Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Hardy Reel blathering
A gear review.
Reading the poll results of this blog, it becomes apparent that some readers desire some gear reviews. Well, you asked for it;)
My Hardy reels are treasured but also used. After all, why not use the good china?
Being an aficionado of classic things from the past, it is not surprising that when I took up fly-fishing I would be drawn to Hardy reels. For the first year I drooled at them from a distance. Then after a tax return, I bid on a Marquis Disc on Ebay, and by a miracle, won it for $100.00. I guess nobody wants these reels because they have a disc drag and not click and pawl, but I was in heaven nonetheless. I think I slept with it for the first week. (kidding)
One thing was apparent right away. Aesthetically, Hardy designed a beautiful but subtle reel. It was not flashy, the anodizing was not in Timothy Leary colors, and all the surfaces were well rounded. The sound even for a single pawl disc was loud, and the tolerances were fine indeed. Thus began the love affair with classic English-made Hardy reels. Note that I defined this a bit. I don’t like the newer modern Hardy reels. They look like an engineer’s fantasy project, full of over-intricate details that are incongruous with each other. Look at the Angel for example. The other aspect of the modern reels from Hardy that bothers me is the move to Asia for much of the production. The quality has not suffered at all. After all, the Koreans are just as capable of producing a quality piece of CNC machined metal as anyone else, and better than most. The problem I have is with the concept of an English tradition ending. If I want to drive a Jaguar or shoot a British double gun, I don’t want to see a sticker on the bottom telling me it was made overseas. Part of the owning and using of a traditional reel is the continuance of the tradition itself. Knowing that a Harris Tweed cap was hand-loomed in the isle of Lewis makes me proud to wear it. Knowing that Charlie Norris designed and supervised the production of my Bougle’ adds a special touch.
As you can see in the picture, I own quite a selection of the Bougle’ Mk IV. I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. If I knew then what I know now, I would have bought even more. These things work like a jeweled Swiss watch. They are weighted appropriately to balance a rod, not too light as many modern reels. The spitfire finish and champagne check screw and spindle covers are set off nicely. The drag is what you can expect from a Hardy; just enough to keep the reel from back-spooling. The reel handle is a dark resin impregnated wood. The first reel handles must not have been impregnated or were a botched job, and they swelled. Hardy quickly addressed the problem. The line guard turns allowing the line to run out without scarring and with reduced friction. When connected to a steelhead downshifting into gear and running for the ocean, this thing wails and screams like the coming of the Valkyries. The lack of a counterweight causes it to wobble as well. The back-plate allows one to “thumb it” for additional drag control, as there is no rim on this reel. It is an easy thing to accomplish once one trains oneself to reach for the backplate and not stick your hand anywhere near the handle. (ouch!)
Bougle’ Mk IV Likes: Pretty much everything. Love fishing with it, love the sound, and the looks.
Dislikes: It is a little bright. The only major problem I have is the softness of the nickel silver center screw that holds the reel together. I have had one fall off on me and have broken one while absent-mindedly trying to take it apart using the incorrect turn of the screwdriver.
Second of the Bougle’ series was the Mk V.
I call this the Bougle’ light. Hardy really blew it here. They seemed to give too much credence to the complaints of anglers that the Mk IV Bougle’ was too heavy, and thus they ported the spool. This causes the reel to not quite balance many two-handed rods, and dramatically reduces the sound and tone quality of the click. It sounds ‘tinny’. They also added a champagne and British racing green color scheme. I really liked this reel at first, and it became my favorite for awhile, but something had dramatically gone wrong at Hardy as far as quality control and overall care between the production of the Mk IV and the MK V series. The line guard would not turn freely, so I unscrewed it. It broke at the head of the screw. I am not a careless guy. I got a replacement from Hardy, and it still does not turn freely. On a fishing trip to the Kooskooskee, I hooked a steelhead, and went to reel it in after a short run. No handle?!! It had fallen off either during the run of the fish, or just before. I wound the fish in using my finger in one of the portholes while my fishing partner laughed his rear off. I had this strange sort of half frown and stupid look on my face. Needless to say, this reel got retired for the trip, and the Mk IV got the nod and performed flawlessly. When I got home I ordered a new handle and went to install it. That is when I noticed something rattling around inside. The small screw that prevents the pawl from getting cocked had fallen out. I disassembled the entire reel and applied lock-tite to all the parts. Problem solved, but it made me lose trust in Hardy.
The Mk VI Bougle’ is in essence a Mk V with the paint removed, and a massive price hike.
I wish I owned some perfects. Perhaps they are in my future, but the larger 3 ¾ and 4” sizes are priced so high they make me break out in laughter. I have had the opportunity to clean and restore a set of ten or twelve perfects for a local angler, so I know them inside and out, so to speak. They are still the finest reel ever made in large production numbers in my humble opinion.
Like any other company, Hardy put out some garbage during the 1970s. The Marquis multiplier is a good example of this. A great working reel when it actually works, it sports some internal parts made of plastic, screws to major parts like the handle made of soft metal, and the fit is just not worthy of a Hardy. I repaired one for a customer every year, and had fun trying to locate parts.
Another goof was adding the castle logo to the outside of their fine reels, but making the logo out of plastic.
This reminds me of what Winchester did to the venerable Model 70 after 1964 and during the 70s. They replaced metal parts with plastic, substituted a new bolt in place of the long-claw controlled feed extractor which made the Mauser model 98-like action of the model 70 a choice of target shooting competitors everywhere, and instead of hand or even machine checkering, simply burned the checkering in! They must have listened to a “business consultant’ ;)
The reel that is my workhorse is the Marquis Salmon # 2.
Both the reel and spare spool came from British Columbia, so they have a bit of tradition and legacy burned in.
