As Fall is upon us and Winter is fast approaching the "cold" fishing season will soon be here. For many of us, our thoughts turn to winter time fishing. The winter months can be some of the best fishing of the year. Due to the weather conditions we face during December, January and February they can be some of the toughest times to be out there. I would like to give some of our thoughts and insights as to how we dress for the tough months in hopes that you can extend your time on the water. Hypothermia is a serious consideration during this time and we want to be sure you are protected from the elements. Let’s start with our feet and work our way up.
Layering is the key to staying warm in the winter and our feet are no different. We generally like to start off with a liner sock of some type. Polypropylene gets the nod here as it is the best material to wick sweat away from your feet, the key to keeping your feet warm. From here the temperature will determine the next layer for me. In mild times say 30 degrees and up a simple wading sock works for me. In extreme temps, 30 and below I will usually wear a liner sock, a cotton type crew sock and then a heavy wading sock like the Simms Extreme wading sock. This combo keeps my feet warm in the coldest of days. Play around with your sock combo until you find a system that works for you. One item of note; as you add layers of socks on your feet those wading boots that feel great in April and May might be too tight in January. Tight boots equal cold feet, period! A sizable investment for sure, but a pair of boots a size or two bigger can be a godsend.
Next would be the body layers. Again the conditions will determine how many or how few layers you need. Anything that touches your skin needs to have some wicking properties. We all sweat and the key to staying warm is to get that perspiration away from your body. One of the newer products on the market that gets the nod from me is Merino Wool. A Merino wool base layer will go a long way to keeping your body temperature regulated. My next layer would be some sort of fleece. Simms and Redington both have several different types of fleece in different weights to fit your needs. From light weight shirts and pants to heavy weight crew tops and extremely warm one piece “jumpsuits.”There is a product for everybody. To this I will usually add a Windstopper jacket of sorts and this combo seems to keep me warm on most excursions. On those extreme days I might add a mid weight or heavy weight layer of fleece on top of a light weight layer. The key is to have interchangeability in your system so you can adapt to the changing climate.
Hands head and face. We all have heard the saying that you loose most of your body heat through your head. If that is the case lets cover it with a quality hat to prevent that from happening. “Beanie” type hats are fine in mild temperatures; I wear them all the time. I particularly like the visor type of hats from Simms. The next step up would be the Extreme hat from Simms. We call it the “Elmer Fudd” for obvious reasons. Insulated to the max with ear flaps to boot if any hat is going to keep you warm this is the one. Not the most fashionable looking hat, but when it is 10 degrees keeping warm is the priority. Remember this isn’t a fashion show. To this I might add one of the polar Buffs. This insulated, fleece lined “collar” is designed to keep your neck warm, and can be worn on your face like a half mask. Both are a priority in order to keep warm. Last but not least are gloves. I like the finger-less models so I can have some dexterity when tying knots. Actually I believe it is impossible to tie knots with gloves on. If you are prone to cold fingers one of the fold over mitts may be better. These have a finger-less glove inside and a mitten flap that will fold over the entire thing. A great idea, but fishing with mittens on will take a little getting use to. In the winter time try to touch as little water as possible. Once you get your hands cold in February it is tough to get warm them back up without leaving the river. Some of those hand warmers stuffed in your top wader pocket and help with this.
During the winter season, especially during bitter times I try to always fish with a partner. Safety in numbers goes a long way when it is 20 degrees out. I try not to stand in the water for extended periods of time. If you feel your self getting cold get out and go for a little walk. The foot traffic on the rivers is usually light this time of year. Many times I can walk for ten or 15 minutes to get warmed back up and return to the same spot. Also I always carry a “fall in bag”. If I do happen to take a spill (and believe me I do) I have a warm, dry set of clothes waiting for me at the truck. If you do go in the water this time of year IMMEDIATELY get out and head to the truck. As I said earlier Hypothermia is no joke and needs to be taken seriously. Get out, get dry and go home. The fish will be there tomorrow.
Hopefully these tips will keep you warm and out on the river this winter. Have a safe and fun filled winter season. We hope you catch a ton of fish. Till next time…
Tight lines - Tim
As many of you know way back at the beginning of Covid we started a fun little fly tying competition called the Norvise March Madness contest. Basically we took the format from the popular collage basketball tournament and modified it to fit a fly tying contest. Recently I wrote an article about the contest, we were fortunate enough to have the article picked up by Fly Fishing and Tying Journal. Check it out here...
