Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Art of Tying & Fishing Soft-Hackle Flies ~ Chapter 1

A Brief Genesis of Fly Hooks  

In the beginning was the hook. As a starting point for this humble treatise of soft-hackle styles & method, perhaps a brief historical synopsis of the hook is close enough to serve. Because I’m fairly certain that’s where it started. Keep in mind our Neolithic ancestors, free from regular jobs & needing to eat, had few things better to do than think up clever ways to catch meat. At whatever vague point in the distant past somebody crafted a fishhook small enough, I suspect it swiftly followed that some canny fisher-gatherer, having observed large Neolithic trout eating bugs from the surface of the local river, started playing around with dressing a hook to create a fake bug.

The earliest hooks were simple gorges, a straight section of wood or bone sharpened on both ends. Curved hooks made of wood, bone, shell, thorns and cactus spines followed the gorge, early on. Evidence suggests that hooks, like a lot of things that simply make sense, developed simultaneously wherever Neolithic humans found fish.

Hooks carved from snail shells dating from around 23000 B.C. were discovered on Okinawa.

The ancient Polynesians made long sea journeys, supplying themselves with fresh fish caught on feathered lures rigged on shell or bone hooks, trolled behind their voyaging catamarans – much like modern tuna feathers.

Though there’s no description of the hook, in his journals, Northwest fur trader & cartographer David Thompson described natives catching a breakfast of small trout using a lure made from a tiny piece of softened buckskin – a chamois fly – tied to a line braided from three long horse tail hairs.    

I carved a #10 hook from a juniper crotch (as the Norwegians once did), & though fat, it was plenty small enough to tie a fly on; & I can see that a smaller, more effective version might be carved from shell or bone fairly easily – leading me to suspect that the concept of a feathered lure predates metallurgy.

The earliest metal hooks probably followed with the advent of copper smelting at the dawn of the Bronze Age. Copper fishhooks were known to the Americas prior to European incursion. The first bronze hooks we know of were found in Egypt, dating from 3000 B.C.  

Here’s a theory on the origin of steel fishhooks:

War, & the tools of warfare, have always served to further advance the technologies of humanity. And though the art & science of catching fish inspires a powerful impetus to advancement, I suspect it may have been the development of chainmail armor, traced back to 500 B.C. Persia, that provided the first iron fishhooks. Admittedly, I’ve found no evidence to support my theory, but I offer it here as it strikes me as practical enough to consider. In the production of chainmail, a length of metal wire is bent into a U-shape. When enough of these are made to form the protective halberk, they are linked together, the U pinched closed to a ring. The early metal fishhooks were simply a bent piece of wire sharpened on one end. So where is our Dark Ages angling ancestor going to procure these? My bet would be it was a visit the local armor smith – who probably had a good sideline going selling fishhooks, or wire for making fishhooks. And I wouldn’t disallow the possibility that, once the process of making wire was developed, the fishhook may have immediately followed as an obvious product, predating chainmail armor &, possibly, leading to its development. If the wire smith happened to be a fisher, it certainly may have. Whatever the case it is interesting, considering that evidence suggests the iron hook appeared at about the same time as chainmail armor.

Steel hooks were not yet in commercial production in 1486 England, when the angling Abbess, Dame Juliana Bernars, published her essay, Treatyse on Fysshynge with an Angle, in The Bake (Book) of St. Albans, one of the earliest books in print. Hooks featuring eyes for attaching line were still centuries away when Dame Juliana fished. As was necessary for most anglers of her time, she crafted her own tackle, & gives detailed instruction for the making in her ‘Treatyse’, yet I’ve little doubt she didn’t maintain at least a nodding acquaintance with the local armorer.

Dame Juliana describes twelve flies in her essay, including the Donne Fly, still in popular use today as the Partridge & Orange. So we know that some of the flies still in use in our time date back to England’s medieval period. Stream insects are still the same. And our ancestors were every bit as canny as us.    

The manufacture of barbed commercial hooks arose in Norway & the British Iles. The manufacturing towns of Limerick, Aberdeen & Carlisle lent their names to hook styles we know today. Initially, these were ‘blind’ (eye-less) hooks, available in sizes #2 to #14. If you wanted to tie smaller than #14, you simply tied smaller on the #14 hook – still a useful concept when fishing water holding large trout feeding on wee flies.