I engage both pawls, and thus it has a more powerful drag than the Bougle’ series. It is bomb proof in construction with little to go wrong. It was built on the K.I.S.S. principle of engineering. The sound is loud and proud. I baptized the reel with a small wild steelhead caught on a bomber. The resulting aria is still echoing in that canyon. I like the gray spools, not the silver ones for some reason. Go figure. Like most Hardy reels, the drag adjuster could be a little bigger and more ergonomically designed. In cold water it stings and cuts, but then again, it is best to just crank it to full and leave it there for the day.
So, in conclusion, I think that long after the current wave of red, blue, or even pink over-sculpted reels with plastic drag systems have fallen out of favor, or evolved into abstract sculpture, the venerable Hardy reels will still be heard in the hands of anglers that care. Anglers to whom fly-fishing is not just the next generation-X adrenaline sport. Anglers who may appreciate that RHB and Wulff used these reels along with Walt Johnson. Even Charles Windsor the current Prince of Wales received a matching set of perfects as a gift from Hardy. I wonder if those will go into the royal regalia in the tower, or whether I could ever catch them at a rummage sale…..
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Merry Christmas from the Classic Angler
I tied a Christmas tree!
This was a creative joy, and I bet it would catch fish too.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
A fly, some thoughts on literature and flyfishing through the years, and some quotes.
First, Here is Harry Lemire’s Golden Edge Orange. Elegant and simple, it has Lemire written all over it.
I used a mix of angora goat and SLF in hot orange for the body. The wing is gray squirrel under and bronze mallard over topped by a golden pheasant crest. The cheeks are tiny jungle cock nails. The throat was fun. In order to get the small profile and amount of guinea I had to use a technique new to me. There are dozens of ways to tie in gadwall, teal, guinea and other fowl feathers as a throat. I used a wedge shaped piece tied in from the bottom of the hook, and pulled upwards until the fibers adjusted correctly. I found the technique in an older British tying magazine. Always nice to learn something!
I coated the head with red varnish and two clear coats to achieve a translucent look.
I have been looking through my flyfishing magazines, and reducing them to a manageable size. In doing so, I found some interesting discoveries. I threw out most all of the more recent Fly Fisherman magazines, and only saved a few articles here and there. However, I saved the few issues of this periodical that I have from the 1970s and early 80s, which a customer gave to me a few years back. The older issues were full of excellently written articles full of insight, subtle humor, and romance. The ubiquitous ballcap and sunglass era was yet to come. The quality of the English language used was surprising. Even the letters to the editors were literate. As the years went by, the writing was replaced by more and more pictures, and the actual written content shrunk until there was no point to retaining them. I no longer subscribe to any fly magazines.
In these few issues Don Zahner wrote about the last fly rod at Abercrombie and Fitch in 1978, a requiem to a fine sporting goods store, who’s name would be blasphemously resurrected to sell sexed up clothes to pre-teens. Lee Wulff revealed the history of the fly vest, complete with pictures of the first prototypes.
Nick Lyons, Ted Niemeyer, and Eric Leiser wrote articles, and Ernest Schweibert graced the pages with his timeless wisdom. Deke Meyer wrote of simplified Spey flies in 1984, and in 1977 Bill Bakke wrote about riffle-hitching wet flies for steelhead. Classic stuff.
However good the articles were, the advertisements were a trip through time. Ugly and obviously badly built Martin reels were touted, Irish country hats offered for sale, and every angler seemed to smoke a pipe. The first Columbia vests were shown, and man were they ugly. The guy in the advertisement didn’t help either, as he looked like a cracker, complete with bad greasy hair. Pflueger claimed that their new Medalist was “Engineered to be the finest fly reel in the world.” Perrine offered their automatic reel, a product that older flyfishers remember with a shudder. Although Perrine actually made a pretty good automatic, the cheaper knock-offs available at local hardware stores often exploded during use, dropping small parts into the water. They started rusting the second you left the local sporting goods store. Vintage tackle was offered for sale and the prices made me laugh out loud. A good Leonard or Payne cane rod would run you around $200.00 and you could buy a Hardy Perfect for $70.00. The best one was a Vom Hofe 6/0 salmon reel for $120.00!
Here are some memorable examples and quotes from Don Zahner’s “Anglish spoken here” column.
“It is interesting to note, for what it is worth, that our country has never fought a major war during the administrations of presidents who were fly fishermen: Grover Cleveland, William Howard Taft, Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover and Dwight Eisenhower. In fact, we seem to recall that practically nothing happened during the administration of President Coolidge!”
(Editor’s note; George W. Bush must fish with spawn…)
On weighing fish:
“ Weigh-ins are for prize fighting, not for fly fishing. If God had intended trout to be weighed, He would have given them bigger scales.”
While on a bass fishing trip in the Ozarks, he and a fishing partner discover a horrible odor in their camp cabin and trace it to two pairs of waders and rancid fishing clothes abandoned in a closet, which leads Don to write “This adds new depth, if only by paraphrase, to the oft-repeated pronouncement of the venerable Dr. C.M. Henshall about the sporting qualities of his favorite game-fish. Thus we can state that, without qualification, inch for inch and pound for pound, smallmouth-bass anglers are the gamiest fishermen in the world.”
“We should accept gratefully, and without vanity, the fact that some of us have developed the finely honed sensibilities that ultimately place a fly rod in our hand 90 percent of the time and a martini the rest of the time. This is nothing to worry about, just the forces of evolution at work-natural selection and all that. A fellow we once met in the Men’s Bar of the Biltmore Hotel in Manhattan, while screwing up our courage to enter the tackle department at Abercrombie & Fitch, reminded us of this, and that this evolution extended far back into time, beyond the anthropoid, to that stage of our development at which we had gills instead of ribs, He had actually gone so far as to trace his lineage, with the help of a Yale ichthyologist, and had found that his people had originally been brown trout. We started to pursue this a bit further, but he suddenly rose to a Dry Martini and was never seen again.
Can you tell that it is mid-winter in Milwaukee? As I write this the wind-chill in 30 degrees below zero.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
The Dunt Dee fly
Another Dee fly, this one is named the ‘Dunt’
According to Kelson, the Dunt originates with W. Murdoch who contributed to the Fishing Gazette, and wrote the book Moonlight On The Salmon.
