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Learning from the past

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POSTED January 29, 2013 10:27 p.m.

I opened my fly box, but knew it wasn’t there. Rain started to soak the chenille, marabou and thread of the flies I didn’t need in the box opened like a book with the best pages torn out. I had comets, bosses, polar shrimp, Babine Specials, fish tacos, October Hiltons, Silver Hiltons and a Deschutes Madness. No egg-sucking leeches. How can you be fishing for rainbow and cutthroat trout in Alaska without an egg-sucking leech? 

I had previously used egg patterns and green pillagers, but on that particular day I was chucking leeches into Klawock Lake with my switch rod and having myself a heck of a day. The leech had been almost picked clean from the hook shank by the teeth of ravenous trout.
I needed a replacement. I found none.
The gaps between raindrops lessened and made a high-pitched laughing sound as it hit the surface of the lake faster and louder than before I confirmed what I feared. 

I have a history of being slightly unprepared. I forgot a sleeping bag during my four day drive through Canada to Alaska. I’ve coached without a belt, had to soak my contact lenses in fly containers during a fishing trip, brushed my teeth with my finger, opened canned goods with a hatchet, opened wine with a drill and scraped ice off my windshield with a CD. In fishing though, there is no substitute for what works. If you don’t got it, you don’t got it.
For the past two weeks I’ve been breaking from work, my other work and my grad school work to spin thread into elk hair caddis, micro mayflies, jimmy legs and zebra midges for this spring, but Saturday afternoon that July Klawock Lake moment sealed coldly in my memory thawed and I officially started the Alaska 2013 fly-tying campaign. 

That’s not to say I am going to mentally skip over this spring, oh no. This weekend I’ll be going after steelhead. As soon as possible I’ll be back on the Upper Sac, or maybe even in a drift boat on the Lower Sac. There’s no way I can resist the Truckee much longer, and on days I just want a few hours of peace and trout, the Stanislaus is just a little east. 

With all that great California water either rounding into shape, or opening in a few months, there’s a lot to do to get ready and the winter fly-tying season is closing. I have to widen my tying focus a bit and start planning for the summer too because last spring I spent all my energy tying for California and ended up being underprepared for Alaska. Hence my issue last July with egg-sucking leeches.  

That’s one of the great things about fly fishing. Because it is an all-consuming vortex, all it takes is a No. 8 hook, some feathers, all my attention is arrested by lakes at the end of old logging roads and past where I’ve explored. Rumors, maps, two-foot trout and 30-inch steelhead replace zone defenses, thesis statements and the online tutorials that usually hold my attention.  

Even if sitting at my fly tying table reminds me of the moment I stopped catching trout, standing in a lake with no one around isn’t really a bad memory. 

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