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

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

For The Time Being

‘We live in all we seek. The hidden shows up in too-plain sight. It lives captive on the face of the obvious – the people, events, and things of the day – to which we as sophisticated children have long since become oblivious. What a hideout: Holiness lies spread and borne over the surface of time and stuff like color.’       
~Annie Dillard: For The Time Being

     Morning. Ariel goes out to the garden.

I’m in the cabin finishing breakfast and a strange cry erupts outside, a loud, desperate mewling, like a baby’s cry.

Ariel calls to me from the yard, and I go to her.

She’d gone to turn the water on at the outside faucet and there awoke a newborn fawn asleep in the grass. The startled fawn swiftly gained its legs and took flight across the yard, the velocity of its run carrying it headlong into the hogwire fence surrounding the garden.

I arrive to find Ariel holding the bawling fawn, its aquiline head stuck like an arrow point through the steel netting of fence.

Ariel grips the trembling baby while I pry open the wire mesh behind its ears, feeling its nervous heat.

Free, the spotted newborn runs toward the pine woods terrified and shaken though seemingly unharmed. We watch the trees transform its spots to sunbeams and then absorb its form. And it is gone.

 Is it true that deer are able to ascend to heaven while still in their physical bodies?

 Later, I’m still thinking about the fawn and events as I walk over to the river to fish. You just never know when a shadow might hit you like an alien invasion and send you hustling toward a trap, I tell myself. Best you can do is: lick a finger, point at the sky, feel the now.

I stand by the river over stones under broken clouds contemplating the home water. The breadth of its span. The generous curve of sky above the forested reach. Big water. The Mother Of Rivers once hosting every species of salmonid native to the American Pacific and West Slope. It inspires a humbling perspective. Things are what they are; and we carry history with us, it’s not really the past. Also, concrete has a definite lifespan – water is stronger than rock. And all rivers have a beginning, middle, and end, converging as one in the great tao ocean, secretly well.

Almost time to offer something.

In the distance, a black sail rides the water. I’ve been expecting it. The flow carries it close to my position and then the big Black Quill dun drifts on by. I watch it go down the run anticipating its death. And that does come, in the nervous water seventy feet below me where the run converges with the mainstem current streaming from a rock outcropping, the converging currents rendered to neutral velocity at the meeting place. I spot a lazy bulge among the ripples on the convergence and the mayfly disappears.

A riseform like that doesn’t give away the size of a trout. O a splashy one may give away a small, eager fish, but after a couple years of life they get fairly slick about their feeding habits. Might be a 14-inch fish. Could be a bigger one.

Watching the water, I pull a sack of Drum from my pocket and twist a smoke, light it, exhale. Another drake tilts by, its charcoal wings spread to a V, drying. And then a couple more. One gets intercepted before it makes it to the sweet zone, where I saw the first rise. A good sign. Trout are keyed to the big mayfly’s presence and are beginning to move up the run from their loafing hold way down on the convergence.

The hair-winged fraud is an old friend and a good match. It needs to be fished downstream on this spot. No other way here. I make a cast out and down and strip line from the reel like crazy, slaking it out through the guides to keep up with the swiftly drifting fly, knowing any hint of drag will mean a muffed presentation and probable refusal.

The fly reaches the arrowhead of neutral convergence water and I quit feeding line as it begins to make a natural sweep with the current, hunting across the apex toward the outer seam.  I lose sight of the fly in the glare.

There is a strong boil next to the seam where I hope the fly is. I strip to gather slack and the line comes tight and alive against a violent weight –  

Lovely as it may be, ours is a savage, extravagantly dangerous world. Deer know this. The instinct to flee is supremely necessary and deeply ingrained in most creatures attempting to survive here. ‘Fight or flight’ are prime survival imperatives, ‘flight’ being the more popular mode of the two. Of all species it is the naked ape that seems most inclined to the ‘fight’ option. There is no greater fighter than a pissed-off, purposeful naked ape – and how efficiently and with what shock & awe the fighting is done is a matter of pride. I’m here to fight. As hard as anyone armed with a stick weighing 2 ½ ounces, rigged with 6 pound test string, may fight.

