Its All Teddy’s Fault

A Quill Gordon, tied by Theodore Gordon, from the collection of the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum. Photo from “Tying Catskill Dry Fliesby Mike Valla, Copyright 2009 by Headwater Books.

We do not know how many fly fishermen had fished for or taken a trout with a dry fly in America by 1890, though it is certainly possible that some had. Not a dry fly tied specifically to be fished on the surface perhaps, but there were earlier recorded mentions of anglers whipping or false casting their wet flies so that they settled upon the surface to be taken by fish before sinking. A slight, consumptive recluse of a man, a man of breeding and education consigned to live alone, turned his attentions to the wild and beautiful rivers of the Catskill Mountains and to fishing of the fly for their trout. We shall be forever grateful.

Theodore Gordon inquired; he wrote, corresponded, he studied the works of others obsessed with this angling as something more than a simple matter of subsistence. His correspondence with one Frederick Halford, England’s Grand Master of the dry fly, brought him not only the celebrated Britisher’s thoughts and theories, but samples of his many dry flies. Gordon experimented with the English flies and, noting they were not well suited to the bright, tumbling waters of his adopted mountains, he modified them. Gordon used his knowledge of fly tying to create the first true American dry flies, imitating the insects he found along his beloved Neversink, Beaver Kill and other rivers; and thus, Gordon gets the blame for starting all of this madness!

In my own quest for imitation, I went back to Gordon, back to the fly pictured in the beginning of this post, viewed countless times over three decades of visits to the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum, and with that fly I have fueled my own obsession.

My 100-Year Dun tied with a dyed wild turkey biot to imitate the spring mayfly we routinely name for Theodore Gordon’s signature fly, the Quill Gordon.

My own experiences long ago convinced me that fly design is the avenue to expand our enjoyment of angling and deal with the evolution of our wild trout. Fly fishers like to argue about many things, and among these are the far extremes touting pattern versus presentation. I often wonder why so many of us fall into one or the other of those camps.

I am a dry fly fisherman, and I began to design my own dry flies from the very beginning of my experiences with fly tying. I am a bold proponent of fly color, another heavily debated subject among anglers, and I will be the first to stand with the fellows in the presentation camp, though I doubt they will welcome me as a member. Presentation is everything, though in my mind fly design, color, movement and the overall image of life is a vital part of presentation.

Presentation encompasses both what we offer to a feeding trout and how it is offered. There, I have said it, clearly and bluntly. So why are we anglers so often arguing about two ends of the same stick?

Yes, I did my thing with the classic Cross Special that has been occupying my thoughts as well as my fingers of late. I think I will call my 100-Year Dun version the CrisCross, for it isn’t an imitation of a specific mayfly.

Rather than choosing to believe that a few nondescript fly patterns are the ultimate dry flies, to be fished to the exclusion of all others, I maintain that many of these flies work well under certain conditions. There are elements of their design that provide the essential image of life that is the key to enticing a trout to take an artificial fly.

I tie some of my own patterns to take advantage of the characteristics I recognize in some of the patterns the one fly anglers tout. We tend to talk about the quality of bugginess in many of these flies: the Adams, the Gold-ribbed Hare’s Ear, etcetera. These flies have elements of design which imitate movement, and movement is life!’

There is nothing wrong with carrying a single box of flies stocked only with these patterns, and there is nothing wrong with carrying a half a dozen fly boxes with specific imitations of available insects tied in different styles and sizes, though some of us walking the latter path may suffer a bit with the weight of our fly vests.

I believe strongly that we learn to be better anglers by thinking and experimenting. Appreciate the tradition and learn the lessons it teaches. Spend as much time as possible on the water with your eyes and your mind open to Nature and inspiration.

Dashing Through the Snow

There was nothing save dry pavement ahead as I headed to Roscoe yesterday morning, and more of the same upon my early arrival at the Rockland House, to help set up for Fly Fest 2023. Before I began tying a bit before nine, the snow was falling. It would continue throughout the day.

Everyone was pleased that we enjoyed a good turnout of fly tyers and visitors for the event, despite the weather. Fortunately, though the high temperate failed to make it out of the twenties, the road surfaces remained clear and safe for driving.

