Tuesday, May 25, 2021

A Thought


When something is true it is true across all systems.


If you understand that when a forest is thought to have no value until it is cut down, or that a prairie has no value until it is turned under, or that a river has no value until it is girdled with dams, then you’ve begun to understand the root of our ecological crisis.


The idea that some lives matter less is the root cause of all that is wrong with the world.


Go to the stream or sea. Fish. While you are there, be thinking. Consider the immeasurable value of all things. Be. Thinking a system for which there is yet no name.


Sunday, May 16, 2021

American Grannom (Brachycentrus, Mother’s Day Caddis, Black Sedge)


Grannom sedges are prolific in running water nearly everywhere in trout country. On many waters the Mother’s Day Caddis hatch is the first big hatch of the season that gets trout keyed to selective.

Grannom are a cased caddis, the case square in cross-section. Trout eat the cased larvae when they can get them, & these are important as imitation on some streams, but the emerging pupae are, by far, the most important stage of this insect. During emergence, trout consume the pupae almost exclusively.

On my home water, true to their colloquial name, grannom season usually begins during the week of Mother’s Day, continuing until about the second week of June when they diminish, overtaken by the slightly larger spotted sedge that dominate the summer hatches. 

Grannom adults are generally #16, with dark-brown to black bodies & light brownish-gray wings with faint mottling. Pupae are a size larger than adults, the abdomen color ranging from pale olive, through various shades of olive to bright green, & pinkish-brown to dark brown through the thorax area & wing holsters.

 Grannom are uniform in size & when trout are keyed on them it is important that the imitation be exactly the right size. A soft-hackle spider provides a good profile of the emerging pupae. As color varies within the same population, a perfect color match isn’t important, though, so that my imitation stands out (without being too intrusive) among the bazillion naturals it’s competing against for the trout’s attention, I like to add some brightness through the abdomen portion of the fly – a bright green or reflective material.

As the season progresses & emergence slows down, trout will turn to eating more adult sedges, including drowned egg-layers. So it’s a good idea to carry more than one fly pattern for grannom.

A swung presentation works well with grannom. Activate the pupa with short 3-inch pulls or by pumping the rod as the fly swings under tension. If presenting a drowned adult pattern, swing it dead-drift. If there are visibly feeding trout, I position 45 degrees upstream of the target & concentrate on that portion of the swing between 90 degrees (straight out) & 45 degrees, that portion of the swing wherein the fly is pretty much dead-drifting. If nothing is showing on top I’ll fish two pupa with a sink-tip or on a long fluorocarbon leader.

Grannom sedges emerge midday through early evening, with egg-laying flights simultaneous. Here are a few of my current favorites for meeting them:  

Hook: #14 ~ Thread: brown ~ Hackle: partridge ~ Rib: 2 strands of olive midge flash, twisted & wound as a rib ~ Body: olive rabbit with thorax of red-brown antron

Hook: #14 ~ Thread: brown ~ Hackle: brahma hen or brown partridge ~ Rib: fine silver wire ~ Body: 4 strands of olive or pearl midge flash, twisted, & thorax of hares mask ~ Shroud: small pinch of Hareline Shrimp Pink UV Dub ~ Top with 2 gadwall flank fibers before winding the hackle

Drowned Egg-Layer ~ Hook: #16 ~ Thread: black ~ Hackle: partridge ~ Egg Sack: highlander green UNI yarn ~ Body: 3 strands of black midge flash, twisted, & thorax of dark brown dubbing

Partridge & Peacock ~ #16 (if tying on short-shank, caddis-style hooks, use a #14 hook) ~ egg sacks on this one are optional, the traditional Partridge & Peacock is reliable when trout are taking adult grannoms




Sunday, April 25, 2021

Forever Living


Spring River ~ watercolor by Doris Loiseau

                                                     Late April

 “The answer is never the answer. What’s really interesting is the mystery. If you seek the mystery instead of the answer, you’ll always be seeking. I’ve never seen anybody really find the answer – they think they have, so they stop thinking. But the job is to seek mystery, evoke mystery, plant a garden in which strange plants grow and mysteries bloom. The need for mystery is greater than the need for an answer.”    

 ~Ken Kesey


In late April we see the mystery unfold with the opening tree buds, spawning rainbows, falling ants on warmer days. The reawakening. World without end living forever.

                                               As it should be.

                                 But then, all is not as it should be.

                     We've reached a juncture that cannot be ignored.

