Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Hidden Run

As I approached the river and turned my car slowly down the winding access road, my sense of anxiety grew. Would there be anyone in my hidden secret run? Would anyone trespass on my last privacy on the water? I was relieved to see the opening through the bushes marking the way to the river unguarded by another car, and carefully nosed mine into the nearby scrub a hundred yards short of the access point. I retrieved the magnetic sign I had made and attached it to the side of my car. ‘Biohazard! Feces collection and vector study vehicle’ it read. That should keep people away! I hopped into my waders and ran for the opening before anyone could spot me, dropping toy rubber rattlesnakes and spiders as I went. I would rig up the rod later on the river. Less time for somebody to spot me by the road and find my hidden run: my only sanctuary.

Then I woke up from the dream….

 For that is the irony… The hidden run does not exist. At least as much as it is truly hidden. It is there for all to see and is not secret, it only lies obscured by the lack of ability in reading water and breaking with common convention. Later that day I pulled into the hidden run. There were people walking their dogs on the road, and anglers driving past to other destinations on the river. Even if they found my hidden run, it would still be hidden for they would not fish it.

Why not?

On our tributaries to the Great Lakes and especially my local river, fly anglers pursue anadromous fish such as Steelhead and large Brown Trout the same way they pursue the salmon, that is in general one of two methods is used. The first is sight-fishing: find a fish spawning and fish to it until you catch it, frighten it off, or foul-hook it. The second method is even more productive. Dams and waterfalls have a habit of slowing the progress of fish up the river to spawn. Often they pool up or congregate the fish for several hours and even days. In some instances, the obstacle is too difficult or high to jump over at all, and the fish reach an existential and real dead end right there. Here is a good spot for lots of good catching. Note I didn’t say good fishing, that might be something different if we are sport fishing and not gathering for subsistence. Both of these methods place many fish on the end of an angler’s line, so they are the most productive method, if not questionable in a sporting sense. In this case, what is productive and common convention does one other thing: it prevents our metaphorical ‘Hidden Run’ from ever being discovered by the madding crowds.

Why? Because there are no waterfalls or dams, and only the top head of the pool may have the occasional odd salmon struggling to spawn with its back half out of the water. Beyond those obvious signals and signs, the water is a confusing tumble of boulders, riffles, pools, slack water and fast shoots. In other words, it needs interpretation or reading, it takes analysis. It takes more effort to find fish in holding water than to just shoot deer in a petting zoo. Opening that page opens the world’s longest book. A book and a study so rich with promise and eye-opening that hidden runs are suddenly everywhere, and this is the second irony, the hidden run both does not exist unless it remains hidden by lack of wisdom, and it exists everywhere afterwards when that knowledge is gained and placed into practice.

Still reading?

Lets give a few examples. In spring when the water is high on our tributaries, anglers walk the banks and almost always ask each other the same question like a ritual: “Have you seen any fish?” Last year I had a nice conversation with another angler in a parking lot while rigging my gear. He went down to a shallow riffle, wandered around the water looking down and peering for twenty minutes or so, and then left. I started working a sweet piece of water that fishes best when the river is high and clear. Twenty casts later, I hooked a screamer of a steelhead in the boulders at the tail out. The other angler had been within 50 yards of this water, but instead of unlocking the possibilities, began putting into operation the common convention of looking for fish. Then this spring two anglers were walking down the river in this very spot, actually walking through the good water when one of them recognized me and asked if they were in good water. “Is this featureless water O.K. too?” they asked. I looked at the run with a hidden Rosetta-Stone of little clues as to boulders and pockets, scallops and spits and told them that indeed they were in good water. Then after they left ten minutes later, I proceeded down the run and briefly hooked a fish exactly where they were standing.

Trout too:

The same quagmire of convention and ease of path taken also happens on trout streams to all our detriment. Often trout anglers concentrate their efforts of two distinct things in the water. LUNKER structures or artificial undercut banks providing cover, and riffles at the head of pools. Smart anglers too, for the riffle is a hatch factory providing broken water and cover, and the LUNKER structure holds the majority of fish in a given pool in most situations. However there are a lot of other targets out there. Fishing to a rising fish with a dry in the true English style will tell us where the fish intercept the bugs, but what about when they don’t? Do we pass by the log sunk in the side of the tail-out for the obvious ten-incher rising in the riffle above, or… would it be a good time to explore that water with our fly? If we never depart from our common path, we may never find new avenues of discovery and knowledge, and yes… pleasure. But that might mean taking that strike-indicator and bead head nymph that has been glued to our line for the last ten years, and placing on a Sawyer style lightly weighted nymph and working it actively and with thought and planning. On my local trout stream I have meet some great anglers, some characters, and everything in-between. Once during a hatch of mixed Hendricksons and March Browns, I came across two guys who were fishing prince-nymphs downstream on a dead-drift. They were working down the stream as I was working up. I greeted them politely, they told me they had not hooked anything yet, and I asked them if they had any mayfly imitations around a size 12. Nope, they both always have used size 12 prince nymphs with a split-shot or two. They continued on their way shackled by their own convention. The hidden run that day was all around in the air, and had wings.

If we walk the same path everyday we see the same scenery, only differently in hues, never a different view entirely, and if we follow the hatchery truck, always fish the same 3 flies, or ask everyone else what they do so we can ‘bah’ like sheep in the same language, the hidden run will remain locked tight. We have to get away from the dams and waterfalls, and think beyond the riffles.

Being skunked is part of the process of learning the keys to opening those doors to the hidden run, as is stubbing one’s toe or getting lost.

So what is the lesson or the take-away? Perhaps it is simply that by taking the path that leads to the initial success of fish caught consistently, and not breaking with that tradition at some point in our progression, we have taken a short cut to a closed book and a dark forest. In order to find the path again, we may need to go fishing and not worry about the catching. Then the discoveries amongst the little riffles and eddies may lead us to the hidden runs and the spaces between the notes where the music is sweetest. The funny part is that it has been there all along, but how fragrant is the flower when finally uncovered. Asking about the secret spot may bring answers, but finding one’s own will bring fulfillment.
The door is right there, and there is no footpath…. Just look out for my rubber rattlesnakes!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Paper Route... first job

This is not fly-fishing related, but I wanted to share this on my blog as it is humorous and easy to read and funny.... Please enjoy this!


When I was 12 years old, I got a paper route delivering the Milwaukee Journal to our neighborhood. My parents must have thought it might build character and teach responsibility. I wanted the route anyway, as my best friend Alex had one already, allowing him to buy more baseball cards than I could. Dad and Mom both encouraged me that employment would be fun, and told me stories of the jobs they had as youngsters, most of which started out with “When I was your age, I had three jobs that blah… blah.”

My dad accompanied me to the newspaper station for our area, and I signed up. My route would include two blocks of Downer and two blocks of Stowell Ave.

The way the system worked was that I would be charged by the week for how many papers I ordered. I would then collect the money from the residents, and any money that was left over after paying for the papers was profit. Essentially, we kids were private contractors.

We carriers received a huge yellow bag constructed of canvas designed to be worn over the shoulder. The Journal consisted of a daily addition, a midweek addition with advertising supplement, and a Sunday edition.

 The guy in charge of the local routes worked out of a shack next to a convenience store. He was a fat and disheveled guy in his 30s with greasy balding hair who probably saw his future differently than it now was. He compensated for his pathetic life by acting like the malevolent head of the carrier gang. He assigned the routes and determined the amount of papers you would receive and pay for, so getting on his bad side often meant that you would find yourself trying in vain to sell your extras by standing on the corner yelling “Paper” to passing motorists.  Many of the carriers hung out at the shack, trading insults and baseball cards. They were the bigger and older carriers, and none of us little kids were allowed to hang out with them. Summoned to meet with the ‘boss’, one would have to make his way slowly past the snickering carrier gang who added their snide comments as you meekly awaited his audience. When I first was assigned the route, the ‘boss’ told me that I would be taking over from a girl named Beth. She would show me the collection cards and take me on the route with her on her last day as an orientation. “You will really like her” he said, “She is a real cutie.” I called her and we arranged a meeting. When she set eyes on me she cried “Eww, it’s you!”, and walked off leaving the collection cards on the grass. That was the extent of my orientation. She knew me from school, and since she was a popular girl, and I was a popular target, she had reacted as child-society demanded.

 I was supposed to be able to have a job I could do after school, earn money to be put away for savings, and learn responsibility. Instead, I and increasingly my parents became enslaved by it.

 The daily additions were easy enough. One simply placed as many as one could carry at one time into the big yellow bag, and staggered off to fight the defective screen doors, viscous dogs, bullies, lonely elderly residents with dementia, and other hazards of the job. When I ran out of papers, I went home for more until the whole route was complete. I repeated this for seven days a week, 365 days a year. There were no vacations as a paper carrier. You might get a friend to cover for you in an emergency, but then you faced the consequences if your friend was less than attentive and forgot to deliver to half the houses, instead choosing to read comic books.

 I soon found out that the oft-portrayed icon of the young child on a red balloon tire bike, with a bag full of papers, dutifully delivering the daily news was a myth. Trying to ride my bike with the cumbersome yellow bag was nearly impossible. I would have to lean the bike over 45 degrees in order to balance the load. Pedaling at this angle proved futile. One solution I came up with was to hang the bag off the front handlebars of the bike. This worked as long as you didn’t have to steer or stop. Having to stop the bike at every house and get off to deliver the paper wasted time as well.

Now some carriers had mastered the art of folding the paper in a certain manner in order to toss it onto a porch while continuing to ride by on the bike. My experiments with this ended up with papers in bushes, a broken window, and spending hours chasing blowing pages down the street when they sort of exploded as they were halfway to their destination. I finally was able to master this folding with practice, but it was only practical one or two days a week, as the other days the papers were too thick to fold.

