Wednesday, December 20, 2017

I Can Tell By Your Outfit That You Are A Cowboy

   Ladies and gentlemen, the swamp has been drained into the cabinet and we have now arrived at entropy. A threshold, if you will. In this moment we must choose what America is going to be.

Are we going to be a republic based on ideology, exceptionalism and myth? The cultural value set of Mike Pence's ‘American Identity’ movement?

Or are we going forward stewarding a nation based on a consilience of the sciences, arts, humanities, liberty and justice for all?

Some are looking for the mythical cowboy to ride in and save America. Some fancy themselves the mythical cowboy. Some are just pretending.

Roy Moore
 Presidential Adviser-For-A-Minute and RW mule driver Steve Bannon made a heroic flight down to Alabama intending to cinch the deal for candidate Roy Moore, but that effort didn’t fly. Saw a picture of them together on a stage, Bannon looking disheveled and boozy, Roy Moore dressed in his cowboy outfit and six-gun, looking like a problematic five year old at a kid’s birthday party.     

My paradox-absorbing faculties, working overtime, are sorely taxed and approaching tilt. 

I’m sure all of you who have been awake this past year are aware there are a lot of fires burning right now, both physical and metaphorical. What’s maddening is that the conflagration is not coincidental but the result of long-planned and far-reaching cause and affect. And it’s not all about Trump. He just recently stepped into it and only reflects what’s been fed to him. You are what you eat.  

The Trump administration and congressional Republicans are moving ahead with their plan to systematically deconstruct programs in place designed to combat climate change and bring us online with clean energy. Trump and the Republicans in congress are eating away at commonwealth lands and the public safety net and funneling those resources and monies toward their most powerful donors, the American oligarchs who account for 90% of their campaign donations. Again, follow the money trail and it will lead you to the truth. Regarding the new U.S. tax overhaul, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) said to his fellows: “If we can’t get this done, the donations will stop.” Leaving me to wonder how a man who has taken an oath to serve the people would think such a thing, much less presume to say it out loud.   

This is supposed to be an outdoor journal about tying flies and flyfishing, so, all things being connected, here are a few things congressional Republicans, Trump and his appointees are working on that will affect the outdoors, hence angling and anglers, over the long term:

The EPA is working to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the United States’ leading vehicle for reducing carbon emissions. (The EPA is now a gutted shell, headed by Trump appointee Scott Pruitt who, prior to his appointment, speaking figuratively, vowed to “blow up” the Environmental Protection Agency).

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt is calling for the elimination of tax incentives for producers of wind and solar energy, and this reflected in the new Republican tax plan (which, ironically, gives a massive tax cut to producers of coal, uranium and gas).

Pruitt bars scientists who receive EPA grants from the agency’s advisory boards, replacing them with industry-funded scientists.

In the name of “grid resiliency,” the Department of Energy (now headed by Trump appointee Rick Perry who, prior to his appointment, vowed to “get rid of” the agency he now heads, though at the time couldn’t recall the name of the agency he wanted to get rid of) wants a higher value placed on energy produced from coal and nuclear plants, a move that could cost taxpayer/consumers $10.6 billion a year.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (now under the control of dissembling Trump operatives) is denying endangered species status to 25 imperiled creatures formerly nominated for listing.

The Interior Department has been instructed to halt a study of the public health effects of mountaintop-removal coal mining; and is also offering 77 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas drilling, the largest such lease sale in the department’s history.  

The National Park Service has been instructed to double the price of admission to the most popular national parks, raising it to $70. (I suspect this is designed to sour public opinion against the idea of maintaining national parks, ensuring less resistance to eventually selling them off).

Trump appointee, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, working in conjunction with Energy Fuels Resources, a uranium mining company, Utah Senator Orin Hatch and other Republicans, have vastly reduced the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase National Monuments, clearing these public lands for sale to extractive gas, coal and uranium interests. Despite a poll taken in deep red Utah revealing 60% polled oppose the sale of the Monuments.    