As an angler & a human, this is the most salient article I've read lately, written by Gregory Fitz. Important news on it's face, yet, all things being connected, also serving as an honest admission, a signpost & approach to the real problems confronting this most sacred nest, our home.




Recently, somebody asked me if I ever write anything that's not about fishing. Of course, that opened up a whole other can of worms kept in another pack. So here's a flash fiction that's not about fishing, though I am trying to stay with a vague theme running through this post.

                                                        Pharaoh Enters An Afterlife

  He said he would never die. Pharaoh closes his eyes and draws a final breath. His queen is given poison to drink.

 The bound papyrus funeral barge bearing Pharaoh and his queen touches the quay at Memphis. Wind blasts constant and hot from the desert, bowing the procession, scouring the shorn pallbearers with grit. Underground, down the Hall of Sighs, fresh painted glyphs bear witness to the glory of their reign. 

In the Chamber of Ra, a priest places a scarab beetle onto Pharaoh’s right eye.


 A Santa Ana wind surges hot and dry from the Mojave, sandblasting the windshields of downshifting trucks ascending Cajon Pass and rattling the windows on the east side of the house. 

In a dream there is something in his eye. Something alive. The weight of it squirms and tickles, the movement furtive, portentous. He plucks the thing away feeling the crisp gridwork of carapace and tangle of wiry legs overlaying a fat, soft, urgent life-throb between his fingers as he tosses it aside – and upon doing so he awakes in the dark.


 He leans over to the nightstand, switches on the reading lamp and looks over the bed covers, seeking the thing he’d pulled from his eye.

 The queen sleeps beside him, pale. Clinging to the soft curve of her shoulder above the bedsheet, a black widow spider, the abdomen big as an acorn and liquid black, black as the darkness before the world, and the underside tilted his way revealing the sharp hourglass shape, red as a dying sun. Momentarily stunned, the spider begins to revive, the legs unfolding, feeling for purchase against the queen’s silken shoulder.

 He snatches a magazine from the nightstand and deftly flicks the widow down on to the coverlet, then swats the spider, killing it. He slides the magazine under the crushed body, leans out and taps it into the wastebasket beside the nightstand. 

His beloved queen still sleeps, her dark hair a conflicted torrent flooding the white pillowcase.

 Pharaoh rubs his eye. No sign of harm. He switches off the light and resumes his repose. In his lifedream he forfeits all agency and is

driven by winds,

leaning toward light,

lifted and borne across a void arc without edge and without span and

beyond time.

He says he will never die.

Leaning toward light. Driven by winds.

He says he will never die.    ~    


Lao Tsu at the River ~ collage by Jan Cottrell





Friday, March 26, 2021

Early Spring


Watercolor by Doris Loiseau

Muddler Redband

Where I live, early spring is Muddler season. Attractor patterns can be effective on pre-spawn rainbows as well, but you can't go wrong with some variation of something that simulates sculpin. Water temperatures have not yet warmed enough to trigger insect hatches, & larger patterns fished deep & slow will get the grab. Here are a couple patterns, a Muddler & a Fore & Aft, I like to swing in early spring.

 Squirrel Tail Muddler

Hook: #2-#6

Thread: black or brown

Tailing: squirrel tail

Rib: copper wire

Body: dubbed natural amber seal

Winging: squirrel tail & a couple strands of copper flash, 2 coq de leon saddles, placed both sides of the wing as lateral lines

Hackle Collar: olive guinea fronted with deer hair arranged as a collar

Head: clipped deer hair

   Partridge/Blue Fore & Aft

Hook: #6-#8

Thread: black

Tailing: pinch of blue guinea & 2 jungle cock eyes (GPT) may substitute

Rear Hackle: brown partridge

Rib: gold wire

Body: peacock herl

Hackle Collars: brown partridge fronted with blue guinea


                                                  Trout Spey & The Art of the Swing 

 Coming this summer: Trout Spey & The Art of the Swing. The book. Written by 'Swing The Fly' magazine trout spey editor, Steven Bird, in collaboration with spey chieftains, Zack Williams, guide & founding editor of 'Swing The Fly', & Bruce Kruk (Kaptain Kanudia), Upper Columbia guide, casting instructor & trout spey master. A comprehensive work on trout spey & the methodology of swinging wetflies. Everything you need to know (& then some) to get you well up the road to expertise in this growing aspect of our sport. Includes 125 color photos of fly dressings for the game. First release will be a limited collector's edition of one hundred hard-cover, signed, book copies @ $100 (includes shipping in the U.S.). If you would like to be on the list to purchase one of these copies, contact Steve: columbiatrout@sbcglobal.net       


Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Fly Culture Magazine ~ New Voices


                            I’ve been a reader for most of my life. I was fortunate to have a loving Scottish grandmother with the patience to teach me to read before the age of five. Needless to say this gave me a vast head start on kindergarten. By first grade, when most of the kids were struggling through the Dick and Jane books used to teach kids to read in those days, I’d already read Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, which my grandmother had chosen as a primer.

