ORDO AB CHAO
For most folks the image of fly fishing conjures up a wide river, a middle age man, and long, graceful casts. Fly fishing is often described as a mixture of art and science and is referred to as “the quiet sport.” Idyllic nature settings and trout that rise to eat a bug from the surface of the water are shown over and over again in outdoor television programming, block buster films starring Brad Pitt, You Tube videos starring some guy trying to be Brad Pitt, angling magazines, pharmaceutical commercials for erectile dysfunction, and even screen printed on to shirts and ties. Ask any seasoned angler and they will tell you that while this ubiquitous and over played scene is just that, fly fishing entails much much more. They will also be quick to inform you that the “art” part of the fishing rarely produces as much as the pragmatic down and dirty. From the Czech Nymphing, numbers driven, competition angler; to the “meat” chucking, inches obsessed, streamer junky; from the ten thousand cast, tennis elbow, and torn rotator cuff musky maniac; to the bored and burnt, bobber watching, fishing guide; they will all be quick to correct a novice or uninitiated angler when they make the uninformed assumption that fly fishing is all goose down fluff mixed with a touch fairy dust. The committed angler wants you to know that this is work. That fish don’t come easy, and that the ten and two stroke of Pastor Maclean of the first Presbyterian Church of Missoula, Montana is rarely if ever used on the water. They will describe the different casting methods for throwing sinking lines, open or tight loops for big wind resistant poppers, the chuck and duck, shooting heads, tight lining, dead drifting, swinging, two and single hand spey casting, strip setting, and the double haul. What they are really getting at here is mostly the science part of it.
So if not in the actual act fishing where is the “art” portion of fly fishing, and maybe instead of “art” we should have said “craft?’ Nearly every tool or piece of fly fishing equipment is handmade. In recent years more and more machinery and assembly line efficiency has become involved in the production of things like rods, reels, lines, and waders, but hands are still highly involved in the process. The higher priced and the more desirable products usually have a direct correlation to how much time the product spent in human hands versus on a machine. To this date I am unaware of and have not met another fisherman that has ever seen a machine that can tie a fly. To me this is where the “art,” of fly fishing comes into play. A tedious step by step video of tying a Parachute Adams would probably not make for riveting television, and some Silver Fox bumbling with a whip finisher would probably not sell a lot of ED drugs, but if I were ask to justify fly fishing as an art this is where I would begin.
From the moment the fly fishermen sits down at the vise the creative process begins. He or she may be attempting to duplicate a well established pattern while placing his or her own little twist or variation on it to make it “special.” The new fly may even receive its own name meant to impart ownership and propriety. Other times experiences and observations are reflected upon with the end goal of finding a solution to a challenging situation on the water through the creation of a new pattern. Materials used to tie artificial flies are both natural and synthetic and factors such as movement and buoyancy are taken into account, as well as what shape the chosen material will be cut or tied into. The fly fisherman must think about how the fly will look and react in or on the water. Will it push water, sink, float, pop, fall, glide, or rise back to the surface? There is a great deal of trial and error involved but also a great deal of past experience.
My favorite type of fly is derived from a creative process much like this article. After tying numerous established and experimental patterns the fly tier looks down at the scattered mess lying about the desk and sees a bit of flash here mixed with a bit of fur there, a color scheme that seems to go together, or a bit of feather sticking out that just looks “buggy.” Like the birth of stars, and dust bunnies under the couch, the gravity of each random piece draws it to the other and coalesces into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Out of this chaos comes a defined and ordered tool which we as the fly fisherman will soon manipulate upon the water to deceive our hapless quarry.
Winter months are a great time to learn this artistic side of fly fishing. Soon March with blow in and with it the little Blue Quills and Blue Winged Olives, along with the fat and frisky Quill Gordons. Fish will be rising, sipping, and slashing and those boxes will begin to dwindle fast. So it may be a good idea to spend some time at the vise getting ready for the upcoming season, and the good news is you don’t have to do it alone. Sitting around a kitchen table with friends or family while also filling fly boxes kills two birds with one stone and helps to stem the tide of those winter blues. You may even find some one’s Pheasant Tail clippings have wandered over into your Polar Fiber trimmings and suddenly a new and effective pattern has been born. For those who need a bit of lubrication for the gears and cogs of their creative machinery, fly tying nights sponsored by local shops and breweries are held each Monday night at Ecusta Brewing in Pisgah Forest and Tuesday night at Brevard Brewing on Main St. in downtown Brevard.
Wishing you good health and great entropy,