March 14, 2013

On the perpetual process of reinvention.

   "One of the most difficult accomplishments in fly-tying is to reexamine an established category and do it better and more simply."
       Thomas McGuane, p.68, The Longest Silence

Classic TDR Soft Hackle

Certainly in the end we cast a fly on the water for the same basic reason that we test a hypothesis or read a story - we want to see how it all comes out."
Ted Leeson, p.146, Inventing Montana
        I know it works. For close to ten years now I've  carried several of them, in three different sizes, although I most often favor a #18. And really, it's changed only subtly since its inception, trial period, and subsequent addition to my go-to box. I've been summarily amazed time and time again at its ability to cover so many bases; nearly always adapting well to a variety of methods and situations. I wish all of my boxes were filled with flies that engender so much confidence. 
       Of course we all strive for that, whether we tie our own or not. That every fly will fill a particular void. That for every fly there is a purpose or situation. A fly that represents another chance to solve, even if only temporarily, a mystery, or to uncannily stay ahead of the curve without missing a beat. 
      It would, because of this somewhat bottomless hope, seem easy to think that we have ridiculously lofty aspirations; I myself would never admit (publicly) to seriously pursuing this. Not to anyone who didn't share the same inner conviction, anyway. Nothing like opening yourself up to awkward silences and sidelong glances. Why is it that in vocalizing the unspeakable you somehow cross this mystical line from respect into lunacy? We all pursue it tirelessly, whether we buy our flies or construct them ourselves. Yet the dream remains an unspeakable one. A laughable fantasy at best. Not, however, to me.  
     I'll add one more facet to this fantasy. I'd like to decrease the number of flies I carry by improving my techniques. Produce more with less. Perfect simple patterns that cover more bases because I understand and know how to utilize them in more situations. In my mind's eye that is the nexus. That is where I wish to go. For a lot of fishermen, it's go-to boxes or a go-to fly or the hottest new pattern or the hell with this spot I'm moving downstream. But after all's been aired out and they're standing there still scratching their heads, well then what's left? It seems to me as I've observed fishermen over the years that if there's one common denominator missing from the equation it's technique. It's the lack of repertoire on the fisherman's part. This is often the case with those of us who pretty much carry a fly shop with us to the river. It subverts our attention from the possibility of a combination of technique and fly working together. Focus is too sharply trained on the fly. It's gotta be the fly, they think, and they rummage tirelessly through all of them over and over looking for the magic that might have revealed itself to them six flies ago had their method of presentation been more adroit.
       All of us who fish with flies do it that way for different reasons, although it wouldn't be hard for me to divide most of us into maybe two or three main groups. One of those would be the 'OH' group. 'OH' for obsessive. That's where I'd be. The criteria for admission into this group is simple; have an overriding obsession with any/and or/all aspects of attracting trout/fish to eat your fly, and live for the take. Here are some prerequisites -
    1) Spending way too much of what should have been profitable, constructive (in a normal person's eyes) time at the vise on a regular basis puzzling over how to create a simple fly that works in a variety of situations.
    2) Devoting three or more sections in your box to flies with only the subtlest of variation from your control (favorite) fly.
    3) Keeping the number of variations to a bare minimum so you have a pretty good idea as to what's working and what isn't.
    4) Fishing these flies for as many consecutive days as you can to determine true adaptability to as many situations as possible for as much of each consecutive day as is possible.
    5) Taking all the input you've gathered and starting all over again at the vise.
     If you satisfy these, then you belong with me in the 'OH' group. 
        Everyone else need not apply. They're only going through the motions.

     The other day I was going through some of my fly boxes, busily sorting the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. After working away for a while, I sat back and realized how many flies I've been carrying that never made it to the water. For years! Literally hundreds of them! I collected and emptied the whole pile of them into the pint glass I keep for such occasions, nearly filling it. I then sat back, laughed out loud, then and there swearing  an oath to keep my approach to tying and carrying flies as austere as possible. Here it is more than three weeks later now and it makes even better sense. If I streamline my scheme I make better use of time, resource, and intellect. Time spent hashing through flies is not time well spent. 
       I have recently, after some years of distance, reconnected with a close friend who years ago became that close friend because his fishing and tying philosophies closely reflected mine. It's fascinating to discover that even through the ten or so years while we were absent from each other's journey, through the years of separate fishing lives and experiences where  our arcs basically totally diverged, we have nonetheless arrived (again) at the same place at the same time. I was sitting patiently in a semi-dark theatre waiting for the annual traveling fish-porn show to start, heard my name called, and there he was. And then a week later at the yearly steelhead porn show there he was again. It didn't take long to plan a fishing foray and a few days later there we were at 0-dark-thirty blasting west on I-90 on a fishing expedition trading lies, theories and hypotheses concerning our favorite subjects, all of which centered around fishing with and the tying of soft hackled flies. Dan's so into it he's even conceptualized and tied a series of them for steelhead, his foremost obsession. I've been fortunate to have seen a few of them and they are impressive. I know he's on to something good. They just simply look fishy. The fact that they tugged at something deep within me should not go unmentioned; I've been inspired enough to set aside time to create some of my own. For good reason, of course, because Dan's got a trailer he hauls down to the Clearwater in the late summer. What an advantage it would be for me, eh?
      We share another obsession. Fishing the Spokane with soft hackled flies. It's been several years since we fished the river together, but his flies also reflect a similar, 'less is better' style. We may differ as to what the more prominent 'triggers' may be, but the idea that a simplistic approach is more desirable has captured our eyes and imaginations. 
     Of course the work, the trial and error, and the conjecture goes on and on. Even though I have an essential ingredient for somewhat consistent success in my possession, there will always be room for another, and another after that. But the road to success is best covered one brick at a time.

            Keep it simple. Always.