This is a particularly welcome event, coming as it does still amid the bowels of winter, a nice chance to get out and meet old friends and make some new ones. It is always special to meet fly fishers and fly tyers passionate enough about this game to travel to Roscoe in February!

My friend JA and I renewed our conversation regarding the body dubbing blend required to tie the classic Catskill Cross Special dry fly. We each blended fur from our red fox skins to arrive at the creamy color desired, working independently, and our results were very close to the same hue. We hoped that was evidence that we got it right.

Today’s fly tyers can tend to obsess over having just the right shade of color when we tie the classic Catskill patterns. From time to time, one of the scholars of our fly tying history needs to remind us that the legends we seek to emulate used what they had. There was no industry to provide every shade and nuance of materials, blended and packaged for convenient tying. Shades of color may have differed a bit from time to time, but the quality, pattern and fish-catching magic of the flies remained consistent; just one of the reasons those tyers became legendary.

In my attempt to pay homage to the style of Rueben Cross, I encountered some unexpected challenges. Cross flies displayed an amazing slender delicacy that became the standard for what was known as the Catskill school. Cross refused to teach his techniques to his budding contemporaries, leaving tyers like Walter Dette and Harry Darbee to purchase Cross flies and painstakingly disassemble them to study their construction, one wrap of silk at a time.

Each fly tyer tends to develop his own style based upon his influences and observations of Nature. My education in tying Catskill dry flies came from the late Larry Duckwall who had learned from Elsie Darbee, and many visits to Cottage Street in Roscoe where I watched Mary Dette tie her matchless dries. The Dette and Darbee flies revealed a slightly more tapered body, and a bit more hackle than the Cross originals, as these tyers developed their own styles. My Catskill dries take their influence in that same regard. Once used to tying a certain way, it takes sincere concentration to mimic the differing styles of others.

As a fly tyer for more than three decades, I have grown used to my own developed style. My fingers simply want to do what they are used to, almost ignoring my conscious intent. As mentioned, it is more of a challenge than expected.

A pair of my Cross attempts flanking a beautiful example of the Davidson Special, the late Mahlon Davidson’s signature fly. This fly was tied by and a gift from my friend Tom Mason, one of those scholars of our fly tying history I mentioned. Tom used a touch dubbing technique with Davidson’s personal fur dubbing over classic Pearsall’s gossamer silk. The result captures the color perfectly (Davidson dyed the fur for this pattern with a solution made from willow bark) as well as that wonderful delicacy, giving the segmentation similar to a quill body. The spiky fur fibers catch light, move and capture air bubbles producing that wonderful and vital image of life!
Tom Mason’s “Davidson Special”

The day passed too quickly, the crowd lively and sharing the anticipation for spring. I am not alone in counting down the days until the dark mayflies that inspired Gordon’s Quill may ride the riffles and awaken the Beaver Kill browns from their long winter’s nap.

The Catskill Fly Tyers Guild will continue our Thursday night fly tying sessions via Zoom again this week, tackling the venerable and elusive Cross Special. Perhaps I will make another try at the master’s style, here in the quiet of my own sanctuary today; just a bit less of everything!

Forty-five and Counting

Wishing and dreaming…

Forty-five days remain until the Angler’s Spring may be expected, a month and a half of flies and preparation yet to come.

I began yesterday, digging out some of the various early season fly boxes. I have been stocking the Wheatleys these past three months, rounding out my Translucence Series to cover all of the anticipated hatches, stuffing too many quills and Hendricksons into the larger one. Today I will have to resurrect the boat bag, for I expect there are still a few of the early season boxes hiding there.

This is the busy time of winter. I received the letter from the Fly Fishers Club of Harrisburg a week ago and took the time to tie a selection of flies to send in my stead. It doesn’t seem possible that this will be the 74th banquet; wasn’t it just a couple of years ago that we celebrated the 50th? I haven’t made the trip since my retirement, but perhaps next year I will have to consider heading down for the 75th. Milestones like that are important, and I have a lot of fond memories from the Fly Fishers Club gatherings over the years.

