I am occasionally asked how I got started tying trout flies. When I first came to teach in the only county in The Land of 10,000 Lakes without a lake, I wasn’t ready to give up fishing. Going after stream trout was the only solution. I did, however, have a bamboo fly rod, which I inherited from my father. I had previously used it strictly for bass and pan fishing. The lure of choice on those northern lily-pad lakes was the little cork poppers with the wiggly rubber legs.
I quickly set off to teach myself how to become a trout-fisherman. It didn’t take long to learn that I would need some real trout flies. I bought a nice selection at the local Kmart. They were gorgeous. Bright reds, yellows and greens and even purples, mixed delicately with shiny silver tinsels and golds. How could any self-respecting fish turn down such an offering? Although I rarely caught my limit of ten, I usually managed to catch a least a couple.
It might take all day but my young bride was so proud of my ability to bring home a couple for the frying pan. This, of course, was in the days before "catch and release" became the proper approach to preserve the species.
It was a beautiful June morning, when about noon, I had decided to give it up. The fishing had been especially tough that morning and I had only one ten inch brown to show for my efforts. As I came around the bend I saw another fisherman landing a very nice trout which he quickly released. He saw me approach and waved.
"Nice brown," I ventured.
"Ephermellia," was the reply.
"You know. Nymphs. They’ve been hot all morning," he explained as I approached.
"How you doing?" he added.
"Well, I lost a couple and caught a brown, but it’s been tough going."
"Whatcha been using?" he queried.
I showed him my fly box.
"Those sure are purty. Got em at Kmart didn’t you?
"I sure did. How’d you know?
"I work there. Actually, I’m the manager. I have to admit though those flies are more intended to catch fisherman than trout."
And with that he showed me several boxes of the most drab and ugly collection of brown and/or gray flies you could imagine.
"I caught maybe 50 to 75 this morning on these. Turned them all loose though. It’s just for fun. You’ll have to learn how to tie your own." He then gave me about a dozen of his sure fire flies and sent me on my way.
I later bought a "How To," book and a fly tying kit. I still shop occasionally at my long gone mentors’ store, fondly remembering his lesson. As in life, perhaps, the most gaudy isn’t always the best.
On the Lamar River, Yellowstone National Park, 1979. And a cutthroat trout.
Yes, I had a lot to learn judging by those hip waders a volunteer fireman gave me. The rocks in the western streams were covered with algae which made them as slippery as greased bowling balls. Eventually, I even learned about proper chest waders with felt on the bottoms of the boots for better traction. Today, with achy knees and less balance that I should have, I don’t fly fish as much as I used to, still the memories are all strong as ever from those glorious days of yore…..:)