Of course, my dumb bike was not exactly up to par either. A neighbor had given us a black Huffy 3 speed from the 1940s with two of the three gears stripped. It must have weighed over 50 pounds, and had survived a collision with a car. In a feat of inspiration bordering on the lunatic, I spray-painted it day-glo orange, trying to make it look like the expensive road bikes at the local bicycle store. It ended up looking like a cheap science fiction movie prop.

 I finally abandoned the bike idea and instead used a rusted toy wagon with no handle, which I pulled with a length of old rope I had attached. I don’t remember where the dilapidated wagon was obtained from, but it must have made me look like the Oliver Twist of newsboys.

After a short period, the wagon must have finally fallen apart, and I moved on to the use of an abandoned shopping cart. Now this was the way to go! I could carry most or all of the papers in one shot. The problem with the shopping cart is that it had one of those funny wheels that one can only find on shopping carts: a sort of free-spirit wheel that always wanted to go its own way. I would make progress down the street, only to suddenly lurch into a tree or a curb.

 All these trials could be tolerated and overcome if it wasn’t for the dreaded Sunday edition. Instead of being an evening paper like it was on weekdays and Saturday, the Journal on Sunday was a morning paper. I rose every Sunday to the alarm at 4:30 am, and complete darkness. With bleary eyes, I dragged myself down the stairs and to the curb, where unbelievably large and heavy piles of bundled papers had been deposited. In the pre-dawn silence I half carried, rolled, and shoved the bundles up to our house.

The Sunday paper was unique in that not only was it ten times the size of a daily paper, but it also had to be assembled by the carrier. First, I had to cut the bailing wire that bound the stacks of papers together. Unlike my fellow carriers, I didn’t have my own wire cutters, but had to borrow Dad’s, promising each time that I would put it back properly in its slot on the peg-board above his workbench. The bailing wire had a habit of being twisted too tight, thus ruining the first and last paper in the bundle. I then had to sort the sections one by one into complete papers while sneaking a read of the comic strips, all under the dim 40-watt bulb in the overhead hall light. (We wouldn’t want to waste electricity, right Dad?)

Once assembled, the papers would be piled ten at a time into my big yellow bag, and I would stagger off into the darkness, leaning and lurching with the weight. Once rid of my load, I would return home to get another ten papers etc., until the route was complete. I think I had over eighty houses, so that more than eight trips would be needed. As soon as I got halfway through the first block my body reacted to the shock of being awake by letting me know I had to go to the toilet. When this happened, I hid the papers in the bushes, and ran bow-legged for home.

It was bad enough in normal conditions for a 12-year-old boy to carry 70 pounds of papers eight times through the neighborhood, but when the weather acted up, it could really get tricky. One of the worst things about rain or snow was that as the papers inevitably became moist or wet, they gained weight until you felt like you were delivering bowling balls.

Several Sundays saw the neighborhood covered in newly fallen snow a foot or two deep. At this point, the shopping cart and bag were abandoned in favor of my sled. Mom and I duly dragged the sled through the snow, piled full of papers and covered by garbage bags against the weather. It was early in the morning, so the walkways were not yet shoveled, making every house an Alaskan expedition. It also was hard to move when you were wearing three or four layers of clothing, two coats, and covered in snow.

Some of the residents, accustomed to reading their paper at a certain hour were intolerant of delays. They would stand in fuzzy slippers and a robe, holding steaming cups of coffee just inside their cozy doorways, and watch me trudge through waist deep snowdrifts trying to make it to their door.

On one of these arctic adventures, my mom was pulling the sled when it toppled over. She slipped in trying to catch it and lay on the street calling out in pain. What a way for Mom to spend her day off.

I did get Dad out of bed to help me once, but he complained so much, and made me so miserable that it was easier to do without his help.

Nobody at the Journal had warned us that the whole family would have to get involved. They also could have warned us that the filthy little rag-a-muffins selling papers in the movies were filthy because they were covered in newsprint! Not a day passed when I didn’t come home from the route badly in need of a bath. They also could have mentioned that continued use of the heavy news-bag would cause curvature of the spine. For years during and after my paper route I habitually walked with a conspicuous tilt, and always had to be stopped during school scoliosis tests and gawked at by the nurses. All this for less than twenty dollars profit per week.

One of the most interesting things about my paper route were the residents themselves. Our neighborhood was full of eccentrics.

There was the old woman with memory problems that lived in a huge home filled with antiques. She was forever misplacing her checkbook, and always wanted to offer me booze when it was cold. She needed help to fill out the check, and I was often there for an hour or more, helping her locate the checkbook or her purse (was it in the freezer or the closet?), and trying to politely refuse endless offers of brandy. (I was twelve at the time.)

There was the control freak that insisted on balancing his accounts and his checkbook in front of me while I waited to be paid, the lawyer who waited outside in his bath robe for the paper in winter while drinking a beer, a kind old woman with a little dog named ‘Jasu’, a psychiatrist who always tried to tell me what to do, and several people who always answered the door acting as if they were expecting the cops. Several residents I never saw at all. Their papers mysteriously disappeared from the doorstep of their homes as if by magic.

Most everybody was friendly until collection time.

I wonder who came up with the idea of sending twelve-year-old kids to people’s doors to collect on debts. Isn’t this a thing best left to big guys in leather jackets named ‘Lefty’? I certainly was not what one could expect in the enforcer category. After all, I was only twelve, and weighed less than 75 pounds. I certainly was not the best businessman, and was intimidated by some of the residents as well as being lazy, so often the amounts owed included several weeks or even months of delivery. At collection time, few of the residents actually had money in the house, or their spouse had their checkbook. Perhaps I could come back later or on Saturday? I wasted an incredible amount of time trying to find residents who were actually at home and had money to pay the bill.

I received lectures from the residents to collect more often, and to that effect went out at night to knock on doors to see if I could catch people at home.

It’s funny how the tune changes sometimes. The same people who lectured me on collecting more frequently happened to live in houses that suffered mysterious electrical lighting failures as soon as I rang the door buzzer.

I had an effective way of dealing with these customers. When it came time to deliver the Sunday paper, I would open the outer screen door, and trap the paper at head height between the doors by quickly shutting the outer door. When the customer opened the inner door, he was greeted with a shower of pages onto his feet.

Of course some customers never paid, and were duly reported to the Journal for collections. I never did get my books balanced perfectly, and left the route still being owed money.

I saved just about everything I made on the route not because I was thrifty, but because my parents had enforced it. I obtained a savings account at the University Credit Union when I was about ten, and most all of the money I made selling greeting cards or on the paper rout went into it. I paid for half of the cost of my trumpet, and the entire cost of a later competition target rifle. I may have missed the thrill of squandering my earnings on candy and comic books, but I did learn to save. I also learned a lot about life, the people that inhabit it, and all the trials and tribulations of earning a buck the hard way.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Symbiosis and Grace: A tale of two fly rods.

2 DaVinci rods top. Bottom Para 15. Writer's log and pen while writing this mess.

Author’s note:

This is an essay based on reflections. Essentially, it is what might be considered a rod ‘Shoot-out’ in the modern slang, but nobody gets injured, and there is no violence. It is an examination of character and personality of inanimate objects with some allegory, analogies, and hints of anthropomorphism thrown in for clarification or explanation, or even accidental obfuscation. My approach to this and writing style is not common and may be considered enigmatic. I certainly hope so, for thought is not always linear, and writing should not always be either. The style might be read a bit like interrupted poetic prose spattered with philosophy and nonsense randomly but with intent and design not unlike a Jackson Pollack painting. Sometimes it might seem that I am searching for something without putting my fingers on it, only to have an epiphany a few paragraphs later, and detour yet again. Sometimes I wonder what people must think when they attempt to get through these little diversions of mine, but then I might deem it the highest compliment and praise if someone reads this and it spurs thought…. For thought is what I am after…after all….

These reflections were written at local parks while casting and taking notes and day-dreaming, a process I referred to once in an essay as ‘Water-Putting’. I would hike 4 miles, then go the quietest location I could find, set up the rods and begin taking endless notes and exploring ideas while casting. I hope you enjoy it!


The two fly rods explained

Both fly rods are 2 piece, 8 feet long, and take a 5 weight line. That is where the similarities end, for they are as different as air and water. Both rods were built and ‘interpreted’ by Joe Balestrieri, the cane whisperer and bamboo rod builder at Redwing Fly Rods, and a great friend. I acquired both rods this year, after having hand-built a leather rod tube to accommodate them, and purchasing a rare pre-war Hardy Perfect reel with an ‘agate-up’ line guard to balance the rods. I even made a leather reel case for the Hardy as well, long before either rod was a reality. Either a lot of thought and planning went into this, or a bit of insanity….. most likely both.

The rods are a DaVinci, and a Young Parabolic 15. Here are their histories.

The DaVinci, or the ‘Symbiosis’ of the title is a fusion of bamboo and graphite. Following the designs of Charles Ritz of the Vario-Power series of rod which married a bamboo tip to a fiberglass butt, Pezon & Michel of France built a rod with a cane butt section and a graphite tip in 1990 to 1991. The fact that little is known about this rod has little to do with performance, only with popularity, or a lack of it and a corresponding lack of understanding. It may have been a little too much of a diversion for the average angler, too much to chew on, and not understood at all, or the concept of fusion itself may have been seen as heretical. More on that later… Joe also leant me his personal DaVinci rod he built so that I could test cast and fish with it. It is a nine-foot for a six-weight line, and appears in the photo as the rod with the skeletal grip, another idea borrowed from the late Paul Young, the expansive idea-chaser and bamboo rod builder from Detroit Michigan. Balestrieri also used a modified Ritz grip on the rod in addition to the skeletal reel seat, blending the best of borrowed ideas and mixing them together to make a different flavor of rod. Sometimes the best tasting pasta dishes are assembled by scratch, and with only ingredients on-hand and in the mind, as I found out when Balestrieri cooked me a Sicilian bacon, white sauce and asparagus dish when I picked up the rod. He pulled that dish out and improvised. It was divine!

