I must have been in fifth or sixth grade when I began to develop an interest in fly fishing. My family had moved to the tiny community of Long Barn, east of Sonora on Highway 108, back when I was starting third grade, and I quickly became a devotee of drowning nightcrawlers and salmon eggs for the trout that lived in waters nearby. At one point during those years, I saw a fly fisher casting from a canoe at Lyons Reservoir, and I was captivated, although perhaps less by the beauty of the lineís loops than by the notion that here was a way to catch fish that were feeding at the surface and not looking down toward the bottom, where my bright red Pautzkeís Ball Oí Fire rested.
I actually tried at that time to make trout flies using bait hooks, feathers from my pillow, and sewing thread. They were a mess, catching nothing except maybe a lesson learned. I realize now, however, that the impulse to craft a tool from whatís at hand is with me still. Iíll tie flies with feathers found on the ground, and elastic bands from an old pair of shorts have ended up as legs for very effective bluegill poppers.
Other anglers have a similar predilection to innovate through repurposing, so itís not uncommon for fly tyers, scissors in hand, to turn to shipping materials, clothing, carpets, and their family pets for inspiration. (Examples of the latter that have found their way into our sportís literature include Gary LaFontaineís Catís Ear nymph and Phil FischerĎs Parachute Poodle Callibaetis
dry fly.) In Japan, there are tenkara flies made with snake skin and with a cottonlike material from ferns ó these are perhaps the most extreme examples of making do with whatís literally lying around.
Fly tying has long been an activity that relies on utilizing whatís at hand, whether itís roosters in the yard, the buck that was shot for the freezer, or corks from the empty bottles that celebrated that deer. An essential element of success in fly fishing is the ability to observe, followed by a willingness to experiment, to adapt. I like this aspect of our sport. Iím wondering . . . maybe that black garbage bag can provide a glossy abdomen or wing case for a nymph. And, to get wildly creative, could thin strips of dark bark from a branch of my cherry tree be used to create a segmented, floatable body for an emerger or dry fly?
I wonít know until I try.
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