fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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tying flies requires courage

There’s a mental fortitude required to sit down and whip out a couple dozen flies, knowing that too many won’t return to my fly box.

My attrition rate for dry flies is much lower than that of sub-surface flies. Dry flies have an affinity for shrubbery and tree branches but nymphing necessitates aggressiveness. As the adage goes, “If you’re not snagging bottom every once and a while, you’re not fishing deep enough.” Striking at any and all tics and twitches guarantees a strong hook-set in every stick and rock.

Depending on the stream or river, losing at least three flies a day can be expected. But this loss of sub-surface flies – and the hooking of more fish – is the only proof you’re getting nymphs deep enough.

There’s no proof that I’m saving much money tying my own flies. Materials aren’t too expensive, and except for thread and hooks, most of my materials were given to me from other fly tiers, either excess materials or those no longer used because they’ve moved on to something better. But recovery of the initial investment in a vise and the cost of hooks would require I fish more often.

It could be worse. Innumerable blogs and articles will tell you of the advantages to tying flies rather than buying them. Building durability into flies is cited as one big benefit, all it takes is more head cement (more dollars). One suggests using Kevlar thread (more dollars). Or better hooks (more dollars).

The biggest benefit to tying my own flies is the ability to create or duplicate any pattern, specifically those not available in the fly shops near home or on the road. It’s a good guess that all fly tiers have created their own variation of traditional patterns; one of mine is my “confidence” nymphs, a Red-Butt Zebra Midge. A simple pattern inspired by other, more complex, patterns more commonly used in lakes in British Columbia. But it’s often deadly on many streams on the east and west slopes of the central Sierra Nevada.

My flies won’t win a beauty contest, but it’s only the trout’s opinion that matters.

One creek where my flies fool trouts.

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a tacky fly box, almost what I need

So this week my news feed coughed up an item about a Kickstarter campaign to fund the development of newfangled Tacky Fly Boxes.

Reading the Tacky Fly Boxes vision statement it seemed to me that it’s not fly retention that’s my problem; it’s retention of the entire box. The entire box should be coated in tacky stuff.

About seven years ago I stumbled upon a stretch of river that wasn’t more than 30 minutes away from the cabin by road, but in the early trout season offered an opportunity to fish in solitude. It’s an area deep within a canyon where dogwood and pines filter the sunlight. Only occasionally is the shade is broken by shafts of light, lending an emerald-green cast to the air. The river is lined by boulders much of its length here, and stepping from rock to rock is necessary.

The excitement that comes with discovering new water was amplified by the willing rainbows. It was the kind of catching that’s so good you purposely slow down to savor each cast, hookset and fish itself. But this was my early days of fly fishing. I hadn’t yet acquired any habits or routines.

A sampling of our likely weapons of choice.

At $1 or more each, they add up.

The plan that day was to fish one river in the morning and another in the afternoon. When I arrived at the second river I reached into my vest pocket, unzipped and now empty. No fly box. It’d be a lie to say there was no panic. To those who say fly fishing really isn’t that expensive, try losing an almost full fly box. Buying a few flies at a time doesn’t seem like much; add them up and it can be tidy sum.

After only a short internal debate I headed back to the first river. It should have been a futile search. More than likely, the fly box was about five miles downstream by now.

Retracing my steps, on the last boulder, nestled in moss, was my fly box.

I’ve adopted on-the-water rituals since then. I have lost a net to some trees while hiking through thick bush. One rod’s been broken. That fly box, however, was the one lost item that made me question taking up this hobby.

I didn’t give up. It’s all been downhill ever since.


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trying to keep it simple (or, call me cheap)

A time comes in every fly fisherman’s career when it becomes clear that he (or she) has too much gear.

An outsider will recognize this long before the fly fisherman, but it seems that at some point, the vast majority of fly fisherman will eventually talk about simplifying. This may mean using a lanyard instead of a vest, carrying a single fly box instead of three, or taking up tenkara, which itself requires the purchase of more gear.

There’s an irony to the oft-told story of the boy who started fishing with cane rod, then grew into the fly fisherman who owns a small-brook rod, a small-river rod, a medium-river rod, a large-river rod, single- and double-handed salmon/steelhead rods, a stillwater rod and maybe a saltwater rod. And a few spare rods just in case. Each rod, of course, needs a matching reel. While there is legitimate need for a range of rods, this same fly fisherman will fondly recall the remarkable enjoyment, and simplicity, of chasing bluegill, bass, trout or some other fish with that cane rod of their childhood.

