Monday, March 20, 2017

Some Green Drake Variations

Green Drake Emerger/Cripple
Hook: #10 TMC 200R
Thread: yellow Pearsall's
Hackle: olive grizzly
Tail: barred waterfowl flank dyed with yellow highlighter pen
Body: olive hare's mask dubbed on a loop of the tying silk
Half-wing: barred waterfowl flank dyed with yellow highlighter
     Green Drake is the first big mayfly of the year to show. They are sporadic, initially. Maybe we’ll spot one drifting like a battle cruiser among the bum-boats of small Grannom riding the flow. Or perhaps we catch sight of one paddling through the air like a B-52 among the kamikaze sedges.


The first Green Drake of the season we see is always an exciting event because we know when there’s one, there’s more to follow. Once the tap is open, trout know it. The fish were probably onto them even before we saw that one.  We think: Oh Boy. It’s on!

Rene Harrop's Drake
Hook: #10 TMC 200R
Thread: black
Hackle: olive grizzly hen fronted with black hen
Tail: barred lemon wood duck
Body: olive turkey biot & olive dubbed thorax touched with gray rabbit 
The scene might play out on any of the rivers & streams of the West Slope where the line-up of Drake species occur in their respective hatch seasons, late spring through summer.  And for swingers of flies this is fortunate, as trout enjoy & appreciate soft-hackled imitations of the big mayflies, drifted & swung – a fact observed by Rene Harrop, whose killing Green Drake pattern has become a standard for meeting the famed Henry’s Fork hatch.   

Hare's Lug & Plover Drake
Hook: #10 TMC 200R
Thread: yellow Pearsalls or UNI 8/0
Hackle: golden plover (or olive grizzly)
Tail: bronze waterfowl flank
Body: olive hare's mask dubbed on a loop of the tying silk, gray rabbit
touched over the thorax
On another fork of the Columbia Drainage, several hundred miles from the Henry’s Fork, before I’d heard of Harrop’s Drake, I was mining a similar vein, & I smiled when I first saw the patt, because I recognized Harrop’s dressing was not dictated by fancy, but straight from the authentic mojo of experience & close observation. It is built on an ancient frame, tested & true, incorporating the sound principles & elements of the soft-hackle tradition. It is a workhorse bait.

These designs hunt the top of the water column, where they may be taken as a pre-emerger, cripple, or drowned adult. Without a lot of bulk to buoy & sail the fly, they bust the surface tension immediately, then hover & track well; the flowing soft hackle coalescing the illusion of (moving) body mass & nuance of coloration.        

Monday, March 13, 2017

Busting the Surface Film

Rene Harrop's Green Drake ~ tied by Steven Bird
     There is no rig simpler & more satisfying to fish than a floating line, leader, & a single fly. One might say deceptively simple, as it requires some skill to bring out the rig’s great versatility to best advantage. Skill only comes with practice, time on the water & observation. But there are some practical tricks of preparation that don’t take much skill or practice & yield immediate benefits.            

During pre-hatches, hatches, spinner falls, & whenever I can get away with it, I prefer to drift & swing wetflies with a floating line, sans lead on the leader or bead/jighead on the fly. Fishing water three feet deep & less, the depth most of us fish most of the time on medium & small streams, or on those occasions I want to fish the top three feet of the water column, here’s a few things I do to get the fly down without resorting to jigging. And nothing against jigging, but in the season of wee flies I prefer my fly to present in a more ephemeral manner than dangling bead-headed under a bobber or hippity-hopping along the bottom. Trout want the fly behaving like an emerging nymph or a spent adult adrift in the flow, & that makes for fine sport, indulging the angler’s senses on multi-levels. The bobber & jig, though having its place, tends to usurp the eye & shut out both the finer senses & the broader view.