My grandmother taught me to read & my grandfather taught me to angle. A love of angling literature soon followed. By the age of eight I was devouring the great Frank Woolner’s weekly outdoor column in the Worcester Telegram Gazette, as well as gaining a reputation at the local pond. I learned a lot from reading Frank Woolner. (Frank Woolner: 1916-1994; famed WWII battlefield journalist & tank commander; author of Spearhead, a classic text for WWII historians; Cape Cod surf striper & beach buggy fishing pioneer; outdoor writer & the author of many books on environmental, angling & hunting subjects; IGFA Sportfishing Hall of Fame inductee).

Frank Woolner was not only a great angler & article writer, but also a creative writer of prose laced with wry Yankee humor, his writing often verging on poetry; his work embodying the finest literary tradition of our game. Woolner could tell a story, & it was through him that I was introduced to the angling story.

I can’t think of any other sport outside of angling in which the written article assumes such importance. Much of what we learn about flyfishing comes through reading articles, & how-to articles are the main course of angling publications, with few exceptions. Though most angling magazines are stuffed with articles, which I enjoy immensely, there is always at least one story, often tagged to the back page as a tailout feature. And much as I love the articles, upon receiving a magazine I always go straight to the story before reading the how-to stuff – & I know others who do the same.

So, I’ve wondered: If story is such a strong draw for many of us, why not an angling periodical totally devoted to story? I can think of a couple published in the U.S. Though hunting shares equal billing, Gray’s Sporting Journal is all story, & with a very high literary standard. Also The Drake, which is all story, though much of it devoted to destination pieces that are couched as creative memoir -- a form my writer friends have forbidden me to practice. There is a singular style and overall vibe to The Drake that I've heard described as “Gen X Onanistic” though, to be fair, much of that vibe is created by advertising aimed at Gen X readers, the writing is generally good, & there’s no denying the success of The Drake during an age when print magazines are folding at an alarming rate, which says something about the power of ‘story’.

I am fortunate in my position as contributing editor for Swing The Fly magazine, as Zack Williams, the founding editor, encourages the staff writers to write what they please, so there’s a good balance of both articles & stories in the magazine. A story I’d written for Swing The Fly happened to catch the attention of Pete Tyjas, editor-in-chief of Fly Culture magazine, a print quarterly out of the U.K. totally devoted to story. Pete, a pleasant, as well as wide-ranging chap, contacted me wanting to know if I would submit a story to Fly Culture.

That request from a British magazine gave me some trepidation, considering Britain, the land of Shakespeare, Byron, Austin, Dickens &, indeed, Bernars & Walton, the mother & father of fish-writing, is the very homeland of English literature. Surely the editor had studied at Eaton or Cambridge & was holding a high bar – a standard this Mongrel-American descendant of Cotton Mather’s witch-hanging zealots & wayward son of rebellious New England could not dare to aspire to. 

Nevertheless I sent a story. And it was accepted.

Pete sent me a copy of Fly Culture containing my article. Flipping through it I was immediately impressed that there are no advertisements. None. Considering how magazines depend on ads to stay afloat, I honestly don’t know how they pull that off. The price is comparable to the better magazines. Put together with thick, quality paper, Fly Culture looks good enough to be a coffee table book.

The issue Pete sent me contains thirteen stories – all of them well written (& also tactfully edited, without a single typo). Good writing is never boring; I slipped through the Fly Culture stories like water through a net. There is reading here to last awhile but I couldn’t put it down. And the images accompanying the stories, art & photos, are excellent. The stories encompass the U.K., Europe, the U.S. & beyond. I didn’t know about the good trout fishing to be had in the mountains of Italy, so one more trip for the bucket list. One more dream.

