Thursday, January 28, 2016


I have this problem.

    As a “monetarily-challenged” undergraduate who sees no option but to lead a lifestyle tempted by fly rods, flies, fish, and travel; whose desk has seen more flies come to life than words written; and whose mind chronically comes to rest on a trout stream (if ever it can be truly captured and imposed on an academic task), I have, like so many before me, come to travel the “resourceful” road. For fuel for tying the flies that keep me in business, I have excitedly scavenged in chicken coops and turkey dust bowls, perused the trash cans of bird-cleaning sheds, spent way too much time examining the subtleties of nail polish, claimed parts of long-expired furred and feathered animals for my own, and gazed at grizzly hackles woven into my female classmates’ hair with jealousy and contempt. Though there are no official testaments to my sanity, similarly outlying actions observed within a member of another species might easily be interpreted as rabies-induced confusion.

Photo by Matt Reilly.
    Likewise, anyone who cruises the drug store’s cosmetic aisle in mud- and fish slime-stiffened garb seeking inspiration on a late-summer night, who derives addictive, blissful, supremely-fulfilling wonder through the process of engineering combinations of animal parts, fixating them on a hook, and feeding them to fish, is both someone generally too far gone by societal standards, and someone of the type I call friend.

    The consequences of my own affliction I’ve long come to terms with. However, it still hurts me to see the characters of those who care for me compromised by my addiction.

    Fellow anglers commonly come to rest their eyes on my dorm room’s thread collection, prompting the inquiry, “You sew?” After scaring them by countering that I “sew dreams of fish,” should they remain interested in my obsessive art, I lay before them the reality of it. Sparing them the empty promise of saving money, I detail fly tying as the other half of fly fishing, more fun and versatile than fishing store-bought flies, an inventive haunting of my favored streambeds in my absence. If they remain unfazed, I welcome them to a new world, and they come to terms by doing.

    Then, seeing my preoccupation with this activity, there are those friends and family members who do not tie flies, but wish to come to terms by giving. Faced with a massively diversified lexicon of materials lists, they arrive at the (altogether not untrue) conclusion that anything can be used to tie flies. This conclusion has led to their generous deliverance of clumps of human hair, synthetic stuffing from various household items, mounds of cat and dog fur, vacuum cleaner lint, plastic wrappings, packing foams, drink mix containers, and dead birds—and my subsequent reflection upon what this says about me as an individual.

    One particular afternoon, I received a call from a friend from home, as I was away at school. She had just found a dead (for quite a while) woodpecker—a northern flicker—with beautiful feathers. Did I want it for fly tying?

    I knew from similar past offerings from others that the fine breast feathers from a male flicker make wonderful wet fly hackles. I further reflected on the apparent gullibility of the species, as I had been offered more flickers than any other federally-protected bird. Nevertheless, conforming to societal norms, I respectfully declined.

    A few days later, I returned the call. Screw “societal norms,” free hackle in bulk is hard to come by and I bet a day’s worth of meal swipes at the cafĂ© that a “Flicker and Yellow” would make for a damn fine fly on the South Holston. I’ll take it. I apologized for dragging her into this pursuit, and said goodbye, assuming I’d collect the goods upon returning home.

    To avoid unnecessary incrimination, I’ll avoid mentioning the means of transference. For, much to my surprise, the end of the week found me suspiciously weighing a Christmas-wrapped shirt box, markedly light as a feather.

    A wake of World Wildlife Fund wrapping paper and festively colored tissue paper is all there is to account for the creation of a handful of Flicker and Yellows waiting to be swung in “Browntown,” thanks to friends bearing (dead) gifts.□

*Originally published in The Rural Virginian, rewritten from Hatch Magazine

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