I want the leader & fly to penetrate the surface tension immediately. Ideally, the fly should hover on the horizontal while it descends. Whatever your opinion of fluorocarbon leaders, they are an indispensable aid in accomplishing quick surface penetration. For leaders to 9’, I use a 6’ tapered fluorocarbon leader butt tipped with a #2 metal rigging ring. For leaders over 9’ I go to a 7’ butt. The ring creates a semi-permanent leader, without the need to cut it back each time a new tippet is spliced on. Simply tie fresh tippet to the ring. (The knot tag can be left long to add a dropper, or a separate dropper can be tied to the ring to create a clean, two-fly cast). UC guide CJ Emerson introduced me to Seaguar Red Label fluoro, & I like it a lot – the best I’ve tried.

Here’s an essential step: Before I fish I take a moment to straighten my leader by pulling & stretching along its length. A couple passes down & it should hang straight & limp – if it doesn’t, switch brands. After straightening the leader I apply a sinking agent like Gerke’s Xink (& reapply about once an hour while fishing). Straightening the leader is a simple ritual that gives a definite edge – it will present, sink, & fish better.

There’s a lot to be learned from the older wetfly designs. In the Clyde & Tummel style flies of Scotland we see how the hook itself serves both as a keel to keep the fly hovering & tracking right, & a weight to get the fly subsurface quickly. These are tied both winged & wingless, but their defining characteristic is the sparse bodies, often only silk thread, & only covering the front half of the hook shank – in the Tummel style, only the front one-third of the hook. Though not as radical, we see sparse bodies on the English North country flies as well, the bodies generally ending at the hook point. Proponents of all three styles prescribe only a single turn of hackle. Bulk of materials on the hook serves to buoy & sail the fly. The more bulk: the more keel required to stabilize the fly & keep it tracking upright (particularly winged designs), & the more iron required to overcome the material’s neutral buoyancy & sink it. Generally, there is nothing to gain in tying down onto the hook bend thinking the hook needs to be disguised as much as possible in order to fool a fish. Fish don’t think of or see hooks the same way we do. Fond of the saying regarding hooks, Yorkshiremen will tell you: “The trout sees what it wants to see.”             
       
Many Yorkshire & Scottish purists refrain from tying on hooks smaller than #15. If the insect they seek to imitate is smaller than that, the smaller size is tied on a #15 hook. This leaves plenty of iron to sink the fly, & hold larger fish if need be. I’ve found this to be a very useful concept, particularly where large trout are encountered feeding on tiny insects. 
  
Think of your hook as a sinker. And of course the hook may be weighted to sink, & that is a very good option if you need to get down deeper than 3’.  But for fishing from the surface, down to 3’, I’ve found it best to apply lead conservatively – a straight piece the length of the fly’s thorax, bound beneath the hook shank rather than wound, will give surface penetration without sinking the fly unnaturally quick.

In the season of wee flies trout are usually looking up. There’s always something hatching & something dying, & a lot of bugs accumulated in the wash & on the slicks. At such times there’s a lot going on at the top of the water column, or maybe right on the surface. If that’s the case, I’ll forego dressing the leader with sink compound, the fluoro leader alone will crack through the surface tension.

Design, construction, & hook choice will determine how fast the fly sinks. I generally tie nymphs & emergers on one size larger hook than the natural requires, thus weighting the fly. If I mean the fly to fish as a spent or drowned adult I want it to fish closer to the surface, so tie on a light dryfly hook of appropriate size for the natural, & fill the hook to mid-point of the barb, in the standard fashion.

Again, bulk & excess hackle will buoy the fly. Keep hackle to no more than two turns, & bodies sparse. If you are tying soft-hackle flies, remember, the hackle flowing back over the body contributes to create the illusion of mass. If you are certain the body really does need more mass, dub spare & loose in a dubbing loop & pick out the dubbing to create a fat body without a lot of bulk – or consider a herl body, which will also give the illusion of mass, without real bulk.            


Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Red Truck 5110-4 ‘Trout’ Switch Rod

Red Truck 5110-4 'Trout Switch'.
     My home water, the upper Columbia River, is big water holding large trout, which makes it the ideal set-up for a two-handed trout rod. If there be a ‘Mecca’ of two-handed trouting in the lower 48, the UC is it. 

