Tag Archives: brook trout

On Retiring Flies

The hackle fibers are usually the first to go on store-bought dry flies. They unfurl and twist like ribbons on birthday presents. If that doesn’t happen, whatever they use to make ribs (I’m guessing something related to toilet paper) unzips and the dubbing spills off. Nymphs are a little tougher, but look worse; even when they’re still sitting in their bins at the shop.

My buddy, who doesn’t tie flies, will occasionally bring me his store-boughts and ask me to doctor them up. I’ll put cement on the knots, I’ll whip some thread around the heads, but it only ever buys him maybe an extra hour on the water.

One of the first flies I ever tied was a size-16 Purple Haze. It had a moose-hair tail and grizzly hackles. I caught more fish on that single fly than any other. I think because it was one of my first flies, I embedded it with sentimentality and a superstition that produced fish. When it snagged in a tree, I wouldn’t just yank hoping that it would come down. I would exit the river, reach high and try to pull down branches and, occasionally, trees to retrieve it. And the fish. I don’t remember them all, but it caught palm-sized brookies, gnarled big browns and everything in between. First the tail fibers fell out. But that was somehow OK because the dubbing brushed back around the bend making the body almost look like a comet. Then I bent the hook when I extracted it from a fish that sucked it down deep into its mouth. With my hemostats, I bent the hook back, but it was never the same. Nearly any fish that gave me a fight or that foul hooked would result in a bent hook. Eventually it couldn’t stay dry even after a week off the water. The hackle fibers became brittle and looked like split ends on over-styled hair. Even though I stopped fishing with the fly, I kept it pinned to the top left corner of my flybox for months.

One of the appeals for tying my own flies is that they aren’t permanent. That unknown expiration date keeps a constant flow in and out of my flybox that ensures nothing grows stagnant. If I was Buddhist I would say something about the importance of learning about impermanence. I would talk about the monks who construct elaborate sand mandalas only to destroy them (sometimes by dunking them in a river) when they finish. But I’m nowhere near a Buddhist–just a dude who tries to find the beauty in an unraveling thread.

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The Post In Which the Author Compares Fish To People

I nearly turned back when I realized I forgot my sunglasses, then when I saw I was low on gas, then when I saw the river was packed with anglers. But I kept driving. I drove until I saw no one, then I drove another mile.

This is my favorite time to fish. Late summer, early fall. After Labor Day, before Halloween. Just when it’s getting cooler, but far from cold. I put in downstream from a beaver pond that didn’t exist a month ago. The cows had done their best to rid the hills of vegetation, but the grass that was left appeared golden. Willows and scrub oaks guarded the river on both sides. Everything smelled dusty. There wasn’t a visible hatch, but the water rippled with takes. Around this time, it seems that fish feel some desperation.

Within a few casts, I had my first fish. A small cutthroat who’s cuts glowed hunter orange. The cutties seemed to have brightened up like the scrub oak that lines the river. The fish appeared shiftless, too, especially the young ones. They dart from hole to hole and used much more energy than needed to take bugs off the surface. My next fish came out of the water for my Adams. His mouth anchored to the fly, and his tail wheeled around like the hands of a clock and splashed into the still water.

I’ve had days when I couldn’t keep little brookies off the hook, and, once, a day when I couldn’t keep off little browns. This was the first time that I couldn’t keep off cutts. The other days didn’t feel that satisfying. But the cutthroat day? It was the best fishing I had all year.

It’s because I like cutthroats the best. Partly because they’re native. The ancestors of the fish I caught were here long before my ancestors, and I don’t mean my great-great grandpa, or even white guys. I mean humans. More than that,  they’re just my favorite.

Rainbows remind me of the Californians that came into my hometown and bought up land where I once moved irrigation pipes in alfalfa fields. They built garish mansions decorated with stuff from LL Bean and Pottery Barn. They’re charming and nice–you almost believe they belong.

You can trace your finger on the maps on the backs of brookies and they somehow lead you east. I imagine even their kids talk with Boston accents even though they’ve been west for generations.

The browns clog the once quiet trails with their ATVs. As they fly by in a cloud of dust, they throw off Mountain Dew cans and cigarette boxes.

But not cutthroats. They’re a handsome fish, with their almost bronze coloring and muddy splotches. They’re just good folk with clean, calloused hands. If a cutthroat was to date your daughter, he’d have her home on time and call you sir or ma’am.

On the way home, I pulled over and watched three older anglers wet wade. They held onto each others shoulders for stability. Their rods moved back and forth slowly. Their loops unfolded like quilts being shook out for summer storage. I waited for one of them to catch a fish, but it didn’t happen.

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