The old hooks were permanently lashed to braided horsehair leaders &, beginning about 1715, short ‘snoods’ (snells) of drawn silkworm gut. The fly is tied over the snooded, or snelled, hook. The snood (about 6” long) is attached to the leader with a loop-to-loop connection. The silkworm’s silk producing gland can be stretched to about a maximum of 30”, & at that length fairly weak, so the main length of leader was usually made of braided silk thread. Spain, with a climate suitable for silkworm raising, became the major source of drawn silkworm gut (& interestingly, we see a warming of trade relations between Spain & Britain during that era).      

The advent of eyed hooks didn’t come about until the 1830’s, when a die set developed for stamping eyes in sewing needles was applied to hook making. Perhaps to illustrate how set in our ways anglers become, the revolutionary eyed hook was slow to be generally accepted, purists, particularly Americans, insisting on using the old eyeless, snelled hooks well into the mid 1900’s.

In the early 1960’s, having already gone over to using eyed hooks & nylon leader, my grandfather gave me a small, sheepskin wallet containing a few of his old wetflies, eye-less & snooded to short gut snells, probably dating to the early 1930’s or late 1920’s. I remember there was a McGinty, a Silver Doctor, a Red Ibis & a Parmachene Belle. He didn’t see them as having particular value. To him they were just old out-dated gear, so he gave them to me to “use up” during my early excursions to the local brook. To me they were gold. But not gold to be saved. Gold to be spent. If you dunked the wallet before fishing, the wool held water to moisten & relax the stiff gut snells. Caught my first brookie on the McGinty. That was a favorite while it lasted. And the Silver Doctor killed the first rainbow.        

Tying the Turl Knot
 The earliest eyed hooks were straight-eye types, & these weren’t particularly well-received by anglers still in the habit of snelling. Turned-eye hooks, up & down, didn’t arrive on the scene until about 1879. Snelled hooks tracked well, the fly remaining aligned on a horizontal plane while fished. Flies tied on hooks with turned eyes tend to tip or roll (in some cases, screw) when fastened to the tippet by the eye & fished under tension, as in swinging or stripping. Also, when fastened by the eye, turned-eye hooks may hinge from the horizontal posture, as the tippet, with use, has the propensity to align on plane with the hook eye. As hooks with turned eyes eventually became available in a wide range of styles & sizes, they gained popularity, & the propensity to roll or hinge was overcome with the use of a turl knot, the tippet passed through the hook eye then fastened around the head behind the eye (possibly the reason for the long, conical heads we see on Leisenring’s ties, making room for a turl knot). Gut snells were in use until the advent of nylon, & the turl was seen as a logical way to achieve the positive tracking of the eyeless snood. This is not possible with a straight-eye hook, as the eye needs to be turned up or down so that the tippet may pass through the eye parallel with the hook shank, unobstructed. The turl knot was popular into the 1960’s, then began to fade from general usage as new anglers came to favor knots that are quicker & easier to tie &, I suspect, the original reason for using the turl knot began to fade in the collective memory. As the use of snells began to fade with the advent of nylon, the old straight-eye hook started to gain popularity with anglers wanting to duplicate the positive tracking attribute of the old snells, with the ease of being able to fasten the tippet to the hook eye.

I favor straight-eye hooks for most of my tying; up-eye hooks for sizes smaller than #16. This was also the preference of Jim Leisenring, Pete Hidy & Sylvester Nemes, among other great anglers whom I respect. And good results have served to ground my own preference.  

In building baits ‘form follows function’ is an abiding principle, though, taking the whole affair into consideration, form & function do coalesce when considering a hook design. We want a hook that will track well, stick & penetrate the fish’s jaw, & hold the fish throughout the battle, yet also possess a shape suggestive & appropriate to the bait we seek to imitate.

Flinty old Yankee that I am, price is also a criteria. Don’t usually buy a 10 or 25-pack of expensive hooks if I can find the same configuration in Mustad 100-packs at the same price. Guiding & supplying flies to clients requires tying a lot of flies that will live a very short life, so I generally tie on utilitarian hooks. 

The initiated have their favorites.
The hooks featured here are meant to represent the basic styles from the spectrum available, providing a reference or starting point. Because my home water hosts some large & volatile wild trout, most of my own hook choices possess mini barbs that back out doing little harm, yet aid in bringing these great trout to net so that coup may be counted. When I fish water inhabited by a lot of small fish, or where it’s required, I simply crush the barb down – & this saves me from having to buy & keep track of different hooks for duplicating the same patterns.  