Since I mentioned Paul Young, the second rod is one I wanted Balestrieri to make for me. I wanted an all-around trout rod of around eight feet or so and for a five-weight line. What he came up with was a lightened Paul Young Para 15 taper. Instead of casting a six-weight line, as the original rods did, this one cast a true five beautifully. The name ‘Para 15’ comes from the ferrule being 15/64th in diameter. Para is short for ‘Parabolic’, which is fly-rod gibberish to attempt to explain a taper that bends mostly nearer the grip, and often has a stiffer tip. Parabolic rods thus are ‘regressive’ in taper, as they stand convention on its head by bending far down the blank. The most parabolic of the parabolics, rods like the Para 15 and the Princess, also by Paul Young, have a fluid slow action that flings the line out there without effort much like a slingshot.

Ernest Schwiebert, in his book Trout Tackle 2 told us that Young preferred his Para 15, and that perhaps it was Young’s favorite rod. Schwiebert himself commented that the Para 15 was “Perhaps the finest all-around trout rod in my collection.” That says a lot as Schwiebert owned countless bamboo rods from all the great makers, and fished them all over the world, and wrote about them as well in his stories and his histories of tackle and technique.

The rod Balestrieri built for me is similar to a lightened regressive taper Para 15 Young called the ‘Keller’. This rod is the ‘Grace’ in the title.

Before I break out the bottle of wine and begin waxing poetic, these two rods are perhaps the finest casting fly-rods I have ever had the privilege to hold or own, but for very different reasons; thus the point of the explorative reflections.


Getting to know you…


DaVinci, as in the great Leonardo, was the great historic artist he is considered both because of his divine talent and exquisite beauty of touch in capturing the human figure, as well as his diversity in designing and drafting war machines, civil engineering tools, castle and town layouts and defenses, etc. His explorations were incredible. His sketches are exquisite in their subtle strokes and detail, and almost casual in their greatness. They leave the average artist dumbfounded.

 The rod named after him may have had its name taken as a tribute to the fusion of the classical paintings and the drafting drawings. At least it would be nice to believe so. I use the term symbiosis to describe the rod as in two parts working together to achieve what each by themselves, could not achieve alone. For no two materials anchor the far bookends of opinion, puritanism, zeal and stubbornness in fly rod design and casting; bamboo of lore, and graphite of pure energy. One made of natural fibers bending in the wind, and one mastered by man and melded by alchemists out of carbon; Each material having supporters scoffing at each other. Bamboo fanatics will never admit that graphite is a viable material at all, and often call rods made of carbon fiber ‘Plastic’ just to raise a hackle or two. Graphite proponents call cane rods ‘Buggy-whips’ and dismiss cane as short-distance over-priced affectations. Cane nuts have started internet forums where they endlessly argue about nuances so obscure that to the layperson who wanders by and innocently trespasses on their lofty comfort and security with a perceived blasphemy of a question, they must seem like a bunch of model-railroad fanatics involved in a street fight to settle the issue of which gauge track is better.

These two sides are so polarized around performance versus classicism, that when some eccentric artist or craftsman one day makes a rod of both materials combined it must cause silence, and then cries of anger and blasphemy. How dare you disgrace cane with graphite you heretic. Heresy! How dare you mess up my graphite power tool with the addition of that dumb wood butt-section? Now it weighs 1/32nd of an ounce more and I can’t cast. So erupted the Capulets and the Montagues, yet Romeo and Juliet lay still bound together in brash reality right there in front of us. And they loved…. They loved without prejudice. They loved completely, with all of themselves.

So the DaVinci may never be accepted. Its dichotomy is too extreme. It angers the purists, and adulterates the puritan. The Capulets and Montagues war and rage and argue and fight… The experts will tell you that any fly- rod like this will be a disaster….

Until you cast it. Then the true duet begins, like a love song from West-Side Story, Bernstein’s brilliant adaptation of Shakespeare’s play… Romeo and Juliet in the modern age. These materials compliment each other amazingly. The cane butt pulls the weight closer to the grip, causing the rod to feel lighter in hand and more responsive. The cane bends near the butt, causing the rod action to be very powerful but semi-parabolic in nature. The graphite tip on my rod is longer than the butt section, and creates a unique property of a lack of deflection. Therefore, the best of two materials come together. The graphite tip is also lighter, reducing the overall weight of the flyrod, and preventing what often happens in bamboo rods; the tips become too heavy, especially in weights over 5 or lengths over 8 feet.

It took no time at all to understand this rod. Step up to the plate and swing. She takes all you can give as long as you are smooth. It is not a close distance rod, instead it wants some gas. I first fished it on a small spring creek where I was hampered by brush, and the rod did not like it. I caught fish, but I continually had to make the rod do things it didn’t want to do. Under 20 feet it didn’t want to load right, but when moving to a larger body of water it ran free. This rod does not want to be confined. With a cigar grip, a unique burned cork butt, and bright red wraps, it stands out as the convertible sports car in a field of sedans.

Only once, did I really step on the gas and run it full out, and the entire fly line went out and the backing banged the reel. Yet… it didn’t sell. Nobody understands it. Sad. Blasphemy! Heretic! Or… symbiosis? Just ask Romeo and Juliet! On second thought, don’t do that, it kind of ended badly for them. Perhaps peanut butter and jelly might be a better analogy. Yet… of Shakespeare’s plays, what is the most popular? Yes. The dichotomy.

I taught a fly-casting class for a Trout Unlimited chapter this summer using the DaVinci rod, and although everyone seemed to think it was interesting, watching people look at the rod and wiggle it was not unlike the tale of the three blind men trying to describe an elephant. If I hadn’t owned it and cast it, I would be in the same boat. One guy asked, “Why did you bring that rod?” I thought… “Why not?”. Sometimes it seems to be my place on earth to be the odd one who makes us all question things by doing everything contrary to conventional wisdom, and making it work.


Unlike the DaVinci, the Para 15 is a difficult gal to figure out. She is the demure one seated alone on the settee at the dance. She is not the most desirable or flashy of the girls, she has an understated quiet grace, part Greek with a quiet smile and classic cupid lips, but if you want to take the time to know her, she is the keeper, and the one you want to spend the rest of the night dancing with. Just don’t step on her toes… she hates that. Grace is demanding of respect. She is complicated despite being straightforward. She seems quirky at first. If you cast her right with smooth movements, she rewards you with an elegant loop and bend like lips slowly curving into a beguiling smile.

Parabolic rods are like this. You may hate the rod one second because you are pushing it too hard, and then the next second, when you smooth out your stroke and come into agreement with the rod, it rewards you. There is no wiggle-room in this rod. Either you are going to play beautiful music together, or you are going to make one god-awful racket and end up on the floor frustrated and tangled up in your own underwear. The rod sets the tempo, not you. Unlike some graphite rods that you can push, mold, and change to your ways, this Para 15 will not budge. So… after getting over a few tailing-loops and some frustrated casting, I closed my eyes and cast. I was not leading the dance, the rod was, and I opened my eyes to an epiphany. I felt it first in my arm and hand as the bend of the rod came alive so very subtly, and then witnessed the loop as 50 feet of line gracefully uncoiled and the reel quacked out a few more inches in protest. I cast it again with the maker, and while talking to him and not paying attention to my casting stroke, he said, “That was a perfect cast!” I had taken myself out of it, at least my conscious mind, and let my soul or unconscious take control. Joe laughed, and I did too. This Para 15 wanted no part of my thoughts, it only wanted what it’s soul’s essence desired. Pure smooth strokes. Don’t think, just feel….

This quirkiness is why some people never like parabolic rods. If you have an inflexible casting stroke and cadence, and you perform a tango even when the dance is a waltz, the rod will not make the adaptation, and will punish you. This ability to get to know the personalities of unique rods fascinates me. The changes I have to make as a caster in order to make the rod perform allow me to become a better caster because I am listening, not doing the talking.

The Para 15 requires patience. The style of casting that just seemed to gel includes a bit of Charles Ritz in his High Speed-High Line approach along with a smooth long travel on the back cast starting low with the tip to the ground, then smoothly accelerating forward and stopping however gently before lowering the tip. A powerful stop to create a tight loop made the rod do strange things, and I had to let it be in charge again before I understood again that it demands smoothness. Any noise or abrupt movements will shock it and it will stop singing for you. It took some time before I got to really understand the Para 15 since the flaws in casting came not from the rod, but from me.

This rod will perform up close and at distance, so it is more versatile than the DaVinci, and it might be hard to scratch together an argument against it as the finest all-around trout rod ever. I still struggle at distance with the rod though, but only in park-casting distances, because despite all the tales of 90 foot casts, for most situations a 60 foot cast is quite far, and a more realistic average distance on big water might be 50 feet, and the Para 15 is dead on at 40 and 50 feet, repeatedly hitting the same leaf at distance while simulating dry-fly accuracy. However, like most of us, one man’s meat is another’s poison, and after trying an overly heavy old double taper line on the rod, I put on a weight-forward 5 weight line and the rod sang an aria of its own. That is another important aspect to fly-rods. There is no such thing as the right line out of the box. I have rods rated for a seven that I cast with a six, and rods rated for a 4 that I cast with a five. Another caster might like the exact opposite. Balestrieri and I fooled around with one of his finest rod creations several times in succession with different lines often getting wildly different results before he grabbed a silk line that was actually a bit heavy, and after my prediction that it would only make it more confusing, the line flew out and hit the junipers at the edge of his property. We just looked at each other and smiled.

