Sunday, March 22, 2020

Soft~Hackle Journal March / April

                                                       Isolation Diary

Running a bit late getting this issue of SHJ out. Lots of excuses, not the least, a week on the road dodging rest areas, motels & restaurants in an effort to avoid the C virus while getting home from wintering in Cali. Not down to hoarding toilet paper, just taking common sense precautions where possible. 

Hope you all are keeping well.

Got through the border on the last day it was open, gone up to see Bruce Kruk & gather some gear I left with him last fall. With the border closed I’m going to miss fishing with Canadian friends & bummed about that. Friends on the U.S. side, hunkered down, aren’t coming around. Only a few cars on the river road all day with nobody going through the border.

Heedless, the birds are going on about their business, the recently arrived robins working the russet ground between patches of lingering snow. The first swallows showed today, always landing just this side of the equinox. If they returned next year to find us gone, all of us, would they give it a thought? We haven’t been easy to live with…

Social distancing? An excursion down an inviting race or tailout. Isolation is exquisite next to a river; the sound of water over stones like a thousand hands clapping in a hall forever lonesome.

Good to be back out on the home water. The trout are still there, though not giving themselves up easy. That’s okay. They are worth waiting for. They know no allegiances or patriotism or borders, quietly suffering catastrophe without much help & very little mercy, yet they persist. But they do exact a tax, & the taxing is energetic.

The river is low, in perfect shape for swinging. Hiking in over the dry riverbed I found a skwala stonefly sunning on a stone, a healthy #7, so I started with a suitable pattern & swung it down a quarter-mile run for nothing.

So I changed flies, switching to a #2 Red Demon. Pre-spawn rainbows like red.

And that did turn the trick on a fine, colored-up UC tanker (a ‘tanker’ is a trout of 24’ or better).

I went out late, seems like our trout bite best in the late afternoon this time of year, when the water has warmed to the highest temp of the day. The second trout came as the sun touched the ridges, not quite a tanker, though a strong & determined misbehaver just the same, & elegantly dressed for the party.  


                                                    The Reel News



                                               At the Tying Bench

                                                    Seeing Red

It’s a fact that pre-spawn rainbows are fond of the color red – & the same is true of cutthroat, brook, brown trout & landlocked salmon. What is pre-spawn? Inland trout generally have a two-month spawning period, rainbow & cutthroat in the Spring, & brookies & browns in the Fall. I consider the pre-spawn to begin a month prior to initial spawning, when trout are coloring-up in anticipation of the mating rituals to come. Red is the color of passion, & passion is beginning to bloom in trout minds during the pre-spawn. Not having hands to hold onto attractive red things, they use their mouths. 

Red Spot Spider ~ hook: #6-#8 ~ thread: pink ~ hackle: furnace hen ~ rib: red wire ~ body: pink floss with thorax of pink dubbing topped with red wool yarn 

Spruce Variant ~ hook: #4-#8 ~ thread: black ~ hackle: brahma hen ~ body: red tinsel with copper tip & thorax of peacock herl ~ tailing: gpt tied in behind the thorax ~ winging: dyed yellow squirrel

Swing Clown ~ hook: #4-#8 ~ thread: wine ~ tailing: peacock swords & red hackle fibers ~ rib: red wire ~ palmer: red saddle ~ body: copper tinsel ~ half-wing: gpt ~ rear collar: red guinea ~ front collar: black hen

Red Ass Variant ~ hook: #6-#10 ~ thread: wine ~ hackle: partridge ~ tailing: red yarn ~ rib: red wire ~ body: red tinsel with thorax of peacock herl
Royal Dee ~ hook: #2-#8 ~ thread: brown ~ tailing: golden pheasant crest ~ butt: peacock herl ~ butt collar: gpt wound as a collar ~ body: peacock herl with a girdle of red tinsel ~ hackle: red-brown hen ~ wings: white goose slips

Mickey Finn ~ hook: #2-#6 ~ thread: black ~ tag: red tinsel ~ rib: silver wire ~ body: silver tinsel ~ winging: yellow/red/yellow bucktail ~ jungle cock cheeks

Black/Red Spider ~ hook: #6-#10 ~ thread: black ~ hackle: red guinea hen ~ tailing: gpt dyed with red marker ~ rib: red wire ~ body: black rabbit with a thorax of 50/50 black rabbit & red seal