                                             Modern Wetfly Hooks

                                                       Daiichi 1150
Though short-shanked with a wide gap & the overall shape lending itself to simulating the characteristic C-shape of caddis larvae, I don’t classify the 1150 as a ‘caddis’ style hook, exactly. In configuration it is, more precisely, an ‘octopus’ style hook, the same style popular with salmon/steelhead/trout bait fishers, & for good reason. The ‘octopus’ style is a faithful hooker & holder. When fishing precincts where large trout on wee flies is the game, this is a good choice for wingless patterns, #12-#18, as the short shank allows a standard #16 on a #14 hook, affording a larger working end for maximum iron to hold larger, heavier fish. The short shank of a #18 works fine for tying midges down to #22, while still allowing sensible iron for holding larger trout. The 1150 keels nicely, & the needle-sharp offset hook point makes it a consistent getter when fished on the swing. But for the tiny barb, the configuration is similar to barbless designs sold as ‘soft-hackle’ hooks.

                                                     Mustad 3366-BR
A sproat style all-purpose hook, heavy wire, with a straight eye, 1x long shank & wide hook gap. The 3366-BR is an old design with a classic configuration for soft-hackle flies & winged wets. This style is popular with North Country traditionalists who claim it tracks like the eyeless, snelled hooks of old, considering it preferable to modern down-eye styles for tying Tummel & Clyde style wets & North Country spiders. Its spacious, straight eye is easy to thread in failing light & good for rigging to dropper loops. A straight eye & wide gap ensure the hook keels smartly. In shape, it is identical to the Alec Jackson ‘Traditional’ soft-hackle hooks, at about 1/10th the cost. Mustad hooks aren't heat-treated as brittle hard as some English & Japanese brands tend to be, so the barb can be crimped without fracturing the hook point, & when crimped, the generous barb maintains a good, fish-holding hump. These are sized smaller than standard wetfly, a #10 equal to a standard #12. If I could have only one hook for tying soft-hackles & winged wets, this would be my choice. The Mustad 3366-BR is a good-looking, reliable hook at a bargain price. If you want to give your flies an old-timey look without reverting to snelled, eye-less hooks, this one is a good choice.

 Mustad R50-94840
The sproat, down-eye hook style many prefer for soft-hackle & wet flies. Though billed as a dryfly hook, it is heavy-wired by modern dryfly standards, the configuration identical to the Tiemco 2487 & Gaelic Supreme Jim Bashline wetfly hooks (at a fraction of the cost). If you like the down-eye style, the Mustad R50-94840 is a good one for the money.

                                                     Mustad 3906B
An older style wetfly sproat with a longer hook shank than the Mustad R50-94840. Good for winged wets, stoneflies & patterns requiring a bit more body length. Also good for wee flies meant to be swung in fast water, tied short on the hook shank with a lot of hook extended behind the fly body for weight. Some tie North Country spiders & Clyde style wets on these, the heavier iron fishing them deeper in the water column.

                                                       Mustad 94842
This is the up-eye sproat style James Leisenring, Pete Hidy & Sylvester Nemes favored for soft-hackle flies. Having a smaller hook to shank ratio, it is a good choice for wee flies fished in the slow clear precincts of discerning, educated trout.

                                                       Tiemco 200R
An elegant hook, similar to Spey designs. The dropped, York bend of the 3x long 200R creates a deep keel to keep the fly tracking upright while swinging. Good, fished on a loop knot. I use this hook for larger patterns, #2 to #10. This design features a fairly small hook gap for its size, so for tying smaller than #10 I prefer designs with a wider hook gap. I’ve found the 200RBL (barbless version) a less than satisfactory hooker, as the combination of long shank & short bend makes it easy for fish to shake. Yet that doesn’t seem to be a problem with the mini-barbed 200R. I like this one for tying low-water ‘spiders’, hair-wing wetflies, stonefly, dragon & damselfly nymphs, Carey Specials & leeches.