It is a pretty cool feeling to see something I have written published in a major industry magazine. I would like to thank Tony from Amato publishing for running this article, Chris Dougan and Casey Miller for all of their help on this. Proud moment for us at Norvise, we hope you enjoy. Till next time...
Tight lines - Tim
P.S. We will be running the March Madness contest again in 2021, stay tuned for the official announcement later in the year.
This week's blog post comes to us from Norvise ambassador Mike Corrigan. Mike spent some time chasing the fish of 10,000 casts during the pandemic and he shares his experience here. This is a timely post as we just put up his video "Mike Corrigan ties the Comet Minnow" on our YouTube page. You can see the video by clicking HERE If you have not already you may want to subscribe to the new Norvise YouTube channel. we are posting 2 videos per week, this is a great resource for learning new techniques on the Norvise.
Since landing my first Musky a few years ago, I have been addicted to the maddening follows and the mayhem that ensues if the fish do commit. When able to spend a day on the water pursuing Muskies, I generally define success simply by the number of “follows”. Fish or no fish it is a day well spent just to be able to entice these predators. Interestingly, the smaller lakes that do have Musky here locally are generally devoid of other fly rod species; there are Musky and there is bait!
A year ago I decided to hire a guide and get serious about chasing Musky. Where I am living in central Canada there are a lot of Musky, but no guides that cater to fly anglers. As a former guide, all I was looking for was someone with the knowledge of the water and the habits of the fish. The lake the guide selected was absolutely perfect for fly fishing, it is a long narrow lake with lots of bays and as it turned out an abundance of fish; both Musky and Tiger Musky. Much to the guides surprise, we did very well that day, well enough for me to plan a trip back in 2020.
Over this past winter, with last years trip in mind, I contacted some buddies in at my local fly fishing club (Manitoba Fly Fishers Association) and it was very easy to fill the 5 other spots. The plan was to stay at a drive to lodge a few hours away, in the heart of Musky country, and give it a go. Four of the 5 others had never cast a fly to a Musky let alone seen one in person. With expectations tempered for the “fish of ten thousand casts”, and warnings from the lodge owners that Musky on a fly was a tough go, we hatched a plan. Fly fishers, it seems, are certainly the eternal optimists.
Between that December 2019 fishing pact with the group and the whole world being turned upside down with the COVID issue things were touch and go. The trip was on then off then back on, then delayed. Our assigned week was moved 3 weeks past the season opener, but we did have the plan finally come together with the original 6. The 4 newbies hired the guide I had used the previous year for a day; splitting the morning and afternoon session so all had a chance to learn the way of the Musky.
The fly patterns we used were small compared to the ones that are touted as a requirement to catch Musky. The fly I refer to as my “Goldfish” accounted for my 40” and 41” fish plus numerous other smaller ones. We didn’t throw flies any longer than about 5”. The Musky were also keyed into top water and large 1” square poppers did the trick. As an aside, I do fish Musky from a pontoon boat on some of the smaller local lakes. I have observed, on several occasions, that during the Hexigenia hatch the Musky will slurp these easy prey like a Trout. So, it is not all about the top predator only eating baitfish. Apparently, Musky like to change up their food source as well.
For the duration of the trip we all fished barbless hooks. It is not a local requirement but it is just the way we fish. Most of the Musky we landed did not require any hook removal whatsoever. With their nasty sets of teeth we reasoned that they bite down on the fly and their teeth get tangled in the material that we dressed the fly with. Once they feel the net they seemed to open their mouths and the fly “self-released”.
One morning we had a rain delay and I went through leader building with the Knot2Kinky wire. It is amazing stuff to use once you get comfortable with the knots. As most anglers know a normal store bought leader would be good for one toothy fish and then it is finished.
During the week we noticed some rather odd Musky behavior. We had several fish put their noses literally on the gas motor as we were using the electric to maneuver the boat along the shoreline. We also had a 40” plus fish follow us along the side of the boat (within a rod length) for several hundred feet of shoreline; we literally cast over its head into the likely holding water. It seemed they may be programmed that a release of a tired Walleye might happen? For most of the week we would follow up a cast with a large oval pattern with the rod tip, often seeing Musky appear from the depths. We would drop the rod tip well within the water column, so the fly would have a downward movement followed by raising the rod tip and subsequent ascent of the fly. This technique would end up producing several fish including my largest. Figure 8’s aren’t impossible with a fly, but they are more difficult.