It’s been posited that a fly fisherman moves through four stages in how he approaches the sport, and the same might be true of gear:

  1. The first stage entails learning to cast with a rod that was passed down as a gift or was simply inexpensive enough to warrant an attempt at fly fishing. The first fish caught on this rod will likely be remembered forever. A fly box — probably a small, free one from the fly shop — and forceps fit into any available pocket. A broken branch serves as a wading staff.
  2. Stage two entails replacement of that first rod and reel with counterparts that are shiny and new, both of which are more of a personal choice, and not a choice necessarily predicated on budget. Then there’s the vest; two, three or five more fly boxes and the flies to fill them; a decent mesh net; a wading staff; and maybe waders and felt-sole wading boots.
  3. It all peaks in the third stage. A preference for a specific brand means new rods, new reels (with back ups for both) and new lines for every type of water fished or species chased. The vest may be replaced with a chest or sling pack. A rubber net is a must have, as is a lightweight, high-strength composite alloy collapsible wading staff. New rubber-soled wading boots include carbide cleats. A multitude of flies are purchased or tied, and if tied, enough materials to last three lifetimes must be bought.
  4. The stage of simplification. It’s not so much about catching fish anymore, it’s the act — the gear is secondary. Maybe an attempt to recapture the pure joy of that first fly rod-caught fish, or perhaps avoiding hauling so much stuff around the river. Perhaps the rod is one built at home…not perfect but nice looking enough, and mated to a reel chosen for no other reason than it’s a favorite. The single fly box may not be filled, but it has every fly that’ll be needed.

If the level of a fly fisherman is measured by his gear, I’m still an amateur. Coming into the hobby later in life hasn’t afforded me the years that many spend accumulating equipment.

I did, however, purchase a new net at the club auction this week, for many reasons. Sure, it’s lighter than my current net and more “appropriately sized” for the trout I land. Crafted by a club member who’s also a skilled woodworker (so, made in America), it’s one of a limited set with the club logo (in enamel and metal) worked into the handle, and my winning bid will go into the pool of money the club donates to many conservation organizations.

Fly fishing is not stuff, it’s what you do. (And it really shouldn’t matter what you use to do it.)

Net Detail

Close up of the enamel badge...


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it boils down to confidence in the little things

If you’re looking to build self-confidence and have taken up fly fishing, there is no shortage of instructional books, DVDs, websites and podcasts. Some folks will proclaim that things like more expensive better rods, a specific brand of fly line and the one killer fly will be the keys to a better fly fishing experience. But the best thing any angler can do is to just keep casting; confidence comes with learning to do things on your own.

Building this necessary confidence took me a while. Those who’ve seen my fishing — specifically my casting — might agree that blind confidence is a much bigger part of the equation than skill.

In casting, confidence requires first believing that you won’t piece a body part and, second, that you’ll get the fly where it needs to go.

When it comes to flies, there’s a prevalent theory that anglers gravitate toward certain flies — and hook most fish with them — because they have confidence in those flies. Confidence or lack thereof can also apply to the landing of or losing those hooked fish. My “confidence flies” are the Zebra Midge, AP Nymph and something like a Copper Chromie, but with red thread and silver wire.

Confidence in flies can be challenged again when you tie your own. The flies that work, the ones in which an angler has the most confidence, will be the ones tied most often. That certainly applies to my tying. (See the list above.)

My confidence was called into question this year, once again, when I hooked that first fish on the rod I built during the winter. My confidence grew with each fish coaxed to the net.

Soon I’ll be testing the limits of that confidence. I’ll be working with knotted leaders.

Yeah, old school stuff. There are folks who eschew modern loop-to-loop connections and extruded knotless leaders and swear by knotted leaders. In my case, I’ll be duplicating a time-tested formula used for stillwater nymphing (3 feet of 1X, 3 feet of 3X and 7 to 10-plus feet of 5X to the depth fished).

It’s my knot-tying ability that’ll be tested…in a lake where 18-inch rainbow, brown or cutthroat trout aren’t uncommon, and often one might get into a 24 incher. It doesn’t help that I have an inherent mistrust of tippet. The formula works; at least when tied by guides I’ve hired.

This time I’ll be me tying the knots, and I’d daresay that any fish I land will be well deserved.


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what we see (2011-08-04)

  • “There’s a great future in plastics.” Maybe not: Researchers find plastic in more than 9% of fish in northern Pacific. http://ow.ly/5TyRs #
  • Supporters of open-water aquaculture take note: 117,500 triploid rainbow trout escape net pen on the Columbia River. http://ow.ly/5Tyy0 #
  • Love the name of the “Shark Taco Hopper” fly, but sure does look like cotton candy for trout. http://ow.ly/5TxrS #
  • A few senators too worried about the eating of genetically engineered salmon as to miss the larger environmental picture. http://ow.ly/5TxeD #


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summer sickness (and justification for a dark man cave)

Take it from me; teaching kids to share will come around to bite you in the arse.

Thanks to this lesson — perhaps too well learned? — I was sick this last week. (That’s an optimistic “was.” I’m not quite out of the woods, yet.) I’d never heard a death rattle before and I’m not so certain that I didn’t this week.

Stooping over a fly-tying vise would only exacerbate the wheezing, so that was out of the question. I got what work done that I could then filled the days with reading, sniffles, television, coughing, and video games peppered with vacant stares into space. It’s been 10-plus years since I’ve suffered through a summer cold and this go-around has got me thinking that there’s a need for a well-stocked man cave/fly tying room into which I can draw the curtains and sink into darkness until my physical and mental outlook brightens.