Ounaniche ~ hook: #6-#10 ~ thread: wine ~ hackle: red guinea hen ~ tailing: barred waterfowl flank dyed with red marker ~ rib: gold wire ~ body: claret dubbing with a thorax of hares mask

Kruk's Ducati ~ hook: #2-#4 ~ thread: black ~ tailing: gpt ~ rib: oval silver ~ body: red/black seal ~ palmer: black spey hackle ~ collar: guinea hen, sparse ~ wings: red goose slips

Spawn Sack ~ hook: #8 ~ thread: pink ~ body: red tinsel ~ toppings: red egg yarn/orange SST/red flash ~ hackle: white hen touched with pink marker

Red Demon ~ hook: #2-#4 ~ thread: brown ~ tailing: red gpt ~ rib: silver wire ~ butt collar: burnt-orange grizzly ~ body: red tinsel with thorax of Hareline UV Shrimp Pink dubbing ~ hackle: red/brown pheasant rump/blonde pheasant rump/pheasant church window/head of philoplume from the back of the church window

              A Spring Tale of Continuity, of Sorts

                              The Temptation of Lilith

I suppose you could say the kid’s fishing pole is a bad idea. A Snoopy pole – picture of Charlie Brown and Snoopy on the package, fishing. I don’t know. It might not be that great of an idea for a gift. Even if there is a kid, it would only be three years old and no three year old can operate a Snoopy pole, not without help anyway. But there’s really nothing I can provide, realistically, so I guess the gift is just my way of being a dad, if by chance I am a dad, and a way to show my appreciation on the anniversary of our meeting.  

I didn’t get her name. Not sure she had a name, she never spoke.  Not in the way most of us speak. Yet no denying she was a master of body language able to get her point across. I call her Lilith. 

Winter had recently gone from the low country along the river; the newly exposed mast beneath the pines still snow-damp. Runoff hadn’t begun, the major portion of snow still holding on the high country, so the river was low and in good shape to fish. It’d been warm the past few days, triggering a hatch of grannom sedges. Really felt like spring. That day it seemed like the whole world was hopping to a swinging rhythm. It was palpable along the river where the critters make the first big showing at getting down to the procreation business. Sedges flying around hooked together. Love was in the air alright. Such a sweet day I couldn’t quit hiking and ended up four or five miles upstream of the trailhead before starting to fish. Wild, lonesome, it felt good to be in the back country.

I sing when I feel good and don’t think there’s anyone around to hear, and I sang out loud: “Do not for-sake meee O0o0ooh my daarrrlin…. Oh don’t e-verrr let me gO000o …”  Hey. Nobody around to be offended. Right?

The fishing was good, but, weird, after awhile I started to get the feeling I was being watched. I chalked it up to the energetic nature of the day working senses that’d been shut in the cabin most of a long winter and now a bit overwhelmed by Mother Nature’s unfolding charms. I concentrated on casting the wee soft-hackle and minding the drift.

Like I said, the fishing was good. Leaning over the water releasing a nice cutthroat, I caught a flash of movement in the brush.

I stood still, scanning the woods.

There – a patch of auburn showing through a break of scrub cedars. Fur. A big animal, I was sure. Then, higher, another patch of fur showing through the greenery. It jiggled.

No. It wasn’t an elk. An elk would make a mad dash out of there with a nose full of human at this range, I reasoned. A bear. Had to be a bear. Okay no big deal, outfitting, I encounter them all the time. Not grizzlies. Black bears. Unlike grizzly bears, black bears are fairly shy and will avoid you if you respect their space, usually. The jiggling color patch was a concern. I estimated it to be about seven feet above the ground, which meant the critter it belonged to was taller than any standing black bear. I figured: yup, shit, a
grizzly, and a big one, stalking me, standing over there behind that bush inhaling my scent and licking its teeth.

“HEY YAH YEEAH!” I made a two step false charge toward it waving the flyrod over my head.

I held my breath. Thought I saw it move. But my yelling and stomping hadn’t come close to producing the affect I wanted, which was to get it to flush and run. At this point the smart thing to do would’ve been to ease back out of there, but I’d already thrown down a territorial challenge, so I figured the stalking bear might interpret my retreat as a sign of weakness, inspiring it to more aggressive stalking. While I swirled in the conundrum, the cedars quivered and out into full view stepped Lilith.

She was fully eight feet tall, and not thirty feet away, looking at me.

