The Long Saga Colorado Coq De Leon
By Dr. Tom Whiting
One of the more fortunate opportunities for Whiting Farms was the acquisition of some Coq de Leon stock from Spain in the early 1990s. This genetic line has turned out to be one of the most multi- faceted of all the fly tying product lines, with new facets yet to come. But it has been a long and considerable effort, with its own set of twists and turns. So here is the story of the Colorado Coq de Leon, some background on the original chickens in Spain, what changes have been made, and where this unique line of fly tying birds could be going in the future.
WHY COQ DE LEON?
In studying about fly tying feathers in my early years of this endeavor, i.e., 1987 through 1995, I encountered quite a few references to the Coq de Leon feathers and chickens from Spain. What I learned was the stock was only in Spain. I also learned that it wasn’t really a specific breed, but lines of chickens, more akin to fighting cock or race horse lines than breeds, that possessed these unique feathers.
Many recitations on the Coq de Leon cited an extant parchment document from 1624 that ascribes this “race” of chickens “LOS GALLOS LEONESES” to this region, and only this region of Spain, the province of Leon in the northwest corner of the country. So apparently these chickens have been in existence over 400 years, making them the oldest known line of chickens specifically bred for tying flies for fishing!
OBTAINING THE COQ DE LEON
Sometime in the early 1990’s Whiting Farms took on a new customer, The Fly Hatchery out of Forest Hills, New York. This wasn’t an actual fly fishing shop, but rather an individual working out of their home selling fly fishing products and mostly tying materials. This individual, Bernard Otalora, was instrumental in educating me about and sourcing for me the Coq de Leon stock. Bernard is actually from France and is trilingual, speaking French, of course, but also English and Spanish, as his wife’s family came from Spain. By profession, Bernard was and still is a physical education teacher at a private international high school in the New York City area. But his real passion was always fly tying.
I didn’t finally meet him for years, but we had moderately frequent evening phone conversations in the early 1990s. Bernard had traveled in his younger years in Spain and seen these special chickens, and grew to know quite a lot about them. I was interested in obtaining some of these Coq de Leon chickens, as an obviously desirable additional offering for the fledgling Whiting Farms. So Bernard, incredibly, offered to go to Spain himself and try to get some for me. It also helped that his wife was an international travel agent. Bernard went and did this on his own initiative!