Fly Fest arrives tomorrow, and I look forward to seeing some friends and tying some flies together. I sorted through my travel kit this week, removing some of the materials I don’t plan to be using to make it easier to carry the ones I will need. Along with that I have to make the final call as to which patterns and styles I will tie. I want to have room for my tool stand this year, so I can avoid chasing scissors, bobbins and whip finishers around the table. I might try to talk Dennis out of another discarded chunk of bamboo culm while I’m at it. There is just enough time this afternoon to make a little fly display to match the tool stand.

I will have to start thinking about trailer inspection and boat cleaning during March, though the way this winter has gone we could just have perfect wading conditions to start the season. April is sometimes good for a pre-season float, one of those days when I don’t honestly expect to find a hatch or a rising trout. A quiet, solo float can simply be, well, therapeutic after a long Catskill winter. And who knows, there is always a chance I might see an actual trout chasing a fluttering early stonefly…

I made a bamboo fly rod holder for my boat some time ago, but I never installed it. I ought to make sure to do that next month and take the 9050 Granger along for that early solo float. Now that would be therapy! That fine old rod has missed being fished.

The old, single tip Wright & McGill 9050 made it’s bones on the Delaware nine years ago on a wild and wooly April afternoon.

That Granger has been assigned the duty of boat rod. It has a fresh dip of varnish thanks to rodmaker Dennis Menscer, and deserves it’s chance to take the helm. I generally don’t fish bamboo from the drift boat, and I recommend to my bamboo angling friends that they carry graphite when they join me for a float. Landing a sizeable trout is a lot tougher from the boat, and can put a great deal of strain on rod tips. Part of the reason for the issue is that I tend to float only in higher flows, and the current is always fastest at the surface. Battling trout don’t seem to like being drawn anywhere near that boat either!

Wow, forty-five days… I can almost touch it! Then again there is snow in the forecast for the week ahead. There are even a couple of stray flakes blowing around right now. We seem to have had the seasonal rush of cross-country winter storms just manage to dance around us this winter, and the end of February is in sight. That kind of sets us up for a March blizzard I guess though, doesn’t it?

Grannoms On The J

Mike Saylor casts to the tail of a spring fed pool on a warm summer day. The classic arched stone railroad bridges are highlights of Pennsylvania’s Little Juniata River.

My but writing about those Grannom caddis got my mind to wandering the other day; right back to the urgency of springtime and chasing the Grannom hatch on the Little J!

My Southcentral Pennsylvania home waters were the various little limestone spring creeks of the Cumberland Valley Falling Spring Branch, Big Spring and the Letort chief among them. During the more than twenty years I lived in the region, dry fly fishing on those spring creeks was mainly a summertime affair, the time for terrestrials. If I was jonesing for a chance to fish any significant hatch, a road trip was called for. The closest place to find those mayflies or caddisflies was the Little Juniata River in the vicinity of Spruce Creek, PA.

The drive to the Lil’ J would take about an hour and a half, depending upon traffic. No cities enroute, but two lanes through some small towns and farming valleys sometimes had their own lackadaisical charm. That drive time kept me from fishing the river as much as I would like, often missing some great fishing to the sulfur hatch. On most days, the sulfurs were strictly an evening thing. Chances would be pretty good that the hatch would start to get a number of trout up around 8:30, leaving only a half hour to take advantage of the opportunity, and then that drive that seemed even longer than the morning trip to get back home.

The sulfurs were the main event when it came to mayflies, though the J had some Blue Quills, olives, Cahills, Tricos and Isonychia. Thanks to decades of pollution events and a still unknown chemical spill that killed all of the insect life in the early 2000’s, none of those other mayflies appeared in big numbers. Caddisflies proved much hardier, and even after all of the ups and downs the Grannom hatch was pretty terrific. My buddy Mike and I would always try to spend some time up there during the last half of April, looking to catch the hatch. We found some great fishing!

