Archive for October, 2008

Today’s complete fly shop offers a mind-boggling selection of fly tying tools and materials.   How about that display of dubbing materials, for example?   You’ll find a myriad of natural and synthetic dubbings in darn near every hue and color imaginable in tiny, cellophane packets.  At about $1.75 average/packet, a rough inventory of the dubbing packets I own is worth nearly $800.00, accumulated over many years.

If I am anything, I am frugal.   I still prepare some dubbings for myself using techniques I learned as an associate (and student) of the nymph innovator “Polly” Rosborough.  Take natural muskrat, for example, a dubbing used to make the bodies of many of my favorite flies.  Here’s how to prepare muskrat dubbing:

Muskrat Skin

Muskrat Skin

Start with a whole muskrat skin, usually available from your fly shop for less than $10.00. Notice that the pelt is made up of a soft, dark gray undercoat, and stiffer, long hair called guard hair.  For flies requiring a tightly-dubbed body (Adams, for example), I want the dubbing to be free of the guard hairs, so I simply pull them out of the skin.  Next, using small scissors, I clip off the soft underfur close to the skin.  For flies tied with some desired animation (Muskrat Nymph and Casual Dress, for examples), I like to incorporate some of the guard hairs in the mix.

Place the clipped hair in a bowl (don’t let your wife see you using the bowl) filled with warm water and liquid dish soap.  Now, stir the mixture with your fingers.  Two things are happening.  The fur mass is being cleaned, while the fur is being blended together.  After stirring the mixture for a couple of minutes, place the soapy mass into a strainer (don’t let your wife see you using the strainer), and rinse it very well under warm tap water.  When free of any soap residue, squeeze out the excess water and thoroughly blot the mass in paper towels.  Finally, allow the fur mass to dry overnight.

You’ll end up with a tight ball of dubbing from which you can easily tease out a small amount for a perfect fly body.  Do this using the whole muskrat pelt and you may  have enough muskrat dubbing for yourself and all your friends – for a lifetime!  Use this same technique with skins from hare’s masks, squirrel, possum, fox, rabbit, and so on.


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Let’s suppose you are a beginning or recreational fly tyer.  You’re sitting at your fly tying vise, the hook properly inserted.   The required materials for the fly you have selected to tie are laid out in front of you.

Royal Wulff

Royal Wulff

You have an actual example of the fly you purchased at the local fly shop.  You also have a color illustration of the fly and the detailed step-by-step instructions for the pattern.  You start – and, sometime later – you finish the fly.  You remove it from the vise and carefully check it next to your store-bought example.  As the old saying goes, “Close, but no cigar!”

Is this a big problem?  Not hardly, and I’ll tell you why.  There’s another old saying.  It’s an adage said among commercial fly tyers, who professionally prepare flies for the wholesale and retail markets:  “We don’t just tie flies to catch fish, we tie flies to catch fishermen!”

Perfection is a wonderful result when we tie a fly, but it is not as important as one might think.  Fish don’t have a lot of time to evaluate your offering.  That’s particularly true in a stream with fast-moving water.  If your imitation is the right size and colors, and has a similar shape, it should do the trick.  On the water, your fly presentation, location and drift are far more critical than the fly.  In these three elements of fly fishing, perfection has real importance.

Consider this:  When you tie up a fly that doesn’t measure up to your standards of perfection, don’t throw it away or set it aside as a “reject”.  Fish with the darn thing — it’ll likely work just fine!

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Mel Krieger Dies

Mel Krieger has passed away at home in his sleep on October 7, 2008.  Mel, who was 80 as I recall, was the finest fly casting teacher I ever knew  His classic book, “The Essence of Flycasting”, is a useful resource for the beginning or veteran fly fisherman.  The book is also available as a DVD. Mel taught me the double-haul many years ago.  Primarily a stream trout fisherman, I never used the technique until fishing a few years later off Christmas Island.  Thanks, Mel.  I had a guide who couldn’t get me close to the “bones“, and your instructions came in handy.  God bless you, Mel, and tight lines!

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Let’s take a snapshot look at some of the high-quality trout streams in Idaho.  I’ll try to cover all of them in this Idaho Blue Ribbon Series.

We start with Kelly Creek, the stream I consider perfect trout water – clear, clean water, pristine beauty, seclusion and lots of lively trout. Kelly is a tributary of the North Fork of the Clearwater River in the expansive Clearwater National Forest.  It’s not easy to get to, but is well worth the effort.  Really a river in spite of its name, Kelly Creek holds rainbow trout, bull trout, kokanee, mountain whitefish and the native west slope cutthroat trout.

What To Try?  What To Try?

What To Try? What To Try?

The stream is presently open for fishing from the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend through November 30th.  No Winter season.  It is strictly a catch-and-release stream, requiring single, barbless hooks for any fishing method and allowing no bait.   Kelly Creek’s cutthroat population was all but wiped out by greedy fishermen in the 1960’s.  A tribute to the catch-and-release theory, the colorful native “cuts” have made a most remarkable comeback since that time, elevating Kelly Creek to its Blue Ribbon status.

A 5 or 6-weight rod in your preferred length is the perfect tool.  A floating fly line works well in most locations, although deeper pools call for a sinking tip.  I use 8’ to 10’ leaders tapered to 4X for dry fly fishing, but rarely go over 3’ with the sinking tip line.  The fish are not particularly leader-shy.  I like some old, stand-by flies on the Kelly.  For dries, I prefer Adams, Humpy, Wulff patterns and the Elk Hair Caddis in sizes 10 – 16, plus Hopper copies when they are timely.  My nymph selection always includes the Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear and the Pheasant Tail in sizes 12 – 16.  I always give my old standby, the  Renegade,  a try, soaked and fished like a wet fly, and sometimes work small,  marabou streamers in the deeper pools.