Living & guiding here I have the opportunity to try out quite a few of the micro-spey rods available designed for trout fishing, & am lately impressed with the Red Truck, 11’, 5110-4 5-weight ‘Trout Switch’. Of the two-handed rods I’ve casted in this class, I’d have to give Red Truck the nod for being the most trouty, as well as the most versatile – so deserving a short review. I know most SHJ readers love to swing wetflies & streamers, & some might be considering a two-hander for that purpose. This is a good one, at a good price. 

Red Truck 5110-4 ~ single-hand mode.
    For its class, the Red Truck 5110-4 possesses a fairly wide usable grain window due to its 11’ length, coupled with a semi-parabolic, progressive action. I would call this rod a medium-fast action, though it holds a load well, which makes it forgiving and friendly to those with a slower casting style. It has a light, delicate ‘feel’ suitable to a trout rod. I think the action would satisfy most neoclassicists. Generally, switch rods longer than 10’ tend to be tiresome fished as single-handers, but I found that not to be so with the Red Truck. The rod’s light weight combined with a conventional, full-wells foregrip & the ability to remove the spey rear grip, makes this rod able to convert to a pleasing single-hand mode – good for fishing big dryflies (mice, drakes, stoneflies, October caddis) on big western rivers. Though it functions supremely well as a two-hander, it converts to a fine single-hander, not a cumbersome compromise.    

I am impressed with the rod’s build & performance, but I have one nitpick: the ambiguous 5-weight designation is confusing, as the rod is neither an AFTMA 5wt or a #5 Spey. (I wish rod manufacturers would make it easier on potential customers and themselves and simply print the rod’s grain window on the rod).

After casting the Red Truck with a number of lines, I determined its usable grain window to be 150-280 grains (I emailed the Red Truck rep and he confirmed this). In single-hand mode it will throw an AFTMA 5wt line okay, & could function as a far-&-fine outfit in some situations, yet with that light of a line one gets the feeling there’s a lot of ass in reserve, & there is. Loaded with an AFTMA 6wt line the Red Truck begins to come into its own – useful for fishing big dries, nymphs and bobber set-ups on big water. For me, casting single-handed, the Red Truck performs best loaded with a 7wt or 7-1/2wt line – good for swinging streamers on big water. In Spey mode, I found the Red Truck switch performs like a rocket launcher lined with a 23’ short-head weighing 260 grains – that’s roughly the equivalent of a 9wt AFTMA rated line. As a compromise, the rod performs competently in both single-hand and double-hand modes loaded with an AFTMA 8wt DT line. Narrowed to ideal, I’d put the grain window at 160-260 grains – the equivalent to a #3 spey rating – in my own experience, the best all-around for trout.  

Red Truck aluminum rod tube & opener cap.
The Red Truck switch is elegant, well-appointed with top quality guides and components. The blank is an understated, translucent gray. Guide wraps are claret with blue-ish silver tips to match the gunmetal blue reel seat. The interchangeable rear grips are built on light, aircraft-grade aluminum thread stock, & mount neatly & securely, threaded into the reel seat barrel.

Red Truck is thoughtful as well as utilitarian – the 4-piece rod comes in a heavy cloth bag with pockets for storing the two rear grips & an aluminum storage tube with a bottle opener built into the underside of the cap. Could be handy.      

Frankly, you can spend a lot more money on a light switch rod, but I would rate the 5110-4 among the best I’ve fished, in any price range. And check out the Red Truck Diesel reels. Classic, utilitarian goodness. The 7/8 Diesel reel perfectly matches and balances the 5110-4 switch. 