He (Murdoch) says of the fly “There is not a better all-around fly of the plain sort than the Dunt put upon the Dee in spring or Autumn.”
The Dunt is a bit more somber fly than some of the loudest and brightest Dees, but still has inner body colors that glow through the long waving hackle.
I tied this one with dyed blue eared pheasant and used a more traditional scissor-wing style with turkey feathers. The body is yellow blending into orange and claret seal substitute. I used angora goat. This is the dressing according to Kelson. The original dressing probably was orange blending into fiery brown.
The word ‘Dunt’ according to the Imperial English dictionary means ‘to strike a blow or a blow’, but the actual origin of the name comes from the Scottish idiom for the “Proper thing”, a “Proper Dunt.”
The background is a plate from the Lindisfarne gospels.
Here is an excerpt from the fishing gazette written by Murdoch;
Dawson is responsible for the invention of several flies. Seven years ago when he was fishing the Kineskie water we used of an evening to drop down to see him work, and have a chat with him in piscine and piscatorial matters. When we got down to the river we used to call out to him from the top of the bank, “Have you got anything, Dawson?” and invariably his reply was, “O ti.” “What did you get him with,” we then queried, and he used jocularly to reply. “The proper dunt.” This led us to invent a fly which we christened the “Dunt,” to perpetuate Dawson’s “Proper Dunt,” which means the “proper thing.” That the Dunt has proved the proper thing no one will deny. It is a particular favourite everywhere on the Dee, and in one day more fish have been killed with it by one and the same rod than any other rod has got with any other fly in one day on the Dee within the last seven years – to wit, nine fish by Lord Strathallan on the Cambus O’May water some years ago in the spring.. MAC.
Friday, December 12, 2008
The white winged Akroyd 3/0
Meet the Akroyd. Named for Charles Akroyd, this fly is a classic of the Aberdeenshire Dee, a river in Scotland which gave us a whole style of fly, and perhaps my favorite: the Dee fly.
Long before waddinton shanks, tubes, temple-dog flies, intruders, and etc. large flies for winter, there were Dee flies. Originally tied on very long shanked hooks, these flies were heavy and sank well to temp dour Atlantic salmon in spring flows. ( The Dee is a springer river.) This fly is size 3/0 tied on an Alec Jackson hook. It is a bit short, but whatever. It is sparsely dressed, but with long hackle for movement. For us, this is a winter fly. Fish it on the Olympic peninsula or the Skagit with a dry line and McMillan methods of presentation and mending. It worked for dukes and earls, the royal family of G.B. and army officers and gentlemen fishing the Dee, and it will work for you too. If you are scared to fish it for fear of losing it, then simply dress it in a reduced fashion.
The original Akroyd utilizes white-tipped turkey for the wings, but I don't have any :(, so I tied it with white wings, as many have done before me, back to the 19th century. Believe it or not, Charles Akroyd referred to this fly as "The poor man's Jock Scott."
From “A Veteran Sportsman’s Diary” by Charles Akroyd, 1926. The following is an entry for 1875.
“Major Traherne tied a beautiful fly, and it gave me great pleasure to watch him. He took the most extraordinary pains to dress them perfectly, and I am sure I have seen him taking an hour trying to get a feather to sit properly. I always used to dress my own flies, but I dressed for speed, not for appearance; never the less my rough and ready affairs caught fish every bit as well as Traherne’s fancies. I hardly ever dressed two flies alike; I just sat down and dressed away just as the spirit moved me. This was the year in which I produced the “Akroyd” fly, which I am told by those who at the present time are fishing the
They are a bit complicated to tie, but worth the effort. I used extra large dyed blue-eared pheasant for the hackle, and I blended my own dubbing for the rear of the body (SLF and orange angora goat). It turned out pretty good, but the Golden Pheasant tippet sort of got separated, and I left almost too much room for the head.
So, you don't just have to use 'Jig and Lure' flies to catch your winter fish. However, I for one would cry if I lost this damn thing on a piece of rebar or a salmon carcass ;)
Hairwings set #2
As promised, I tied and gathered more hairwings from the old fly boxes. There are both more traditional flies in this set as well as some more modern flies from the PNW in the style of Syd Glasso. I need something to keep me occupied as I watch our society fall apart…
The first fly is the Black Doctor. A very old pattern for Atlantic Salmon in the British isles, the black doctor works well both as a small summer fly and tied as a winter fly. It has a bright red ostrich herl butt, combined with blue hackle and yellow floss to provide visibility. I tied this one with fox squirrel for a wing. This fly was probably tied in 2001 or so.
The next fly is an unnamed original by me. It uses coral dyed merino wool for a body and pink dyed gold pheasant for a throat. It has a butt of peacock herl. This was one of the first hairwings I ever tied.
This fly is another old pattern called appropriately the grizzly king.
It has a green floss body that I added a bit of peacock herl to just because, and grizzly hackle. It sports a wing of gray squirrel. It is a very good low water fly or a good comeback fly. It also catches trout in smaller sizes as a traditional wetfly.
Here we have another old favorite, the rusty rat. The rust body is formed of burnt orange floss, the tail is of peacock sword, the thorax is of peacock herl, and the wing is gray squirrel while the hackle is natural grizzly. A fun fly to tie and fish. Once again, it’s more natural coloration make it a good low water pattern or comeback fly.
The next fly in this series is the fall favorite.
It is tied with flat silver tinsel for a body, to which I added a rib of silver oval to keep it from unraveling. The wing is orange kid goat, while the hackle is red. A popular fly in the PNW and very simple to tie. In its larger sizes it makes a good winter fly.
This fly is called the night dancer and was conceived by Frank Amato.
It has accounted for thousands of steelhead on the Deschutes at first and last light. The concept is that a dark fly shows up better against the lightening sky at those times, but it has caught fish at every hour. A popular fly, it adds a bit of color attraction by using purple hackle.