                                                         Daiichi 1120
A down-eye caddis-style hook. Some like these for tying North Country spiders; though, as a hook for soft-hackle & wet flies, my only practical use for this design is in tying heavily weighted dropper nymphs meant to sink wee soft-hackles to the lower water column. If any weight is added to the curved shank it keels over & fishes point up, a desired posture in a weighted depthcharge, making it less apt to snag obstructions on the stream bottom. For this purpose I use #8-#10, heavily weighted on the shank & dressed as a latex worm or nondescript-brown soft-hackle nymph.

Which style hooks the best? The one sporting a well-honed point.

~Steven Bird 2017

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Art of Tying & Fishing Soft-Hackle Flies ~ Prologue

“We fish for pleasure; I for mine, you for yours.”  
~James Leisenring

As often happens at the beginning of a new year, I’ve been contemplating projects for 2017. Made a few resolutions: Try to understand people better. Take better care of my teeth. Dance more. Attempt to make it up to B.C. & hike into Fortress Lake for brook trout. Sure, some may recognize those same resolutions from last year. Still committed, some things just take longer than a year to accomplish.

But those are resolutions not projects, exactly.

Took year-end stock of all the diverse material I’ve deposited here willy-nilly on SHJ. Also thinking about what I’ve omitted yet should include. Contemplating how the information might be mined, crafted & condensed to an actual book. Struggled with the idea for some time. The most daunting part of writing a book on soft-hackle flies is considering the impressive volumes of work on the subject already in print. How does one add to that great tradition while avoiding redundancy or turning the whole thing into a scandal of banality?

If I think about it too much I’ll never get started.

Though I’m finding some comfort operating under the premise that no book on soft-hackle flies is the final word, & that any book on angling or fly patterns is simply the recording of the author’s own experience, perceptions & conclusions. Just as no two fly tyers interpret a Hare’s Ear exactly the same, no two anglers interpret the game quite the same, & certainly no two writers will write the same book.

So. I’ll record my own experience, perceptions & fly patterns that have proven useful, & let the reader decide its merit. Time & usage will decide what enters tradition. Keeping in mind that real ‘tradition’ is not the accumulation of old things. Tradition is, simply, the Archive Of What Worked. And that is alive & continuing, not static. When examining the soft-hackle tradition from streamside we come to see that a time-line is merely a construct & there really is no ‘old’ or ‘new’, no East or West. More & more I’m coming to see that notions of ‘modern’ or ‘innovative’ are also ambiguous constructs at best, particularly when applied to fly designs. And each writer chronicles from a uniquely individual perspective, each, more or less, adding something useful. I assume no authority but that which has been gifted me. For whatever it’s worth.

If nothing else, The Art of Tying & Fishing Soft-Hackle Flies will be one of the first entire books on the subject (along with Neil Norman's excellent work, A Soft Hackle Pattern Book) published online & available for free. I figure the best that could happen is: a twelve year old fishing kid somewhere will read it & find something valuable in it.

Here’s to being forever twelve.

Installed an email notification in the RH column, for those who’d like to be notified when a new chapter is posted. Saving your seat.

~Steven Bird 2017     

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Winter Solstice

   Yuletide, & I’ve been trying to get this written, but my Norwegian Christmas Nut wife is going at it with pagan intensity, the baked goods are hitting the table, & I’m on it, but she has the vibe in the house so abustle the atmosphere is jangling & ding-donging to distraction.

I’m wading through.

No shortage of snow this year. A gift to all of us living in trout country. It’s a good time of year to contemplate blessings. Priceless gifts.

Columbia River men, Jack Mitchell & Jeff Cottrell. Think these guys
are fun to fish with? Look at their faces.  

And memories.  Thinking back on this past season & all the great people I had the pleasure to fish with. And all the friends I’ve met through Soft~Hackle Journal. Talented & engaged anglers who recognize & love what is truly valuable in our game. It is compatriots, & the memories they create, that enrich a life & make importance. Don’t want to forget any of you.

UC master guide, CJ Emerson sporting the latest in UC  guide wear.

So I’m on a new regime:

Greasing the Muse

Getting forgetful? Do you find yourself facing a new year with faculties not quite what they were last year? Muse leaving you dry?

Maybe it’s time to apply some lubricant.

Recent dietary research claims a breakthrough: Three tablespoons of raw coconut oil per day, taken by mouth, will serve to improve brain function and keep synapses snappy. Squirting freely. Not only that, but the same dose is said to offset or actually reverse the affects of senile dementia. That’s right, REVERSE. (Bill, Mark, Jeff, Jack… you reading?)