We have to give the rods different foods, if you will, and see how they react. A casting stroke more powerful might mean a lighter line or not. I tested or ‘fed’ my rods a variety of lines, many no longer in production.

Like my analogy to the dark brunette Greek and Italian classic like Cecilia Bartoli the opera mezzo-soprano, the Para 15 has a quiet and subtle beauty. It has a cork reel seat, not a deep polished wood. This is in keeping with the rods of Paul Young who was known to be a bit of a nut on saving weight and often sacrificing aesthetics in favor of performance. So this rod has no fancy ball gown, only an Italian green silk wrap. It is simple like an Italian feast of grapes, bread and wine taken in a Sicilian field in the hills and true to the roots and character of the maker Balestrieri.

The differences in these two rods always lead my mind to stray to music again. If these two rods were performing artists, how would they differ? Why, with as much character difference as they do in casting. Vladimir Horowitz the fiery Russian pianist would love to pound the keyboard of the DaVinci, while he would probably break the Para 15. Alfred Cortot, the poetic interpreter of Chopin and Debussy would love the complicated and quiet intricate rhythms of the Para 15, while he might find the DaVinci to be too brutal to make music.

I was doing research the other day for this article and became fascinated with bamboo collectors use of the term ‘Experimental’. The term was used to describe the DaVinci, as well as Paul Young’s rare but vaunted Princess, a regressive 7 foot for a 4 weight line of which very few were built. Critics seemed to imply that a taper that was not popular or of which few were made constituted an ‘Experiment’ in a connoted derogatory sense. Apparently, experiments that sold were acts of genius in contrast. Certainly the Princess and the DaVinci ideas were not failures due to their lack of casting brilliance, but perhaps the deviations of these rods might make us read the ‘Experimental’ critique as better defined as “I don’t get it….” That led me to include the CD cover for Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, songs so beautiful and full of life yet profane, as a part of the montage photo heading this piece of experimental prose and fly-rod reflection. I thought it fitting, and I wanted to thumb my nose at convention, especially by those that collect rods and argue about them, but when it comes down to it, have no clue where the rod’s soul lies.

The soul comment leads me back to the more mundane word ‘Character’, and why I wrote this piece in the first place. I have cast some poor rods in my time, but more often than not, a decent rod with thought behind the taper and intent and purpose behind the design that at first might not speak to me will often reveal itself when I am not trying or thinking. That is why I built the Romeo and Juliet analogy and “Getting to know you…”.  One has to spend some time with a fly-rod in order to find out what makes it tick…. Far more than is given in any magazine “Rod shoot-out” I have ever read.


Conclusion ad nauseam…


So the Para 15 is the finest rod I have ever cast…. Or is it the Da Vinci? Both? Neither? Or is the point of ever trying to assign a score to a delicate object like a fine cane rod like trying to rank the finest painters and musical artists in a list….? An impossible task, and one that is perpetrated every day. Instead, art history teaches us that comparison and contrast is an exercise in itself. Not pointless, but leading to thought and more respect and a deeper appreciation of the intent of the object itself.

On the other hand, we could just go out and catch a bunch of fish. I like to think it can be more than just that…. It can be art if we let it be. Casting and rods can be like the fine instruments and music they were intended as. Just add a glass of fine claret, turn down the music, pick up a fly-rod and close your eyes.




Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Teaching Fly Casting

Here is a video taken live of me teaching and explaining the basic fly-casting stroke. Enjoy!


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Happy Fathers Day to all Dads!

Fishing with Dad

Fishing with Dad: Photo from @ 1975 or so

Most anglers and fly fishermen in particular have had the tradition of this great sport handed down to them by their fathers. My friend Rob’s father tells a neat story about fly fishing in Michigan when Rob who was all of eight or nine years old was perched on a rock casting, and Sylvester Nemes came past and remarked that the kids casting skill was better than his fathers.

Many of us cherish those memories of our fathers, from the first time we were shown how to bait a hook and cast, to the time we finally caught a fish bigger than Dad’s was, and the look not of envy but of pride on his face.

My memories are just as fond, but in a more ironic way.

My father loved to dream about fishing, but rarely fished. He taught me how to bait a hook with a worm, set the bobber and catch panfish. He taught me to clean the fish. He also taught me that he was not to be bothered for the morning bite. I fished alone in the mornings, as Dad would never get out of bed. Dad and I only really fished on vacations. These were supposed to be the time when mom could get away from her soul crushing job, and immerse herself in nature and paint and sketch while staying with friends ‘up north’. For Dad, these vacations took on a safari like expedition status.

The vacation planning would begin with my mother securing time off of work. After the dates were set, Dad would begin assembling the baggage train near the doorway of our house. Like everything else involving Dad, this took time; in this case weeks, with long speculation and daydreaming while smoking his pipe, and was over-meticulously planned. He gathered: hunting boots, hiking boots, casual shoes, two fishing rod cases containing a dozen of his hand built rods, two tackle boxes, a large box of fishing reels, two safari jackets, several hats including a pith helmet, several large fishing nets, four duffel bags of clothing, etc. Enough gear for an expedition to the Congo. My mother took some watercolor supplies and a change of clothes. I had one fishing rod and a small duffel bag.

That was Dad. Everything was overdone, over planned, analyzed to death, and had to be perfect.
He hand built spinning rods that were pieces of artwork, with gun stock French walnut inserts, elaborately wrapped guides, and guide spacing that was based upon complex mathematical models only known to him. He owned the best reels that money could buy, and a large collection of lures and sundry equipment. Despite this, he very seldom fished. When we did fish together, after I was about nine or so, the fishing sessions were inevitably memorable…but in the wrong way.

I couldn’t wait to go fishing the first morning of the vacation, but had to wait for Dad, as the fishing rods were locked in the car. On the pond was a boathouse with a pier from which we would fish. We stood on the little pier and cast spinners to the trout. I caught my first rainbow trout that day. Before that occurred though, there were the requisite disasters that seemed to follow us wherever we went. On an errant cast, I hooked Dad in the leg, the treble hooks embedding deep in his pants. It’s amazing that worse didn’t occur with the two of us crowded onto the tiny end of the pier. In order to get the hooks out he had to take off his pants. We stood on the end of the platform while I tried to free the hooks from his trousers, which were now around his ankles. I used needle-nose pliers and finally got the hooks free but left a sizable hole in the pants. By this time, both of us were entangled in the fishing line, and I dropped his pliers into the water. I was never to hear the end of this. The proximity of sharp objects, Dad’s anxieties, and a small boy crowded onto a pier had reached critical mass. At times like this, I was at the mercy of his entire wrath, as Mom wasn’t there to try to interfere and thus get criticized for always “Defending the boy.” On a positive note, I learned a lot of new words that day.

Several days later I went along on a shopping expedition with Mom and her friend and Dad was left alone to fish. When we returned, he proudly showed off a stringer of five beautiful rainbow trout. One of them was the biggest I had ever seen up to that point. It was almost hard to believe. Dad seemed such a fumble-klutz at fishing that it was an entirely new feeling to see him as a hero.

My father loved to fish. At least he loved to dream about fishing and collect tackle. He rarely actually went fishing. He read books on spin fishing, and purchased or hand built the best equipment with God only knows what money. Somehow though, in his meticulous study, he missed some of the simple fundamentals. When fishing with a spinning reel one opens the bail (control arm) thus freeing the line for a cast. In order to prevent the line from free spooling at this point and creating a tangled mess, one places a finger on the line and traps it against the rod or reel. Dad overlooked this. On a later vacation to Wisconsin’s Door County, we were fishing together and Dad repeatedly made casts that went nowhere and created a bird nest of line. At these times I was employed to help by holding either the rod or the line while he cursed and blamed, constantly stating “ I am going crazy” and sweating profusely. The tangles kept getting worse until they covered the reel, rod, and us. Monofilament was everywhere. Everyone took turns trying to help him, but it was to no avail. My Uncle Jerry, a Benedictine priest, and our driver on this trip even had his patience tried. He went swimming to escape the mayhem. Mom tried to help too, but finally went off alone to paint. The rod ended up getting broken, probably on purpose. I can still feel the tension in the air, and smell the frustration and terror sweat as it fell from Dad's brow.
It’s funny. I loved to fish too, but after these vacations, I never fished from age 15 until I was in my mid-30s. I often wonder if the traumatic imprints had something to do with that.

Dad’s hand built rods may have been works of art, but they hardly ever received use, even given our proximity to Lake Michigan. Dad’s fears and anxieties all but prevented him from ever venturing out on his own. Instead he amassed tackle and sat day dreaming about it until vacation time came along. He collected hundreds of back-copies of Outdoor Life and Field and Stream, but hated to leave the house for fear of getting his shoes muddy, getting wet, or getting eaten by mosquitoes. My mom and I thought he should have magazines entitled “Indoor Life” instead. When he did venture outside into nature, he dressed like someone attempting a parody of an English explorer from the 19th century. He would don special boots, safari jackets, and a pith helmet.

So, here’s to you Dad, in a loving but tongue in cheek way. Happy Fathers Day. Wish you were still here with me, disasters and all. I will wear your Irish hats in tribute, but will try not to tangle the line around myself and fall in.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

A nice tribute Thank you!


I first became aware of the writing of Erik Helm through Speypages.  