With all that time on my hands, you’d think I could’ve devoted time to writing a long and winding piece full of interesting or entertaining words. The desire was there. The mind wasn’t. Like most marauding viruses, this one mysteriously turns one’s thoughts inward, alternately focusing on the suffering and possible relief, with the question “Why me?” creeping forward once and a while.

And slowly I began to detest the technology that allowed me to remain recumbent with the whole of the World Wide Web and all of its blogs in my hands.

Negative thoughts weren’t helped by learning that The Unaccomplished Angler’s apparently less unaccomplished son Schpanky not only gets paid when work is slow at the Carnation Golf Course, he can whip out a rod and pull some beastly bass out of the course ponds. Many young adults entirely dismiss their fathers’ advice, but there’s something almost acceptable about doing so to fish on company time.

The Trout Underground threw up seven posts in five days, reminding the rest of us that the self-employed can ignore work sneak away whenever they want, whether to Maine via Bass Pro or small streams so crazily beautiful they earn a triple-X rating. Over at Singlebarbed.com we’re told that there may be no stopping invasive species, so the gov’nment might as well contract with Gorton’s to make ‘em edible. Reinforcing the idea that I’m slacker, even a writing prompt from the always prolific Outdoor Blogger Network couldn’t get my mind in gear. At least I could get away virtually for a while, living vicariously through Owl Jones journey out west… And it was nice to see Mark at Northern California Trout, who fishes some familiar foothill waters, back in the saddle after futilely thinking he could walk away from this whole addiction blogging thing.

There were rewards found in having a lack of mental focus too much time on my hands. I stumbled across a fun blog written by a female fish cop who entertains with tales of life as a mom, outdoor lover and state game warden at Fish-Cop Out of Water, especially things you don’t want to hear. From there it was on to discover Mysteries Internal, with its lyrical writing about fly fishing, fixing up a home and discovery.

It wasn’t a pleasant week. But, thankfully, no fishing trips were cancelled due to this illness.


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the slow lesson of fly fishing

Fly Fishing Trip Goals: Fish New Water(s), Fish for New Species/Strains of Trout,
Drink New Beer(s), Repeat. Note: Do so slowly, with great deliberation.

It’s not casting, presentation or fly selection; it’s a deliberate and slower pace that offers the best chance of success in fly fishing.

This isn’t a new or unfamiliar idea. My first appreciation of a slower approach was the pace at which I entered any water, familiar or unfamiliar. Slowing down to take the time to make a few observations. To watch the sun rise. To look for that one rising trout. To take time to fish that small seam a few feet out from the bank.

[singlepic id=1088 w=275 h=368 float=center]The decision to try my hand at tying flies required a slow, methodical approach as I learned techniques and how materials responded to the tying process. I’m not a production tyer, and probably think more what I’m doing when tying than I should. That’s okay; a lot of that thinking is about the fish I expect or hope to fool with that fly; or memories of already having done so.

Rod building again necessitates slowing down. Wrapping thread seems simple, and it is. Wrapping thread well isn’t. Five-minute epoxy is the fastest part of the process. Laying down multiple coats is not.

More experienced fly fisherman might wonder why it took so long for me to come to this conclusion. In my defense, there were trout to fool and success was measured by body count.

Two weeks ago, while setting aside the desire to get on higher-elevation trout water as soon as legally possible, it dawned on me that the fish would still be there even if my arrival was delayed a day or two. Like dominoes falling, decisions were then made to purposely plan a slower pace.

It’s a huge thing to slow down in today’s world. To take a slow, long look at that wild trout. And, when the sunlight’s too dim to fish, to slowly relish the day’s adventures, seasoned with good food and, if you’re lucky, a good beer.

It’s all worth savoring.

To be certain, we lugged along a few new brews to the cabin during our Opening Day trip, but didn’t pass up the opportunity to try something from the tap during dinner at The Rock.

Told by the waitress that customers had complained that New Belgium’s Ranger IPA was too hoppy, Sean naturally went ahead and ordered it. Apparently those customers have sensitive palates. I’m not a huge fan of too much hoppiness on the back end, but even I found the Ranger rather mild. So did Sean.

Though not an extreme beer snob, I favor trying local suds, and opted to try Snowshoe’s Grizzly Brown Ale. (And, honestly, I felt an obligation to try the Grizzly as research. The Snowshoe brewery is an hour away from the cabin and will be on the itinerary during my brother’s visit next month.) I’ve grown increasingly fond of a well-done brown ale. The Grizzly didn’t disappoint, and it seemed that Sean might have wished he’d chosen it. It’s certainly dark in color, but semi creamy and not heavy as might be expected. A nice toasty maltiness gives way to a light hop finish.

Certainly a great way to finish a day of fly fishing.