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Twisting Feathers In Camp

On a recent steelhead trip we were lucky enough to have some calm, warm evenings around a fly tying table and close to a campfire.  We quit fishing before dark (for a change) and got back to camp in the late afternoon.  So often, Steelheading is a schedule of up before dawn and back after dark.  If there is one thing more years on the rivers than I care to count has taught me, is to cheat on one end of the day or the other (or fish during midwinter when the days are so short).

On returning to the camp this one evening a little before a headlamp was needed, we decided to set up a table for fly tying.  My brother, Boyd, was going to shoot pics for a magazine assignment and I and my friend (Darc Knobel) would tend to having a few Makers #46, neat (but, remember to always tie responsibly), to get us and the fly tying stuff ready.

I haven’t done this in years.  I used to ALWAYS take a fly tying kit with me, but it is a ritual I have sadly given up.  I may take it up again.  I see so many others doing it and having such a great time.  Maybe, I’ll start tying again at camp in addition to shooting pics of others doing it.

Anyway, Boyd was setting up the photo angles, campfire and watching the light slowly fading as the sun sank beyond the far-shore canyon rim.  He started shooting sample shots (pictures not booze) to get the right exposure and details.  I volunteered to help for a while sampling the whiskey, then I just started shooting Darc tying.  It is so much fun to watch an accomplished tier improvise; like a jazz musician putting together a riff that raises the bar so high it is hard to take it all in.  Darc’s impromptu pattern was one that I will use several times in the future (trying to copy it for all I am worth).  Watching him tie in a material; look at it and then back off the thread to replace it with another more worthy feather or dubbing made me remember the days of trout fishing when I first started to observe what was really going on with bugs and fish and trying to bend feathers on a hook in the evenings to get the right results.  I had such a great time doing this, even if the results, mostly, left a lot to be desired.

I recalled many trout fishing trips (in the ‘70’s) with a few friends who liked to play poker in the evening.  I like playing poker, but am not very good.  So luckily, mi amigos would take flies in trade for the money I owed them.  The hottest fly fishing at that time was a Nyerges Nymph.  I valued my ties at $.50 each fly.  I could usually tie enough in an evening to make up for my debts.  It was a very easy pattern to whip up.

I put together a traveling fly tying kit years ago that consisted of all white materials and I took along Prismcolor pens to make the color I needed.  This didn’t always work, but it did often enough to do the job.  I carried that kit with me for thousands of miles.  Then I stopped taking it every time and then I quit carrying it with me anywhere.  One time at Los Roques, Venezuela, we were a group of tiers and fishers looking at our last day there.  The night before that last day, we decided (after way too many rums) to tie one fly.  A fly that was going to be the ONLY fly we carried with us.  And see who could catch the most bones with that same fly.  It was a fun day.  I don’t know when I checked and changed my tippet so often.  It was an awesome day for everyone.  An unbelievable number of fish were caught.  I think it was because we were so tuned into that fly that we checked it all of the time and re-sharpened it often.  Knots in the leader were not tolerated.  This is what we should do all of the time, but we get lazy and distracted, so we miss a few fish we shouldn’t.  How many of you have had a terrific tug from a steelhead (or bonefish); then slack line?  You check the hook and the point is bent or broken off.  I think we all have.  I didn’t win the “one fly”, but I think the winner caught (not just hooked) something like 26 bones.  That is a great day anywhere.

That evening at camp last week reminded me of all of this.  I love being a part of campsite or riverside fly tying or seeing the pics.  Even watching someone else tie is fun.  I have another big steelhead trip coming up soon and my friend has agreed to bring a tying kit with him.  I will enjoy shooting pics of him putting together patterns he thinks will be tomorrow’s winners.

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