He “penned” what has become one of my all time favorite posts.  My favorite because of the writing style and the content, both of which are entertaining, hilarious, and true.  Superb, as we truck drivers say. It should be required reading for anyone stuck in the quagmire of information about fly fishing and Spey casting/ fishing in particular.  This is not proper “blogging” technique but I copied and pasted the post below because, like I said, its required reading…

I dunno… Perhaps I have been in the two-hand or ‘spey’ casting thing too long or perhaps long enough to know that a line closely approximate to correct should be able to be cast fine by any given rod. This pseudo-science and new thirst for the magic bean through calculations, measurements, Euclidian geometry, etc. Has me puzzled at best. More and more I believe that this little corner of the sport is being over-complicated by people giving advice based on little experience, dogma relating to strong personal preferences, and for a disregard for the joy of just going out there and casting. We used to get by with windcutters just fine, then better lines came along. Good. Then came the pseudo-science of running-lines and matching heads which at first was fine, but has now evolved. or devolved into such a miasma of obfuscation that it is a wonder that people are even not more confused. Long ago I simplified my approach and fishing gear, and it paid off. I spend less or no time fussing and futzing, and just cast and swing. Perhaps there is a lesson here in simplification, time put in on the great rivers, learning by having your a$$ handed to you, and a bit less attention paid to marketing hype and the new ‘magic bean’ rod, line, vortex technique, etc.
Then, somewhere in the mix of learning and time, things simplify themselves, and we may pay less attention to the noise, and more time just enjoying the cast and swing, regardless of the line, rod, matching hip pack, running line para-physics, etc.  – Erik Helm

The only thing he forgot to say, and I’ll say if for him, was BAM!  Because Erik appears on every front to be a gentleman, which isn’t true about everybody on the internet, and he most likely does not say such things.
Eric Helm casting lon belly line popped
Erik Helm casting a true Long belly line.  Photo Courtesy of Erik Helm
I ran across the above photograph of Erik casting a really long line and had to have it for this site.  It could easily be titled “Effortless casting”.   When I see someone casting a very long line with ease I know that they have put in their time and know what they are talking about.  I’d studied his posts on Speypages, surfed around and landed on his blog too, and read a few posts of his on social media, but he keeps a pretty low profile, so you have to hunt around a bit to discover the genius behind the man. I was willing to do a little bit of digging after seeing the photo above.  Yes, he is a FRSCA certified two handed casting instructor.  What does that mean?  In short, to me, it means he can make the above cast left handed too.  He knows what he’s talking about.  So I explored The Classic Angler to find out more.
His writing is excellent.  He gives writers like John Gierach,  and McMannus, a serious run for their money and, speaking entirely from a hunt and peck point of view, his name is easier to spell.  His oeuvre proves intelligent, insightful,  funny, real, and true.  In fact its so true that in this day and age it might occasionally be overlooked because people on the internet sometimes think they need to know stuff that they absolutely do not want to know!  Google search:   Which sink tip should I buy? Answer?  Blah, Blah centric balance 55% to 45% ratio, blah, blah  RHW to FHW ratio of 60% to 40%.  Huh?  You lost me at the first Blah!  So if your suffering from internet paralysis by analysis you will feel much better if you read anything by Erik Helm at The Classic Angler such as….
~Look for water between 2 and 6 feet deep moving at a walking pace, and have confidence in your fly. Put it in the water and fish.” If somebody had told me this 20 years ago, it might have saved me a lot of trouble and fussing. ~ Erik Helm, Tales from a Fly Shop-Part Two.

~He showed me the fly he had caught the fish on, and I was amazed and appalled all in the same glance. Here was some grievous sin against all those aforementioned great authors and fishermen whose writings and detailed studies of trout-stream entomology and fly-tying had haunted my slumbers these past weeks and months. It seemed to be tied on some old bait or worm hook. For a body it used an old brown rag, and the wing and hackle were twisted out of some giant brown chicken feather. ~

Thank you!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Onomatopoeia and the Active Dry fly

Onomatopoeia and the Active Dry fly
An active Caddis took this Brown from a very small creek in Wisconsin's Driftless area.

I was setting down this essay and coming up with words to describe active presentations such as “Skitter, Pop, Twitch, Flutter, Dapple,” etc., when I remembered from my poetic days a concept word which always amused me, that of Onomatopoeia: Words whose sounds suggest their meaning. Surely a Twitch suggested a well… twitchy short sudden movement, and a Pop... well… and arguments can be made for all of those words, and their effect on the fish which can often result in poetry of a different kind when the fly is moving seductively.

I had read all the books, you see, back in my neophyte days of pursuing trout. Books that explained repeatedly the necessity of a drag-free drift. Books written in the best British and Catskill tradition, they correctly referred to a natural presentation of a newly emergent dun or spent spinner of a mayfly. Drag was an evil to be avoided on any costs!

So I was doing my darndest on the local brook an hour’s drive from home to channel those authors and fishermen of the chalk streams and the fabled New York free-stoners by careful manipulation of the line, mending, and patient control of the speed of the fly. I was fishing an elk hair caddis dry that day, placing it up against an undercut bank and watching as it tantalizingly bounced back to me looking proud and erect in the current. I was catching nothing. The trout were having none of it. When the sixth cast dropped the leader over a twig overhanging the stream, I decided to allow the leader and fly to just come back naturally, instead of attempting to free the leader and possibly entangle the fly in the twig. As the leader came back over the twig, the little caddis fly was dragged up into the air and over the stick. It never made it all the way over. A small brown trout jumped out of the water and missing the caddis, ate part of the stick by mistake, causing the fly to be knocked back toward me. Standing there rather dumbfounded, my fly now trailing behind me and gently skittering or skating back and forth in the tail of the pool, I felt a tell-tale tug, and hooked another brown without even trying. All my efforts had been in vain, while my errors had resulted in two fish taking the fly (or trying to.)

Still the lights did not go on in my head. Over the next year, I fished a wonderful Blue-Wing Olive hatch during a thunderstorm when my fly only got eaten while I was pulling it out for the back-cast. Here I was a little quicker on the uptake, and realized that the fish were eating emergers and that my fly was being drug under effectively imitating the hatching activity. Another time I was fishing a size 24 midge pattern through a hatch, unsuccessfully but doggedly, and once again, after the dead-drifting produced nothing but frustration, picked up the line quickly from the water to produce the load for a little spey cast, causing the midge to come waking across the surface of the water like a water skier. A nice 14” brown fell all over himself in a stupor of reckless passion to eat the midge. I never set the hook, being too shocked to gather my senses.

Over the next several months, back hose years ago, the light bulb slowly but finally came on as I observed more and more erratic insect behavior, and it became my habit to sit and simply watch bugs on the water. Yes, most mayflies behaved like they were described in the books and articles, mostly motionless. Others popped and dove into the water laying eggs, and even danced an exotic and erratic ballet for no apparent reason. Caddis and stoneflies often behaved like bugs; they ran around seemingly at random, fell down, crashed into things, dived in and out of the water, and behaved altogether like the players in one of those awful 1960s electric football games. Remember those? This was the game where after endless time spent setting up the play, the switch was turned on and we adolescent would-be coaches found to our horror that 1/3 of the players ran the wrong way, one third crushed into a little blob and did little else, and the remaining third rotated in circles and fell down.
This is exactly the random behavior I began to consistently notice during insect emergence on the stream, and a behavior I began to copy with incredible results by fishing the fly actively and making it behave like a bug. Drag? Yes, drag could be good now, especially if it mimicked the actual bug on the water…

How to behave like a bug: A primer

No, don’t start buzzing abound looking for a mate and wondering where those wings on your back came from, this is a different kind of behavior. Lets discover a simple set of presentations and approaches that may add a curve-ball to your standard repertoire of pitches on the river.

The Downstream approach:

 After working a piece of water with a conventional upstream presentation, try moving to the head of the run or pool by moving around it, being careful not to be spotted by the fish, and try a skitter, skate or a dapple. A dapple simply uses the leader dangling out of the tip of the rod over the stream to dangle the fly on the water, allowing it to skate on the surface. If this does not produce, strip out a bit of line and, holding the rod-tip high, allow the fly to skate back and forth on the water using subtle rod-tip manipulation to achieve this effect. You can continue to let out line a bit at a time and cover the whole pool. In addition, try pulling the fly suddenly toward you, causing the bug to quickly pop under water and skitter upstream slightly. Raise and lower the rod-tip and cause the fly to hop about on the surface to really cause the trout to lose their minds. Try daisy chaining the presentations together: twitch, hop, skitter, skitter, skate, hop, pop, drift, skitter….

Upstream too:

All these tactics can also be used with a little practice on an upstream cast. Raising the rod tip slowly can cause the fly to rip across the water back toward you and skate on the surface. A sharp abrupt mini-roll cast can cause a skate and hop back effect, and all the while, you can impart small twitches to the rod tip, causing the same action in the fly. A short and abrupt roll-cast can also place the fly back into the window where the trout are now excited by the active fly and drop it on the water where they will want to take it.

Down and across:

Using a wet-fly swing albeit with a dry, simply cast the fly across and down from 90 degrees across to 45 degrees down stream and allow the fly to skate and wake on the surface. You can add twitches as well to this presentation in which drag is now a good thing!
Add a dropper!
Adding a nymph emerger as a short dropper off the back of your dry causes two things to happen during active-fly presentations: The second sinking fly can anchor the dry and make hopping and popping more effective, and it adds a tantalizing second presentation, that of an emergent insect just under the surface bobbing up and down and back and forth.
Active presentations can also be called waking the trout up. Dour fish that will not rise freely, or have seen everything but the kitchen sink thrown at them may need their meal moving a bit to awake the appetite, and in addition, you will be more exactly mimicking the actual behavior of the bugs on the water, which is what presentation is all about! Just make sure to hold on to your rod. Takes on active drys can be powerful!

