It’s mid February, about the time of winter when I’m getting kind of bored with the snow and cold and my thoughts drift toward spring and fly-fishing. It’s now when I get out the old hook vise and start tying a few of my favorite flies for the coming fishing season. I was born and raised near the finest spring creeks and trout streams in Minnesota and spent countless hours in those cold waters catching rainbows, browns, and brook trout, and I miss it dearly. Many were the nights spent in bad tents listening to great horned owls through the evenings and wild turkeys gobbling at dawn. A favored camp was right next to a crystal clear pool that I’d cast ragged hare’s ear nymphs and Adams dry flies to. I’ll never forget the 16 inch rainbow (huge for that water) that rose from the depths, opened its white mouth and sucked in my offering. In those days I wasn’t all that excited about fishing with a fly rod and saved my trapping and odd job money to buy an ultra-light spinning outfit like my fishing partner used. I finally did purchase that rod and reel and soon learned how deadly #0 Mepps spinners were to the local trout population. But before that I was forced to rely on the old bamboo fly rod my grandpa used to use. It was equipped with a wind-up Martin automatic reel that I got a kick out of but I never appreciated neither the rod nor the skills I learned with it until much later in life ... if I only had that rod now.
Once I learned how to cast the double tapered line I could pretty well keep up to the spin fishers by tossing muddler minnows and wooly buggers into the same riffles and holes that spinners would get aimed to. And on those still summer mornings and evenings when trout rose only to the tiniest bugs and the spin anglers left for the lakes and bigger rivers for walleye and crappies, the fly rod was the only thing to use for trout.
I sometimes travel back to those clear, gravel bottom streams to try my luck but times have changed and the quietude of that area of my youth has been mostly lost to a generation seeking outdoor pursuits. It’s still possible, sometimes, to find a bit of solitude, but it can be pretty iffy.
Last summer I met a man who is known for his fly fishing prowess here in the North Country. It was an accidental meeting involving a water diversion project we were both working on. Somehow we started talking fly fishing and soon all our conversations ended on the subject. It turned out we both had fished some of the same waters in Montana as well as locally and after some conniving and banter I convinced him to show me the favorite fly he kept bragging about. He doesn’t tie himself but has his flies tied for him down in Superior. One look at his fly, which I won’t mention by name, and I told him I could tie the same thing. The next day I presented him with a half dozen of the specimens and he agreed to show me some local trout. We met one evening on the river and caught and released a fair number of brookies, all taken on that same pattern. We’ve became friends and I’ll have a good number of that fly for him this spring, and I’m looking forward to fishing with him again.
Last week I halved wine bottle corks to shape into poppers and divers that I’ll fasten to a hook, add some fur and feather, and cast to both smallmouth and largemouth bass – and maybe some panfish along side. I wish there were better trout streams close by, but the flyrodding for smallmouth bass can be outstanding.
As I write this I can look over to my tying table, see my rods standing in a milk can and the old dental drawer that I keep the supplies in. I have some bits of fur from some of the critters I’ve trapped, some feathers from the birds and fowl, and pieces of tanned deer hides, with the hair, from local taxidermists. I use as much of these “homegrown” materials as I can when I’m making my flies, and I have one of my own patterns dubbed the “golden marten” than has proven itself for me and others on trout streams from here to Missoula. What good times it’s been. When it’s time to fish I don’t think about it, I just do it. But I sure think about it now.