The week really was one for the memory banks and it was a trip of a lifetime for most. We have plans for 2021 already in place and we may do some exploring to some neighbouring lakes as well. Like I say this part of Canada is Musky Central and there are lakes available with the 50” plus brutes, but I am still “baby stepping” my way up to them after landing some of the hawgs on this trip.
Were were recently approached by our friend Ray Miller of Riversage Journal. Riversage journal is an online publication that focuses on wing shooting and fly fishing. There is a ton of great info here and best of all it is free! Ray had asked us to shoot a series of videos geared to the beginning fly tier. In the first installment we talk about some of the tools you need to get started and the differences between some of the types. To see the video click the Riversage logo below.
We will have a new video in the next several issues, each one will go a little deeper in to the world of fly tying for the beginner. As always, if you have any questions please feel free to contact us. We would love to here from you. Till next time...
Tight lines - Tim
I was recently asked to be a guest on Justin Lovell's podcast CB Fly Fishing. We talked a bit about Norvise, O'Neill's Fly Fishing and TFO. You can give it a listen here.
Tyler and I spent the afternoon this past Saturday on the river testing out some new TFO two handed rods. Steelhead season is right around the corner as is our O'Neill's Fly Fishing / Norvise Hosted Steelhead fishing trip. (BTW, we still have 3 spots open if you are interested contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org). We thought the dog days of Summer are a good time to get out, knock the rust off our 2 handed casts and get these new rods figured out.
We hit the water with 2 new rods on Saturday, the Axiom 2 Switch in an 11' 7 weight (350 to 550 gr) and the brand new (not even released yet) LK Legacy 11'6" 7 weight (450 to 550 gr). The A2 Switch won basically every award a switch rod can since it's introduction close to a year ago and the LK Legacy is a brand new stick, only a select few people have had the chance to cast this rod at this point. Needless to say, we were excited to hit the water.
While this was not a "fishing" outing it didn't seem right to be on the water without the opportunity to at least catch a fish. I believe it was John Geriach that said "in fly fishing there is a fine line between knowing what you are doing and standing in the river looking like a fool". Not wanting to look like fools, we put a small box of buggers and swimming nymphs together and headed to out favorite Smallmouth river.
We had a conversation with Nick at TFO prior to this and got some guidelines from him on head weights for each rod. With this info we headed to the river armed with several Skagit heads (thanks Ed) the 2 rods and a pack of MOW tips. Simple leaders were tied at the truck and after rigging, we were ready to go.
We started with the Axiom 2 Switch. Nick recommended a 450 Skagit head for this rod. That is what we started off with and I can tell you he was spot on. Shortly after a few practice casts I stripped off a bit of running line, loaded up a Snap T and let fly. The D loop and anchor jumped off the water like a Labrador in one of those Dock Dog competitions and at the end of the cast the running slapped the but section of the rod with the tell tale sign of the rod saying "oh yeah' there is more". The first thing I noticed about this rod is how light it is. It is feather light and balanced, tip positive, with the relatively light TFO BVK 3+ reel. The second thing I noticed about this rod is how thin the top grip is. The area where your top hand / thumb goes is REALLY hollowed out. The grip, in conjunction with the overall light weight of the package will make for a very comfortable set up that can be cast all day long. We tried several MOW tips from floating to 7.5' sink tip (where we Steelhead it is RARE we need to go past 7.5' of T11). and this rod handled them all. I am really looking forward to getting this rod out on the river this Fall and Winter.
The second rod we put through it's paces is the new series form TFO called the LK Legacy. We have a couple of single handers in this series. We have been impressed with all of the LK rods so far, especially when you consider the price point. This was the 11' 6" rod rated for a 450 to 550 grain head. Nick had recommended a 500 or 525 grain head for this rod. We already had the 450 rigged up so we decided to give that a go. While it does say 450 gr on the butt section of the rod, I could not get the rod to do what I wanted it to do. We quickly switched to the 500 grain head, it was like night and day. This rod has a nice deep, progressive bend. It almost feels like the head is too heavy and I found myself needing to slow my stroke down a bit. Once we got the head weight and the stroke speed dialed in man, can this thing launch some line. It is funny, with the single hand and the 2 hand LK rods we have we had to search a bit for the right line combo. Both series I was a little hesitant at first as to weather I would like this rod series or not. Be it the single or two handed rods, I find myself liking this new series, liking them a lot! I guess this is why we take time to test rods and match lines so we can get the performance out of them that we need. I really think this new LK series of rods will be a force to be reckoned with.