Notes on flies and casting:

The active presentation works best at relatively short distances of around 30 feet down to just the length of your rod. Often no cast is necessary at all. More line on the water equals less control of the fly action by the angler. At very short ranges just the last foot of tippet should be on the water. The best flies to use when presenting actively are very buoyant. The addition of hollow hair such as deer or elk, CDC feathers, and even small additions of foam can aid the fly in staying up and doing what you intend, instead of one of those toy football players mentioned before. Stiff hackles are a big plus too. One of the most effective patterns I fish actively was once very popular, but has fallen out favor: the bivisible. This fly uses two contrasting colors of hackle to cover the entire fly in barbules. The rear hackle or the abdomen may use shorter hackle than the front. This fly skitters like no other, and can produce some very large fish that rise with abandon to that strange thing on the surface they just can’t resist.
Expect a big ‘Bang!’ and a nice’ Gulp’ to reward your active efforts, and if the reader didn’t catch that, those are Onomatopoeia too! Gulp, Smash, Swallow…. Words that sound like their meaning!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Two or three weeks in crafts

This is what I have been doing this past two or three weeks. Building a leather rod tube for bamboo rods of 8' to 9' of 2-piece design, and a reel case out of leather. Enjoy the pictures! and more to come...:)
Andre Puyans'
 3 5/8th Hardy Perfect reel with a new case.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Matching the Hatch… sort of...

Matching the hatch… sort of. With apologies to Ernest Schwiebert

Bergman Plate of Dry Flies from 'Trout' and antique British rod with Hardy Bougle'.
Author’s note:
The following piece is a tongue in cheek approach to our human foibles and fly-fishing. Ernest Schwiebert wrote the bible on trout stream entomology and fly patterns, Matching the Hatch, and Nymphs, which contain great illustrations by the author, tales about fishing the bugs in storied places, and as scientific a study of Mayflies, Stoneflies, Caddis, etc. that ever has been undertaken in our sport. However, I have meet anglers on my journeys that were literalists, and like biblical literalists, often took things to a less than rational end. As many bugs as there are in nature, do we need every one in our fly box?

I had spent the last days of melting snow seated surrounded by books on the couch, and engrossing myself in the historic writings of the sages of fly-fishing upon aquatic insects, hatches, and flies to imitate them. Halford poked out from under a pillow. Skues resided lower down on the floor, where his nymphs plied the depths above the weeds of empty coffee mugs. Perched on the table were Flick and Gordon. Schwiebert rested neatly next to an ionic column candleholder higher than the rest. Swisher and Richards propped up each end of a stack of dirty dishes. Strewn over the lot were the efforts of the past weeks: nymphs and dry flies of all variety of styles, sizes and materials. This trout opener would not find me unprepared for any possibility.

Several weeks later all the lore and knowledge gleaned from those books stored in my cluttered brain, and my stream bag full to the breaking with the carefully crafted bits of entomological fur and feathers further to tempt the trout, I found myself on the banks of my favorite local stream. I sat and watched as several small brown trout ate some bugs in the riffles above me. I caught one of the tiny insects in hand, and muttered importantly to myself with a new air of wisdom, “Paraleptophlebia size 16 mahogany dun.”

I sorted through my boxes, now carefully labeled and arranged, and located one of the new exquisitely tied upright winged duns I had recently completed. I attached it to my tippet and crouching low, approached within casting range of the riffle and let out a long loop of line with an aerial mend, the fly dropping onto the water above the hungry fish and tantalizingly bouncing down to the waiting trout while riding high on the current. The first fish rose to look at the fly, and then calmly turned up its nose at the offending entrée, and ate a real bug. The next half-hour saw me change my fly down to a size 18, and then to a comparadun version, and then to an emerger, all without interesting a single fish. I caught another natural fly, and compared it to my imitations. If the famous Schwiebert himself had drawn and tied these flies, they could not have been a more exact simulacrum, down to the gray wings, precisely colored and ribbed body, and three tails. I could barely tell the difference until the real one flew off in a hurry to join its brothers and sisters and left me muttering imprecations.

I proceeded up the stream and around the next bend to see if the fish here would be a little more accommodating, but met with the same fate. One trout about a foot long swam over after eating one of the dainty mayflies and casually looked at me from underwater as if to say, “Give it up mister, we aren’t having any.”

Then I heard a splash and chuckle. A man was standing in the next pool and playing a fish. He was dressed in an old Elmer Fudd hat and wore a dilapidated mackinaw jacket. He was using an old sawed off hockey stick as a wading staff. As I watched, he released a nice trout and immediately hooked another one.

“Nice fish,” I called out. “What fly are you using?”
“Usin a brown one mister,” he replied. “Them trout are eating little brown bugs, so I use one of them brown flies to catch ‘em.”

He showed me the fly he had caught the fish on, and I was amazed and appalled all in the same glance. Here was some grievous sin against all those aforementioned great authors and fishermen whose writings and detailed studies of trout-stream entomology and fly-tying had haunted my slumbers these past weeks and months. It seemed to be tied on some old bait or worm hook. For a body it used an old brown rag, and the wing and hackle were twisted out of some giant brown chicken feather. It looked like something my neighbor’s dog spewed up on my doormat a few years ago after eating a dead pigeon and having a go at a heap of coffee grounds in the garbage can for an aperitif. The proportions were so far off, and the hook so much bigger than it should have been, that it seemed a parody to call it a fly. Then the old Elmer Fudd clone whisked his bent fly rod forward and the fly landed and disappeared in the swirl of another hungry trout. I went back to the car where I kept an emergency bottle of bourbon, and attempted save what I could of my own sanity.

Matching our little concoctions of fur and feather known as ‘flies’ to what the trout are feeding on is a great and important part of the game of fly-fishing. An elementary knowledge is necessary at least if one is to have any chance of fooling a wily fish with a morsel of food that instead has a sharp surprise hidden in plain view. When Mr. Trout wants a certain bug, he wants that bug only… or the theory goes… If he orders a grilled tuna sandwich with basil, feta cheese and dill mustard, and he instead receives a hamburger, nine times out of ten he will dismiss the offending sandwich in preference for his original order. In the remaining instance, he will eat the tablecloth, the hamburger and the waiter. There are times he may be so finicky that he will refuse every morsel of food not to his liking. Wrong size, wrong color, and wrong species… or right everything, but take it back to the kitchen anyway just to be irritating. This gourmet and selective feeding tendency has led to the study of fly-fishing entomology. Dozens of excellent books have been written on the subject, and if the reader ever has a case of intense curiosity or a need to cure insomnia, I suggest reading a few. One will learn in detail all the Latin names of the insects, their preferred dwelling places, their size, their life cycle with pictures and drawings of each of these, their color, their behavior, time of hatching (season – month – etc.) preferred time of emergence, sexual habits ( Hendricksons prefer blondes), and everything else one can read with interest and then forget or get helplessly muddled when on the water.

This entomological knowledge leads to a greater and more intimate understanding of the relationship between trout and their food, or just to more fish for the enlightened angler. At least in theory, because if we dare take the full-monty of fly patterns necessary to match the hatch on any stream in a given season, our poor brother of the angle would spend all his time seated on a rock by the stream sorting and indexing his flies and never wet his line. This is also known to the wise men of the English chalk streams as ‘Sporting Restraint.’

Our angling friend sees the fish feeding on the surface wildly and consistently one late August morning and, according to his acquired knowledge, (not his eyes) he postulates that the fish are feeding on tiny Tricos or Tricorythodes for those partial to the Roman vernacular. However, if we take this to its illogical conclusion by following these guides to the letter, we would need to identify if the bugs are Tricorythodes peridius, T. stygiatus. T. texanus, T. albilineatus, T. allectus, T. atratus, T. explicatus, T. fallax, T. fictus, T. minutus or possibly even… could it be… Tricorythodes absurdium?

In the long run it really doesn’t matter because any size 22 to 24 blackish sparse spinner pattern would mimic most all of these, and most importantly, as we remind ourselves after noting we are due for a visit to the ophthalmologist soon, we can’t see the tiny bloody things anyway.

I once knew a fine gentleman who tied up a couple of dozen of each of these flies in the nymph, dun and spinner stage. He waded into the water with his thousand flies and sinking into the muck on the bottom of the stream, was never heard from again. We miss him, but his hat, stuck on the bottom of the stream now marks a fine pool of trout.

Knowing the taxonomy of the bugs in general is certainly helpful, but when taken to extremes can become annoying, like the gathering in the back of the hall where the old fishing club holds its meetings, and when on any given evening after a meeting and a pint or three of beer may be heard more bad Latin then a prep school symposium on the translations of Caesar.
If you find yourself inserting ‘Ephemerella Subvaria’ into every other sentence as an affectation in order to seem wise while using a bad fake British accent, then you may become the guy at your company holiday party standing in the corner alone next to the potted plant and holding an empty glass.

We inherently want to know the reasons things happen. That oh-so-human character that leads us to study natural phenomenon and attempt to explain it. It is the character of curiosity that makes us human, brilliant, and flawed all at the same time. For always are we convinced that our new theory is the correct one. We propound that the sun revolves around the earth, various mythical beings created us and rule over our lives, that bad smells cause common diseases, and the best cure for that is by bleeding, personality and character is easily read by feeling the shape of the skull, bodily humors, etc. Certainly that is enough to make us shyly wince at our latest attempted explanation of why a trout likes Elmer’s fly and not ours. Wanting to know, however, has lead us to Gordon and Marinaro… to the great Catskill flies, and to the thorax variations. Wanting to know led anglers like Gary LaFontaine to don scuba equipment and discover that caddis emit gas bubbles that glimmer as the bug ascends, and many other discoveries and innovations that make our little sins committed on the stream so much more successful.