At the other end of the line, the trout, has definitely chosen the ‘flight’ option (and funny we call this a ‘fight’, as if mute fish deliberately seek to challenge and beat us at this contrived game wherein we win no matter what and can only beat ourselves) and bolts downstream peeling line from my old high school days Pflueger Medalist with overwhelming speed –

I lower the rod and palm the rim attempting to slow it and the trout feels the slight change in pressure and responds by accelerating its run straining the rod into the butt and bringing a tortured whine not heard from the Medalist before and I dare not palm the rim now and risk busting the tippet –

The line backing spins off toward the bitter end and the trout suddenly stops – then reverses direction and speeds like a torpedo fired straight toward my position on the rocks and I try to gather the weightless string eschewing the reel in favor of hand-stripping as fast as I can go and the backing and about half the shooting line nests at my feet and the line abruptly comes tight against an immovable object.

Submerged in the deep pool between the converging currents are some cow sized boulders, I know. Seems the trout has made a wrap around one of these and the line is wedged…

Crap. Bummer. I don’t dare pull harder. I figure the trout has already torn free or broken the tippet. Why break or strip the coating off a fairly good line for nothing? But the line transmits a subtle throb…

The backing and most of the shooting line gathered onto the spool, I leave a couple pulls of slack on the water, tuck the rod under my arm, reach into my pants pocket for the makings, roll a smoke, light it, and wait with the line hanging slack. What else can I do?

The sun finishes its descent behind a far ridge. A sundown breeze freshens bringing the earthy joss of pine, rock, and trout. Above, in the deepening blue, hundreds of swallows dive and wheel, adeptly picking sedges from the swirling air currents.

I’m finishing the smoke, and the slack line lying on the water begins to straighten and rise –   

Sometimes you get lucky. Given its head and some time the trout has swum in the right direction, unwinding the line from around the rock – it comes up against the resistance of my rod, lights up, and attempts to bolt – but now lacks its initial mojo and I’m able to put the breaks on it before it reaches the faster mainstream current – this makes me happy and I’m relieved – things are going my way – this time.

There are big trout inhabiting the home water and I carry a long-handled guide net with a 24-inch opening. The trout, substantially longer than the net opening, gives me a hard time, bouncing out of the bag on the first pass, forcing me to bite my lip and swear. Finally I get a head shot, scoop, and it’s in.

It’s a buck redband, humped and deep bodied with an immense knobbed kype, the broad band running down each flank red as the final blood meridian of day. I slip the hook from its jaw, tail it from the net and hold it upright in the water until it kicks away. The river absorbs its light and it is gone.    

Walking up the bluff from the river I’m thinking about: deer, trout, fight, flight, velocity and convergence. Perhaps someday we’ll understand supersymmetry. We’ll know, without a doubt, the connectedness of everything. Maybe we’ll find the true creation icon hidden within human symbols and myth. I shake my head and wonder ~   

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Art of Jan & Jeff Cottrell

Ink & Wash ~ Jan Cottrell

     The dog days of August are full upon us in the Northwest. Hatches that spurred great trouting this spring & early summer have boiled down to a faint spritz in late evening, serving to bring up only a few trout, & those, smaller fish.

Green Butt Spey ~ Jeff Cottrell
 I miss Jan & Jeff from the Evening Hatch, who’ve pulled the plug until September, moving their operation to more productive territory over in steelhead country. On days off from guiding, Jeff & I fish. Or, sometimes, they come over with a bottle of wine or two, & Jan with her sketchbook. We sit around the picnic table in the yard, Doris & Jan sipping wine & working on their drawings or watercolors while Jeff & I chainsmoke & shoot the shit.

Ink & Wash ~ Jan Cottrell
If I was in the life game for monetary gain, I’d of gone into real estate or politics. But Henry James said: “It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance, & I know of no substitute for the beauty & force of its process.” Birds of a feather do tend to hang together, & one of the most satisfying rewards inherent to the artist’s life is the companionship we often find in fellow artists, as these tend to possess developed observational skills that serve to make them interesting & fun company (for the most part). (Unless you really love living dangerously, I’d suggest avoidance of depressed, ear-snipping painters & shotgun-wielding writers.)

Orange Heron Spey ~ Jeff Cottrell 

Regarding ‘things’, Deepak Chopra acknowledges: “If it’s not absolutely beautiful, or absolutely useful, you don’t need it… it is an anchor.”

Ink & Wash ~ Jan Cottrell

The fruit of Jan & Jeff’s labor meets both criteria for things worth keeping.

