Our Outdoors: Hope on a Hook Shank

By Nick Simonson

The practice of tying my own flies began almost as soon as I was introduced to the sport of fly fishing. Though even the first woolly buggers and simple nymphs were a bit rough looking, they caught fish the following season and that was enough to hook me on the process.  Since then, each winter’s efforts at the tackle desk have spilled over from the vise and sustained me in a variety of spring outings with more flies than I’d need in a season, or maybe five, stashed in containers throughout my basement office and boxes in the pockets of my fly vest. I like to think, as I create a particularly nice pattern, that it will be the lucky one of the bunch that not only finds time in the water, but also its mark in the corner of a fish’s mouth.

I certainly don’t do it to save money, as the expense of feathers, fur, hooks and thread and dozens of other kinds of materials piled up year after year closely follows the fisherman’s credo of: “don’t buy at the store what you can catch for three times more.”  I got into it simply out of curiosity and perhaps for the challenge of seeing if, even with my all-thumbs nature (I received a C in the sewing unit in Home Economics in high school), I could create my own dries, nymphs and streamers for the fish that I angle for. In that process, however, I found a blend of science and art that when bound together on a hook shank provided something entirely different this time of year – hope.

Most often in these cold, middle days of winter – where the daytime highs prevent a comfortable walk around the block with the dogs after the twenty-second scraping of a driveway already sporting two inches of compacted snow and a plow berm that requires four-wheel-drive at its end – planning and preparing for spring and summer fishing at the vise provides a glimpse at what’s to come.  With that preparation comes the idea that warmer days are just around the corner, and with each completed pattern I’m one step closer to casting along the shore of some just-opened flow for pike, or the edge of a farm pond for bluegills when the first green blades of grass poke through last season’s beige carpet.

There’s something about a well-constructed fly, lit by the white and yellow glow of a reading lamp, a desk lamp and a spot lamp, as if it’s a 2019 Corvette on the showroom floor at the local car dealership, that just begs to be used as soon as the last pile of snow melts.  Whether it’s a long, colorful bucktail wing over the shimmer of krystal flash on a streamer, or the alternating twist of shiny silver and black wire making its way up from the tail of a nymph, the materials grab and hold the light in the way – that any good item of tackle should do – where even if they don’t catch fish, they’ve certainly caught this angler.

In the same manner where a watched pot never boils, it almost seems as if the days in late winter speed up when I haven’t had a chance to crank out one or two flies at the vise. Then suddenly, it’s late March and I’ve found myself begging for a snowstorm or a cold snap to give me a reason to spend a Saturday inside, clipping, wrapping, whipping and cementing enough patterns together to assure myself that I’ll survive the seasons ahead with all of the patterns I’ll need; as if the four full fly boxes in front of me wouldn’t be enough.  In the end, a good majority of the flies remain in the safe zone, reassuringly in place for some following season.  A few hit the water for a test run to see how everything came together and if they look as good under or on the surface as they did at the vise.  An even more select few become those patterns that get written down after a fast outing and are added to the guide for next winter’s activities to help continue the cycle of blending of science and art into a hackled pattern of hope for more success and warm, memorable days…in our outdoors.

Featured Image: Bucktail streamers bring added color to winter and hope for a fast spring! Simonson Photo.

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