I recall two or three times over those years that the flies continued hatching throughout the day, from seven in the morning until five that evening. You could drive along and visit several spots and find bugs and rising trout everywhere. On one weekday I had a day off and Mike didn’t. I arrived at my favorite pool around seven fifteen and could not get my waders on fast enough! When I waded out to the top of the pool, the air and water were filled with Grannoms, and there were trout rising, others swirling and boiling as they chased the rising pupa beneath the surface!

I went to work where the current cut a deeper trough along the far bank, and I began to find some takers for my X-Caddis. These trout were tough, for the little river was very popular with Pennsylvania’s burgeoning population of fly fishers, and there were thousands of caddisflies hatching. The J had a decent population of wild brown trout back then, and the state stocked fingerling browns that grew up in the river and fished more like wild trout.

The dry fly of the day was typically my basic black X-Caddis in size 16. I blended black muskrat, black squirrel and chopped up dark olive Antron yarn for my dubbing.

Through the course of that day, I stayed with the dry fly and fished four or five different pools. I landed somewhere over thirty brown trout, colorful, hard fighting fish from just under a foot long to fifteen or sixteen inches, and by five thirty I was tired out. There were still trout rising to Grannoms, but I had caught enough to fulfill my winter long lust for dry fly fishing. At one point I caught more than a dozen on the same size 16 fly, finally retiring it when there were no more than half a dozen fibers of soggy elk hair left in the wing. I had hatching flies and rising fish at every place I stopped, covering maybe six or seven miles of river. Crazy!

Early morning on a braided reach of the Little J.

There were sadly quite a few seasons when we missed the hatch. Late April often brings heavy rains to Central Pennsylvania, blowing out all of the streams. There were times we found good water but simply missed the peak of the hatch by a couple of days. Whenever we hit it though, we had a ball. There’s no better way to begin your spring season than to fish a big hatch of flies!

I am surprised that I have never encountered many Grannom caddis on the Catskill rivers. The little bright apple green caddis we call the Shad Fly is a related species, Brachycentrus appalachia, and I look forward to seeing a lot of those each season. Maybe I simply haven’t found myself at the right place at the right time, something I learned to take for granted years ago on the Little J!


A sampling of flies for fishing the stages of the Hendrickson hatch. The three patterns on the upper row all represent mayflies that are caught in the act of emergence, even crippled. Very often the wild trout living in our hard fished Catskill rivers will select these encumbered flies and feed stealthily rather than making those big, beautiful rings in mid-river.

Anglers at all levels of learning and ability travel to the Catskills to fish the famous fly hatches, here where so much of our dry fly fishing began. Their success usually has a lot to do with their ability and knowledge, for our historic rivers display the miracles of Nature and adaptation. Our wild trout most particularly have become educated by the common activities of large numbers of anglers and thus avoid places, times, conditions, and even insects that many trout would enjoy fully.

Trout will not generally hold in high traffic areas, though some will visit those areas during quiet periods if there is an abundance of food available or more efficient conditions for feeding. I learned that lesson long ago, on my first trip to the storied Beaver Kill. I had fished a heavy caddis hatch on Saturday. Arriving early, it appeared I might have a famous reach all to myself. By late morning when the flies were at their heaviest, a dozen other anglers spread out along the same long run. Walking down the bank between a couple of guys, I noticed a drop in the rocky bottom quite close to the shore. Everybody that showed up to fish waded right on out past this area, to fish close to the middle of the run. Sunday morning I was headed back to the road, but I stopped early to fish that run in peace for a couple of hours. I walked down and began casting along that drop while standing on the dry stones of the riverbank, catching a pair of hard fighting sixteen-inch brown trout, my largest of the trip. They were both hugging that little drop half a dozen feet from the bank!

When a hatch is in progress, small trout are likely to hold in the main current and rise with vigor to the mayfly duns floating downstream. Likewise, many anglers inexperienced in the ways of our Catskill trout will wade out into the main flow and have at them with their favorite dry fly, just like all those fellows on the Beaver Kill thirty years ago. A lot of them never know what they might be missing.