Coconut oil. Simple as that. Three tablespoons a day and the creative/perceptive center of your brain swings open like a barn door.


Worth a try. If nothing else your hair and skin will improve and you’ll poop better.

You’re gonna love this. Bought a gallon last week. I figure another week on the coconut oil & my keyboard should be shooting – click, click, click-click-click, clickety click – like a vaselined machine gun.

“I can’t really explain where that writing came from. I ate magical grease.” ~Steve    

We be fountains!  

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Rise of Dominionism

     Going to make America great again? Then, tell me, what is our metric of greatness? What is the gold backing America’s currency of greatness? 

Greatest people in the world? Forgive me, home team, but not really. Not according to my own experience traveling in the world. Everywhere you go, there’s everything from A to Z. Anyway, it’s silly to generalize people beyond those basic functions we all share. And, after all, the U.S. is comprised of people from everywhere in the world.  

Is it because we field the most powerful military in the world? Nah. That’s iron. Not the gold of greatness.

Is it our form of Democracy? No. I don’t think so. Our Democracy is not yet fully matured to gold. According to George Washington’s diary, the volunteers who showed up to fight at Lexington were “roughly one third native Indians, one third black negroes, & one third tavern rabble.” A fact that makes history revisionists uncomfortable. Yet the founders, unable to entirely surmount the prejudice and custom of their time, saw fit to allow only white landowners to vote in elections – all others have had to fight for that right, and against considerable opposition. And the contemporary reality is: your vote doesn’t really count, as there is the possibility that, due to glitches, it may not be counted at all, or simply overrode by the slave-state Electoral College, as we have recently experienced.

As a native son and man of the country, I’ve come to see the real gold backing America’s currency of greatness as that which was here even before America was conceived. The home land. It is the base source of all of our wealth. Our true gold is the land and water and the resources therein, which all Americans hold in common.

The natives of this continent knew that.

Confronted with an abundance of resources they’d never known in Europe, the colonial Puritans of New England conceived a distinctly American concept of commonwealth in the form of Town Commons, which were once vast acreages surrounding New England townships, upon which travelers and non-landowners were allowed to hunt, fish, camp, cut firewood and graze their animals. This concept evolved to become one of the base principles of the American Way. Our resources do not belong solely to the aristocracy or the king. We hold in common ownership the government and all of its entities, the infrastructure, the public schools, the national parks, national forests, navigable waterways up to the high water mark, and all public lands. These things are our e pluribus unum home. The real and tactile gold backing our abstract notions of greatness. Lose these things and we lose hope of living in a fertile and balanced civilization. We will become a degraded nation of poor people with no future.

There are quite a few who disagree with what I just wrote. A growing and recently emboldened alt-right group, the Dominionists, would vehemently disagree. Dominionists are white nationalists who hold that the original, pre-amended Constitution was dictated to the Founders straight from God, as sacred as The Bible. They hold that America is the chosen Dominion of God, meant only for His chosen people. They believe commonwealth or public trust lands are a communist concept, not fitting with their notion that God has made all lands within our borders available for purchase – and to be able to purchase these lands and waterways, and use them as they see fit without interference, is their birthright. They believe climate change and toxic chemical pollution are hoaxes. This is the Clive Bundy crowd. The more radical among them support America adopting Old Testament law (see: Leviticus). Though ubiquitous throughout the country, there are quite a few of these people living in the inland Northwest. I have one neighbor, moved up recently from South Carolina – built a barbed wire enclosed compound decorated with a Confederate flag and an eight by four bullet-proof steel sign admonishing: READ THE BIBLE!!, painted his pickup cammo, dresses entirely in cammo, he is angry and obviously at war – and argues straight-faced that stoning is actually a sound Conservative punishment, as it would save tax money not having to keep offenders in jail. A novel solution, I say. Ironic that these same folks backed Oklahoma legislation making it illegal to institute Sharia law, which is much closer to their own ideal than they know.             

Sound like crazy conspiracy theory? It does. Yet be aware, along with fringe, alt-right Dominionists, there are powerful men working full-time at taking public lands away, selling the idea that commonwealth property is a “communist” concept, and these resources better privatized, sold to pay off the national debt, and put into the hands of extractive “job creators”. Selling off our public lands has long been on the Republican agenda, particularly in some western states, most notably Utah, where Dominionists first attempted to wrest federal lands in the 1970’s and ‘80’s in what became known as the Sagebrush Rebellion, and then again in 2010, enacting legislation attempting to condemn public lands within the state, then again in 2012, enacting the Transfer of Public Land Act, again attempting to assume the power to “condemn” public lands within the state of Utah.  