Ryan Zinke attempting to cast, his right arm overextended,
rod dropped below the loading point, his backcast
severely drooping, the line coming out of the back of his
reel indicating it is mounted backwards. 
 Ryan Zinke is a twisty piece of work. Just prior to his appointment he vowed again and again to protect our public lands and ensure that they remain intact. Yet, he is a long-time operative and known nature faker with a record of saying one thing while actually doing the opposite. Zinke is fond of projecting a conservationist image. If you go to his website you’ll find a picture of him fly fishing. Like Roy Moore, Zinke wants you to know that he is a cowboy hero, complete with cowboy suit, hat and horse. He wants you to know that he is a rugged, independent, salt-of-the-earth, man of the country. Of course that aint really what he is. In reality he is a radical RW ideologue and mechanic for extractive interests, a tool. A tool placed where he can go to work dissembling our public lands so they can eventually be wholesaled to extracting interests.

And I wonder why the rush to sell commonwealth lands when the lease system already in place presents a level opportunity for grazing and extraction while still keeping the public lands under the ownership and oversight of the American people? Are we experiencing a lack of raw materials because we have denied access to them? I’m not seeing the evidence of it. I once worked as range manager for a 3000 acre BLM range lease. At the time, the ranch I worked for paid $1.46 per year, per cow/calf unit (the fee Cliven Bundy refuses to pay), and made 900 times the fee on a season’s weight gain, per unit. Not a bad return.

Cliven Bundy
 And I don’t know many ranchers who would be exactly in accord with Cliven Bundy, yet, somehow, he has become a sort of darling among Republican politicians, particularly in the West and South. During several appearances on Fox News Bundy was treated like an American folk hero. The last election, the county where I live elected a new commissioner who, in a meeting, called for and performed a minute of silence for “American hero” Lavoy Finicum, killed during a confrontation with police while participating in the armed take-over of an Oregon wildlife sanctuary led by Ammon Bundy. (Ironically, Lavoy Finicum of Utah lived in a rented apartment where he and his wife made a living from the State, taking in foster children while Lavoy ran a few head of cows on public land – that, while devoting his life and eventually martyring himself in the cause of dissembling government programs and privatizing the public lands).   

 Interestingly, the RW dominionist militiamen who took over the reserve were exonerated in an Oregon court. And now a Nevada judge has declared a mistrial in the armed standoff case against Cliven Bundy. Leaves one to wonder: why are these people getting off so lightly? Well, I suspect it is because they, dressed in their cowboy outfits and military gear (more paradox to absorb) serve as folk icons supporting deeply held cultural myths, making them useful tools in the hands of a wealthy class with whom they actually have nothing in common with. Here’s some enlightening commentary from Utah:                  

And here’s a well-written plea from Montana guide/writer Todd Tanner. Todd reflects the way a lot of us are feeling right now, and I don’t think he is exaggerating the need for hunters and anglers to get active.   

If you’re experiencing some indiscriminate rage, maybe it’s a good time to focus, set your sights, draw a deep breath, and let fly in a worthwhile direction. Speak to power. Write. If we don’t write the script, K Street and the likes of Rupert Murdoch, Rush Limbaugh, Steve Bannon and Alex Jones will.

Yours Truly

The Lone Soft-Hackler

Friday, November 10, 2017

Memories Of Glass

The Old Days:

Sometime around 1952, the year I was born, Heddon introduced a line of fiberglass/resin flyrods. These were a beautiful tobacco color as organic as a willow branch, & had the old silk line designations printed on them. As there was no metric for glass rod actions at the time, Heddon attempted to match the actions of the fine bamboo ‘Heddon Pal’ rods they were known for, & succeeded admirably.    

We lived on Tucker Lake in 1960, the year fatty boom-boom Danny Cody, the mean kid down the lane, broke the old bamboo flyrod my grandfather had given me. Danny had a new push-button outfit & we were fishing (nightcrawlers), & he was feeling pretty smug thinking he owned the superior rig, & when I caught a seventeen inch brown he sulked, convinced the trout was actually meant for him & that I’d somehow usurped his chance at it. Then when I capped the brownie with a nice brookie Danny, still fish-less, broke, grabbed the rod out of my hand & busted it over his knee. He laughed. I was eight & Danny was ten & better than a head taller & with sixty pounds on me, easy. Heartbroken, furious, I rushed him – & that got me a pounding to go with the broken rod.    