My mind couldn’t allow it. No. This was a thing that did not fit my reality frame. I turned my head and looked toward the stream, considered making another cast and just carrying on with the fishing, then looked back to see her still standing by the cedars.

Obviously female. She stood straight, not bent forward like an ape. Other than being eight feet tall and entirely covered with red fur except for her pink face, she looked human. Well, closely related to human. A ‘kissing cousin’, forgive the pun. The gold, almond shaped eyes possessed a considered intelligence and, something else I couldn’t immediately read. The mouth was straight and broad, showing just a hint of lips spread across the slight protrusion of a muzzle – not much of a muzzle – but a muzzle, no getting around it and… not altogether unattractive. Her breasts weren’t the shoe-sole breasts of an ape, but round, glorious basketballs capped with distended pomegranates. Her head was crowned with a maelstrom of red hair, a shade redder than the auburn tone of her fur, matted to dreadlocks, looping to below her waist. She was striking. Magnificent, really.                      

I was in shock and off guard when she rushed me – 

Stupidly, I tried to fend her off with the antique Granger, and even though the stick was imbued with the mojo of a hundred rivers and easily worth a thousand dollars, it proved useless, a limp reed disintegrating to splinters against Lilith’s swift charge. She snatched me up, tucked me under her arm like a football and ran upstream covering impossible lengths of ground in a stride. I kicked and flailed like a crazy man – which served to bring rib-breaking pressure from the giant arm, forcing me to stop. Caught, crushed, terrorized, I flopped and dangled like a half-dead carp fated for the canning jar. Hooking up a spur canyon she proceeded uphill never breaking stride.

This was a bad dream and I couldn’t wake up. I pissed my waders.

Lilith stopped at a rock overhang near the top of the ridge.  A bower of cedar branches arranged like a large nest had been laid on a level spot beneath the overhang. She dropped me into the center of the nest then scrambled back to study me, the prize.  
I didn’t move.

She squatted there for a long time, watching me.

I observed her while carefully avoiding direct eye contact. Something in her attitude convinced me that she didn’t plan to kill me. If that’d been her intent she could have easily done it by the creek. Still…

Then, slow, deliberate, never taking her eyes off me, she rose to full height, stretched her arms to the sky and put her palms together. She smiled. I think. I interpreted the expression to be a smile. Then she swept her arms out to the sides, each hand assuming a strange, delicate mudra, and she began to dance, graceful as any hula girl, her hands like bird wings opening and closing, shifting through a series of mysterious poses. Something about her… she was entrancing, magnetic. I couldn’t look away. She was seducing me. I’m not completely thick, I know when I’m being seduced. The notion was terrifying, yet, the urge to jump up and run was dissolving, somehow.   

Then a thought struck me and I tensed, imagining a ten foot tall jealous buck sasquatch busting from the bushes in full-cry fury, grabbing me between his thumb and forefinger and pulling off my arms and legs and all the other grippable appendages, easy as plucking petals from a daisy – he loves me… he loves me not… then pinching my head off.  Any sparking aspiration to romance I might have been entertaining, maybe somewhere in some secret backroom of my mind, was iced.

Lilith began to sing as she danced, a song without words, melodic inhalations and exhalations of breath and rhythmic sighs punctuated with low whistles: “Hih hih hih sweeeeeee,”  – all the while her eyes pinning me.

I tend to reason in phases. First, the reactive, presumptuous monkey-mind phase: I was past that one. I figured she wasn’t going to kill me, at least not right away.

Then the pragmatic phase: I reasoned that the beguiling Lilith was under the influence of her biological clock, ‘in season’, if you will, and there was no male sasquatch available in the territory, so I was to be That Guy.

That, leading to some considerations regarding taxonomic boundaries, transitioning me to the meeting house filled with severe Puritan ancestors who stood me on the precarious fulcrum between a sense of Darwinian duty, rooted in the pragmatic phase, and a moral dilemma, which always precedes the final phase: In which I transcend reason and surrender to The Flow.

Lilith ceased her song, stopped dancing and stood giving me the soulful eye.  Then she stepped to the bower demure as a maiden, turned her back to me and sank to her knees on the cedar bed, her twin haystack bottom looming inches from my face. She smelled like a honey-glazed baked ham. The pink yin-yang between her legs blossomed to a chaotic rose before my eyes. This girl was good to go no doubt about it.