This next fly is an unnamed original by me. It shows a PNW ‘spey’ style combined with extreme low water body style of peacock herl. The wing is black kid goat while the hackle is dyed red golden pheasant. It is untried but was conceived as an extreme low water fly in runs where the fish are more ‘trouty’ or highly pestered.
This fly is another unnamed one by me.
It is tied in the more glowing and bright colors, and the style of elongated tag, butt, and seal body with fiber tail are in the tradition of the late Mr. Glasso.
The body is purple haze SLF. I used fibers from a dyed golden pheasant for the tail. I prefer doing it this way because it sits in a curved upright position, more like the golden pheasant crest that it is imitating. Saddle hackle fibers sit straighter. This example is tied as a summer fly on a light wire hook. Good for a searching pattern in big water or slightly off-color water. Proven on the Klickitat when the water was ‘green’.
The next fly is another original by me, this one is called the summer day.
It was conceived at the same moment as the autumn twilight, but uses seal for the thorax. It is a bright fly and has caught fish on the Milwaukee (look closely at the photo on the post “meditation on the swung fly”).
I like it for big water searching as well as for fast riffle water, but I tend to fish darker flies most of the time.
The next fly gets a little more complicated, and is called the nova.
Its lineage traces back to the flies tied by Glasso and McNeece.
It has an optically blended color pattern designed to effect an interior glow. The purple hackle folds back over the orange rear when in the water, and it shimmers and glows. The wing is of orange kid goat topped by purple arctic fox. The body is of orange SLF followed by purple SLF ribbed by an orange saddle hackle and gold oval tinsel. The veiling over the hackle is natural guinea fowl.
Here is another more traditional fly called the black max.
It originated with Shewey and is a modification of the max canyon. It also resembles a reduced steelhead ackroyd and many of the patterns originated by Ed Haas. I nailed a nice 18 pound steelhead on this one in September of this year, but it had a white feather wing. (it would not have made any difference what I used ;)
Short notes on style:
The more traditional style of hairwing uses a full body tied back to the hook gap or barb, and a wing that extends to or slightly past the bend of the hook. It should be tied fairly sparse, and not over dressed. The low-water style represents a shrinking of the fly. The body begins in front of the gap, the wing is sparser and the hackle shorter. It is like tying a size 4 fly on a size 2 hook for lack of a better explanation. It is designed to be used in clear water and/or low water and is dressed sparsely so as to not spook the fish.
The modern style (Glasso) is more flamboyant, and uses materials and dressing styles found on Dee flies from Scotland. They are a blending of modern and the 19th century.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Hairwings set #1
There is something about the simple elegance of these flies that intrigue me. They are relatively easy to tie, and sit in the water like nothing else. The hair acts as a catcher of the current, and rights the fly. The heavy wire hook acts as an anchor. You don't see these flies fished as much as in times past. In the day, lets say the 1940s through the 1980s they were predominant for steelhead in the PNW. Now all one sees are Temple-dog flies, string-leeches, tubes, and flies with a lot of motion that are 2-3 inches long. I catch summer-run steelhead out west with these flies in size 2, 4, and 6. Believe it or not, the fish do come up for them! On our local waters, given that the water is clear enough, they often get the nod as well. I like my hairwing flies to be traditional, not too bright, and with little or no flash. I like traditional materials too. It is also amazing how quickly the larger hairwing flies sink. One can fish the waters around here with a dry line and a 1/0 hairwing with ease. In effect, a hairwing is a reduced and simplified version of the late 19th and early 20th century featherwing flies. Hairwings originated in England, Ireland, and Scottland, but then were later adopted for North American Atlantic Salmon and finally Steelhead. Tiers such as Syd Glasso, Walt Johnson, Ed Haas, and Dave McNeese, amongst many others took the concept and ran with it. I tend to disdain the use of chenille as well. I prefer wool. Several years ago I procured about 30 patches of Merino wool from Royce Dam. I dyed them with Veniard and RIT dyes, causing my kitchen sink to sport lots of colorful spots...oops! The dying was fun, but was really intended to supply me with colors that I could not find. Kingfisher blue, rich yellows, and highlander green were first on the list. I started experimenting with blending the wool colors by hand much as was done in the 1800s with 'Berlin Wool'. This allowed me to achieve that hard to find look of olive and brown mix in a Lady Caroline. Wool dubs extremely easily, and sits flat on the hook, unlike seal or it's substitute. Seal has it's place too, but some patterns call for a more svelte body style.
So, here are some hairwings and their origins and commentary. Part one of a series.
The Blue Charm
This is one of the most famous Atlantic Salmon flies in history.
In Sylvester Nemes' book Six months in Scotland, a book is detailed which recorded which details the fishing of one Sherrif Dallas, who fished primarily the Dee. He used greased line tactics, and knew AHE wood quite well. According to the fishing log, the Blue charm killed 38% of all the fish caught on flies! Of course, it might have been because he had that fly on his leader and in the river more than any other, but, it does make one think.
The fly consists of a black wool body, silver tag and ribbing, yellow floss butt covered with golden pheasant crest, and blue collar hackle. The wing can be any shade from brown to natural fox squirrel. I used black bear just because. In my experience, it is an excellent 'low-water' fly.
The next fly is the Gold Demon.
This fly is an early example of North American hairwings. It shows up well in off-color or high water, and may have been intended as a winter fly.
It has a body of gold tinsel ribbed by gold oval tinsel, Hackle of orange, a golden pheasant crest tail, and wings of brown to tan, depending on which book is consulted. Jungle cock nails are optional, but do help with the overall lines of the fly. It sinks fast due to less water resistance.
This fly is called the Autumn Twilight.
The Autumn Twilight is an original clear or low-water pattern by your's truly. I have landed the largest steelhead of my life on this fly. When the water wraps the blue hackle back over the black and purple body, it glows very subtly while not being too bright. It is a good Deschutes type pattern, but I also have hooked fish in Wisconsin water with it in a larger size.