The better trout have learned to avoid those high traffic areas, and they are less likely to be rising to duns in that main current. Observation is a very important skill. Watch the water before wading in and casting to the first rise you see. Take a little time at it. If there are bugs on the water, chances are you will see some very subtle rises here and there along the margins of that main flow. Look for eddies and pockets, slower currents and tricky places where the surface quivers from subsurface obstructions. These are the areas where the older, wiser trout tend to feed.

Another thing experience teaches about those larger trout is the fact that they often key on particular stages of a hatch which allow them to feed subtly in these areas of secondary currents. Most of the duns may be bouncing down the riffle and into the pool, but there are usually some crippled flies around, those that don’t emerge cleanly from the nymphal case, or get caught for a time in between nymph and dun. Crippled flies are not standing up on the surface ready to fly away, they are usually plastered to the film where they are harder for us to see. The trout see them just fine.

I do not usually fish all of these patterns during a typical hatch. Once I find evidence of a good fish subtly feeding, I watch closely and try to determine which stage of fly he is taking. If I can see a dun on the surface, I will choose one of the bottom two flies pictured. If not, I make my best judgement call after studying the riseform and chose one of the top three. I certainly prefer to have the full selection in my Hendrickson boxes. We anglers don’t get to choose which stage of a hatch appeals to individual trout.

Seasonal Reset

This has been another unusual winter, and the topsy turvy run of our weather seems destined to continue. After fishing Wednesday afternoon, I relaxed on the porch in sumptuous sunshine. Direct sunlight pouring over Point Mountain and the 66-degree air temperature bolstered one another to give me a true taste of springtime, my porch thermometer recording 74 degrees! This morning snow has dusted that familiar terrain at daybreak. It was 18 degrees at Crooked Eddy.

There is some work to be done on my house, but the solution requires varnishing, something I cannot accomplish either inside or outside under these conditions. Well, there are always those flies to sort…

Thinking about readying things for spring reminded me that I should tie a few little black caddis. They are the flies we often forget, being less than visible, they are easy to overlook. I remember back in my days on the Falling Spring when trout would ignore little olives, ants, etcetera. At times I would look down at the legs of my waders and see specks of black; moving. Even on clear glides over a bright bottom they proved almost impossible to see lying there in the film, but a change to a size 20 CDC caddis often found me fighting a rising trout as opposed to casting over it.

The darker bottoms of the West Branch make it truly impossible to see Chimarra on the surface, but they can be around for a long time. As with those days on the limestone water, I have fished to West Branch risers with various Blue Quills and Hendricksons only to be ignored, until I thought about the invisible caddis and tried one.

The toughest part of this fishing is recognizing the opportunity, particularly when it comes in the midst of the major hatches such as Blue Quills and Hendricksons. It doesn’t require a lot of effort to tie an effective fly for little Chimarra.
Other than a dry fly hook and fine black thread, all you need is black dubbing with a touch of sparkle and some small CDC puffs. A wisp of dun overtop of the black CDC wing really helps track your fly on the water. Four or five fibers of Antron yarn, etc. will add a sparse shuck.

Most of the fishing I have found with these tiny black caddisflies has involved struggling or dead flies stuck in the film, so a simple CDC fly is perfect. It sits low in the film and the wing fibers will move with the micro eddies of the current. I always blend a little Antron, either darkest green or black, with my fur to sparkle and hold a few air bubbles. Back on Falling Spring I tied them with an underwing of dark olive CDC and a sparse black elk hair overwing, with just a little dubbing, and took some nice trout that refused every other fly of the season. Chimarra crawl out of the water to emerge on bankside vegetation, so don’t expect to see thousands of tiny black flies in the air.

The American Grannom is another caddisfly that I have fished with great success, though not on our Catskill rivers. I have seen them here only a handful of times, while on Pennsylvania’s Little Juniata River and Penns Creek, their hatches are a highlight of the early spring season. We used to look for Grannoms just after the middle of April there in a normal year. Paul Weamer’s “Pocketguide to New York Hatches” states that the first week of May is the typical emergence time for the Catskills. I usually see plenty of Shadflies or Apple Caddis at that season, but the larger Grannoms have proven rare in my experience.