My call. I possessed the key to my own salvation. My only hope was to place it into the slot and do my level best. And I did need to get out of those wet waders…    

There’s no good reason to relate the intimate details. I’ve probably divulged too much already. For those dying of curiosity, I offer that it is an actual fact, the higher primates really do practice every type of pleasuring enjoyed by folks. We shared the granola bars from my fishing vest. I was secretly proud when the energetic Lilith, at the end of my second day of captivity, succumbed to sleep. That’s when I made the getaway.             

I hike in every year on the anniversary. This year I’m bringing the Snoopy pole and the usual bags of frozen berries and granola bars. I know she likes granola bars. I’ll leave the stuff at the old bower under the ledge. Never seen any sign of her since that time.

Love?  Well. You feel something.  

Soft~Hackle Journal is art & information brought to you through the generosity of its donor supporters.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Soft~Hackle Journal January / February 2020

Summer River ~ Watercolor by Doris Loiseau

     Hope everybody is wintering well & not struggling too badly with now-unraveling resolutions made on new year's eve. Resolving to be in the moment, I didn't make any this year.

The procession of winter storms has kept me off the water, so nothing to report there. 

Doris drew contributor's names out of the hat & those of you who won stuff have been contacted. All who contributed to SHJ in 2019 will receive quality, signed prints of 'Summer River', a watercolor by Doris Loiseau that appears in my book, 'Upper Columbia Flyfisher'. If you have donated to SHJ & don't receive a print within a few weeks, contact me & I'll get one out to you. Thanks to all of you who've donated. You make it possible to keep this little niche of the angling world up & running, free of ads. Soft~Hackle Journal represents a unique form of engagement principle journalism. Rather than special interests paying for content or me beholding to them for a job, SHJ operates sort of like an honor vegetable stand with a can you put whatever you want into. At the end of the year we draw contributor's names from a hat & names drawn receive any booty donated to SHJ over the year. And everybody receives something. What comes around, goes around. Possibly a world-saving economic model in this.

Note to new writers: If you are a new writer with aspirations to break into print but haven't crossed that threshold yet, & you think you have a story, article or poem ready to submit & would like to try it here, contact me:

Like I said, storms have been keeping me off the water here on the coast, & temps up on the UC are currently near the dead-O-winter single digits. Friends report I'm not missing anything. So nothing left to do but sit near the fire & swap stories. Pour yourself a wee dram. Here's one from 2019: 

                                                    A Crossing

Preface: Had to change some names and leave certain details out of this story.

The Fall trip to B.C. with Doris was meditative. Somehow, she is an iron shield against the rabbit-hole events and wild characters I attract. If there is one crazy person in a crowd of 10,000 that person will walk up and start talking to me. They find me. But have to admit I do make a lot of friends that way. I'll talk to anybody.

So pretty smooth trip up north with Doris. Went to Ainsworth hot springs. Enjoyed a delightful lunch in Kaslo, where I dutifully traipsed after Doris while she poked through every shop on Main Street. 

The trip with Doris was a lot less exciting than the day-trip I took in mid-summer with the editor of a prestigious sporting magazine (Rolls Royce of sporting journals – pays $700 for a mere 1000 words) who'd booked a trip with me, wanting to meet and fish. So, O boy, the editor is coming to fish. I was a little nervous I admit – a little brown man wannabe writer like me rubbing elbows with a chieftain of the publishing industry.

The editor arrived at camp, and he seemed like a nice guy. He set up his kit and looked to be an efficient backwoods camper, and I loosened up some. In correspondence the editor had indicated he’d like to catch a bull trout, so I was planning to take him up to fish the Slocan River, above the border in B.C., the next day.  

Morning lit to a cloudless, July day and already heating up when we crossed the border. We drove almost to Nelson, then up the Slocan river for 20 miles where we found a turnout along a good looking run. It was hubcap-bright and hot by the time we pulled off and got our gear together, rigged, and our waders on. We looked like well-equipped spacemen waddling through the bushes toward the river, already sweating.

The editor went upstream, I went down. The trail downriver didn't go far, ending at a back-eddy where a pair of young couples cooled in the water, naked as the day they arrived in this world. Okay, no thing. I’ve been there. But I was out of uniform and didn't want to upset the vibe pushing through their space, so decided to turn around and join the worthy editor. Then, upstream, blocking the trail the editor took, was a large and lively family group, also naked. I minced through the group sunning on the bank – "hi... hi... nice day for a dip... hih-hih... ya'll have fun eh..."