As a replacement, my dad bought me a glass casting rod & Zebco push-button reel. The outfit was cool, but I was a flyrodder, & my grandfather stood in appreciation & full support of that fact, & came through with a new 8’ 6wt Shakespeare Wonderod glass flyrod. The Wonderod was white with red wraps, the blank taped in a unique spiral pattern. Though I liked the casting outfit okay – like for tying to the family dock overnight baited with small bluegills meant to catch the big bullhead catfish I occasionally sold to the ancient Goose Lady – I discovered the flyrod a better tool for delivering wee poppers to smallmouth bass, which I considered ultimate fun.  

Thus equipped, I was feeling well-turned-out & dangerous when we moved to Millbury the following year, where the Wonderod earned me the distinction of being the only kid in 4th grade busted three times in one month for ditching school to go fishing. I was unstoppable, having discovered the smallies spawning in a back cove of Dorothy Pond, & the poppers turning the trick. The Millbury cop who’d already caught me twice was so pissed the third time he purposely ran over my bike intending to put me out of business once & for all. He also confiscated the Wonderod, then, red-faced & grinning like a crazy man, broke it twice over his knee while I watched in horror. Probably a blessing in disguise because my dad (who I suspect was secretly proud) was so angry the cop had destroyed my bike & rod that he let me go unpunished, pretty much, & even went as far as smoothing things over with the school authorities, somehow.

My grandfather, ever reliable, came through with a replacement, the sweet caramel colored, 8’ 6wt Heddon Pal glass that made the move to California & lived up to its name through ten seasons of hard use until meeting its demise somewhere near Eugene, Oregon, when it blew out of the back of a badly loaded pickup speeding north on I-5 on a day of high winds, strapped to my backpack frame, & shattered on the road (along with the pack).

After the road mishap, old enough to work & able to afford them (barely), I owned several Fenwick glass rods, & loved them all. But the crowning glory of my strictly glass career was the beautiful, deep-amber Cortland Leon Chandler S-glass, 9’ 6wt; a feather-light dream & long-caster that upped my game considerably. By then graphite was coming in &, young & stupid, I felt I needed to ‘upgrade’ to graphite. Couldn’t afford a new one so I traded the Leon Chandler toward a clubby first-run Fenwick graphite that I never got used to. I still suffer an irritating twinge whenever recalling that sorry trade.   

A Couple Years Ago:

Some might remember I posted something about finding a vintage1952, 8’ Heddon Pal Thorobred glass rod at a garage sale a couple years ago. Though the wraps & guides were rotted beyond use, the blank, reel-seat & grip were still very good. I finally got around to re-wrapping it, mounted my old high school Medalist to it, & took it up to the river for trials. Though rated for a D- HDH silk line, I found it throws an AFTMA 5 or 6wt equally well. And maybe it’s just me, but I think this is the best casting rod of its class I’ve ever casted. Seriously.

While re-wrapping the old Heddon, I went ahead & replaced the guides & wraps on the Russ Peak 7'6" 5wt pictured at left. Russ Peak was known as the 'Stradivarius of Glass', & a day on the water casting this sweetie leaves you with no doubt why.  

Has there actually been real improvement in the castability of trout rods since 1952? Well, some might argue: no, not really.

This Past Summer:

We got back to glass in earnest this past summer. My friend Jeff Cottrell is an ambassador for Red Truck, & they sent him a 7’6”, 4wt glass to try out. Caramel colored & nicely appointed with quality components, & very light weight, it came equipped with a matching, click-pawl, Red Truck Diesel reel. It is a classic glass outfit with timeless good looks. Jeff lined it with a WF 4wt Cortland Trout Boss floating line. We took it fishing during the Drake hatch &, to my surprise, after slowing down enough to catch its load rhythm, Jeff was able to throw distance equal to the 9’ graphite he’d been fishing, & looked a hell of a lot more graceful doing it. Once into the groove Jeff smiled the smile of serene satisfaction, & I was reminded that the slow yoga of casting glass & the serenity it engenders was once an integral aspect of our game. Quite different than the hyper-rhythm, first-strike intensity of speed fast-action graphite brought to casting. Every time Jeff hooked a trout & it would run, we’d whoop to the sound of the reel’s screaming clicker. 