The Red Truck Fly Fishing Company offers a refreshing perspective. If you like quality gear that doesn't look like spaceman stuff, at a reasonable price, learn more about Red Truck rods and reels here: http://redtruckflyfishing.com/                     

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Making the Best of a Hare’s Mask

Processed olive hare's mask dubbing.
   I used to waste a lot of hare’s heads. The masks, natural or dyed, feature a lot of shades & textures. I’d use up the reddish poll on a natural mask, pull some lug from the ears for the spiky guard hairs, clip the easy-dubbing cream from the cheeks, & the rest would pretty much go to waste. There was no uniformity of coloration in the flies tied from them, as it’s nearly impossible to get the same blend of furs twice when you’re picking it from a mask. And no two natural masks are exactly the same. But then I learned a simple process that allows maximum use of the mask, creating a perfect mix of uniformly colored spiky dubbing. Here’s how:

Materials you’ll need: a hare’s mask; a quart jar (canning jar is perfect) with cap; a kitchen strainer; a paper coffee filter.

Using your spare fly tying scissors, clip the whiskers from the hare’s mask & save them for mayfly tails.

Clip the hair from the entire mask – bend the ears & train the short hairs away with the side of the scissors while trimming down the ears. Some shave the ears with a single edge razor blade, but I scraped into the hide too much while attempting it. The scissors will get it close enough to the skin with negligible waste. Once as much fur as possible is removed from the mask, worked into a pile on the table, mix all the fur together until fairly blended.

Fill the mason jar about 2/3 of the way full with warm water; mix in a few drops of hair conditioner; add dubbing; screw the lid on; shake for about 5 minutes.


 Over the sink, pour the contents of the jar into a screened strainer & rinse with warm water. Press the mixture in the strainer to remove excess water, then place into a paper coffee filter & place somewhere to dry. As the mixture dries, break it up from time to time. When fully dry it may appear clumpy, but the puffs of dubbing are easily broken.

This process results in a surprising quantity of perfect, spiky dubbing, of uniform color blend, the guard hairs evenly distributed throughout. 

No two natural hare’s masks are alike. A few masks in natural colors will yield several shades that can be blended with others at the vise to achieve desired colors. I also buy masks in the available dyed colors & process them thus.  

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Temptation of Lilith

A lot of us are having a hard winter this year & would like to be over it. We’ll get there. Trying to hold back from pushing time. But thinking a spring story might serve as a mid-winter spring break, of sorts. A short detour to Dreamtown while the roads clear.  


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. The spate 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; and 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 a bit 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 old rod 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.   


~Steven Bird


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Fight For Public Lands

   The photo on the left is the American Reach segment of the Columbia River, in NE Washington. You, along with your fellow citizens, own it. The fishing is good, & you can fish it where you please. You also own most of the land you see in the picture. It's good land, supporting a lot of wildlife. The hunting is good, & you may hunt it where you please. It is a source of real wealth. People come to enjoy it, hire local guides & spend money at local businesses. You can't see them in the photo, but there are several mines (yes, you can stake a claim) there, & these provide raw materials & jobs. Sometimes portions of it need to be logged, so the timber is put up for bid, & anybody can bid on it, & that provides jobs too. Also, a lot of the people who live in the area burn wood to keep their homes warm in the winter, & if you need some wood, for a couple bucks you can get a permit & a map showing you where to cut it. As the extractive interests operating there are under the purview of law regarding safe practices, they are kept in balance (ideally) with the rest of the picture. You can see by the photo that this land is very well taken care of, & its maintenance also provides a lot of local jobs. We take care of it & it takes care of us. That's how commonwealth works.

Now, suppose Congress was to sell everything in this picture to Exxon or Saudi Arabia? Just to name a couple interests who would like to purchase it (& no, you won't see any of the money from the sale). Well, that is the reality confronting us right now. With all the other crap going down, the mainstream media is giving this far too little attention. Thankfully an astute Montana hunter, Randy Newberg, has been working hard to bring this dissembling movement to light. And thanks to Orvis for taking up this fight, in my opinion the most important fight of our lifetimes. Here is an in-depth account of what is going down. I hope everybody will read this & react:
 http://www.orvis.com/news/fly-fishing/fight-keep-public-lands-public-5-questions-randy-newberg/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+OrvisFlyFishingBlog+%28Orvis.com%2FNews+Fly+Fishing+Blog%29

      

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Congressional Land Grab Still Underway

    We had a small victory & dancing, but the fight to save the Public Trust aint over yet. Far from it. And this, I think, serves to illustrate the false construct of an actual Left/Right divide, as hunters & anglers of all parties are coming together to protest Congress's "disposal" of public lands. We must quit drinking that divisive kool-aid right now lest those serving lesser gods rob us while we are busy poking each other’s belly buttons. Wake up ladies & gentlemen. Like it or not, The Time has arrived that we must define what America is going to be. 