Caught up to the editor yonder swinging a nice tailout and took a position above him.

Across the river was a neat, log homestead – grassy slope down to the water – and then the cabin door swung open and out stepped a long-haired guy, sans clothing, followed by a full-bushed redhead and they bounced down the lawn and jumped in the river splashing and laughing, casting distance away from us.

The editor kept his eyes on the fishing game, casting stiffly, his mouth a straight slit offering no comment.

Though murder, plunder and mayhem barely raise an eyebrow, and we’re probably the world’s greatest consumers of porn, Americans tend to be Puritanical faced with natural nudity, so, sheepish, feeling somehow responsible for exposing the editor to naked people and obliged to say something, I emoted: “Everybody in the whole damn valley is running around naked today!” By way of apology.

Bare-ass locals swimming in the river everywhere, and too bright to fish anyway, I thought it might be a good idea to guide the editor up to New Denver for some refreshment. New Denver is a funky little assemblage of well-preserved Victorian false-fronts at the end of Lake Slocan, once a booming mining town, now home to a diverse population of mountain hipsters of various stripes. We found an arty little coffee bar with outside seating and I got a coffee and the editor got a chai latte.

We sat in the shade of a big Canadian maple where some locals were hanging out. The editor, though pleasant and engaging, if engaged, hadn’t volunteered a whole lot about anything, so I didn’t have a good handle on him yet. I sensed he was out of his usual element and unfamiliar with the local culture. He sat prim in his chair, knees together, back straight. Me and the two locals at a close-by table slouched, legs outstretched. 

The editor and I started making small talk and the friendly locals nearby overheard us and recognized us as Americans and, entertaining no hard feelings, joined in, welcoming us to their turf. They were Harmony and Gadget.

Harmony reminded me of my wife and her friends, same tribe, she was fetching, young for her age, yoga-toned, sun-browned from nearly constant gardening and outdoor work. Her hands showed it, the nails trimmed short in the way of industrious mountain girls. She wore a breezy India-print skirt and slinky tank top. A hint of refined mischief inhabited her eyes. She had a lust for life.

Gadget was a talker and, turned out, a talking machine, and that started to worry me because I know what that can lead to in this part of the world. The art of conversation isn’t dead in the lonesome northern reaches, and sometimes it gets people excited and the talk turns to nefarious action. I sensed trouble, but the editor was really warming up to Gadget and they talked and talked while I flirted with sweet Harmony, secretly fretting about the direction things were liable to go in. The people of eastern B.C. really do have too much time on their hands

Among a lot of other things we learned about Gadget, he played guitar. “Hey, either of you guys play guitar?” The editor shook is head. And, foolishly, I said: “A little.”

“O man!” Gadget kicked the excitement up a notch.  “You have got to meet Johnny Hurricane! He pointed to a weathered, cedar false-front across the street. “C’mon! Me and Harmony are on our way over there, you guys come with us. You’ll love it.”

The situation was unraveling swiftly, getting away from me, and I protested – “Uh… we’re supposed to be fishing…” But it was no use because they were up and on their way with the overly-compliant editor blithely in tow.

Johnny Hurricane lived upstairs in the old building that had been a mercantile in olden times. Downstairs, a sizeable room, once the store, had been converted to a combination local hang-out spot with a small stage for Saturday night jams, a guitar shop with a work bench for repairs, and a sort of guitar museum. The walls were decorated with an assortment of valuable old guitars, paintings by local artists, and the jackets of old blues albums. A pool table dominated one corner of the room, close by an assortment of upholstered Victorian chairs and couches where a handful of locals lounged smoking reefers. There was a lot of smoke.

It was too late. We were already down the rabbit-hole as soon as we walked through the door. The fishing trip had come to this… this den of hedonism, and I gave up any chance of ever having anything I wrote accepted by The Journal – after this.

A couple of well-fed, hand-polished cats lay curled like hothouse orchids on one of the couches. Harmony walked over and picked up one of the kitties, snuggled it, kissed it on the mouth and sat down with it on her lap, then fished around in her bag and drew out a spliff as big as a cigar and lit it.

Gadget introduced me and the editor all around. Though the place served no alcohol, there was an ornate bar fronting one wall, where Johnny held court, posted behind the counter like your friendly bartender. He was an old blues player and had done a stint with John Lee Hooker. We learned he currently had a band:  Johnny Hurricane & the Storm Riders. I asked him if any of the guitars on the wall were for sale and he said no, they were his personal collection hanging there for people to play, and he invited me to try them out.