I asked Pete Tygas his mission statement for Fly Culture, & he put it thus:

“To bring you a fly fishing magazine with great writing and photography that you’ll enjoy reading. To concentrate on quality be it in the content you’ll read or the way the magazine is presented and never to cut corners on this quest. To remain proudly independent. To offer you a true and contemporary look at the culture of fly fishing.”  

If you enjoy stories & would like to meet some fresh voices in angling literature, writing from interesting places, I think you’d like Fly Culture. As the name indicates, there’s a lot more to flyfishing than just fishing. And a subscription supports the emerging voices of the ongoing literary tradition of our game. https://flyculturemag.com/



Sunday, January 10, 2021

Soft~Hackle Journal 2021 ~ Entering A New Year

                              So long 2020, it’s been strange to know you.

 Been quite awhile since I’ve posted anything here on SHJ. It’s been an incredibly busy & eventful year, time slipping by too, too fast. Unfortunately my idea to present SHJ as a quarterly collapsed, time constraints preventing me from putting together full issues, so have decided to remedy that by returning to a more flexible random posting. It’ll be more eclectic, looser. Of course, we’re not going to throw out the tying bench & that feature will remain, running at the end of each post.

Want to thank those of you who have made contributions to SHJ this past year. Contributions to this journal support Upper Columbia Native Fish Alliance (UCNFA), writers committed to stewardship of our section of the Columbia River in Northeast Washington. Proud to say our contributions have had some success in recent years, beginning with our efforts supporting the cessation of chemical waste dumping from the Teck Cominco smelter in B.C., & more recently kill limit reductions for native redband trout, reduced from five daily, to two (we’re working on getting that reduced to one). Our input has contributed to getting the daily kill limit lifted for invasive walleye & smallmouth bass. Research indicates that 50%-65% of upper Columbia native trout are consumed by invasive, non-native predators (walleye, bass, northern pike) before they reach maturity. There’s still a lot to do. My hat is off to those of you who belong to a club or support organizations that take up the responsibility of stewardship for our streams. In a time wherein so much is threatened or lost, many of us believe this to be a fundamental responsibility upon those of us who partake in these waters. Need something to do? Write letters to agencies who need to know your concerns. Choose a local brook or stream or river & become a streamkeeper on its behalf. A good place to begin is writing for reduced kill limits, catch & release & single barbless hook, artificials-only regs.

Sponsor swag was thin this past year nevertheless donator names went in the hat & some trinkets are going out this week. Again, thank you all. And thanks to all of you who read Soft~Hackle Journal. Wish you all health, success, fun, & the best in this New Year.     ~Steve  


Been saving this selection of interesting & informative articles for winter reading & food for thought. You guys my age & suspecting creeping dementia might consider reading all of it. Use it or lose it brothers.          



Working for the donors.


Puritan outrage.


Maintaining our commonwealth.


Doing wellness.


The world-altering power of fake news.


Paul McCartney at home.



                                               At The Tying Bench

Considering some winged wets for next season. My aim is to build some patterns combining tried & true materials. Lots of things work. But consider those material elements that work most consistently.

Hook: #6 ~ Tailing: teal flank ~ Tag: blue tinsel ~ Rib: silver wire ~ Body: copper tinsel / hares mask ~ Wing: slate gray hen wing primary slips ~ hackle collar: brahma hen        


Monday, July 20, 2020

Soft~Hackle Journal July~August

                                                     Isolation Diary


A central focus on theme (placement) yet the internal narrative elastic & nuanced, stretching out to explore arising avenues & convergences.
In a country of rivers & mountains without end; the aspens a million hands clapping in a hall forever lonesome.
Thunder clouds drum from the far, high Kootenay; sedges stir in nervous swarms above the pines, anticipating sundown.

The afternoon shower drives hard against the river stones, bowing the painted daisies to an assemblage of garish supplicants.

A dark traveler, the angry elephant head cloud drifts to the south & the sun breaks out bright as a hubcap.

Moisture steams from the hot slopes condensing to wisps of cloud rising like the smoke of ancient battles not yet dissipated.

Let go. The trajectory is secretly mapped on the brightening void air. Place the fly. Now. Without thinking.

Watercolor & Ink ~ Doris Loiseau


                                               Easy Trout Spey Leader

Here’s how to build a good 15’ wetfly leader to fish with a floating line: 2½’ of 30# mono / 5’ of 20# fluoro / 5’ of 12# fluoro / add 2½’ of  10# or 8# flouro. A rigging ring added to the 12# section gives the 15’ leader more versatility; or a ring attached to the end of the 15’ leader allows attaching lighter tippet for up to a 20’ leader for fishing wee soft-hackles over hatches. I like fluoro for a bit more surface penetration, though the entire leader can be built with mono for top-fishing. The 30# mono butt section provides good transition & a bit of stretch behind the fluoro tippet. 