Check out http://www.idaho-insider.com/kellycreekidaho.html for more Kelly Creek information and directions to this premium trout stream.  If you enjoy real fly fishing fun (and, who doesn’t?) give Kelly Creek a test.

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Joe W. Brooks was a special friend.

Brooks, the fishing editor of Outdoor Life Magazine when I knew him, was also the author of many books on fly fishing and fishing, in general.  To call Joe “an avid fly fisherman” would be a travesty…… When Joe passed away in 1972, I lost more than a friend.  I lost my favorite fishing buddy and my mentor – my fly fishing mentor and my life mentor.

There are many stories I can tell about my good friend, but the one I like to tell took place the very last time I fished with him.  It was July 1971, and Joe and his lovely wife, Mary, had come to stay with us in Oregon while Joe and I fished for 5 days to prepare a story for his magazine.

I did an outdoor show on the local television station, so when Joe and Mary arrived, I rushed him to the station to tape 3 segments for later use.  We returned to the house just in time for dinner, then chitty-chatted until 10 o’clock before retiring.  The next day,  we were scheduled to fish Hosmer Lake, a shallow water lake in Central Oregon.  Hosmer held planted Atlantic Salmon, an experiment by the fish and game folks.

The alarm was set for 5 am.  The master bedroom and the kid’s bedrooms were upstairs, while the guest bedroom – with Joe and Mary – was downstairs.  I awoke from a deep sleep at about 2 am and became aware of a bright light downstairs.  I crept down the stairs and found Joe in his pajamas sitting in the middle of the living room floor.  He was cleaning his fly lines and making adjustments to his fly reels!

Cripes, it was 2 o’clock and Joe was 70 years old!  Joe Brooks fished for a living, and he had fished many amazing waters all over the world for years.  But, you had to know Joe.  Despite his age and experience, he was as excited as a little kid knowing that we were going fishing!

Fly fishermen like to tell others that they are avid fly fishermen.  No one I’ve met was as avid as my special friend, Joe W. Brooks.

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I was only 8-years-old when my infatuation with fly fishing and tying trout flies began.  The first fly I tied was the Gray Hackle Peacock – a few red hackle fibers for the tail, a peacock herl body and a sparse grizzly hackle up front.  It was a simple and popular wet fly pattern of the day.   Even today, it’s one of my favorites.

Like many of the flies I tediously constructed in those early days, it took an hour or more to put it together using an illustration from a Herter’s catalog.  When completed, it looked somewhat like the catalog picture so it became a treasured addition to the skimpy fly selection I possessed in those early days.

I kept my trout flies – some handed down and some carefully tied – in a small, wooden box that my Grandmother gave me for that purpose.  The fly box had a special place on my cluttered nightstand.  Before falling asleep each night, I would admire each fly in my collection, especially that first Gray Hackle Peacock I had tied.

It was the beginning of an awkward love affair and a life-long journey.

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A trout’s diet is made up mostly of aquatic and terrestrial insects.  Mayflies (an aquatic insect scientifically termed Ephemeroptera) are the best known of all trout foods. They occur virtually everywhere in the world, they are prolific and, in most places, a big favorite on a trout’s menu.

Mayflies have nothing to do with the month of May. Their life cycle begins at different times of the year, depending on their type and other natural factors such as water flow and temperature. Simply stated, the beginning of their life is keyed to the life end of the female adult. The mayfly life cycle generally lasts about one year, and comes in four distinct stages: the egg, the nymph, and two adult stages; the adult sub-imago (dun stage), and adult imago (spinner stage).

Briefly, at the outset of the spinner stage, the female and males swarm together and mate midair, fertilizing the eggs. The female spinner deposits the eggs on or below the water’s surface on a lake or stream, and the eggs sink and stick to bottom structure. The spinners, both male and female, die from exhaustion. This final step concludes the mayfly’s life cycle.

These tiny eggs hatch within days and the tiny nymph is “born“. At this early stage, the nymph is too small to be trout food. As the nymph develops, it grows larger and becomes trout fare as it moves around the bottom, or as it floats or swims to the water surface for the first adult stage, the dun. This movement on the bottom or to the surface makes the nymph most vulnerable to the feeding trout. This metamorphic action is a fly fisherman’s dream come true.

Mayfly nymph imitations representing the crawling or swimming nymphs are trout-catching flies at their best.  A sinking fly line, a fly line with a sinking tip, or a weighted artificial pattern are effective at this time. The nymph imitation can be weighted with lead wire wrapped on the hook shank prior to dressing the fly, or by tying the nymph with the addition of a heavy bead head for added sink ability. Even rough representation of the natural’s size, shape and color will usually be adequate.

The Pheasant Tail Nymph and the Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear Nymph in shades of tan to brown, light olive to dark green, and light grey to black all make excellent mayfly patterns for the fly angler’s fly box. These two patterns are my favorites.

While the dry fly fisherman has a visual response to his dry mayfly being taken on the water’s surface, the practiced nymph fisherman will usually land more trout. The nymph fisherman cannot always see the fly below the surface. He is looking for the flash of the bright-colored trout as the fish “takes” the artificial, for any bulge on the water’s surface, for a twitch of the fly line or leader, or for the tracking line to abruptly stop in the middle of the drift. All of these indications can represent the trout’s presence and should be a signal to “set” the hook.

If you have not considered fly fishing with a mayfly nymph, I urge you to give it a try.  Yes, there is a learning curve, but the results will make you a more productive fly fisherman.

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