Harlequin Spey ~ Jeff Cottrell

Jan left me some of her exquisite watercolor & ink drawings. Jeff gave me some of the Spey designs he ties for steelhead. In these things we see that art truly does reflect life, but also the refinement of its crafters, & their intimate connection to life.

Ink & Wash ~ Jan Cottrell

Jeff Cottrell’s fly designs are available from Rainy’s Flies. Anyone interested in original, print, or commission work from Jan Cottrell, might reach her through contacting me at: 

Deep Purple Spey ~ Jeff Cottrell

Monday, July 18, 2016

Seeking A Good Trouting Line ~ SHJ Casts the Cortland 444 Classic

     On the home water we’re calling 2016 ‘TheYear of the Mayflies’. Jack wanted to take us fishing. So I had the pleasure of sampling the river with a couple buddies, Evening Hatch guides, Jack Mitchell & Jeff Cottrell. Jack rowed while Jeff & I hunted the water with Black Quill dryflies.

Most of our casts were to rises within a 15 to 50 foot range, maybe the occasional cast to 60 feet.  We like a lot of the same things & we talk while fishing. Jeff & I were commenting about how we didn’t like the way the radical weight forward lines we were using presented dry & soft-hackle flies, & complaining about double-taper lines disappearing from the market, & how crazy techno-talk line marketing & labeling has become. Jeff said he was waiting for some lines Cortland wanted him to try out, & said he’d give me one to try when they arrived.
Jeff 'Jefe' Cottrell with UC Redband

I used to own a Cortland Leon Chandler, 6wt, ‘S’ glass rod. It was light as a feather, a beautiful translucent tobacco color, with a graceful semi-parabolic action appropriate to the pace of observant trouting – best 6wt I’ve ever casted – & trading it off when graphite was coming in, thinking I needed to ‘move up’, was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done.

Cortland Line Company, of Cortland, New York, has been around for a long time. The company revolutionized fly lines, setting the stage for modern lines when it introduced the first coated fly line, the Cortland 333. Though they were first, to the company’s credit, Cortland has never succumbed to the confusing over-specialized hype marketing tactics many of their competitors now practice. And though the quality & durability is as good as any make of line I’ve abused, the Cortland lines remain among the most moderately priced.   

The lines arrived & Jeff brought me a weight-forward, 6weight, floating, 444. To a shopper seeking a trouting line, the writing on the box is completely understandable. Reading down from the top, here’s what’s written on the front of the box: World Famous Fly Line – Extremely supple, glass smooth finish and outstanding durability. Welded loop. – Cortland 444 Classic – Modern Trout – WF6F – Moss/30 YDS./27 M. All you need to know, within reason.             

I wound the line onto my reel. The ‘Moss’ is a pleasant, understated, light olive color. As the label promises, the line is supple & glass smooth. I took it fishing.

Casting, I found the Cortland 444 stays supple in cold water, while easy to hand. Its slick surface allows it to shoot through the guides without sound, & be picked up from the water with minimum commotion. The line floated high throughout a three-hour session. Being a line meant for trout fishing, working the distances commonly worked on most trout streams, the forward taper is designed with presentation foremost in mind. It is not the radical apple-on-a-string front taper that gives a bit more distance yet plops on the water in a heap at the working end of a cast. The taper is conservative, with a fairly long front taper ensuring a delicate presentation, while the fairly (comparatively) long rear belly serves to load the rod for good roll casts & various tosses. It mends well. At shorter distances, say, up to 40 feet, those distances most commonly fished on small to medium sized trout streams, the 444 feels & performs a lot like a double-taper, & with little effort. It is a forgiving taper. With a little more effort I was able to haul a 60 foot cast, no problem. Though the back of the box claims ‘tight loops’ (tight loops are considered cool lately, & all line manufacturers are claiming them), I found that the 444 forms a more open loop than the more radical weight-forward lines being offered for fast-action rods. But I consider that a positive attribute, ensuring less fouling when casting multiple fly rigs, or jig (beadhead) & bobber set-ups.            