And my hat is off to the many outdoor writers who have put aside things they’d much rather be writing about & instead using their platforms to activate anglers, hunters & all who live & enjoy the outdoor life. John Tobin, one of the good guys, sent me this from outdoor writer Casey Schreiber, from Modernhiker.com.

What you can do: Take a few minutes to pen a message letting them know that they must not sell away our public lands, & CC it to your congressmen & senators & everybody else you can think of. That is how we stopped HR 621. They can only accomplish their agenda in the dark, & under the light of citizen scrutiny they will fail.  

But another threat to public lands remains

Utah’s Representative Jason Chaffetz officially withdrew his bill HR 621, also known as the Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2017.
The bill, which you can read in its entirety, directed the Secretary of the Interior to “sell certain Federal lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming, previously identified as suitable for disposal, and for other purposes.”
Conservatives and Sagebrush Rebel types have been pushing for federal land sales in the West for decades, and now that the political setup is overwhelmingly favorable to such actions, many in the outdoor community and beyond were extremely concerned about how this would affect our ability to enjoy our public lands as many of us have been doing for generations. Thankfully, public pressure and outreach from those groups got to Chaffetz’s office, and the Congressman announced on social media that he was withdrawing his own bill late on Wednesday, February 1st.
While the outdoor community is right to celebrate this victory, the Congressman introduced another bill this session that seems crafted to appeal directly to the same groups that would cheer the sale of federal public land to private interests. HR 622, the Local Enforcement for Local Lands Act, aims “To terminate the law enforcement functions of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management and to provide block grants to States for the enforcement of Federal law on Federal land under the jurisdiction of these agencies, and for other purposes.”
In some parts of the West – including most of Chaffetz’s district in Utah – a movement of “Constitutional Sheriffs” has risen since the mid-1990s. Without solid legal or legislative backing, this group of law enforcement officials believes themselves to be constitutionally empowered as the highest law in the land, above both state and federal officials.
In the past, these sheriffs have refused to enforce federal and state environmental and preservationist laws they did not personally like or agree with, and removing the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management’s ability to enforce their own rules, laws, and policies and potentially leaving them at the mercy of enforcement agencies that don’t want to enforce specific laws is, perhaps, just as great a threat – if not a greater one – to our public lands.
Other bills that currently threaten public lands include:
    S 33 and S 132, which hobble the Antiquities Act (used by Presidents to establish National Monuments)
    S 22 and HR 243, which prohibit the Antiquities Act from being used in the state of Nevada
    HR 232, which transfers National Forests to states for logging.



Thursday, February 2, 2017

A Minor Victory in the Fight for Public Lands

Maypole Dancers ~ G. Bisley 1610
HR 621, a bill introduced by Clive Bundy dominionist, Jason Cheffetz (R Utah), calling for the sale of 3.5 million acres of public lands was a done deal in Congress. But, confronted with a groundswell of citizen writers & demonstrators, both Democrat & Republican, congressional Republicans announced today they are dropping the bill.

This is a great day for participatory democracy. If you are one who wrote or demonstrated, pat yourself on the back, your voice contributed to send a powerful message to those who would diminish our true wealth & greatness.

Thank you.

No leader will make us great. Only “we the people” have the ability to confer greatness. And we must remain ever vigilant.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Sad Day For American Angling

     Believe me I’d much rather be writing about fly fishing. Yet in light of continuing events, frankly, I’m distracted to the point that writing about our game seems trite.