The body is purple antron floss and black wool in near equal proportions ribbed in gold oval tinsel. The hackle is kingfisher blue, and the wing black dyed squirrel. black bear, or kid goat. This one sports a kid goat wing.
The next fly is the Green-Butt Black Bear.
Again, one of the most famous flies and very effective, the Green-butt Black Bear (or the yellow-butt as I tie it), is famous on the Miramichi for Atlantic Salmon. It is tied both with a tail and without, as well as 'cossboom style' with the hackle in front of the black wing. An excellent low-water or clear-water pattern, it is primarily black, and shows up well in the water. Iuse yellow floss for the butt because I find neon-green to be too modern. Once again, the body is of wool, the wing of Black Bear,and the hackle is black saddle.
This fly is called the 'Patricia' and is tied by Randle Stetzer originally for use on the Deschutes.
It is as simple a hairwing as possible using red and white as a color scheme. The body is red wool ribbed by medium gold oval tinsel, the hackle is red saddle, and the wing is Polar Bear or substitute. Very similar to some flies tied by Ed Haas.
The final fly in this first series is a varient of the above 'Patricia' and sports a black wing in place of the Polar Bear. It is called 'The St. Estephe' and is named after a wine region. It's popular colors of claret and black assure us that somewhere this fly is named something else as well. Once again it is a versatile pattern.
That is it for this post. More later, have to get to the vise! I wonder what hairwing I should tie next?
Thursday, December 4, 2008
We lose one of our own
One of the pioneers of spey in the Midwest, and all around dedicated flyfisherman Marty Kwitek has passed away.
I didn't know Marty as well as I would have liked to, but he did stop in at my flyshop several times and we talked for hours about gear, Hardy reels, and the romances and art of the sport. He was the only other guy I knew that wore a waxed cotton English jacket. He was truly a romantic. So long brother.
Here is the announcement and excellent memorial from Tim Landwehr;
Today is a sad day at Tight Lines. After years of fighting Chrohn's disease, shop friend Marty Kwitek passed away this morning at 2:30 am. Our little fly fishing community has suffered a great loss. Years before Tight Lines was in business and Bob's Bait & Tackle was the hub for all our fly fishing needs, Marty was there driving our passion. I met Marty when I was about 19 while searching for a new fly rod. I remember going into Bob's and meeting Marty. My take on him was "this is a man that loves the sport." This was a man who loved the history of the sport and someone that inspired us to go out and fish. I also realized quickly he may have been the best damn salesman I have ever met. I remember leaving Bob's with Whiting dry fly necks, Roderick Haig Brown books and countless other item that I did not need. I loved him for it. Salesman or not Marty showed more passion for our sport than just about anyone that I know. What I also remember about Marty was his stories. Countless stories. He and Matt would fish the Brule during Hex season and come into Tight Lines and paint the picture in all of our minds. He, of course, would leave out details like, the mosquitoes are as big as robins, we got lost, the hatch didn't happen, fish wouldn't eat etc. This was part of his magic. The story I remember most was told to me by one of our customers. I am not sure who told me this but I am positive it must be true. It sounds like Marty to me. One of our fly fishing friends pulled up to the run at J Bridge on the Oconto, a favorite haunt of Marty's. It was a cool October morning and steelhead and browns should have been moving into the river. He noticed Marty was sitting on the side of the bank with his rod in hand but not wearing waders or vest. He called down from the bridge to Marty "how's the fishing?" Marty looked up to the angler and said "caught two and just had another pull" The onlooker remarked, "are you catching them from shore? You are not even in the water!" Marty looked up at the other angler and said "I am fishing in my mind. I haven't wet a line. I am visualizing it" Perfect. This is who Marty Kwitek was. The fishing itself was not always the magic. He loved the tackle, the romance, and most of all, he loved sharing it. Marty will be greatly missed by all of us. The sport of fly fishing will miss Marty the most. He taught hundreds of anglers how to tie flies, cast, and to love and embrace fly fishing. Marty will go down in my book as one of the greatest promoters of our sport in the state of Wisconsin. We owe him a lot. Next time we are on the stream, especially his favorites like the Oconto or Manitowoc, I ask all of you that knew Marty to make a cast for him. We will miss him. I will always remember Marty Kwitek.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
OT-Music listening area
On an off-topic note, this past year I built a dedicated classical music system and started (continued) on the process of collecting and learning about music. I had good mentors in Eric Sperry, a master trumpet player and musician, and David Drews, another audiophile and former trumpet player in the Boston Symphony. I replaced my old Sony system with new audiophile components. An AMC 100wpc amp and pre-amp, Sony SACD player, and most important, Rocket 450 tower speakers from AV123. I now have near symphonic sound and excellent imaging. I never knew this world existed before being exposed to it. Eric and Dave's systems made my old stereo sound like a squeaky tone-deaf singer.
I had fun creating my own cables and tweaking everything until I was satisfied with it.
Scenes from the tying bench, new books, and musings
First, it is interesting to note that this blog reached over 1,000 visits in November alone…so the five of you that read it need to get a life;) In sincerity, thank you for coming into my little corner of the world, and reading my musings.
Here are some pictures of the cluttered creative area known as the tying bench, a.k.a. the dining area.
I wish I had more drive to create, but now with the rivers freezing solid as daytime temps clime only into the twenties, I should have more time to spend with fur and feathers. I have been on a tube kick for awhile. Prior to that, I was into tying small traditional featherwings for summer steelhead. Way back when, I was known as mister hairwing. I still have unopened packages of polar bear and black bear fur. By the way, there is no substitute for bear. Wonderful stuff to work with. Squirrel works extremely well, but is slippery and hard to get to stay on the hook. I have had squirrel winged flies fall apart too many times to have complete trust in it. Kid goat makes a great substitute if you can find it in proper length.
I think this week I may go on a kick tying traditional hairwings in sets.