B.C. Sky ~ Bruce Kruk

                                                  The Reel News

The Aquaz Trinity Wading Jacket

Not really in the habit of endorsing products & don’t do it unless I’m so impressed with the utilitarian usefulness & value of a piece of gear I’m moved to tell my readers about it. Being duly impressed with my Aquaz waders now going into the fourth year of guiding without a leak, I think it will do well to mention the Aquaz Trinity wading jacket, for those who may be shopping for a pro quality fishing jacket at an affordable price.  (I would say Aquaz quality is on par with Patagonia, while the price point is about middle of the pack).

 The Trinity jacket is made of the same waterproof, 3-layer breathable material as the Aquaz waders. I am hard to fit, being somewhere between a medium & a large, in most cases a medium. I ordered the jacket in medium & found it to be a perfect fit, with enough room to accommodate a heavy wool or down sweater worn underneath. 

All seams are taped & reinforced & the pockets tacked.

The shoulder/back section is caped & ventilated. The hood is billed & roomy, with three adjustment pulls to shape it the way you need it. The hood rolls into the collar, & the collar may be worn up or down. The inside of the collar is lined with a soft, fleece fabric, as are the hand-warmer pockets. 

 The pockets are impressive, seven in all, three on each side of the front, the handwarmer pockets & two ample tackle pockets on each side, one equipped with a row of rings for hanging leader spools & whatnots. You don’t need a vest or bag with this jacket, as it will carry all you could reasonably want in your trip kit (perfect for spey). And the back of the Trinity is double-layered to form a storage pouch occupying the entire back of the jacket, accessible through waterproof zippers located at both sides of the back. The back storage will hold a lot of stuff – water bottle, lunch, extra clothing, whatever.  

Sculpin tied by Bill Shuck

                                               At The Tying Bench

Red Drake Mayfly

Red Drake is king of the upper Columbia until the end of July. This big mayfly is actually a form of E. Grandis, (Green Drake), though mahogany colored, not green. It is an important mayfly in some of the Columbia tributaries. Mature nymphs are the same color as adults, so the wetfly I fish while drakes are present simulates an emerger, cripple, or  drowned adult.    

Red Drake ~ hook: #8 TMC 200R ~ thread: rust-brown UNI 8/0 ~ tailing: pheasant swords ~ rib: yellow-gold 'D' rod wrapping thread ~ body: mahogany SST dubbing ~ wing: black hen ~ collar: red-brown hen ~ head: bit of dubbing

After drakes have had their day we’re back to caddis, & also a #16 ginger mayfly present in the mix of sedges into September. 

Ginger Mayfly ~ hook: #16 ~ thread: yellow UNI 8/0 or silk ~ tailing: coq de leon barbs ~ rib: silver wire ~ body: natural amber seal dubbed ~ hackle: light ginger hen 

Late Summer Sedge ~ hook: #12-#16 ~ thread: tan ~ body: light olive or waxed yellow silk with a thorax of hare's mask ~ half-wing: bit of Hareline UV Shrimp Pink Dub ~ hackle: brahma hen or brown partridge

Copper Sedge ~ hook: #12-#16 ~ thread: brown ~ rib: silver wire ~ body: copper tinsel with a thorax of hare's mask mixed witha bit of UV shrimp pink dubbing

Watercolor & Ink ~ Doris Loiseau

                                         A Barbarian from the West

Emperor Wu: Why, Bodhidharma, do you come from the West?

Bodhidharma: Waves on the river.

Emperor Wu assails: What pious deeds have you done? What merit have you gained?

Bodhidharma: No merit.

Emperor Wu: Then what is the first principle of the Holy Teaching?

Bodhidharma: Vast emptiness, nothing holy.

Emperor Wu demands: And who is confronting me?

Bodhidharma: I don’t know.

From there, Bodhidharma travels north until he comes to a row of cedars. Beneath the cedars he cuts off his eyelids so that he cannot fall asleep; & trilliums spring from the ground where his eyelids fall.  

Watercolor & Ink ~ Jan Cottrell

 Soft~Hackle Journal is a bi-monthly online magazine dedicated to the art of fly fishing, powered by the donations of its readers.