Jeff Cottrell with UC redband & Red Truck glass 4wt
 Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to imply glass is better than graphite. I should parse this by saying graphite definitely has its place, particularly in big game rods & rods over, say, 9’ in length. Graphite really comes into its own in longer rods. I’ve not met a glass Spey rod that I’d trade my graphites for. But does graphite outperform glass in trout-weight rods in lengths most commonly used? As regards the average caster, I’d have to say no. Guiding, the problem I see most often is anglers unable to cast 30 feet. As it takes 30 feet of line beyond the rod tip to even load the rod, you’d think being able to lay out 30 feet is a given. But no. Variables of excited expectations, fatigue, wind, boat movement, bad casting habits, you name it, conspire to somehow truncate that minimal 30-foot distance into a dreadful heap on the too-nearby water. Guy has a $700 rod, only gets out six times a year (or less), & has a hard time throwing 30 feet of line. My solution? The old refurbished Heddon Pal, which I began carrying as an extra rod. When I see somebody having trouble I have them try the Pal, & in most cases their casting distance improves immediately. It’s not that this rod eliminates bad habits, but that the load-holding glass is more forgiving of them. And once the client is slowed a bit, I’m better able to observe the cast & help with the problem(s).

I’d just started carrying the old Heddon when John Gierach came to fish with me this past summer, & hadn’t had the chance to catch a fish on it yet. If you’ve read his books but never fished with him I can assure you Gierach really is That Guy. He is light, confident & fun to be with, as accomplished an angler as he is a writer (he gets a lot of practice). We were doing pretty good on the UC redbands until just about dark when John’s dry & dropper rig became hopelessly tangled. Quickly running out of light & with not much time left before we needed to get off the water, rather than re-tie a new rig I handed him the old Heddon set up with an emerger version of the Black Quill Drake we were fishing over. Second cast, John put the emerger right on the seam, gathered line just fast enough to keep contact with the fly while it swung, & wham-O, the old Pal awoke to a new life in the hands of John Gierach, bent into a wild, 20” UC rainbow gone ballistic. I netted the trout in near dark & we admired it for a moment while praising the 65 year old glass rod, both agreeing it possessed great mojo.

Cortland Trout Boss
A Good Trout Line:

Got to try out quite a few trout lines through the past season & feel compelled to mention Cortland’s Trout Boss line as the best of show for delivering dry & soft-hackle flies. This is the line Jeff Cottrell & I settled on for lining our glass rods, though it performs equally well with graphite. The WF Trout Boss casts like a good weight-forward, yet presents with the delicacy of a double-taper. The Trout Boss floats dutifully through long sessions, while the low-memory running line remains supple & tangle-free. Simply, a good, no-bullshit, all-around trout line at any distance – the Cortland Trout Boss is true to its name. I think most soft-hacklers would really like this line. And a bonus: it comes nested in a handsome, utilitarian tin.                         

Sunday, September 24, 2017

A Few October Caddis

Hook: #6 TMC 200R; Thread: rust-brown UNI 8/0; Hackle: rust-brown
brahma hen; Body: ginger antron with a pinch of orange trilobal;
Wing: gadwall, dyed with orange marker, wound as a collar, fibers on top
painted with a black marker.

Gary LaFontaine held the opinion that October Caddis (Dicosmocus) is the most important “big fish insect” of the West, & I agree, insofar as it reflects my own experience. For what that’s worth. I’ve been fortunate to have lived for a long time beside a river where that is certainly a truth.     

