60 kilometers southwest of Curueño, was so impressed with the Leónese fishing system that he recorded it in writing. Called The Astorga Manuscript, his book described how the Leónese fishers, relying on “centuries of observation,” had developed an arsenal of 32 flies, each one matching the bugs trout feed on in every season and time of day.”
To read more about these iconic birds, and the special place they hold in the world of fly tying and fly fishing history as a whole, check out this article on the Earth Island Journal!