But… however scientific or grand our discoveries that lead to better bits of fur and feather, there is still the mind of the trout to contend with. To get to know the trout, we must get to think like him, and once in awhile after a particularly long day in our waders, even to smell like him too.
Perhaps feeding trout are like people ordering pizza. From across the room we know that they are eating pizza, but what kind? Is it a dun-variant pepperoni, or a spent-wing spinach and pineapple deep dish? There are so many crust and topping variations that the mind boggles at the possibilities. We can only make educated guesses by observation. Don’t take that to extremes either, or you might be like the guy who tasted some Blue Wing Olive mayflies to see why the trout liked them so much. I hear they went nicely with a light chardonnay.

Why trout refuse one fly and eat another that is better to their liking for some unseen reason might be explained by a guy watching the local football match on T.V. while drinking beers and eating a bowl of chips. He keeps subconsciously reaching for the chips and crunching them into his mouth again and again with about as much thought as capable in a trout brain the size of a pea, but when he accidentally reaches a bit too far and gets into the bowl of milk duds his wife placed there before Christmas, he hastily rejects the offending round ball out of instinct, and belching loudly, reaches for another beer instead.

Perhaps sometimes it might be O.K. not to know.
Sometimes the best thing to do might be to put our fly in the water…

Four anglers go fishing on a trout stream. One is a Catholic priest, one a philosopher, one a physicist, and the other the village idiot.
The priest walks on the water and asks the lord to choose him the right fly. He has absolute faith in the resulting choice.
The philosopher sits down on the bank and begins to contemplate the epistemology of bug knowledge.
The physicist starts examining and measuring the speed of the current, the roundness of the rocks, and the specific gravity of the water.
The village idiot puts on a fly and casts it into the water. In ten minutes he has limited out, and is back at his hovel cleaning the fish and stoking the fire to cook his dinner.

A silly little parable until we realize the poignant fact. The village idiot was the only one to actually place his fly in the water! As I tell beginning anglers, Pick a fly appropriate to the fish and conditions, tie it onto your leader, have confidence, and put it into the water. Those thousand flies in your boxes can never catch a fish, only the one in the water can.

That is not to say that an intimate knowledge of trout stream hatches and life cycles is not important, it is just that it is only one element of the game. Presentation and reading water being equally important among others. Your fly may be a perfect imitation of the bugs on the menu at the Cordon Bleu trout stream, but we also have to get them to the trout. I don’t know any epicurians of my acquaintance that show up to dine at the Ritz, and just read the menu.

Speaking of menus…
One thing stands out among the fly boxes of some of the best trout anglers I have ever had the pleasure to wet a line with. They use general patterns and a few more specific ones. General patterns match a number of insects of the same species… like the Adams, Gray Fox Variant or Hare’s Ear. One fly can manage a hatch of a size to either side of the imitation, and when this doesn’t work, then out come the specialty flies. When the trout are feeding and finicky, then we have to get fussy too.
Bob Blumreich, one of Wisconsin’s trout sages says (my paraphrase) “Flies should be suggestive of the real bug, but not exact. Exact imitations often don’t work as well as something that is the right color and the right size, but suggests the bug to a trout brain.”

Look at Al Troth’s superb pattern, the Elk Hair Caddis. Does it look like a caddis? Not unless we have a severe eye disorder or drank way too much scotch, but it does SUGGEST the size and shape of the bug with its tailless and tent-winged profile.

There are instances where one needs to carry a file cabinet of flies to be prepared. Still-water fisheries and spring creek trout are notoriously fussy, and often have a buffet of tasty morsels available to them. When this happens it might also help to have a psychiatrist as a fishing partner. The fish can be on emergers first and then switch to the duns, and then ignore both for something you can’t see. Meanwhile the largest spinner fall you have ever seen is occurring and the trout don’t care.

Since the preponderance of water I fish for trout are spring creeks, I tend to carry a lot of flies with me. I used to use a vest, but got tired of constantly having to rummage in the pockets, and decided to utilize a stream bag instead. Then I reorganized all my flies by species and purchased several more boxes to store them in. As a result, I was both more organized and disorganized at the same time. Instead of rummaging around in pockets for boxes, I now rooted around in my shoulder bag for them, usually dropping a few on the ground from time to time. The bag was heavy too, causing my shoulder to hurt and slump, so I moved the strap to the other shoulder, causing that one to slump equally as bad.

Back on the stream, you fumble with your flybox while extracting a pattern and dump the whole shebang into the river, following it downstream with loud splashing and many cries of dismay, while every one of the artificial flies gets ingested by a trout smacking its lips for more. Your buddy asks from downstream which box you dropped. “Caddis box,” you answer, and then watch with horror and fascination as he ties on a caddis and collects all your flies one by one by hooking the very fish that just chowed down on your chum smorgasbord, and after carefully removing your flies from their lips, hands them back to you with a wink. This is called in better-educated circles “Matching the Catch.”

Maybe old Elmer knew something after all…
Maybe sometimes less can be more…

Funny, but if you contrast the approach of great authors and anglers such as Art Flick and Ernest Schwiebert, one may view the two great schools of thought, those of general suggestive flies, and of perfect imitations. Thankfully, this sport is big enough to allow for both. If the minor studies in entomology cause both clarification and obfuscation at the same time, we may remind ourselves that making things far more complicated than necessary for most people in the spirit and intent of explanation is one of the great aspects of this little hobby of ours. For some of us, knowing the Latin name of the bug, its sex, and exact size and color might add something to the game we play with the trout, and others of us might not care at all, preferring to fish a little olive bug when that is what the fish are eating.

So next time you run across someone sitting on the bank deep into study of a copy of the epic seven volume tome “Naturalis Insectora Stupendium,” and searching through his ten drawer chest fly box, you might want to have a few brown rag flies handy to give him. You may be doing him a favor.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Tales from a Flyshop part two.

Tales from a flyshop part 2

X marks the Spot

Everyone likes an inside tip on where to go. After all, there are places to fish that are better than others. However, in our time-saving and time-starved technology shackled and over-busy world there seem to be more and more anglers that want to fish like it is an appointment in an electronic calendar. 7:00 am, Get coffee and bagel. 7:20 am catch steelhead, etc.

To this end, those of us in flyshops take an unending series of calls when anadromous fish enter our rivers. “Where do I go?” I usually try to give some vague but potentially strong advice like “Between this and that is a great stretch of water a mile long. Look for water between 2 and 6 feet deep moving at a walking pace, and have confidence in your fly. Put it in the water and fish.” If somebody had told me this 20 years ago, it might have saved me a lot of trouble and fussing. Once in awhile, somebody actually listens to this and I get to play the mystic hero-wizard who led the customer to a great day on the water, but nine times out of ten it is not enough. See, they want to know exactly where to stand, exactly where the fish will be, and exactly which one single fly will work. Reading water and the thousands of variables that make this sport more adventure than catching be damned, they just want to press a button, catch a fish, repeat. So I came up with an idea. I would find a rock in the water somewhere, paint a big red ‘X’ on the top, mark its GPS coordinates, and then give this map to those customers that wanted instant gratification. We could even place a bench on shore near the rock, and others could wait there turn to get to fish from ‘The Spot.’ For obvious reasons, this never made it to fruition, even if it would provide a barrel of laughs.


We are all guilty at one time or another of the minor sin of over-estimating the size and weight of fish we just caught. These errors can be separated into two categories: Excited but honest mistakes soon corrected with the aid of a simple tape-measure, and those obstinate and multiplying miss-measurements that just keep on getting bigger every time the yarn is told.

It amazes me how many times I under or over estimate a fish. Weight and length seem sometimes always bigger in the water and lesser in hand. This may be why the great Don Zahner said that if God intended us to measure our catch, he would have given the fish bigger scales! That comes to mind when listening to the tales of anglers gesticulating with histrionics to the great demi-gods of fish they have landed, fish so epic they are as likely to exist as Santa Claus or Hercules. Apparently in this land of epic tales fish fall into two size categories: small and BIG! Thus if an angler lands a nice brown trout on a tiny spring creek, the fish will always be over 14” if it is deemed enough of a fish to tell the buddies about down at the corner bar. If it is a bigger western river or the fish is to be caught on streamers, it will never be under 20 inches. Fish smaller than that are all a lot smaller. Indeed no ‘tweeners exist. In this world of purple skies and fishing gods, fish miraculously metamorphose from a dinky 10 inches to over twenty pounds in a split second. The ten inchers only exist to provide meals for those epic fish and a prelude to the moment the excited angler wipes his brow, gulps down his beer, and lets rip a whopper of a tale.

I know this because I have to be the listener like the buddies at the bar, except that I am entirely a captive audience and without needed lubrication of the spirit kind. Then when it comes time for that 50 lb steelhead caught from ‘Stocker Creek’ to appear as a photo, one must politely smile and nod at the 10 pound fish in the photo. Only once did I venture a glib remark or try to suggest a new portable tape measure. A bloke was telling of epic angling in a creek so full of fish that those of us in the know call it ‘Retard Creek.’ It gets a run of small lake-run steelhead or rainbows so out of proportion to its size that anyone can catch ten or even thirty a day. Pools no longer than fifty feet might hold fifty fish. The weight of the fish he seemed to have caught would make them all world records, beating out the great fish of British Columbia on the Thompson, Washington’s Skagit, or the B-run fish of Idaho’s Clearwater. I asked for his autograph after a bit, and told him he had caught all ten of the world record steelhead. He never batted an eyelid at my attempt to bring a little reality to Oz.