Remember that part about standing in the river looking like a fool???
Some of the action shots...
This was a fun time on the water testing and matching some new gear. If you have any questions about these or any of the other great TFO products please feel free to contact us. Till next time,
Tight lines - Tim
When Norm Norlander designed the NorVise it quickly became a classic tool to tie better quality, more consistent, and quicker flies. I think what we are all learning is that as we use the vise the versatility seems to be endless. I have had mine since the early years of its existence, and I am still finding new things it can do, with a few adaptations.
Years ago I wanted to come up with an extended body for a Mayfly and a Stonefly pattern. I took a piece of yarn, put one end in the vise and began spinning. What I ended up with was a section of yarn that would, when folded back on itself produce a stiff tightly wound body. The upside for production tiers was you could create the bodies assembly line fashion for later use. This technique morphed into using two or three strands of 30 gauge coloured wire and using the same spinning technique (without folding the wire back) to produce a very finely banded segmentation on the shank of small nymphs; it almost appears woven.
Flash forward to recent times and a new issue to deal with. With the advent of newer fly lines, there are a seemingly endless variety and an apparent specific application for every species! Saltwater lines are stiffer than Trout lines for example. Manufacturers are now offering Bass and Musky/Pike taper “warmer water” lines; lines that are stiffer than Trout lines, but softer than Saltwater lines. These lines are exceptional for throwing big flies, but the issue in more northern climes, with cold mornings or cold Fall days there is a lot of line memory when cold. As the day warms the issue does diminish.
So, back to the NorVise......I have always used a stripping basket in my boat to keep the fly line under control and away from the “line grabbers” which seem to be present even on a clean casting deck. Recently, I added a foam insert in the bottom of the basket with “pegs” made of old 60lb monofilament I had laying around (30 years at least). So, cue the NorVise to create the "pegs".
Step #1 as with the Mayfly/Stonefly bodies and the wire, I put one end of a 10-12” piece of mono in the jaws of the vise and spin the vise; holding the other end with forceps.
Step #2 once the mono becomes difficult to spin, place scissors at the midpoint of the mono and fold the forceps end of the mono back to the vise. Once the scissors are removed you will notice that the mono wraps back on itself to form the stiff “peg”.
Step #3 carefully remove the mono from the vise (so it doesn't unravel) and put both ends in the forceps and burn the tips together (not the loop end).
Step #4 move the forceps to the desired length (3-4”) and re-cut and burn the end as in step #3. I use "pegs" 3" long. You can use other things for pegs such as golf tees, etc. but the flexibility of the mono gives less resistance on the line as it exits the stripping basket.
TOP: The finished foam insert with the 9, 3" high "pegs". After poking holes in the foam base, I used a glue gun to hold the "pegs" in place.
BOTTOM: The foam insert in the bottom of the stripping basket.
The basket That I use is a leaf bucket or laundry hamper that is about 24" high and 17" in diameter. I decided to use 9 "pegs" in my basket and it does prevent the line coiling and line memory issues to get me through the cool part of the day and prevent the inevitable tangles. I use a multitude of lines from the big 3 manufacturers and they all, to some degree, have the same line memory issue.
Here is yet another great use of the vise in a non fly tying application. There are many, many more. This post is yet another example of why the Norvise is "The Most Innovative Fly Tying System On The Market" . Till next time.
Tight Lines - Tim
By Britt Davenport
I have been fly fishing for 8 years now, and early on in my adventure, my husband told me of storied waters called the Henry’s Fork, and more specifically, the Railroad Ranch. He relayed stories of PhD educated trout sipping dry flies in the slow flowing waters of the Railroad Ranch, from Outdoor Life magazines he read as a child. It had always been a dream of his to fish it one day. At the time, it really was not on my list of must-go-to places. That is different, now that I have experienced its beauty, its frustrations, and its plethora of aquatic life and finicky rainbows. It truly tests your patience, skills, and sanity most days.
