Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Voices from the Past: Indian Feather Merchant

If you ever thought outsourcing was just the scourge of the 21st century, guess again. Here is an article run in the 02 June 1971 Tri-City Herald describing how one American fly tier--Dennis Black--contracted with an Indian feather merchant to tie flies. It heralded a move that eventually saw most of the large-scale fly tying companies move overseas.

A feather merchant from India is in the United States, learning from a Roseburg businessman how to tempt and deceive.

Joga Rao sits daily in a cramped back room, learning the intricate art of tying flies — tiny lures resembling insects that tempt and deceive fish.

But what is an Indian feather merchant doing in the Umpqua Valley community of Roseburg and why does he want to learn to tie flies?

Dennis Black, who makes and sells nearly 200,000 flies a year in his factory-shop, traveled last summer to India and purchased some feathers — an intregal part of flies.

There he met Rao.

After a lengthy discussion of the fly tying business and some planning, Rao decided to spend four months in Roseburg, learning the business so he could establish his own fly tying factory.

It is the first visit to the United States by the 36-year-old Rao since he received his master's degree in business administration from the University of Cincinnati.

Although Rao has a degree in chemistry and "could probably have started making chemicals for a chemical company," he went into the feather business with his father. He describes it as "a profitable business, a good business."

Rao and his father sell mostly peacock and rooster feathers and most of the business is exporting them to fly tying shops around the world.

Peacock feathers are plentiful in India where it is the national bird, protected by the government. The peacock sheds its tail feathers, providing the source of most of Rao's material.

By producing flies, Rao will be making use of his own raw materials instead of exporting most of them.

And fly tying is also a profitable business. Black says his flies bring about 65 cents each on the retail market.

Rao, after only a month's practice, can turn out an expertly tied fly in just three minutes.

Rao says he will establish his factory in Katmandu, the capital of neighboring Nepal, because of India's restrictive import laws. He will need to import steel hooks from Norway and pieces of muskrat, beaver and raccoon fur from other countries.

With an anticipated annual production of 600,000 flies, Rao plans to export most of them to the United States where sportsmen are "more interested in sport fishing than anyone else in the world," Rao says.

Black will handle the marketing details in this country.

Rao says he expects the first flies from his factory to be ready next January.

-- Dr. Todd

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