My Pennsylvania old reliable Grannom imitation is a black bodied X-Caddis with a black Antron shuck and a darker tan elk hair wing. Ideally, I prefer the hair with the dark tips. Thought I carry a few size 14 flies, they are greatly outnumbered by the 16’s in my fly box.

Honestly, I would love to encounter the kind of heavy, extended Grannom emergence I used to experience on Pennsylvania’s Little J on one of our Catskill rivers. More than once I have arrived on the river at seven in the morning to find caddis in the air and trout rising, and fished emergences throughout the day! Perhaps Nature will smile upon me one of these days. She always has surprises in store.

Central Pennsylvania’s Little Juniata River on a gorgeous and rare seventy-degree day in March. I have fished Grannoms
on this reach as early as April 17th.

The sun shines brightly now with blue Catskill skies, and will soon dissolve that dusting of snow. Our outlook is for rainy days through midweek, with some measurable snow for next weekend. Hopefully we will have safe driving conditions for Flyfest, at Roscoe’s Rockland House. Have vise, will travel. I simply need to decide which patterns I expect to tie this year and assemble the required materials. I always have a vise and tools in the travel kit.

The Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum sponsors Flyfest, and offers tickets via their website:

Guild Sparks Interest in Dette Classic

Mary Dette Clark and Yours Truly from two decades ago. I always loved to stop by, say hello, and talk with Mary while she tied. I learned a great deal, and her kindness furthered my love for the Catskills.

I was fortunate enough to meet all of the legendary Dettes when I first journeyed to Roscoe, New York to fish. I had done a good bit of reading on Catskill fly tyers and the history of the region and was justly in awe to step inside the front room there on Cottage Street and say hello to these legends. Walt, Winnie and Mary, all very kind, gentle people with no trace of the egotism I had encountered among fly fishers and tyers elsewhere. I made it a point to stop in every time I came to fish the area and visit with Mary as she tied.

The Dettes were known around the world for their classic Catskill trout flies, and last evening the Catskill Fly Tyers Guild appreciated a unique and little-known pattern designed by Walt Dette. David Brandt, one of the foremost modern master tyers of classic Catskill flies, told the story of the fly that would come to be known as Walt’s Riffle Dun in December 2019, during his last appearance before the Guild. Though Walt was quiet about the design, many thought of this style of fly as his answer to Harry Darbee’s Two Feather Fly. The name was affixed by the late Ted Neimeyer, for a magazine article he wrote about it. With Walt’s approval, this unique design became the Riffle Dun.

I thought the name chosen somewhat belied the strength of the design, as this seems the perfect style of fly to present gently to some leviathan lurking in shallow still water, a fly that might be wafted upon the quiet surface and then drift temptingly straight into dramatic memory! The extended body with tails is cut from a hackle feather, wings affixed Catskill style, and a stiff barbed hackle wrapped parachute style with two turns. We all tied a few as the discussion roamed a bit, typical for our informal winter Zoom gatherings.

I tied some two and a half dozen flies yesterday, which is one of my more prolific daily outputs. I am no longer a production tyer. I break up these winter days with some reading between sessions at the vise. Still rounding out my Translucence Series of dry flies, I blended some silk for a mellow orange sulfur dubbing, tying a trio of 100-Year Duns to await their turn in the Wheatley that has been given the duty of carrying these patterns.

The new orange sulfur blend 100-Year Dun is tailed with cream barbs of Coq-De-Leon and hackled with Collins’ Golden Ginger. The wide range of mayflies anglers call “sulfurs” occur in a variety of colors from this pale, yellowish orange hue to pale and deeper yellow shades, even some with a tinge of an olive cast.

May always finds me with a wide assortment of flies to match the various sulfurs, the name that Letort legend Charlie Fox gave the little Ephemerella flies native to that hallowed limestone spring. Deep in my store of blended dubbing there is a small plastic bag marked Letort Sulfur, containing a few pinches of a delicate orange-yellow to match the flies I sampled from the stream. A size 16 Comparadun tied with that blend finally seduced my largest Letort brown trout to be taken on a dry fly, a maddeningly selective sipper that required great patience over the two hours of our encounter! The Catskill orange sulfurs tend toward a different shade, along with both extremely pale and warmer yellows. I tie them in sizes from 12 to 20 as these assorted mayflies are a staple of our fishing from May through August.

