There are times on the river when you are sure. From where I stood in the cold flowing water of the Provo River, I could see the water bend downstream and speed up before the bridge. Saw the rocks and white breaks beside gentle midcurrents that hugged the bank walled with overgrowth. I knew that seam held fish. I was sure of it.
That morning was my first on the Provo. I had caught a few fish. There is always a learning curve for me on a new river, but today things were flowing. The sun was shining, and fish were biting. Upstream my friend fished a riffle with similar success.
To reach the place I knew held fish, I stowed my line, backed out of the river and climbed quickly up the rocks that held the railroad tracks. It was far enough downstream and overgrown enough that taking the tracks made sense. I walked them two hundred yards downstream and they began to separate from the water until I could no longer see the river through the trees that lined it. When I felt I was abeam where I knew a fish was waiting, I dropped off the tracks and walked back towards the river.
There was no path, but I pushed through the grass and brush and trees until I broke out slightly downstream of where I aimed to be.
I could see my partner high sticking his same riffle. He had moved downstream slightly but was content in his tactics it seemed. Seeing him from a distance, alone, reminded me of the beauty in it.
A short wade along the bank that required a free hand placed sometimes deliberately, and sometimes quickly for balance, ended in the small clearing along the river I had spied fifteen minutes earlier. Just enough room to stand shin deep and roll cast carefully to the seam I was sure of.
Just like I knew there were fish in the seam, I knew my drift was solid. Confidence made me believe. Confidence from days of wading without fish, and from good luck on days I figured I’d be skunked.
Confidence from experience, and knowing you never really know, but sometimes it feels right to think you do. As if believing there is a fish below, and that your drift is solid will somehow translate to knowing.
I continued to confidently throw flies. The line was tight with my fingers. There was barely line on the water. A drag-less drift. I had the depth and split shot rigged perfectly for the shelf I fished beyond submerged boulders that sat short of faster water, where trout swam and jinked for tiny bugs that taken bit by bit, filled their bellies.
Nothing. Another fly. Nothing. Not a bite, not a take, not even a hint of a trout. I had gone through my tried and true nymphs. Pheasant tail, hares ear, zebra midge, copper john. I felt I had covered my basis, but I could not bring myself to abandon this spot. I had fished it long past the point of balance between time and productivity. Then I tried something new. Something that made no sense and would never work.
I reeled in and grabbed my line, then tucked my rod under my arm and pulled out my “other” fly box. My other fly box was full of nymphs that are the B-Team of my fly line up. Flies I never use. In that box were also, the flies that I had tied. Not many, but a handful. I had only been tying my own flies for about two months, and they were not pretty.
I tied on the least embarrassing fly I had made. A size 14, olive, beadhead, hares ear. Tied on a large hook because the smaller ones were too challenging then. First cast, fish on. Wide eyed and astonished, I went about reeling him in.
It was a nice rainbow, and I fought to keep him out of the fast water and avoid being walked into the rough path I had followed upstream. At the end of it, with the fish at my feet, I saw my fly in his mouth and felt pride. I would learn to love that feeling as I continued to tie and fish with flies I made.
I hollered to my friend. I knew he would not hear me, but joy overcame logic. I called a second time in vain. If I had got his attention I might have yelled, “I caught a fish with one of the flies that I tied myself.”, which is a silly thing to yell across a trout stream. It was best that he could not hear me.
I caught two more fish in that spot with my clumsy hares ear. Both rainbows. Both equally satisfying. After, the third fish, my fly was unraveled. If it was not much of a fly before, it was certainly nothing to brag about now. A lesson in head cement moving forward, but the real lesson was already learned. Tying my own flies was a part of me and my fly fishing from then on.
Catching the fish on my homemade fly felt as if I had reached into the river and pulled the trout from the current’s froth with the same two hands that had tied that size 14, olive, beadhead, hares ear. It was perfect. I was sure of it.
Since that day, tying my own flies has been a joy. Here are six solid reasons why tying your own flies makes sense for all fly fishermen and women.
- It Saves You Money. In the long run. Maybe. Flies are expensive. I will save the math for another blog post, but the cost analysis of tying your own flies is kind of like brewing your own beer. When you start, there is equipment to buy and a learning curve to overcome. More to it than buying a sixer while you grocery shop. But it is an investment in something good. Something you can make and be proud of. Eventually, you will make your money back and be sipping delicious homemade barley pop. I have brewed beer for almost three years. Mathematically, I figure I need forty two, five gallon batches to make back my investment. I hope to push through by the summer.
- It Keeps You in the Game. I cannot make it to the river as often as I would like, and I always turn some attention to hunting in the winter months. But I am always thinking of fly fishing. Fortunately, and unfortunately I cannot turn it off. When you cannot be on the river in body, whatever the reason, you can be there in spirit when you tie your own flies. These are the times to get down in the basement and go “knock out some Pat’s Stones”, as my four year old son says. Sitting with a whiskey in my fly fishing hub and tying some classics and some new flies keeps the challenge of fly fishing close. Although, I am not casting, when I tie my own flies I am making small parts of the puzzle that you solve when you fool a fish on the river. The first step in the solution. It is a way to Wadeoutthere, without wading the river.
- It is a Fun and Interesting Hobby. Many people love tying flies even more than fly fishing. I know. Who are these people?!? But it is true. Tying flies can be a pursuit unto itself and provide volumes of reward. Tying flies is another skill that requires effort and practice. It allows you to create something beautiful and practical while constantly able to challenge yourself. There is always something new to learn or attempt. And there is a vast community of like-minded fly tiers to learn with, that share your passion.
If you want my take on how to start tying flies READ: WADEOUTTHERE | Don’t Buy a Fly Tying Kit…A Beginner’s Guide on How to Start and Keep Tying Your Own Flies.
- Joy. The joy of pursuing and catching a fish on a fly you tied is noticeable and real. I imagine every fly fisherman or woman remembers the first time it happened for them. It makes the experience different. There is a next level reward because you put even more work into landing that fish. I told you my story, what will yours be?
- It is Hard. You may be thinking, “Wait. I thought you were explaining why I should tie my own flies. “It is hard” does not seem a good reason.” It is. Because it is hard, not everyone will do it. But you did. Just like anything you do that is difficult and then succeed at, it feels better than the easy stuff. It is why I would rather catch a handful of nice trout on my own than a monster with a guide. It is easier if they do all the work. It always feels better when you Wadeoutthere and get it done. *side note: I would love to catch a monster on my own too, and no one’s complaining if I hook up with a guide. Just saying its nice to do the work yourself.
- It Is the Next Step. If you are trying to become a fly fisherman or woman, this is an obvious next step in the evolution. You will gain confidence and feel more creditable in your journey down the other path in fly fishing.
What is “the other path in fly fishing?” Read: WADEOUTTHERE | Welcome to Wadeoutthere
I will never forget the day I learned what it meant to catch a fish on the flies that I tied. I still buy flies, but it is a sweeter thing when I hook set on homemade feathers and thread I wrapped around a hook myself. Besides the joy and excitement that tying flies brings, there are other practical reasons for pursuing the art of fly tying.
The moment you pull a fish from the river with your creation in his jaw, you will know it was worth it. You will not regret tying your own flies. All that remains is to start. Wadeoutthere.