I have some winter reading set aside. I obtained A River Never Sleeps and To Know a River by Roderick Haig-Brown, The first being a month by month description of angling in British Columbia and the England of his youth, as well as musings and anecdotes. It is amazing to find that so much of what we think of as modern innovations have been around for many years, including grease lining for steelhead with the two-handed rod as far back as the 1940s. Every generation seems to think it invented sex, forgetting how it got there to have that thought in the first place. The second book is a compendium of Haig-Brown’s works compiled by his eldest daughter, Valerie Haig-Brown. Both were purchased from Alibris, an online book retailer specializing in books that are rare and out of print. Haig-Brown is a fine writer, very literate, descriptive and philosophical. Very in-tune with his natural surroundings.
Another book I just picked up at Half-priced books is Chris Mann’s Hairwing and tube Flies for Salmon and Steelhead. It is so full of inspiration that I should be in heaven for awhile. On a side-note, I also found a copy of Bruckners 3rd and 8th with Szell and Cleveland for only $8.00! It pays to snoop around the used bookstores! Another reason that I like used things is that they have legacies attached to them. I wonder who read them before? That, and the fact that the carbon footprint has already been made, and I am not contributing to any more waste.
I have been reading the interesting discussion (it got a little hot) between Dag and Ed Ward on the Speypages regarding the origins of Skagit casting vs. Scandinavian underhand style. It reminded me of the infinite differences in casting technique evident even in this little corner of the world. Dave P. takes it slow and has a lot of body tilt and rock and a high stop with an arcing cast. He loves to cast off-hand. Cory T. takes it slow as well, and has a very pronounced stand-up-straight style with a low bottom hand stop on a Skagit cast. Mike P. has one of the fastest Skando casts I have ever seen, and delivers the fly where he wants it every time. Rick F. casts differently too, with a powerful forward sweep of the rod. BEK takes it slow, the consumate Skagit man. Rob E. casts faster than all of us. He uses nearly only his lower hand to power rods that are stiff as a board. He casts extremely tight loops. I like moderate rods now, ones that I can actually feel load so that my timing is more aware of feedback from the rod. I have developed a strange habit of having my upper hand quite a bit down into the grip of the rod. We are all different casters, using the same tools and different individual style variations to get to the same goal. It is fun to watch all of us cast, especially when I finally break out of a casting funk and power my fly into a tree on the opposite bank, cast my hat into the water, or spend the whole day with my Skagit line on backwards. I wonder if any of you guys do anything as crazy… Seriously, I must win an award for the most inconsistent caster around here.
Its all good, right? But, in any group of obsessed idiots there are always the requisite arguments. We are not alone. Every year, egos are damaged and enemies made for life, groups fragmented and physical injuries occur at comic book conventions, model train gatherings, historical recreation events, etc.
We are all nuts. Skagit vs. Scando; traditional long bellies vs. short bellies; shooting heads vs. whatever; running line arguments, debates over click and pawl vs. disk drag; Fusion of techniques vs. purists defending the ground of something invented only a few years ago.
I kind of long for the days when there were only two or three rods to choose from…well not really;) I like the freedom to explore styles and equipment.
Believe it or not, we are all still learning, and making up much as we go along, even strange casts to be able to put a line out in the story pool while under the trees.
Perhaps we should debate who is better, Wonder-Woman or Aqua-Man?
Monday, November 24, 2008
Arctic steelhead...sort of
Winter steelhead, Midwestern style.
I went down to the river the other day just because… well, it was good exercise, I needed to get out, etc.
The Milwaukee was about one quarter covered by shelf ice in the slower sections. I had to break ice to get into the river. Conditions were clear and low. So low, in fact, that I had to use a clear intermediate polyleader to avoid getting hung up on rocks. For the few PNW readers out there, this is classic winter steelheading in the Midwest. Water temp was 33 degrees, air temp 38 degrees. I didn’t think I had a hope of touching a fish. I was in the tail of the run making literally the last cast before my fly would hang up on shallow rocks when I got this pretty fish. Carl, a fellow addict from Illinois watched the whole thing. He was positioned on the bank adjacent where my fly was swinging. He saw the fish appear like a ghost out of the deeper water, follow the fly into the shallows, and eat it. The fly was an unweighted string leech which was probably running two or three inches deep. Steelhead are aggressive fish! Why the fish are choosing this time and conditions to come in from the lake puzzles me.
After a couple of hours, the shelf ice began to break up and I kept getting hit by mini-icebergs in the rear end. When my fly froze into the ice on the other side of the river, I broke it off and called it a day. A VERY lucky day with frozen feet.
Thanks to Cory and Crystal Tedesco for the picture.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Pulling a Mulligan
That got me thinking of all the crazy mishaps I have perpetrated through the years.
One time years ago while fishing for trout with an ultralight spinning outfit, I made an errant cast way up and over a tree limb hanging over the stream. I slowly retrieved the spinner only to find it attached to a 10” creek chub that was now slowly ascending into the tree, wiggling in protest and disbelief. I sure was glad nobody was there to see that one. “Fishing in trees now Erik?”
While teaching a casting clinic to a local club I demonstrated what happens when one puts a jerky stop in the rod on the forecast. I had expected a nice tailing loop and resulting knot, but the amazingly complex knot I threw into the flyline itself was something I never could repeat. I couldn’t pick it out, so I sort of made do through the line speed portion of the class, double hauling the line complete with birdsnest. That is when the club decided to take the photo for their newsletter. D’oh!
On a big western river, I was swinging bombers for steelhead, when my running line tangled in a beautiful macramé pattern no doubt due to being overpowered by me. I was trying to pick out the knot when the inevitable happened. A steelhead of my dreams, chrome and full of energy, chose that exact moment to eat my bomber and head back for the pacific. Of course, I broke him off. Then resulting swearing is still echoing through the river canyon these years later.
On the Klickitat I once fished an entire run without a fly. I must have snapped it off on the first cast, and never checked. Obviously, I didn’t have a chance of hooking a fish.