I found an old Martin acoustic and brought it down, already perfectly tuned and with amazing sound. I sat on the couch and picked a bit, entertaining Harmony and the kitties.

Admittedly, under normal circumstances I wouldn’t have minded hanging out at Johnny’s playing the guitars, but right then all I could think of was damage control and hustling the editor out of there before he was gassed to brain damage. I figured he must be ready to go by now, hung the Martin back up and wandered over to the bar, where I found Johnny and the editor engaged in deep conversation. Johnny saw I was done playing and put some music on, the wall speakers suddenly blasting Howlin’ Wolf – “…we be down by de firehouse shakin’ dat wang dang doodle…”  And right then everybody in the room lit a fresh reefer.

You could’ve cut and served the smoke in that room. And it was the smoke of some very, very potent stuff. You didn’t need to be smoking. Just breathing I already felt like I was on an acid trip and I was worried about the editor, who seemed unphased and not ready to leave.

Turned out Johnny and the editor were both experts on little-known clandestine spy operations of WWII and going at the obscure subject like long-lost brothers. While I stood there listening to them Gadget and Harmony slipped away. Finally, after what seemed like eternity, the spy talk lapsed and Johnny said: “I don’t know who you guys are but I like you, so I’m gonna show you everything.” And with that he reached down behind the bar and brought up a three-pound brick of hashish and presented it to the editor, inviting him to take a whiff. The editor, to my everlasting shock, took a big ‘ol whiff and pronounced, nonchalant: “Hm. That smells like the really good stuff.”

(And O Jaysus I’m shitting my pants now, fearing the Mounties would bust in at any moment, arrest the lot of us and confiscate me and the editor’s fishing gear and the editor’s rented Subaru to boot).

“A-Yo _______, we need to get going if we’re gonna make the border by five….” I announced.

Johnny says: “Oh, hey, before you leave let me give you something.” And he bent and put the hash away and came back up with a couple of Johnny Hurricane & the Storm Riders discs and presented them to us as gifts. I tried to pay him but he absolutely refused to take anything.

Leaving town we drove slowly by a farmer’s market set up in the park. We saw Gadget on a stage playing guitar, a girl accompanying him on fiddle. We also noticed Harmony strolling among the vegetable booths.

Driving down toward the border in afternoon rose light, the windows down and the car flooding with the lush joss of high summer – the road following the glacial-blue river sparking and unskeining lovely beyond thought – the editor pushed Johnny Hurricane & the Storm Riders into the player – and it was good, pure D, top-shelf blues rock. Johnny ripped.

It was better than good, we both agreed.

“Great day,” the editor pronounced. Where we going tomorrow?”  


                                                   The Reel News

Posner walking.

Australia burning.

                               American Wetfly Masters ~ Dave Hughes

Had a good time fishing with Dave Hughes & Rick Hafele this past summer. Before leaving, Dave gave me some of his favorite soft-hackle patterns straight out of his box. 

Green & Partridge ~ Dave Hughes
Waterhen Bloa ~ Dave Hughes

Tups Variant ~ Dave Hughes

Partridge & Yellow ~ Dave Hughes

Hares Ear ~ Dave Hughes

Dave, sporting the latest in fly fishing fashions.

Dave Hughes ~ Canadian Reach

Hook ~ Doris Loiseau

          The Essential Hook

     As hooks are essential to our game, and how a hook performs in the water while fished is important to the downstream approach, I think a brief history and discussion of hooks salient to our discussion of trout spey, or at least, interesting in itself.

     Keep in mind our Neolithic ancestors, free from regular jobs and 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 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 and cartographer David Thompson describes natives catching a breakfast of trout from the upper Columbia, fishing 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, and though fat, it was small enough to tie a fly on; and I can see that a smaller, more effective version might be carved from shell or bone. All of the above leads me to think the concept of an artificial ‘fly’ likely predates metallurgy.

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

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

     War, and the tools of warfare, have always served to advance the technologies of humanity. And though the art and 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. Anecdotal, but I offer this here as it strikes me as logical 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 and 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 and, possibly, leading to its development. If the wire smith happened to be a fisher, it may have. Whatever the case it is interesting, considering the evidence suggests iron hooks appeared at about the same time as chainmail armor.