Big Box Misadventures

Why pay good money for quality equipment set up by experts at a fly shop when you can just go down to the Hunters and Anglers Mega-Warehouse and get the same stuff for half the price?

This is why:

A customer came into the shop with a reel, line and backing he had purchased from one of these Big Box Stores (after this referred to as BBS). He wanted me to check the backing. I looked at it and it seemed to fill the large arbor reel to the correct point, allowing the line to fill the reel and leaving a small gap between the line-guard of the reel. “Looks fine to me” I said, handing the reel back to the guy. “Can you make sure?” He pleaded. “I am going down to Florida salt-water fishing and I want to make sure it is O.K.” I humored him by stripping off the flyline and examining the backing. What the hell was this? Thick and sticky line lay in my hand. ‘What is this crap?” I asked.
He brought out a spool now empty from his pocket “Fly Line Backing” it read.

The stuff was the same cord that I use to sew leather when making rod-tubes. It is commercially called ‘Simulated Sinew.’ It is strong as heck but heavily waxed for tight purchase on the leather. This BBS actually sold, marketed, and used it for backing, quickly filling up the customer’s spool with a grand thirty feet. The first fish he caught in the salt would have stripped his line and carried it to the horizon…. Especially since the knot used to attach the backing to the fly line was a common granny knot, and the backing was not secured to the reel in any way. I rigged up his reel properly, charged him nothing, but made him promise that he would never go back there to save a few bucks.

Erik’s old equipment broker and free appraisal services

Mention fly-fishing to any twenty people at random, and ten of them will have some ‘fly rods’ and stuff that belonged to their uncle Zachary or Grandpa now ‘somewhere’ and worth a lot of money.
All of these people end up in my flyshop sooner or later I swear.
The most common are the guys with crooked and bent old production dime-store cane rods that the hopeful antique owner intends to allow him to put in the new swimming pool and deck on his house. They never actually ask me to appraise the rods, but just want me to “Look at them.” Now I love all antique tackle, but I also am running a business selling new tackle… or trying to. Convinced that the treasure discovered in the attic is the Mona Lisa of fly rods, they are usually disappointed when I tell them to hang it on the wall.

Many rod outfits brought in are in curious states. I have had fly rods with spinning reels on them loaded with fly-line, 8 wt rods with 5 wt lines and vice-versa, rods with old rubber and bakelite handles that melted to my hands when I picked them up, rods with repairs obviously conducted under the influence of alcohol and inappropriate tools, entire rods assembled from incongruous rod sections belonging to separate rods, rods that when assembled, fell apart in my hands, elderly widows with their dead husband’s entire collection of tackle, and my favorite of all: Automatic Reels.
What were we thinking when these were made?

Most of these are in a sad state of rust and dust when they are brought in to have new line placed on them. Always trying to be accommodating, I have literally had several of these explode on me while stringing on new line, and have had to pick bits of broken springs out of my beard and hair.
That reminds me of a guy who came into one of the shops on Christmas Eve at 4:30 pm. We closed at 5, and he wanted to use his coupon, which would expire that day. He produced an old cardboard box with a rusty reel full of dead spiders and spider eggs, and wanted new line. What the hell was he thinking? It was Christmas Eve for Santa’s sake, and we wanted to go home already. “What is the weight of the rod?” He didn’t know and hadn’t brought it along. I sold him a six-weight line and loaded it onto the reel afterwards thoroughly washing my hands of dirt and dead spider parts. Merry Christmas!

Odd Rodkins!

One couple came in to show me their new rods a custom rod builder had made for them. I had taught them a beginning fly-fishing class, and they wanted equipment. Instead of purchasing entry-level gear from me, they “Knew Someone” who built custom rods, and would have him build them each a rod. ‘Custom’ was fitting in an ironic sense. They unwrapped the rods for me to see, and I was overwhelmed by the powerful smell of varnish. Lovely wood reel seat spacers accompanied a plastic bait casting handle and multi-colored wrappings worthy of a toddler with a new box of crayons. The rods themselves were 6 feet long and seemed to be spinning rod blanks. Here was a true ‘Custom’ rod indeed. One third spinning rod, one third bait caster, and one third fly rod, and entirely covered from tip to butt in varnish.

I need a few flies…

This is a curious phenomenon…. Customers often come in and tell me they are planning a trip to a dream destination and river in Montana, Wyoming, The Bahamas, etc. They need a few flies for the trip. I make suggestions after asking the necessary questions, and they come to the counter with… 4 flies.
No, not a dozen of 4 patterns, but 4 flies…. For their trip… for their trip to that great dream destination… filled with epic fish… for a week…. In the wilderness…
4 flies.
4 bloody flies.
One fly to get dropped in the river, one to get lost before they get there, one to stick in the tree behind them, and the last one… the magic fly… to break off on their first fish.
Despite my attempts at good-natured advice as to the proper equipped angler, they often leave the shop with only those 4 flies.

Broken rods!

The true bane of existence for anyone working in a fly-shop are broken rods. I like to say there are two kinds of anglers; those who have broken a rod or two, and those that soon will. It is just a fact of life with brittle long skinny sticks like this. I rather think I could amend saying to more fully represent reality… “There are two kinds of anglers; those that having broken their rod, will gladly pay a small warranty fee and get a new rod in return, and the kind that blame me for breaking their rod.

Well, not always me specifically… often it is the manufacturer that gets blamed as well. So how did I get to be the blame fall-guy? I was there to receive the anger and frustration of the customer…therefore my fault. It always mystifies me how people seem to destroy their rods. I have broken a few, and with only one exception, it was my fault. I fell on two of them, one while tumbling on wet clay and the other when loose rocks slid out from under me. Never did I blame the person who sold me the rod. These guys crack me up. Most of the breakage happens when neophyte fly-fishermen foul hook salmon that are making their spawning run up great lakes tributaries. Big fish hooked in the fins, long brittle rods, and anglers that don’t understand how to let the fish run and wear itself out results in lines waiting at the door at opening times with sad or angry looks and a rod tube in hand.
I asked one guy whose rod had broken on landing a king salmon what tippet and leader combination he was using. “Huh?” he answered. It turns out he was tying straight 20 lb. Mono on his line as a leader. No wonder his rod broke.

I get guys coming in with 5 wt rods shattered on salmon. What were they thinking? The poor fish hooked in the ass and jumping down the river followed by a tangle of line and the tip section of a five-weight fly rod was heard by one piscatorial-eared passerby to exclaim “I was just trying to have sex!”
and on it goes…

Fishing Reports

Want an accurate fishing report? Good luck. See us at fly-shops have to be part fiction writer and part social-psychiatrist to put together a report.
Here are several examples and translations:
Fishing: Great
Someone caught a fish yesterday, there are fish in the river, the river is not completely blown out, that rumor about the escaped alligator is only partly true, the truck filled with gasoline crashed and exploded downstream from the last hundred yards of river, so there are still fish to be had, The river has not completely dried up, although it is 100 degrees out, fish can still be had at dawn and dusk, etc.
Fishing: Good
That fire you read about wasn’t near the river, it WAS the river. Don’t go. Stay home. Be very afraid.
See, these are for profit operations, and they profit from you going fishing and visiting their shops. They are not going to tell you that you have a better chance of taking a trophy trout from the river Styx with a dry fly in the pitch darkness while being rowed to Hades by the devil himself, then catching a fish in their river! If they say the fishing is just So-so, you might want to consider a game of ping-pong instead.
Then come all the inherent problems with rating the fishing. What is “Good” after all? To one angry angler complaining about our fishing reports “Good” was not good enough. He caught two wild brown trout @ 10 - 11 inches each on a dry-fly from a local creek. See, I would consider that “Good” fishing… apparently he didn’t. He wanted to catch numbers. That numbers problem is why tributary fishing reports for salmon and steelhead are often very relative. “Good” refers to when an angler has a near 100% chance to catch dozens of fish. “Great” refers to when while gearing up at the car, a errant salmon trying to jump the water falls accidentally lands in you car, upsets a grocery sack of spices onto itself, guts itself, and then flips onto the hot manifold and begins baking nicely.
“Just O.K.” is when you have a decent chance of landing a fish if you actually have some skills. That way when somebody who can only cast 10 feet and is more than half-drunk enters the river, they won’t come in your shop afterwards bearing firearms and complaining about your misleading reports.
Its all about setting and managing expectations, and the setting of those expectations is often beyond one’s control.

Beginners and experts

I maintain that there are only two kinds of fly fishers: Beginners and experts. Beginners have never caught a fish. Experts have caught at least one fish. Give me the beginners every time.
Think that is a Tongue In Cheek observation….
Meet the cast of the “Experts Club,” all experts in their own minds…
One guy didn’t know a Blue wing olive was a mayfly. He thought it was a midge. He was ‘guiding’ several other anglers at the time.
Another guy didn’t know the difference between a salmon and a steelhead, although by his own accounts, he had “Caught thousands of ‘em.”
One gentleman seemed to correlate 5X tippet and leader with 5 lb and 5 wt. He thought you could only use 5 lb. Test tippet with a 5X leader because his rod was a five weight.
Another guy complained that his new rod he bought from us ‘sucked’. He said that it didn’t cast right. He told us he used the same line on his other rod and it worked fine. This rod was a 9 wt.. His other rod? A 4 wt. “Nobody told me,” he complained. He told us that he had been fly-fishing for over 20 years.
One old codger thought that the WF designation on a fly line stood for “Wrinkle-Free” He was planning on ironing his fly line to get the kinks out.