The Cortland 444 Modern Trout was designed to be an all-around trout line for meeting the size trout streams that most of us fish most of the time – & I am impressed at how well it fills the bill for that purpose. Though, so far, I’ve only fished it on a graphite rod, I suspect the 444 might be a good choice for lining glass & bamboo. Because of its great roll-casting abilities, I also suspect that this configuration might be a good choice for lining light switch rods of trouting weights, particularly glass versions like the Echo #3 two-hander, the head configuration resembling a sort of mini-version of a long-belly Spey. I’ll be trying it. Meantime, I think anybody seeking to cut through the bullshit choosing an all-around, floating trout line, will be more than satisfied with the Cortland 444 Classic.


Monday, July 11, 2016


Got a few on the hook. The stair-step of happy campers in the accompanying photo are initiates. They’ve learned to tie a blood knot; handle & cast spinning gear; they have handled fly tackle, which they used to troll flies at the pond; they are learning how to tie flies; & they learned how to cut & prepare trout for the frying pan.

Tomorrow we will cast the fly rods, on the lawn.

They are excited & looking forward to having those trout aligned on the net handle as their camp supper. They are ready for ‘blooding’ – a right-of-passage, of sorts. I have explained some conservation & the concept of catch & release, & the initiates understand. They are gentle souls. But they wanted to clean & cook a few also, & I agreed to let them kill a few trout for the table. That is blooding.

At base, ours is still a blood sport, evolved from the necessary food-gathering habits of our ancestors. Keeping that in mind, I think, helps the angler to stay sharp. Eating one now & then will keep you fishy.

The initiates are fishy now. They have engaged full-circle in the ancient rite. I’ve no doubt that all three will always fish. They love it. And if they ever have to catch a fish, by necessity, they will know how to do so.          

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Western Yellow Drake Mayfly

Yellow Occi ~ Steven Bird
It’s good to be a Northern man enjoying a normal trout country June of mixed sun & cloud with temperatures hovering in the seventies. The kind of weather that brings up good mayfly hatches. Can’t remember seeing March browns as thick as they are this season. It’s been about fifteen years since an upstream smelter quit dumping toxic waste into my home water, & mayflies, & mayfly species, are on the increase. And a new one this year, when, suddenly, Siphlonurus occidentalis (Gray Drake or Yellow Drake) put in a surprise appearance, hatching in strong numbers, early to late evening. A happy occurrence, turns out.

Depending on location, adults may be gray or yellow. The elegant UC dun is buttery-yellow all over, with long, light gray wings. The bodies are long & slender; fairly replicated dressed on a #12 TMC 200R, or other 3x-long hook. To avoid confusion with the more widespread Eastern yellow drake (Ephemera varia), & the gray mode of the same species, I’ve dubbed the local model ‘yellow occi’.  

Though not as widespread as its East/Midwest cousin, the western yellow drake does produce major, long-duration hatches on certain Columbia tributaries, as well, apparently, as the Columbia/American Reach mainstem. Like the eastern model, yellow occi is long on the water, spindly & easily tumbled – & for that reason, as well as the ease a wetfly affords in fishing near-dark until dark when these mayflies are most prevalent, I’ve found the wet version fairly handy.

Yellow Occi

Hook: #12 TMC 200R

Thread: yellow UNI 8/0

Tails: barred lemon wood duck

Body: blend 3 equal parts Wapsi Superfine sulfur yellow; creamy-yellow poly yarn; bright yellow poly yarn – dubbed on a loop of the tying thread

Wing: pearl-gray calf tail  

Hackle: yellow hen

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Upper Columbia Hairwing Dryflies

October Caddis ~ mixed black & tan moose hair wing

    Those who follow SHJ will know that I spew quite a bit concerning regionality & tying local as a process through which we, the tiers of flies, are informed by what the trout & our environment are cueing us to – the process possibly resulting in a recognizable regional style of fly pattern.

Green Drake ~ mixed pearl-gray, black & yellow kip wings
 I saw this process illustrated some years ago when I stopped in to visit Jack Mitchell’s Evening Hatch outfit at their new lodge, downriver from my beat. And at that same occasion Justin Hotchkiss of North River Charters stopped by the lodge, & for the first time all the local guides operating on the American Reach of the upper Columbia where assembled at one table. There were four of us. None of us were aware of what the other guys were fishing. Black Quill (UC ‘Drakes’) & Green Drake where hatching then, & we started talking about flies, so naturally fly boxes were presented & opened around the table. And to my surprise, & to everybody else’s surprise & amusement, it came to light that we’d all arrived at the same conclusion regarding what worked best fishing over the big mayflies – we were all using Wulff-style hairwings tied to resemble the local drakes. Justin Hotchkiss’s superbly tied renditions sporting mixed hair wings were stunningly realistic. The dictates of our trout & water, our needs, & a lot of trial & error, had brought us to the same place. It was clear: from the conflicted currents of the upper Columbia a distinct regional style had developed, ‘organically’, if you will. We dubbed Justin, native son, Master of the UC Hairwing Style.