On the Deschutes I was changing to a sinktip after the sun was on the water. I rigged up everything and tied on a nice fly, and then made a cast that seemed strange. What was strange was that I had forgot to actually loop the sinktip to the flyline, and it was now at the bottom of the river.
Another time on the Sheboygan I was fishing with sinking polyleaders when my homemade braided loop connector failed. I made the most amazing cast, sailing the fly clean across the river and onto the golf course. Fly, tippet and polyleader gone. Double bogey.
We won’t even talk about the day I learned to row a driftboat.
It all started long ago when I was in junior high, and I was going to a small-bore target shooting practice. The range was down at the bottom of a stairs in the basement of a police station. I was carrying my competition target rifle, spotting scope, and various satchels of various gear, when I slipped at the top of the stairs, fell all the way to the bottom, and landed in a heap preceded and followed by my baggage, now open and spilling all over the floor. One of the other kids smiled upon my bewildered face, and turning to the others, said “Well, Erik is here!”
What are some of the goofy things that have happened to you?
Place them in the comments under this posting, and let the fun begin!
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Meditation on the swung fly
The other day I observed a group of four fly fishermen walking around the water in search of fish spawning in riffles. They wandered all over the river and only found a very few half-dead salmon to flip their glo-bugs to. Then, they went home. I thought of all the opportunities they were missing by adherence to the standard gravel-raping techniques embedded in the psyche of our Midwest salmon and steelhead fishermen. The common thinking is that one fishes for salmon in the fall and steelhead in the spring; the time being when each species is actively spawning and available for sight-fishing. Steelhead are aggressive fish, and one does not have to hit them on the head in order to catch them.
In trout fishing one fishes the rise with a dryfly, or repeatedly nymphs a slot. In steelhead fishing we are able to cover a lot more water by swinging flies at various depths.
I refer to this as 'fish to the fly', rather than 'fly to the fish'.
Think of it this way. A fish has no hands to examine things, only a mouth. Thus, the take of a curious or annoyed steelhead to a fly swinging into their vision is quite different and more certain then a fish eating an egg bouncing the bottom. Glo-bug enthusiasts are missing this. Do this experiment with a dog; let the dog take a ball from your hand and he or she usually takes it gently and then chews on it; then throw the ball at the dog and watch what happens; the dog attacks the ball.
Also sight-fishing is so limiting. Only in the right circumstances can one observe steelhead spawning, and if at all possessing a set of ethics as to the sporting chase, we should leave them alone.
Sight-fishing has the added drawback of negating any progress in reading water. That is why those four guys the other day went home. There were fish in the river (even if I didn't hook any), but simply because they didn't see any, they abandoned the effort.
There is also something to be said for the expectation, hope, and tension that is experienced when sending your fly on its way into the unknown in hope of a bright connection.
The takes on a swung fly are not always spectacular. One may feel a pluck, lick, stop, bump, or etc. But, once in awhile the take can be murderous. I have been fortunate enough to have experienced these sort of takes, and the screaming runs that follow. Fish run better in pools and runs then they do in a foot of water over gravel.
One thing is for certain; a fish that takes a swung fly wants the fly. There can never be the doubt that creeps in to any thinking anglers head when he or she hooks a fish on the beds. "Did it eat my fly, or did the fly just lodge in its mouth after the 487th drift past it?"
In my experience, swung flies in fast water produce the most violent and decisive takes. The fish has literally one or two seconds at the most to make up its mind to eat or crush the thing that is fluttering so seductively and annoyingly past it.
I know I am just talking into the wind here. Those of you who follow my strange thinking are like-minded, while I expect those that don't care, well... don't care.
Art for art's sake?
Monday, November 17, 2008
Play in the cold
The fish have arrived along with the freezing temperatures. This is the time when chrome connections are made while attempting with futility to keep ice from building up in your guides. A time where no socks are 'too heavy' or warm enough. A time when arctic fox wings on tube flies freeze solid when walking back to the car, and passers-by make comments as to our obvious mental challenges as we trudge out of the river with our waders covered in frost and ice.
Our smiles freeze on our faces. We know...
I ran into Cory T. on the river and fished with him for a few hours. Cory can cast and fish like slow-motion poetry. He landed a nice fish behind me in a run that I half-heartedly fished as I always get snagged and lose flies. The fish was hot, and smacked his fly and jumped and ran upstream so fast we both thought it had spit the hook. We then went to another run to finish the evening (afternoon...it gets dark early no?). I hooked a good bright fish which got off. If the fish had run at all, I would have solidly hooked it, instead, it just came to the surface and twisted while I was attempting to set the hook. Nice to raise a fish though. Cory had a similar experience a few minutes later. The steelhead seem to be fond of lying in deep slow water instead of deeper riffles.
In the past several days I have hooked the full monty of the Milwaukee.
I landed this nice chunk of bailing metal on a big black fly. It fought pretty good for its size. I also hooked this coho with lots of teeth while stripping my fly back to me.
Another catch was a hook and line attached to a rock used as a sinker. It actually felt like a bass as it fluttered down after each time I lifted it.
Wonder what I will catch next?
Friday, November 14, 2008
Finally. All it took was a heck of a lot of perseverance. The fish simply took out six inches of the loop. I felt nothing for around ten seconds or so, then lifted the rod, felt resistance, and set the hook. A pretty buck. The swing is so slow here compared to out west that several times I almost fell asleep. I am awake now!
Sunday, November 9, 2008
When all is dreary...
Saturday, November 8, 2008
Another beautiful quote
Testament of a fisherman
by John Voelker AKA Robert Traver
"I fish because I love to; because I love the environment where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly; because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties, and assorted social posturing I thus escape; because in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing things they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion; because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude or humility and endless patience; because I suspect that men are going along this way for the last time, and I for one don't want to waste the trip; because only in the woods can I find solitude without loneliness; because bourbon out of an old tin cup always tastes better out there; because maybe one day I will catch a mermaid; and, finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important but because I suspect that so many of the concerns of men are equally unimportant---and not nearly so much fun."