As a result of the recent elections the rural base Dominionists have become emboldened and vocal. The wealthy party leadership, who have the most to gain, are moving to take advantage. This from Rance Priebus’s official Republican platform, calling for: “universal legislation providing a timely and orderly mechanism to convey certain federally controlled public land to the states.” They know the base dislikes the “guvmint”, so when you say “federally controlled” it sounds oppressively marshal, which serves to incite folks like my neighbor. Of course most of us know these lands belong to the people, the federal government only serving as the administrative arm of the people, if I’m remembering 5th grade Civics lessons correctly. But the platform’s wording is a way to manipulate the subtleties of language to skew the truth, make folks angry and get them to vote against their own interests. To be fair, there are a lot of reasonable hunting and fishing Republicans who don’t agree with this privatizing policy, and I hope these will take the time to make their view known to public and party leadership.    

The Dominionists hatch a two-step plan. They know they can’t accomplish it outright, so they call for ceding federal lands to the states, which they know can’t afford to administer them. Once under state control these lands may be discretely sold off cheap to the extractive “job creators” to be fracked, subdivided into gated McRanchos, or perhaps exclusive pay-to-play hunting and fishing resorts.

Where do we draw the line?  Well, where have we arrived?

Check out Facebook where photo-shopped pictures of Michelle Obama with male genitals are currently trending, meant to be proof that the president and his wife are actually both men (of course no explanation for their two children). It is while we are divided and diverted in this stinky miasma of ignorance, hate and obfuscation that our lands will be taken from us, and possibly more than that. And that’s where we’ve arrived.

Where we've arrived, avowed Dominionists, Sarah Palin and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, have both been under consideration for the Secretary of the Interior position. Some are relieved to hear the president-elect has now settled on Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Montana), who is considered slightly less radical than Palin and Rodgers, yet still very cozy with extractive interests looking for easy access to public lands.        

Time to inform ourselves and get busy.  Freedom has never been free. The price may be dear. Though some would have us believe it is, a mind-spinning number of cheap goods stacked on store shelves is not freedom. And all the material goods and all the jobs in the world will not help us once we render the health of our land, water and resources untenable. We will have no home. Agree with them or not, the Sioux, who are men, have drawn a line, and won. Let them stand as an example. If we allow our public lands to be sold away we will lose the open sky classroom of self-reliance, independence and freedom that has fostered the best traits of our national character. That gone, the next stop is nihilism and then entropy.

Make America great again.                   

Here's more:          

Saturday, October 22, 2016

EZ Mouse

     Kind of a stretch for the Soft~Hackle Journal to offer a fly meant to simulate a mammal, I admit. Take my word for it I am suitably shame-faced while writing this. But I did see that film where the Mongolian guide skinned a lemming, stuffed the skin with foam packing peanuts, & sewed the whole thing onto a hook to create a damn realistic (& great-floating) lemming fly, then used it to catch a giant taimen. Six foot long trout. Inspiring stuff. And besides that, the little mouse fly is just too cute.  

But there’s nothing cute about trout large enough to want to eat a mouse, or the way they’ll eat it, & that’s probably the real reason I flaunt the mouse pattern here. I suspect the idea of fishing a mouse as bait appeals to my dark side – the side that lurks on the bank at night, casting blind, lasciviously skating a giant fly, anticipating a savage bulge that will trouble the water & rise like an infuriated Creature from the Black Lagoon suddenly busting from the inky stream to crush the hapless mousy meat. Nothin wrong with a little excitement in the dark. Sport.

Funny thing is: that kind of nocturnal behavior often occurs on water so technical, in daylight, there is only the wisp of a chance that same fish will even sniff your #22 Trico or BWO fished on a 20-foot leader.

We generally associate hair-mouse lures with bassing or night fishing for brown trout, though big rainbows like them too (results on a secret spring creek do attest). Bull trout love them. And I suspect the imitation might work well anywhere there are sizeable trout & active mice present, regardless what species the trout. Certainly a good pattern to have in the kit. Well worth a few casts over a favorite spring creek after an evening hatch has dwindled into darkness. You never know.    

