Fly tying is among my many vices. On the surface, you’d think that a hobby that consists of wrapping a few strands of fur, feathers, and thread around a hook would be among the simplest of pastimes. What could be less stressful than sitting at a desk creating beautiful works of art with exotic names like the “Royal Coachman”, or the “Pale Sulfur Dun”? Nothing could be further from the truth. Actually fly tying is an addictive form of mental illness from which few people recover.
It all starts innocently enough, some kindly father figure shows you how to tie your first fly. Naturally, your first attempts at fly tying are rather crude and considerably rough around the edges. I recall tying my first wooly worms around our camp in the Sierra Nevada. My early flies were fat and ugly and looked as though they had been tied by a bear cub with burned and bandaged paws. Interestingly enough, the unsophisticated trout of those wild mountain streams didn’t know any better and were stupid enough to hook themselves on my crude creations. What a major thrill it was to catch trout on flies that I had actually tied myself.
Without realizing it however I had become the one who was hooked. Although I was catching plenty of trout, and enjoying myself immensely, I began to read books and magazine articles on both fly tying as well as fly fishing. I read that the “experts” didn’t use crude flies like wooly worms in size 6 and size 8 but rather fine delicate flies tied on size 16 size 18 hooks. In addition I soon learned that sophisticated fly tiers didn’t use just any old inexpensive chicken feathers. Oh No! Real fly tiers used the outrageously expensive feathers from especially bred roosters that cost a months pay to obtain. Then of course there were the specialty flies that used more exotic materials like peacock herl, or elk hair or the endangered jungle cock. One fly, the Tupps Indispensable can only be properly tied using the urine stained fur from a mature ram. I have never successfully tied one because I can never figure out how to get that darned ram to stand still long enough to get my raw materials.
Fly tiers are the strange guys you see stopped along the road removing bits of fur from a road killed critter. Some tiers go to crazy lengths to get the needed materials. Let’s face it; the Scarlet Ibis isn’t real common around California. Not to worry, I have cultivated a friendship with an anonymous zoo keeper who keeps me supplied with red feathers he gathers whenever the birds molt. Since Jungle Cocks are now endangered by habitat destruction their feathers are harder to get than Cuban cigars. The only way you can legally get one is to prove you got it prior to 1965. Fortunately my Dad brought back a jungle cock hide from his duty in the Pacific in World War II. When Dad died I inherited his trunk full of exotic fly tying materials.
As I have gotten older I seem to have gone thru devolution. I no longer worry about those fancy delicate flies tied from weird materials. Instead, I tie some black wool yarn on a size 8 hook, & then wrap a cheap hen feather around it and tie it off with black cotton sewing thread. Viola! I have produced a crude ugly wooly worm that still catches fish just like it did 50 years ago. Last Summer I fished in the Mokelumne River right up the middle of Hermit Valley next to Highway 4 and caught and released a limit of trout in less than an hour. I guess it took me fifty years to learn that maybe simple always was best anyway.
Until next week