We made the decision to go. And so, we started doing our research. Now, there is nothing quite as good as boots on the ground research, but a well-planned trip, utilizing resources available from a distance, can get you started on the right foot. That is what I hope to share with you -those resources, that will make your first trip to The Ranch, more enjoyable and hopefully, more productive.
A quick history: The Railroad Ranch, or Harriman State Park, is located in Island Park Idaho. Island Park is known for having the longest main street in America! The town itself is quite tiny, with a few amenities, but high on the fishiness scale! A quick internet search will turn up countless articles about the long history of the area. In a rather quick nutshell, the area known as the Railroad Ranch (now Harriman State Park) was once owned by the railroad and served as a cattle ranch and retreat for the Harriman and Guggenheim families. It was then deeded to the State of Idaho by the Harriman’s, who insisted on it being managed as a state park.
How to get there: Island Park is located in the northern corner of eastern Idaho. It is a quick 20-minute drive from the West entrance to Yellowstone National Park (YNP). This makes it a great spot to stay if you want to venture into YNP as well. From West Yellowstone MT, take Highway 20 west. To the south, the largest town is Idaho Falls. Drive north on Highway 20. If you are coming from Ennis MT, drive south on Highway 287 and turn right on State Route 87, and then right onto Highway 20.
The water and regulations: From the lower Harriman State Park Boundary upstream to the upper Harriman State Park Boundary, the waters are closed to fishing from December 1 through June 14. Fishing opens on June 15 and goes through November 30. The trout limit is zero. It is catch and release, fly fishing only, and barbless hooks are required. The Ranch section of the Henry’s Fork is a spring creek that has prolific bug hatches throughout the year.
Two must have resources that we have found:
From the very beginning of our research into the Island Park area, we have used the book Fly-Fishing Guide to the Henry’s Fork by Mike Lawson and published by Stackpole Books. This book goes into great detail the various sections of the river, to include the famous waters of the Harriman. Mike covers the aquatic life, and the flies to represent them. He also dives into the different seasons of the area. A must read both for the Ranch and if you plan to explore the other sections of the Henry’s Fork and its tributaries.
The second must have resource is a map by John McDaniel. It is titled “Fly Fishing Map of The Harriman Ranch Water of the Henry’s Fork with Aquatic & Terrestrial Insect Chart.” Now, to be honest, we almost didn’t purchase it. I balked a bit at the $19.95 price tag when we saw it at a shop in West Yellowstone. But we needed a map—and am I so very glad we invested the money on it. This is by far the best map I have seen of the area. The details in it are amazing. It shows you the names of the various pools, where the deep silt is, where there are prominent rocks, potholes, marsh areas, and so much more. It really takes the guess work out of things. Now, you still need to put the boot leather to the ground, but this helps you get your bearings. The map itself includes hatch charts and descriptions on the back of it, including suggested hook sizes, colors, estimated dates, and times of day. It also includes notes from the author on the map, insects, and a list of critical skills and mental attitude relevant to fishing the Ranch (it really is a mind game!).
On the back of the map, is a QR code that you can scan with your phone. I know often times we see those, and just pass over them. Do not do that on this one! When you scan it, you are taken to a PDF Map Supplement. This supplement is 39 pages of firsthand information from John McDaniel, who has spent thousands of hours on the Ranch over the years. When someone with that much experience talks, you better listen!
The bugs: Where to even start on this---there are so many bugs here! There are numerous species of caddis, pale morning duns, green drakes, brown drakes, grey drakes, callibaetis, tricos and mahoganies just to name a few. There are numerous hatch charts to be found on the internet, and in the materials referenced above. A quick call to the fly shops in Island Park can also help. Our favorites are Henry’s Fork Anglers and Trouthunter.
The fish: The Ranch section holds rainbow trout-some smaller ones, and some exceptionally large ones. These rainbow trout are extremely selective, often times keying in on one specific life stage of one specific insect. The real treat is that one fish can be keyed in on one super specific life stage of an insect, and the fish 20 feet away from it, can be keyed in on a different type of insect in a different life stage. It can be maddening! This is part of the allure of the Ranch though. It is very technical water. Your fly selection and drift have a huge impact on if you are successful or not. And even when things are perfect, you still may be rejected by the fishing gods. But when it all comes together, it is magical.