Staying versatile (The Dude abides), I’m committed to fishing the mouse next season more often than I have in the past, so’ve been playing with deer hair designs looking for a quick one. At night (when the imitation is best fished) you probably don’t need anything more than a wad of hair, & some tie just a ball of clipped deer hair for the body, but I wanted something that would fairly satisfy my aesthetic opinion on a swimming mouse profile, while easy to tie without a lot of hair packing & trimming.

EZ Mouse

Hook: #4 light wire hook

Thread: strong

Tail: a single saddle hackle – gray, light ginger or white are good

Body: deer hair – tie in about mid-shank, arranging a thick collar around the hook shank, hair tips extending slightly beyond the hook bend – tie in more deer hair, then pack & trim to mousy head shape.

Ears: probably not necessary but, to satisfy my own sense of aesthetics, I added 2, made from orange art foam (I was out of pink)

Eyes: Also probably not necessary, & mine is tied without them ~

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

In the Summer of Dying Trees

watercolor & ink ~Doris Loiseau
     Twenty miles to the west, in the higher ranges beyond the river country, a furious elephant head of smoke storms against the summer sky. The prevailing westerly wafts smoke upriver. My eyes sting and water. A yellow jacket orbits my head while I rig a new tippet at the picnic table in the yard. There’s something apocalyptic about the yellow jackets. I’ve never seen so many, never seen them so aggressive. They are dense near water, and a neighbor’s cow was stung blind trying to drink through the layer of yellow jackets covering a water trough. Hotter weather and they produce more young – and winters lately haven’t been cold enough to kill them down. Same with the tree beetles flaring the pines from yellow to brown. The woods are as dry as gunpowder.
watercolor & ink ~Doris Loiseau

The government is selling the trees to eliminate the fire hazard, the policy creating a combustible wasteland of neck-deep logging slash and exposed soil baking in full sun. The ridges beyond the river bluffs have lost their sleeping mammal profiles, the scalped tree lines abruptly broken with the obtuse mechanical angles of fire roads and clear-cut logging jobs. I backhand the circling yellow jacket and it falls stunned into my coffee.  

The radio pulls in a jazz program. The blare of a horn from the open cabin door assembles into John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. A riot of birdsong erupts from the woods beyond the yard, momentarily syncopating with Coltrane, Garrison and Tyner. I listen. The players push order to the edge of chaos, they explore that strange borderland, then agree to surrender instrumentation entirely. They chant – “...a love supreme… a love supreme…” – and the chant sounds ironic to me, both mournful and joyous at once. I watch the crippled wasp struggle against the coffee dregs.

Ariel gathers some things and puts them into her daypack. She’s going to walk down to the river with me. I’m fidgety and restless and ready to go. She knows I want to fish.

We cross the road, push through a meridian of tall grass, cross the railroad tracks, then pass through shadows under the pines, emerging into full light at the riverbank. We surprise an osprey ripping the guts out of a trout on the edge of a gravel bar. It lifts its wings and hurls itself into the sky, the trout intestine a dangling exclamation point. The sun is still heavy on the water. It’s a little too early to fish.

Ariel strays off poking along the shore, bending to pick up an odd bone from among the stones. She holds it up for me to see – “Pelvis?”

“Yup. Looks like a pelvis. Maybe an otter."

She absently performs a single provocative gyration of her hips while musing over the interesting construct, then places the bone back as she found it and meanders off down the bank looking for other secrets.

I move back toward the trees and find a spot in the shade, the end of day red sun almost touching the bristled ridge across the river. I sit, observing.

There’s the smell of smoke from the distant fire, but also the regular incense of pine pitch, hot stones, and cold water. The river smells like trout. Summer’s breaking swell accelerates with the momentum of climaxing events, human and not, yet the trout remain a fair constant, feeding with nearly perfect fidelity, at least for a short spell in the evening.

The sun passes behind the mountains, shadows reach to bridge the river, the sky turns injured pink and the undersides of mare’s tail clouds glow red. Then the river turns red and for a moment it is like a river of fire. As the sun sinks lower it cools to a river of blood.