Perceiving evidence that it was coming, several months back I wrote & posted to SHJ, Dominionism Rising, a piece about the Republican plan to auction off the Public Trust and privatize our public lands & waterways. Well, it happened. In a move during the first session of the new Congress, the vote split down Party lines, Republicans voted to put the Public Trust up for auction. The first batch of public land going on the block will be 3.5 million acres over  ten states, an area about the size of Connecticut -- & the sale will include three national monuments. 

Though unconfirmed, multiple sources indicate the Saudis will be stepping up to bid on a good chunk of it. During the process, Republicans rescinded a law requiring that public lands be sold at a profit, if they are sold at all (I'd imagine based on current real estate values in the respective areas). So it looks like the Saudis or whoever else can afford it is going to get a discount bargain on what used to belong to the American people. 

Starting to sound like fake news? I wish it was.    

Ryan Zinke (R Montana), Trump's appointee to head the Department of the Interior, only three weeks ago vowed to preserve the "sanctity" of the Public Trust, yet is now heartily endorsing the "disposal" of the federal lands. 

I have to admit, brilliant timing, the public absorbed & distracted with a news cycle loaded with so much else this is barely getting mention.     

Values we hold dear are being trampled by a consortium of powerful men. I know for a fact that many of you, in addition to many other concerned citizens, wrote your congressmen on behalf of retaining our commonwealth, however, they did not listen. Why? I’ve talked to a lot of folks about this issue, including Republican friends, & have not met a single soul in favor of selling off the public lands. So why did the majority of Republican members of Congress, who’s job is to represent the will of their constituents, sign off on this radical turn?

Well, follow the money trail & it will lead you to the truth. This crap has been cooking on a back burner for a long time, waiting for a Republican majority to get it done. Here’s a 2015 piece from the Seattle Times outlining the trajectory.      

     
In an interview a reporter reminded Donald Trump that he had formerly (before the election) promised to preserve the Public Trust regarding public lands, then asked why he (Trump) & congressional Republicans were going ahead with dismantling it, ignoring a preponderance of input from the public, Trump let this slip: “The parks belong to me now.”

So I guess that means they no longer belong to you & me. 

Making America great again.

Monday, January 23, 2017

SHJ Reel Review ~ The Red Truck Diesel Fly Reel

Red Truck Diesel Reel
     Still working on Chapter 2 of The Art of Tying & Fishing Soft-Hackle Flies, to be posted sometime this coming month. Letting it cool for edits. But the writing mode creates momentum, & the weather is too shitty to work outside or fish, so I’m on a writing binge, & thought it might be good to fill in the long pause with a look at some gear I’m excited about.   

Been awhile since we reviewed any reels on SHJ. Way back there was the piece about the Pflueger Medalist. The one from my high school days. Then there was the write-up on the old Ocean City Wanita reels I scored at a garage sale. I don’t relish critiquing, so only review stuff I like. And I like gear that exhibits both workhorse functionality & timeless style. 

Function is first priority but, that covered, I admit an aversion to gear that makes me look like a spaceman (or stock car racer). We all have our quirks.  But you live with the gear you buy. You have to look at it while you’re using it. Aesthetics are important. So, not being a spaceman, I’m usually no consumer of fly reels that look like futuristic space gear. And, as makers compete for the ambiguous grail of lightness, some newer reel designs are so radically machined-out & spindly if you drop them once they are toast. So much for the future. You can only remove so much aluminum.

So maybe it’s time to have a look at a worthwhile contemporary reel.

Perhaps some of you have been considering a Hardy Marquis to match up with a fine bamboo or glass rod, or to add some class to a new graphite rod. Now, suppose it was possible to find a nearly identical reel of equal or better quality, same style available in five sizes, at a little more than half the price?

A neoclassicist’s dream? 

I like the zen simplicity, reliability & longevity of a click-pawl reel with a palm-able rim. I prefer click-pawl reels for all freshwater fishing, including steelhead & salmon. There is no drag system as sophisticated & intelligent, as capable of nuance, as the human hand, fingers or palm, set against a reel rim. A profoundly simple braking system, involving a challenging & satisfying skill set. And I admit the mechanical scraw of the clicker does add an element of excitement. In Scotland, on the River Spey, & on the trout streams, you see a lot of old click-pawl reels in use, many imbued with nearly 100 years of mojo, the original finishes nearly gone, worn to a proud patina.
True simplicity. Showing the Diesel's adjustable click-pawl
drag & bulletproof, precision, hardened & ground center pin. 

