Is there anything better in the whole fly fishing world than watching, in real time, as a big old brown trout rises to eat your dry fly, especially when you know that dry fly is one you spun up yourself?
There’s definitely something to be said for tying your own bugs. Sure, most fish have brains not much larger than a dry-roasted almond, and your gray matter should trump theirs.
But when you really think about it, the real challenge isn’t a brain-on-brain competition. In fly fishing, it’s about using fairly primitive tools to trick tens of thousands of years of instinct. And when you take that challenge from the fly tying vise to the river, and succeed, you’ve done something extra special.
The only way to make that even more meaningful, in my mind, is to harvest the raw materials you use to tie flies in the first place. And that’s part of the reason why I’m out whackin’ ducks and geese these days, every chance I get.
Years ago, Grandfather showed me his “stash” of fly materials–shotgun shell boxes loaded with feathers. Now, mallard breast feathers, wood duck feathers (my favorite), cul-de-canard, goose down, and goose quills each fill a box where the shells used to be, and sit right on my bench. I figure, if you can trade a box of ammo for a box of feathers, that’s a fair deal, and a good indicator that you can shoot fairly straight. There’s also a vase filled with pheasant tail feathers on my fly bench. My wife thinks that’s a decoration, but it gets more and more sparse as I tie nymph flies.
I think bird hunting and fly fishing go hand-in-hand for those reasons. I suppose you can be a good fly tier without shooting birds yourself, but I’m not sure how. I guess I have been known to chase after my dogs and cat when materials get sparse, and my son has a new pet rabbit. I haven’t dared to go there yet. But I don’t think that’s the same as shooting your own birds, and getting your own tying feathers.
The really good news is that our man Tim Romano has a new Super Black Eagle II, and the other day in the goose pit, he proved himself to be a true shot. Of course, at this point, it’s all about wild fowl on the grill for him. I don’t think he noticed the handfuls of feathers missing from his birds when he got around to cleaning them.
I’ll make it up to him in the fishing season.