Swift hunting spiders spring from their hiding places among the stones, assessing me as I pass from the trees to the river. They dash back to their crevices when my gaze falls on them. “Go ahead and hide, the sky is burning and the game is on,” I tell the spiders.
A banner of current unskeins from the tip of a rocky point. The seam formed at the confluence of the faster mainstream and the slower water under the point runs for about sixty feet before tailing over shallower water. Working down the length of the run quartering empty casts, I see a few sedges but not much else besides the yellow jackets hunting close over the water. It feels off. I quit casting, sit down on a stone, take a drink from the water bottle and sit watching the water. I watch for a long time.

Approaching twilight, a trout rises on the seam.

Hey, luck!…

The old grass rod delivers.

The trout, a good one, pounces the swinging fly hard enough to break the  tippet. 

The line hangs limp, weightless in the coursing vacuity. I moonwalk back from the river’s edge, the broken tippet flapping from the rod tip.

A strange gull lifts on the curly breeze, head tilted, alert for scraps, while I tie a new tippet to the leader. It looks like a gull I’ve seen down in Baja. I look over my shoulder at Ariel sitting cross-legged on a flat rock, a thin blonde Buddha, her sketchbook open across her lap, pencil poised above her knee, watching the gull. Ariel doesn’t miss much, which scares me sometimes yet comforts me too. She returns to her drawing and her hair falls from behind her ear the way I like.

The new piercing that nice trout was now sporting in its lip had been an experiment, I’d only tied two. I scan my box, pull the remaining one, tie it on, and hike upriver to check out a fresh seam.

My fly hunts down the eddy seam. The few rises are mostly beyond casting range. The water is black, hard. I cast to the stingy water while losing light.

Ariel finds me, her stuff put away in the pack. Reluctant to leave, I wind in, and then a trout rises, an easy cast from the bank. Ariel sees it too and without a word takes a resigned step aside.

Pulling line from the reel, I slink hunched into position for the cast.

The trout takes the fly on the first drift.

We raise a short ruckus along the bank, me and the trout.     

And the trout blows itself out with the effort.    

Carefully, I press the yellow and black striped fly from the corner of its jaw, and we admire the 18-inch cutthroat laid out like a newborn in the rubber net bag. It’s a boy. Big head on him, deep bronze down the flanks, and oddly shaped, fingerprint-sized black spots, the deepest black, the blackness of black dwarfs, extinguished hearts of exhausted stars constellated on the tail and rear half of its body. The orange slits under the lower jaw glow like firebrands. Gripping the trout by the tail, I hold it upright until a surge of firm energy passes into its body. I let go, the trout kicks away, the dark water absorbs its light and it is gone.

A cool breeze gusts from the river and enfolds us, clean, bending the stems of tall grass, yellow tops fat with seed. We sit together on the river stones and watch the stars appear. 

“It’s good. The fishing is good isn’t it.” Inwardly amused, matter of fact, Ariel means it as an affirmation not a question. She is linked in congress with the moons and tides of this world and her observations can usually be trusted.

The night is exquisite and the stars are very close. A saffron glow illuminates the sky behind the mountain where the full moon will rise soon. I contemplate the dark river where I see no desolation and all appears secretly well.

Everything passes. Nothing lasts.

“Yes. It is good,” I allow, finally. Early stars course down the arc of sky, the river whispers and clucks. I hear myself emit a sigh. I purse my lips and nod, hoping she is right, hoping it is so.

Steven Bird 2016

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Thread Ant

  Been fishing ant imitations a lot more this year than I have in the past, & that’s working out pretty well. Considering ants are present & available anywhere you go in trout country, spring through fall, & the fact that trout love to eat them, it doesn’t serve to overlook the wee ant as an important trout stream insect – probably, day-in, day-out, ants are the most important terrestrial to imitate.

The large #6-#8 carpenter ants that fall on my home water spring & early summer are an essential hatch in the Northwest, & I tie hackled imitations to fish for them. Yet, smaller species are falling on the stream from spring into autumn, & I’ve lately come to prefer these #14-#18 models tied hackle-less, which, I think, offers a better ant profile.

Ants struggle & sink, becoming available to trout throughout the water column. For me, the imitations work best fished wet, dead-drifted in or under the surface film.  Here’s a design that’s been working well.

Thread Ant

Hook: #14-#18 dryfly hook

Thread: black; or combinations of brown & orange UNI or other monochord

Body: thread, wound to suggest the ant shape – coat with head cement (I use Hard-As-Nails for these)

Legs: tying thread (no stiffening agent)

Wing (optional): brownish-gray CDC