Like the Scots, I want a reel that will never go out of style & last 100 years while I happily wear the plating off of it.

I’ve always thought the Hardy Marquis to be “dead center”. The perfect blend of function & style. On a visit to Jack & Jen Mitchell’s Black Bear Lodge fish camp on the upper Columbia last summer, I was checking out the outfits lining the rod racks when a reel mounted to one of Jack’s Spey rods caught my eye. It looked just like an old Hardy Marquis, yet sized as a Spey reel. I picked the outfit out of the rack to check the reel out. Not a Hardy. The maker’s inscription on the reel’s smooth, gunmetal gray backside read: Red Truck Diesel. A brand I hadn’t heard of. The reel was beautifully made. Growing up machining in my dad’s tool & die shop I acquired a good eye for metalwork. No doubt, this was a quality reel. And yup, the winding knob was right, ample & well-shaped, not the too-small afterthought that ruins, imo, some otherwise good reels, including the Marquis.

 I asked Jack about the Red Truck reel, & he said he loved it.

We took it fishing, & it did behave like a thoroughbred, precision-smooth, no discernible spool run-out, no rattle or slop whatsoever. Even the pitch of the adjustable click-pawl drag was quality, well-tuned & pleasant, not raspy like some. And elegant. I couldn’t quit looking at it.  

The 100 year reel.        

A fairly new tackle company based in the San Francisco Bay area, Red Truck Fly Fishing Co. is owned and operated by savvy angler/designers committed to offering a quality line of elegantly designed gear that functions as good as it looks. I was stoked to learn that Red Truck offers the Diesel reel in five sizes, matched to appropriate line weights: 0/2; 3/4; 5/6; 7/8; & Spey.

Visiting their site, I learned Red Truck also builds a line of fine rods. In my next post we’ll take a look at the Red Truck 5110-4, 11’, 5wt (140-280grains), 4-piece, ‘Trout’ switch rod that matches the Diesel 7/8 reel featured in the photos. And you can check out the complete Red Truck line here: http://redtruckflyfishing.com/

Thursday, January 12, 2017

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

A Brief Genesis of Fly Hooks  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dame Juliana describes twelve flies in her essay. Civilizations have risen & fallen since the time of her writing, yet versions of her twelve flies are still in use, including the Donne Fly, which some believe to be the ancestor of the popular Partridge & Orange. So we know that some of the flies still in use in our time date back to England’s medieval period. Stream insects are still the same. And our ancestors were every bit as canny as us.    

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

                                             Modern Wetfly Hooks


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

                                                     Mustad 3366-BR
A sproat style all-purpose hook, heavy wire, with a straight eye, 1x long shank & wide hook gap. The 3366-BR is an old design with a classic configuration for soft-hackle & winged wets. This style is popular with North Country traditionalists who claim it tracks like the eyeless, snelled hooks of old, considering it preferable to modern down-eye styles for tying Tummel & Clyde style wets & North Country spiders. Its spacious, straight eye is easy to thread in failing light & good for rigging to dropper loops. A straight eye & wide gap ensure the hook keels smartly. In shape, it is identical to the Partridge Z2 & Alec Jackson ‘Traditional’ soft-hackle hooks, at about 1/10th the cost. Mustad hooks aren't heat-treated as brittle hard as some English & Japanese brands tend to be, so the barb can be crimped without fracturing the hook point, & when crimped, the generous barb maintains a good, fish-holding hump. These are sized smaller than standard wetfly, a #10 equal to a standard #12. If I could have only one hook for tying soft-hackles & winged wets, this would be my choice. The Mustad 3366-BR is a good-looking, reliable hook at a bargain price. If you want to give your flies an old-timey look without reverting to snelled, eye-less hooks, this one is a good choice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Steven Bird 2017