Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Tie Flies with Confidence/Everyone's a Critic

    “That’ll fool any self-respecting trout.” The sentiment was repeated often by my proud father at the sight of the early turnouts from my fly-tying bench—at that time, a length of 1x6 plank screwed to a4x4 block, caught on the edge by a rusty vise.  My supplies were relatively aged, non-traditional, and hardly organized; and their clippings precipitated about my bedroom as the ash erupting from a fiery ambition.  However, I held doubts about my flies’ fish-catching potential, and with good reason.  My renderings were hardly representative of the professionally-tied species I had fished, which dampened my confidence in them.            
    The same words were repeated to my brother several years later when I took him to a tying seminar at a local fly shop.  The featured pattern was a Bugger-style streamer.  Upon completion of a pair of peach-colored specimens, a shop employee remarked, “It’ll fish.”  My brother, as I had, took this as a slight aimed at a novice’s first hand-tied fly.
    Nevertheless, he kept tying the pattern, but, as I had promised to take him pickerel fishing when the warming water triggered their spawn, followed my suggestion and switched to a pearl-colored variation.
My birthday arrived, and, in a box of other fishy gifts, he tossed one of his Crystal Buggers as an afterthought, with the disclaimer that “it may not catch fish.”  Still, it was a fine fly, and deserved no disclaimer.

Photo by Matt Reilly
    Besides, it’s an art!  Everyone may be a critic, but the only ones that matter are scaled, slimy, and indiscriminate, and reward generously for acceptable pieces.  This was one such.

    February was still in existence, and snow and sleet were still regular occurrences on cold days.  It was, indeed, a cold day that I decided to pack up and head to a local pond.  My brother’s fly was one-of-a-kind in my pack, but not an unlikely candidate for the day’s fishing; so I resolved to tie it on first.
    The fly that fooled my first fish taken on a self-tied fly was tied with a year’s experience.  It was early June, and the summer heat had made itself evident enough to trigger the hatches of sulfur mayflies in the mountain streams but not quite so much as to whisk away the water where they lay their eggs.  The fly I tailored for the occasion was an Elk Hair Caddis—yellow to match the hatch--, and the trout I caught gave me a feeling incomparable to any I’ve felt since.
    The fly that was now tied to my tippet was much more “primitive” on the timeline of the fly-tying learning curve, but I was confident in its ability.
    My first casts were to submerged grassbeds where I knew the pickerel to lurk.  The water was cold, 44-degrees (the spawn occurs around 50-degrees); and with a cold front blowing over, I recognized how slow the action would be.  Doubt flashed across my mind.
    Speed of retrieve is a fine point in fishing artificial lures.  The more time you allow your quarry to inspect your offering, the more likely he is to reject it.  Therefore, theoretically, flies that trigger biological reactions, such my baitfish imitation, as opposed to reaction flies aimed at the quarry’s curiosity and temper, must be of superior quality than those fished in moving water.  Fish in rivers hunt with quick decision-making skills from eddies and slack water, and have only an instant to evaluate the legitimacy of a potential meal.  Finding the perfect balance between slow and fast—slow enough to will the fish to chase, and fast enough to limit his observation—will bring more fish.
    The next grassbed was deeper.  After letting the fly sink to rest on the submerged mat, I began a retrieve—quick and erratic, with long, sinking pauses between.
    On my second cast to the bed, as the fly reached the edge, my fly line jumped forward, and I set the hook on a fish.  A small, lethargic pickerel emerged from the grass-stained water. 
Photo by Matt Reilly
    Perhaps it is the feeling of surmounting a self-depreciating doubt that results in the pride of taking a fish on a self-tied fly--when a fish assures the enterprising angler that his craft is, after all, adequate.
    So I took this fish, appreciatively, but as an expected guest from the dreary pond; for I had come with the confidence of knowing I could justify the fly I had been given, and prove that even a beginner’s fly has fish-catching worth—that one doesn’t need a degree in art to tie a fly that will fool a fish with a degree in evasion.  It is true that lures of confidence are the most productive, so tie it in at the core, under hackle and hair, and above all, have faith.  

*First published in The Rural Virginian

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