We have fished the Ranch for 3 years now. Already, in three years’ time, I have so many wonderful memories and stories. The one that really hits home though, was last August. We fished a spot one morning, and noticed a certain mayfly spinner floating down, that we just did not have a good match for. That night, we went back to the camper, and busted out our Norvises and travel tying materials. I tied a fly that I thought represented what I had seen earlier in the day. The next day, we went out to the same location about the same time of day. The fish were rising, and the very same spinners were floating down once again. The fish were out towards the middle today, so it was going to take a decently long cast. I let out a Hail Mary cast and let the fly drift gently down to the risers. Then it was fish on! One of them rose and inhaled my fly. The weeds were deep during the August season, so of course, the fish went right for them. I was able to play him and eventually get him to net. It was a smaller fish—but at that moment, size was irrelevant. It felt like I had come full circle-from observing a bug, tying a fly I thought represented it well, presenting it to a feeding trout, the trout taking it and then getting the trout to net, all while on the Ranch. This is what fly fishing dreams are made of!
I encourage everyone to try the Ranch at least once in their life. The beauty of the area is unsurpassed, and the fishing is pretty good too. It is certainly not a numbers game, and not for the faint of heart. Hopefully, the resources listed above, can help you get started planning your adventure. We have found over the years, that often times, the planning stages can be almost as exciting as the actual adventure. Do your homework from a distance, and then get to putting some miles on the ground. You might just be rewarded with a beautiful PhD trout.
Great post Britt, I am coming out to fish the park with you some time soon. Till next time...
Tight lines - Tim
By Brian Davenport
I helped with a new fly fisher clinic a few years back. The clinic taught students how to tie knots and get the casting basics down. It also went over flies and where trout live. At the end of the clinic they took the students out fishing. Most mentors had their students fishing dry flies because that is what they like to fish. I know that some folks absolutely love one method over another, and that wet flies are probably not near the top of their list, but bear with me on this.
You have a significant other, a friend or a youngster that is interested in fly fishing, one of the easiest methods of taking trout is to swing a wet fly. My reasoning is this---first you do not have to be a great fly caster. If they can get the fly out a reasonable distance, down and across or across that’s good enough. Second- fishing a wet fly is really effective in one and a half foot to three or four foot of water, so wading is easier. Also, it does not require the new fishers undivided attention like watching an indicator or dry fly does. They may have to mend the line a little. The strikes are known- the fish pretty much hook themselves. That’s not to say down and across is the only way to fish a wet fly, but for a beginner it is a great way to get them hooked on fly fishing (pun intended).
Now for the fly tying aspect of Wet flies-
A tail, maybe a rib, some dubbing and a hen hackle or some other soft hackle like a Hungarian partridge feather. No expensive dry fly hackle or any really hard to obtain materials, and if its not a perfect tie the fish don’t mind. So it is something reasonably inexpensive to tie and you can work on the fundamentals of tying a fly while still giving the beginning fly tier/ fisher something that they can take from vise to stream and have success. Thereby furthering their enthusiasm for a new sport and basic skills you can help them build on.
Think about it and maybe try it with the next new person you help get into this sport that we love.
Some great wisdom here for the beginning angler and the seasoned veteran. I think wet flies work so well because people dont really fish wet flies much anymore, all the more reason to fish them! Thanks for sharing this with us Brian. Till Next time...
Tight lines - Tim
By Norvise ambassador Shannon Messer.
As I sit here sipping bourbon gifted to me by a former client that I now consider a good friend, Brandon, from Kentucky, I ponder how people felt the first time they sat at a tying vise. The pressure to tie a beautiful fly was intense and a bit overwhelming for most of us. While teaching fly tying I have a phrase that I use and certainly believe in. “Ugly Flies Catch Fish.”
This is a statement I started making years ago to people getting into the tying game, something to set them at ease so they could make it thru a fly pattern. Do you remember when you started tying flies, and how you tried so hard for the perfect fly every time? Let’s face the facts. At first, we all lack the skill-sets that lead to perfectly tied flies. This statement, in my opinion, was more fact, but it was an attempt to build confidence in a new fly tyer.