Not only does the big fall sedge bring up some of the best trout of the year, its emergence occurs during my favorite time of year, September & October, in Northeast Washington; its russet coloration true to autumn’s palette & begging simulation. It's size, coloration & habits seem to leave October Caddis wide open to interpretation.

Hook: #6 TMC 200R; Thread: rust-brown UNI 8/0; Body: ginger antron
with a pinch of orange trilobal; Wing: turkey tail fibers, rolled; Hackle:
rust-brown brahma hen fronted with guinea hen.

Though the cased larvae might be an important food source to trout in some streams, particularly streams with finer gravels, they aren’t generally available to trout in streams with heavy rubble bottoms that afford larvae sheltering crevices.  On my home water, with a bottom mostly composed of rounded, skull-sized glacial till, it’s the uncased pupa & winged adult stages that get the important play. 

Dropper Pupa - Hook: #4 Gamakatsu octopus; Thread: rust-brown UNI 8/0;
Rib: gold wire;  Body: ginger antron with a pinch of orange trilobal;
Antennae: turkey tail fibers; Hackle: tannish-orange brahma hen.
The heavy hook sinks this one without dragging the dryfly under. And
swims better than a beadhead.

Of its many desirable attributes, the giant fall sedge lends itself to the spectrum of presentations – as a dropper fished under a dryfly or bobber, as a dryfly, or a wetfly, either winged or wingless. 

Designs meant to be swung or skated are often effective when OC are present, providing a good opportunity for trout spey.            

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Low Light Caddis

    It’s been a fairly apocalyptic season. 

On the personal side, a hectic guiding schedule has kept me rowing & mostly fishing vicariously.  

In the broader picture, things started with a nearly record spate that put a damper on spring & early summer mayfly hatches. Then, beginning in June, the air temps soared to 100 degrees & have hovered in that range ever since. B.C. began to burn in June &, as of now, August, continues to burn. The smoke is barely tolerable along the U.S./Canada border & if it gets any worse we might be advised to evacuate. 

I’m seriously considering evacuating to GreenlandArctic char.  No trees to catch fire or foul your backcast.

Taking the month of August off. Finally getting to fish & that’s making me happy, even if the only productive time is generally only for that hour right up against dark. And by “productive” I don’t mean wide-open. I mean productive compared to nothing. One or two trout per night. Maybe a handful on a particularly good night. 

There’s not a lot showing up top, just a quick shooter of risers feeding on the short spritzes of caddis hatches beginning just before dark. Satisfying fishing just the same. The wild redband are summer-schooled & extra canny, presenting a difficult challenge calling for a 12’ leader, 3lb test tippet & a perfectly presented sedge emerger. This has given me the opportunity to play with some patterns that might be reliable in low light.

I’m fairly certain that size & profile are necessary constants, but is matching the natural’s coloration the best approach in low light? Well, to answer my own question (like a crazy man): yes & no. According to my own experience & observations, too fanciful or gaudy is not an entirely reliable approach, & neither is too drab. There’s a balance. And that seems to lie with designs that simulate the natural’s coloration in an exaggerated manner & in a way that incorporates light, or, more precisely, relying on material choices that gather & reflect light. Not only does such a design work better in low light, but also during heavy sedge hatches when the imitation must compete with a bazillion naturals. Oftentimes the pattern, I think, must stand out, yet in a way that is enticing without being overly intrusive. That’s where the creative fun arises to challenge the designer.

Here’s one that is turning the trick on some well-educated trout, late evenings:

Low Light Sedge

Hook: #12 Daiichi 1150

Thread: Camel UNI 8/0

Hackle: brahma hen, stripped on one side, 2 turns

Body: 4 strands of pearl midge flash, twisted to a rope – Over-body: Hareline Ice Dub UV Shrimp Pink (this stuff is enticingly ambiguous & doesn’t look actually pink but rather a tannish-salmon with lots of green, blue, & rootbeer highlights, for lack of a better description) tied in as a collar –  Thorax: pine squirrel dubbing mixed with a bit of mahogany or ginger antron

Topping: 2 gadwall flank fibers tied in prior to winding the hackle ~ & finish.  

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:                     

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:


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

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.