A Wink In The Sky

Glenmorangie Sunrise

A little reading while darkness began it’s decline, and then, a murmur of gray in the sky; morning at last. True, my angler’s spring is fifty-four days out this dawn, and yet, this is a fishing day. That declaration brings along a touch of excitement, for hope has sprung forth upon the coattails of another spell of mild weather.

I know deep in my soul that the snows will come once more, I heard it in the wind’s rattle just yesterday, lying awake and…wondering.

Grouse & Herl in a size 16 XS could interest a trout refusing to rise to an early stonefly. Indeed, it could!

The urge materialized a short time ago, an itch to tie something besides the Dace crafted yesterday after my perusal of the weather. Dreams of the early winter stoneflies that enticed the Cumberland Valley rainbows at Big Spring each February had me wishing, so I quickly wrapped these little Grouse & Herls, something not a dry for we know these Catskill trout are not yet ready to rise to the dry fly.

Better today that my concentration should stay fixed upon the swing of the Dace as the water temperature nudges it’s daily peak. My staple of winter fishing, at least the little of it that comes, the small streamer fly, with a twist!

I refer to them as movement flies, for their design I contrive for those rare winter stirrings of our older, more stately spotted warriors. These fish feed rarely in winter’s chill waters, but they do feed. I have not found them interested in the chase, thus my movement flies are not twitched and stripped about the rivers like some active streamer. No, their forte is offering that image of life, awakened just barely, stunned by their cold environs and easy prey. May the Red Gods grant me the gift of the slow swing… at the right moment in the right line of drift!

That first profusion of hen pheasant feathers elicited nudges, caught some good fish in cool waters, but proved somewhat sterile in winter. More bulk was needed, and still more motion on a slow swing. The Copper Fox provided it, more attractor than imitation, was it a sculpin, a baby trout, a crayfish? It is alive! Food for The One. The Dazed Dace carries the theme forward into the realm of imitation. It’s story is still being written.

I shall bow beneath a February sun; cast and mend and follow, taking in the somber beauty of the quiet season, inhaling the freshness of the new air, here in the mountains where my heart lies; until spring invites me to the dance!

Anti-Cabin Fever

Changing Flies On The Cusp Of Evening

There’s no doubt that a nice wild trout on the line and a bit of warm sunshine can do a lot of good toward driving the winter blues away. In general, this has been a mild winter, but winter it is regardless. Sixty days remain until what we hold as the angler’s spring is slated to begin, that magical time of year when the dry fly comes into it’s own.

The joy of Tuesday’s heavily arching cane rod was bolstered by a few moments of real warmth yesterday afternoon, relaxing on the porch with a cold draught. Fifty-two degrees feels more like 80 in February! In truth, yesterday turned out much better than predicted, and I could have spirited away to the river again.

The improvement in my mood got me working on flies, as I decided it would be a good day to whip out a dozen or two of my favorite caddis. The Shad Flies tend to be very popular with our wild trout!

There were sulfurs before the caddis, and today a few Conovers and Catskill Adams; a bit of fun rounding out the spring boxes. The Fly Tyers Guild crew will be at it again tonight at seven, for another installment of what has become our weekly Zoom tying session. JA championed the idea, and it has been well received, with a floating group of about twenty members tuning in.

Tonight, we will tie those Conovers I practiced on this morning. It is a venerable old Catskill pattern that has been found in the Dette shop since 1934, when they started tying the pattern for Scotty Conover of the Brooklyn Flyfishers, the fly’s originator. I had blended some dubbing I ran across the other day. I looked the pattern up in the late Eric Leiser’s charming book “The Dettes: A Catskill Legend” and felt my old blend was a bit darker than ideal, so I added some more gray muskrat underfur to bring it to the “heathery gray claret” described by Winne Dette in the text.

The Conover: A standard dry fly hook such as the Mustad 94840, a long tail of cream hackle fibers, body dubbed with the heathery gray claret blend, and a golden badger cock’s hackle two sizes larger than standard.