Black Quill ~ black with shorter yellow kip wings
I’ve featured some UC hairwing wetflies in earlier posts, but scratch the paint of a canny wetfly angler &, chances are, an opportunistic dryfly practitioner will be revealed. Though not as finely turned as Justin Hotchkiss’s hairwing dries, the ones featured here serve as examples of what works well in the upper Columbia/West Slope river system. The style isn’t particularly innovative but, rather, based on more traditional designs like the Wulff hairwing dries & western downwing patterns like the old Sofa Pillow & Elk Wing Caddis. The most defining characteristic of the UC style is the mixed hair wings found on many local patterns, particularly those meant to fish for larger insects like drakes, stoneflies & October caddis.        

Of course, you might find such flies in use anywhere, & particularly on the big rivers of the West Slope. Form following function, their main function is to float well during extended drifts on fast & rough water. Yes, foam floats, but native UC redband, ever behind the times, seem to prefer hair to foam. Regional preference, if you will. No accounting for taste. Though I do suspect there are explainable factors involved, including, maybe, that natural materials recreate most living things better than plastic foam does. The working elements that apply to good wetfly design: light; motion; obfuscation, apply to effective dryfly design as well, in my own experience.

CDC & Elk Sedge ~ tan CDC & speckled elk wing
Though most UC hairwing dries are imitative of larger insects found in the drainage, hairwing designs imported from outside the region have adapted to meeting the smaller mayflies of the upper Columbia as well – notably, the Al Caucci-Bob Nastasi Comparadun style, developed to meet the mayfly hatches & selective trout of the upper Delaware (probably inspired by the Haystack patterns of Francis Betters, created to float well on the swift freestone water of the Ausable). A simple Haystack is my favorite for meeting #14-#18 mayflies. And, as most everywhere, the ever-present wee sedges are effectively matched with simple downwings of deer or elk.

Royal Wulff  ~ white kip wings

When I first met the American Reach of the Columbia in 1973, the Royal Wulff was a standard among the few local fly anglers, & for good reason, & it is still the best pattern I know for exploring the top of the water column. (If the situation calls for a bobber, the Royal Wulff is usually my choice for the purpose. A soft-hackle dangling under a RW  is a killing combination.) And I’ve no doubt the construction of the Royal Wulff provided the prototype for the more imitative UC ‘drake’ designs that followed.       

UC Royal Wulff  with tailing of moose mane & golden pheasant tippet

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Bill Shuck ~ Form & Function

'Just Emerged PMD' ~ Bill Shuck

Regional Fly: A fly pattern based on a recognizably local/regional style or type, its composition informed by the dictates of regional conditions. Or, as Bill Shuck defines it: “A design/pattern that evolved in a geographical area as a result of the water type & insect life that predominate there.”

Indigenous Fly: A rarer form of the regional fly, in our time. Defined the same as a regional fly, yet, one might say a purer form, constructed of materials native to the region of its origin. Many of the old designs were such. The Hare’s Ear & Muskrat Nymph, for examples. The Allgrouse featured in my last post is a more recent example.

Those of you old hands who came up before the internet might find those definitions (labels) redundant & serving no real purpose. And to those I would say the definitions are meant to evoke an interesting & entertaining fundamental of our game, for what that’s worth. I’m not dogmatic. It’s all about fun. But, guiding, I meet a lot of anglers who are ardent about improving their skills & enjoyment of our sport, yet seeming to take their cues, for the most part, from: fly fishing shows, online videos, media & the marketing forces which seek to popularize, & I’m hoping the definitions will serve to remind those anglers where the creative stream of our game actually springs from & what deeper benefit there might be in drawing creative water there.            

Most who read SHJ are probably aware the soft-hackle approach was developed to a high art in the British Isles before being transplanted into North America in the days of wooden rods. Neil Norman’s fine online journal, Soft Hackles, Tight Lines – A Soft Hackle Pattern Book is devoted to the early flies; & in those designs we see tying techniques & material choices developed to sophistication. Those who came before us were as intent & canny as any angler today.