     Steel hooks were not yet in commercial production in mid-1400’s England when Dame Juliana Berners fished and wrote, so it likely follows the sporting abbess maintained more than a nodding acquaintance with the local armorer.

     The manufacture of barbed commercial hooks arose in Norway and the British Iles. The manufacturing towns of Limerick, Aberdeen and 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 and, 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 inches, and at that length fairly weak, so the main length of leader was usually made of braided silk thread. Spain, with a climate suitable to raising silkworms, became the major source of drawn silkworm gut (and we see a warming of trade relations between Spain and 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. Though bait fishers – now able to easily fasten heavy linen or braided horse tail lines to the eye – were probably thrilled, the early straight-eye hooks weren’t well-received by flyfishers, as the gut snell leaders they preferred didn’t pass through the hook-eye parallel to the hook-shank. Turned-eye hooks, up and down, didn’t arrive on the scene until about 1879, the eyes turned to accommodate a snell (not, as is popular myth, to create a lever to improve hooking). Snelled hooks track and hover well, the fly remaining aligned on a horizontal plane while fished. Wetflies tied on hooks with turned eyes, particularly down-eye, tend to tip or roll (in some cases, screw) when fastened to the tippet by the eye and 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.

     (In the early 1960’s, having long ago gone over to eyed hooks and nylon leader, my grandfather gave me a small, sheepskin wallet containing a few of his old wetflies, snooded to short gut snells, dating from when he was a young fly fisher. I remember there was a McGinty, a Silver Doctor, a Red Ibis and a Parmachene Belle. At the time he didn’t see them as having any 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. Not gold to be saved – gold to be spent. If you dunked the wallet before fishing the wool held water to moisten and relax the stiff gut snells. My first fly-caught brookie came on the McGinty. That was a favorite while it lasted. And the Silver Doctor killed the first rainbow).

     Hooks with turned eyes eventually became available in a wide range of styles and sizes, and gained in popularity. With the advent of nylon tippet, 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 flymphs and spiders, making room for a turl knot). The turl was seen as a logical way to achieve the positive tracking of the eyeless snood. Though there are still savvy anglers using the turl knot, it began to diminish from general usage in the 1960’s, as new anglers came to favor knots that are quicker and easier to tie and, I suspect, the original reason for the turl began to fade in the collective memory. As gut snells were replaced by nylon monofilament, the old straight-eye hook did gain popularity with soft-hackle purists wanting to duplicate the positive tracking attribute of the old snells, along with the ease of being able to fasten the tippet to the hook eye.

     ‘Form follows function’ is an abiding principle in designing flies for swinging, though, taking the whole affair into consideration, form and function do coalesce when considering a hook design. We want a hook that will track well, stick and penetrate the fish’s jaw, and hold the fish throughout the battle, yet also possess a shape suggestive and appropriate to the fly design and purpose. 

Canadian Reach Redband ~ Bruce Kruk

                                            From the Tying Bench

                                   Some Winter Flies for Trout Spey

                                                            Rusty Rubber Legs

These may be dressed in color combinations to suit. The rust-orange version featured here is my favorite, simulating golden stonefly & also good when October caddis are present. An all black version is killing where salmonflies are present.

Hook: #4-#8 (Most often, I dress mine on #4)

Thread: rust-orange

Body: rust-orange & black or brown variegated chenille, weighted under the body

Legs: rust-orange variegated rubber

                                                                    Spruce Variant

Hook: #6-#8

Thread: wine

Abdomen: copper tinsel tip & red tinsel

Tailing: golden pheasant tippet

Thorax: peacock herl

Wing: yellow-dyed squirrel tail

Hackle: brahma hen

                                                                   Camp Dog

Hook: #6-#8
Thread: wine
Tailing: peacock swords & red cock saddle whisks
Rib: copper wire
Body: orange tinsel
Palmer: red hen saddle or shlappen
Half-Wing: golden pheasant tippet
Hackle: rear collar – red guinea hen; front collar – black hen

                                                                 Irish Coachman

Hook: #6-#10

Thread: wine

Tip: copper tinsel

Tailing: golden pheasant tippet

Rib: gold wire

Body: peacock herl

Palmer: brown shlappen

Hackle: cock ringneck pheasant church window body spade

                                                                  Mickey Finn

Hook: #4-#8

Thread: black

Tip: red tinsel

Rib: silver French oval

Body: silver tinsel

Topping: yellow bucktail / red bucktail / yellow bucktail

Optional: jungle cock cheeks