Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Spinnin', stackin', and packin'

It's mid-winter, just above zero with a biting wind. Yesterday's snowfall is lifted and swirling past the windows and drifting over the walkway. Even the dogs are happy inside. And my mind is in another place.
Although months away, I'm thinking about the fishing season. Capt. Jack has been sending me brag photos of the Smallmouth Slider fly he ties and the rest of the guys are making plans for a multi-day bass fishing excursion. I've been tying deer hair.

I watched a Kelly Galloup video where he explained that most deer hair is junk and you should go through and inspect it before you buy it. I was reminded of the backwoods cafe owner's response when asked if the eggs were from free-range chickens? “They come on a truck!” My deer hair comes mail order so I make the best of it. He's right, however, that really good deer hair isn't easy to find. Some is too soft, or brittle, or short, etc. Still, like I said, I gotta' do the best I can with what I've got. Like my big friend Chuck often says, “ya pays yer money and takes yer chances.” Kelly also said we should buy and try an assortment of fly lines and use the one that best suits our rod. I can't do that, either.

I like deer hair bass flies and tying them. I guess I like making a mess. Spinning, stacking, and packing – it takes forever even when it goes well. If you tie bass bugs you know what it's like to have a clump of hair explode in your hand when the thread touches it. You know what it's like to scrape glued hair off your fingertips. You know what it's like to stab yourself with the hook pulling back applied hair to make room for more. Finally, when all is said and done, you know the feeling looking at the finished product – while dropped, combed, broken, and trimmed deer hair is piled at the base of your vise, in your lap, the around your ankles – of having a fly the bass just can't resist. Why is that? Well, to be honest it's 'cause those bass will hit damn near anything.

So I tied up some deer hair poppers. Just for kicks and to try something different I put a foam face on them. You can do that with bass flies, it's not like we're trying to match a hatch or anything. Sure, some bass flies might resemble a bait fish, sculpin, or a frog, but lots of times they're just a comedy of feathers and hair that are exciting to fish. So I added the foam and I got to thinking, hey, this might work. A little extra buoyancy won't hurt a thing, especially on faster moving rivers. I'll have to wait for open water to try them but I have to believe they'll make a fine plopping popper. Our buddy Scott already gave these flies a name, we'll call 'em Diggs for short, but the rest of the story is kind of long so I'll save it.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Rabbit stew with a .22?

Back in the day, on cold winter nights Dad would set up his homemade steel bullet trap in the basement and we'd take turns shooting paper targets with Grampa's old break action .22 rifle. The 22 Shorts were low velocity and low noise and made it feasible for our little indoor rifle range. That old Stevens Marksman is still fun to shoot and Gramps' homemade brass sight makes it sort of personal for me.

Demonstrating good sense with firearms came allowance to roam the hardwoods for gray squirrels and rabbits and many the autumn day spent with the company of a little .22 rifle. Mother could have written a best selling wild game cook book and to this day I wonder if those cringing at the idea know what they're missing. No, I don't suppose they do.

Enter the winter woods to see what's there. Bring the rifle just in case. It feels good in hand and seems more purposeful than a walking stick. There are deer tracks and trails everywhere. Keep an eye for shed antlers. Prowling fox and bobcats leave sign, and the four-inch wolf prints can't be ignored. A pileated woodpecker is working a tree. It bothers to see so little grouse sign this year. Fisher and marten seem missing, too. There are ermine and rabbits tracks, though. Snowshoe hare actually, and you'll shoot one if you get the chance. It's cold, well below zero and a supper of wild game would set well.

Dad's Winchester is my favorite 22. It's older than I am and lends a comforting heft in hand. Gun makers used plenty of good steel then, and dense wooden stocks. It's not a featherweight, nor is it heavy, just solid. It hits where aimed and makes good company on a solitary winter hike. It's said the USA is a nation of riflemen. Well, OK.

No rabbits were taken this time. The walking stick would have been useful. But it's good to have a rifle, you know, just in case.