 The earliest fly fishers into the Northeast & Mid-Atlantic region, armed with English flies, met trout streams & trout stream insects very similar to those of England, particularly in the area that is now Pennsylvania. The fly patterns they brought with them worked so well they featured considerably in the decimation of Northeastern brook trout populations, & some of these are still in use today, the dressings unchanged for 200 years, while others morphed slightly or radically to meet regional dictates. And of course, along the fertile streams of the New World, as new fly designers were born, new patterns were born, & those, more & more, informed by local conditions. In the mid-Atlantic, as in the British Isles, a regional school developed, exemplified in the designs of Pennsylvanian, Jim Leisenring, & from these some purely indigenous patterns developed as well.

Though our palette of materials is only limited by imagination, there are three unchanging elements of wet fly design: size, profile, motion. Barring nuclear mutations, the size & shape of those insects we seek to simulate remains constant. ‘Profile’ is the frame in which we create. Perhaps, Leisenring’s greatest contribution to soft-hackle design was his emphasis on profile – & that articulated in he & Pete Hidy’s ‘flymph’ imitations displaying the prominent thorax we see as a characteristic of natural mayflies, particularly.  

 ‘Tradition’ is, simply, The Living Archive Of What Worked. To my mind any definition beyond that is merely construct, the jingle-jangle of individual perception. The authentic tradition at the core of our game is not static but a continuous stream wherein there is no old or new, no East or West. And the hallmark of a good fly design is its universal effectiveness. A good fly travels well. There are far too many examples to list here. We’ve noted how effective the British designs worked in the Northeast. Though trends may carry some of us far from our regional forebears, profile, & what the trout are saying, remains much the same. Though my own home water, the upper Columbia River, is unique & vastly different in character from the educated streams of Pennsylvania, much that works on Brodhead Creek works here equally as well. Each trout stream teaches universal lessons to be taken away, while at the same time functioning as a unique creative crucible, & that is why there will always be regional anglers tying & fishing flies informed by their home waters & the nuanced demands of the trout inhabiting them. That is where we meet Bill Shuck, a “man of the country”, to borrow from Cormac McCarthy.

Bill is standing in the stream. He fishes the same water that Leisenring fished & his fly designs reveal direct lineage. Bill does not promote himself. Doesn’t write a blog. Doesn’t sell books or videos or a special purpose rod bearing his name. You won’t find his flies in any catalog. Yet, though he is far too humble to say it of himself, I would list Bill Shuck as one of the modern masters of the wetfly. And Bill is in fine company, hanging with a talented group of regional angler/designers that includes Ray Tucker & twist-body magician, William Anderson There is no dogma in these guys' game. Though they are rooted in the authentic tradition of their region, like Leisenring, bottom line, they are bait-makers looking for a fish count. For his love of the game, Bill generously shares his work with SHJ. Some of these are his own designs, & some are patterns that have caught his eye. 

 Though chances are we haven’t seen them before, looking at Bill’s flies we see something at once familiar, ‘classic’, one might say, while at the same time, we see, they are fresh – an evolved re-shuffling of classic elements resonant to the core of our flyfishing brains. We might ask ourselves: “Gee, why didn’t I think of that?”

There are some who might define Bill Shuck as a ‘neoclassicist’, & I would agree that is fair, in the most positive sense, yet most apt to describe the appearance of his flies. Like the rest of us, through media he is up on things, though it is obvious he doesn't dive in indiscriminately composing fanciful designs of the latest 'hot' materials. He is discerning & pragmatic. He understands that it is still hard to beat natural materials.

As a soft-hackler, I see Bill Shuck’s level of craft as a bar to aspire to. As an angler/guide fortunate to spend a lot of time peering into water, as well as a variety of other folk’s fly boxes, Bill’s flies reveal to me that his time on the water is well-spent – I see regional influences, function & form coalesce to graceful syncopation. These are not fanciful, but informed designs, well done. Bill has an eye for a killing bait. Plain & simple, these are soft-hackle flies meant to be fished.

Thanks for sharing your work with us, Bill. And thanks for keeping your hand to what is truly authentic, worthwhile & integral in our game.

Biot & Plover March Brown ~ Bill Shuck