Our second fly for the evening will be Art Flick’s Dun Variant, a pattern that will necessitate my picking a few feathers from my Rhode Island Red rooster cape, stripping the barbs, and soaking the quills after dinner, so they will be ready to go. I have the perfect dark dun hackle close at hand. It is a lovely old fly to fish when isonychia mayflies are on the water.

My model for the Dun Variant: Tied by Mary Dette Clark in 1994 while I watched breathlessly!

I have been hoping tomorrow might develop into another fishing day, but the sunshine originally promised has been exchanged for winds between 15 and 25 miles per hour “with higher gusts possible”. Not the kind of day it is advisable to be out trying to cast a tungsten bead weighted streamer like the Dazed Dace. There are always some more flies to be tied though, and my size 11 and 13 North Country fly hooks should arrive within the hour…

A Roll of the Dace

The Dazed Dace has it’s first big brown to it’s credit.

Looking at the local forecasts for the week, I had pinpointed Wednesday and Friday as potential fishing days. It is winter in the Catskills and they need to be flexible with those predictions, because the weather, as always, will do what it wants to.

The sun was out this morning, and though it had been only 17 degrees at dawn, I checked those forecasts again and made a command decision. My heaviest alpaca socks and a fleece pullover were donned, and the Kiley bamboo, reel and tackle bag gathered and loaded into the car with an old pair of waders, my boots and camo puffer jacket. I was ready to make the most of that morning sunshine.

It didn’t last, the sun that is, though there was at least a glow showing through the cloud cover as I waded into the West Branch. It had been a month since I visited the river and swung the Dazed Dace pattern down through the run for a trial, losing the first sizeable trout that sampled it. I had been fooled by one too many rocks in the shallow winter flow that day, failing to recognize the bump of a trout when it came. This visit looked more promising, for the flow is substantially higher, more than twice what it was that day in January.

I started the routine: cast, loop the line and swing, then two steps down and repeat. Nothing disturbed the fly until I got close to the part of the run where I had lost that fish in January. Sure enough, I felt a bump and a wiggle, let the slack pull out through my fingers and then smoothly raised the rod. The swing stopped dead. I had found a new addition to the heart of this run, and several more casts with a new fly and tippet told me it had to be a tree, or at least a significant part of one. I continued down about twenty feet, casting, hanging and then swimming the fly free, hoping that a trout would grab that Dace when it worked` it’s way out of the unseen wood.

With the cloud cover increasing and the morning sunshine a memory, I decided to wade down river to prospect around some cover I could see. It helps to see a tree if you are going to try to fish it.

I got back into my rhythm, casting over toward the bank and letting the fly make a long swing through an area that I know will be full of feeding fish six months from now, knowing that I just needed to show that fly to one trout. I did, but I didn’t hook him. The bump and wiggle came as I hoped it would, I slipped the loop of slack line and raised the rod, perhaps just a touch too quickly for thirty-seven-and-a-half-degree water. Didn’t even prick him.

I cannot tell you honestly if the next bump and wiggle I felt amounted to a do over or if there was another trout out there searching for a meal. I can only tell you that I adjusted my strike response, lifting the rod tip slowly and smoothly after letting the fish pull that loop of slack out of my fingers. This time I had him!

This old warrior let his bulk be known right away, putting a big bend in my eight-foot 6/7-line rod. I kept the tip down somewhat, letting him work against the middle of the taper as I led him up stream. He pulled some line against the drag, a good fight in the winter river, but the hookup was solid. When I slid him into the net I thought that “old warrior” was a fitting moniker. A heron, eagle or perhaps a mink had taken a chunk out of his back, just behind his adipose fin, but he was still out brawling. He easily reached the twenty-inch mark, and I slipped the hook out of his lip quickly and got him back in his element. I hope the old brown heals up; some make it and some don’t when they are injured like that. He had enough gumption to win his freedom from whatever predator had tried to eat him. If the river gods are smiling, perhaps I’ll hook him again six months from now, when the little yellow mayflies are drifting by.