Thursday, November 6, 2008
A reduced Balmoral with spey style bronze mallard wings over natural black bear. I eliminated the golden pheasant tippet for this one. Body is a single dubbing loop of yellow SLF fading into highlander green angora goat blending into blue SLF and kingfisher blue angora goat.
Have to do something while it rains...
It is raining now, or at least dribbling. I am doing a rain dance.
Here is to wishing as much water in our river as in the photo.
(Yours truly going into the maelstrom on a Washington river.)
And yes, I was scared..
Monday, November 3, 2008
Sometimes I feel as if I am tilting at windmills here. Websters defines 'Quixotic' as impractical or impracticable. I would add romantic blended with delusional and futile.
Which... is what I feel like on our local river as I charge forth to fish empty water in search of a dream. I wonder where the fish are?
But, in reality, this is what makes steelhead fishing the sport it is. The longer one goes without a grab, the more the grab is appreciated when it finally comes. We are like people who repeatedly hit ourselves in the head with a hammer because it feels so good when we stop, or like a man who walks across a desert solely because the drink of water on the other side tastes so good.
I think I need a psychiatrist.... I feel the windmill calling....
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
New tube fly and a quote
First the quote:
"When you visit strange waters, go alone.... Play the game out with the stream! Go to it completely handicapped by all your ignorance. Then all you learn will be your very own."
R. Sinclair Carr, 1936
Here is an experiment in the new tube series...
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Through the mud brightly...
Well, not quite so brightly as I wanted. Still have not caught a steelhead. Conditions are really quite poor, and water clarity downstream from the dam is disgusting. I threw on a big black Dave's bad hair day with blue flashabou, and a heavy sink tip and managed to be grabbed by this sweet little lake run brown @ 22 inches. A fish on a swung fly is enough for me. I was pleased to just get a grab. The back eddy I landed the fish in actually contained among other debris a crack or meth pipe. It was a little glass thing with a round end that was scorched. I would have taken a picture of it, but it got swept under a dead salmon carcass, and even I have my limits...
All in all, I fished with confidence all day, despite the poor conditions.There is no substitute for time on the river, even if you are communing with snaggers and crack pipes...
Seriously, addressing the "Salmon fishing" what the heck is up with the guy I saw with what looked to be a spinning rod with fly-line and split-shot? It was painful to watch as he flailed away, and staggered around in the river. He seemed to be stuck on the bottom most of the time. He would flop the setup out and then immediately be stuck, giving the "Wisconsin Heave" on the rod repeatedly to try to get it off the bottom. Then, when free at last he 'cast' again and got stuck again. Einstein defined insanity as "Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. The comedy of errors that occurs on our tributary rivers each fall when the salmon run could be a subject for a movie. Titles anyone?
Saturday, October 25, 2008
I fished several of the best runs on the river on Friday afternoon under cloudy skies. Nada. I managed to snag a salmon just getting line out to make a cast and lose a pretty fly, so I put on a black Dave's bad hair day with blue flashabou. While micro-stripping it through good holding water for browns I managed this walleye and a smallmouth on the next cast. $2,000.00 worth of spey equipment, and I am swinging flies for Walleye?
Well, at least the fish could see my fly, which is amazing given the amount of silt coming from above the dam.
Most of the salmon are finally dying, which doesn't seem to detract from the numbers of goons with flyrods trying to catch them. Rain would certainly help at this point.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
This pretty much sums it up...
That is all I have to say about the fishing conditions now. Muddy and low.
That is my new gonatid squid pattern with which I snagged a salmon carcass.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
New gonatid squid tube
I came up with this color combination and really like the results. Sometimes when I experiment, the results are less than satisfying, but these turned out O.K. I can't wait to fish them when the salmon snag-fest is over in the river.
Tube: plastic or whatever 1" long
Tag: silver tinsel
Butt: fluorescent green
Tail: Dyed pink golden pheasant wing fibers
Body: spun in dubbing loop purple and then blue SLF
Hackle: Magenta saddle followed by dyed pink golden pheasant
Wing: blue and pink angel hair like stuff woodlander gave me, followed by light blue arctic fox, topped by black arctic fox
Monday, October 20, 2008
Wee Clave in the bog
This past weekend I attended the Tightlines flyshop 1st annual spey clave, held both in their shop and on the algae and muddy banks of the Fox river. I had the priveledge of meeting Simon Gawesworth, and having him sign my copy of his book Spey Casting. Simon is a true gentleman, humble, engaging, and humorous. I had the front seat 100 feet away downstream of him while he demonstrated spey casting. His loops actually sizzled! Chris Andersen of Sage gave an excellent demonstration of Skagit casting. It was nice to see Chris again, as I have not talked to him since we met on the Klickitat.
There were lots of rods to cast from Sage, Burkeimer, St. Croix, and Echo. Casting without any current in a muddy estuary really played havoc with me as I grabbed my western steelhead rod and couldn't seem to cast it. Dave P. could make the transition, but I had a harder time.
I saw Rick F. cast a country mile with a Burkeimer.
I also had an agenda. I wanted to try out my 514 grain Skagit short custom hacked line on other rods, and compare them to my old Flylogic 1308. The surprising thing was that I liked the old Dec Hogan Flylogic rod much better than the new Dec Hogan rods. They seemed to collapse; too much flex. I liked the Burkies, but the rod that just gelled perfectly for me was the Echo classic 13'6" 8wt. It was like George Burns meets Gracie Allen; symbiosis.
Steve Nelson was there, and I got to enjoy talking with him about western steelhead. Good luck on your upcoming trip Steve. Knock their socks off! Bet it was fun watching me wrap the line around my head while casting your Salmon King rod. I think the right line for the rod might be a twenty pound hunk of lead attached to running line...
The three of us from the Milwaukee contingent of spey bums got our picture taken with Simon. I am the ugly one next to Simon that looks like Grizzly Adams on a bender.
We three got to take a nip of single malt out of Simon's special river-JuJu flask. Let's hope it rubs off....