Over the years of wading many of the best and most technical trout streams in the United States I have learned many things, some on my own, but most from legends in our area. You quickly learn to pay attention to your surroundings as they will reveal a road map to success if you are willing to accept it. This road map can come from Mother Nature or from an old timer that at one time had the pressure of catching trout to provide food for the family at home.
I recall many late evenings while fishing with Jerry and Scottie on Straight Fork witnessing great hatches causing my blood to pump at a frantic pace, as trout were eager to take a perfectly drifted fly. The problem for myself, and even Scottie, then was that we were catching trout, but we were not catching the quality of trout that Jerry consistently did. Picture the scene from A River Runs Thru it, the father sitting on the hillside reading while letting the boys learn valuable lessons from Mother Nature. That was how we felt, but Jerry was showing no mercy. Every time he would have his five fish limit of the nicest Smoky Mountain Trout you would ever lay your eyes on! I made a pledge to myself that I was going to crack the code, but later I found out that I could not see the forest for the trees.
Let’s backtrack a bit to the time that I started tying flies on a Thompson AA Vise under the watchful eyes of Roger Lowe, Alvin Gilliland, and Charles “Charlie Bear” Messer. I always strived to tie the neatest fly I possibly could. Now, remember, hackle feathers were not the quality that we have today, thus adding to the challenge of tying the perfect fly that any fly angler would love to have in his or her fly box. I would go as far as keeping a sharp razor blade on hand to cut all the materials off the Mustad 94840 hook that most of us tied on back then. I was doing my best to impress people that eventually were honored and recognized by the Fly Fishing Museum in Bryson City, NC. I later learned that instead of impressing people I needed to be impressing the trout.
A few of our common patterns we use include the Charlie Whopper, Yellow Palmer, and the Female Adams. The Charlie Whopper is one of several family patterns that the Messer’s are known for, but that will have to wait for another time. The Yellow Palmer is a fly that you can fool trout on all summer long, regardless of the watershed fished, thus making it a very popular fly to use.
As we were sitting around the camp organizing fly boxes and preparing leaders it hit me! Jerry always wanted the ugliest Yellow Palmers that I often removed from my fly box! It eventually got to the point where Jerry would select the hackle feathers for the Yellow Palmers that I tied for him. Of course, that was after I found out what he was doing with all the worn out, ugly flies that Scottie and I would discard at the camp table.
I made it a point to sit back and observe what Jerry was doing that one evening trip, praying I possibly could become half the fly fisherman he was. After watching Jerry take a couple of nice brown trout, I made my way to him, and point blank asked what he was doing that I wasn’t? He took the time to educate me on how he fished the ugliest, worn out dry flies that most people would discard for junk. Jerry would dress the fly prior to hitting the water, but that was usually the only time, since he understood that the trout would key in on an injured, large meal. By using over-sized hackle, sparsely wrapped flies he was in essence fishing with a cripple, emerger, or a spent fly, all in one.
Jerry revealed to me his secret box. It was tucked away in the front left pocket of his Army issued, battered and beaten, camouflage jacket he brought home from the jungle of Vietnam. That box revealed the rattiest flies you would ever see! Within the box rested tired flies with bits of hackle unraveling from many hook shanks, exposing years of use and abuse from hungry trout, revealing a great story and a priceless lesson that day. Ugly flies catch fish!
That evening on the water is tattooed on my brain and certainly influences the way I tie my personal flies…big, and a bit ugly. I went on to even tying Jerry’s Big Ugly, and tried selling in the shop. However, no takers with the exception of one smart guide, who still contacts me for them for his guiding business. I strive to tie perfectly tied flies for retail in the shop, and I will always challenge others to do the same. However, in the meantime, if you can get the tippet thru the eye of the hook then it just may fool the largest fish you have ever taken.
My advice to anyone starting on the wonderful journey of fly tying is to never be quick to let outside influences negatively affect you and your ties. I find myself often using the Bob Ross theory during my tying videos. It is your fly, so tie it the way you want it! Use oversized hackle, use larger wings, change the recipe to meet your needs, and don’t ever feel bad about it! The more you tie, the better you will get, but most importantly strive to tie a quality fly that will last. One last thought…pretty flies catch anglers, but ugly flies catch fish!
Great post Shannon, thank you for sharing this. Till next time...
Tight Lines - Tim