Do neat looking heads on flies really matter? The fish might not care, but you should.
[by Bill “Bugs” Logan]
The trout won’t care about anything I’m going to show you. You might, though. Whether or not our flies have pretty little heads matters only to us. Small things only matter to us. We’re the ones who admire the warm glow of Tonkin cane and nickel fittings and a flawless coat of varnish. Or do you think more about boron rods and whether wide-arbor reels may be foolish overkill on a trout stream? Right now, I care most about my tailing loop. That’s no small thing, but I’m trying to convince myself that I’ll conquer it. I’m determined to manage a better casting stroke, just as I intend to get a final season out of my leaky worn-out waders, although I don’t know why I worry about being either dry or warm; I almost always lose my footing and get wet anyway.
The truth is that it’s in everyone’s power to at least change the small things. That must be why we take great pleasure in them. Maybe this will be the year I cast out a bit farther and with fewer tangles. And so what if my flies answer as much to an aesthetic as to an evil intent? If the trout knew what I planned, they would think I’m very evil. But they don’t know I’m coming and won’t until it’s too late—if I can manage it. Then we’ll see just what small moments are made of.
The first one will come as I open my fly box in the early morning. Perhaps a faint whisper of cool nighttime air will be lingering down by the river’s edge, but as I tilt my box and my little darlings catch the sunlight, I will believe anything might happen. Isn’t that something? Every time it goes just like that.
Look at those big, ugly flies in the opening photograph. My dad tied those. Now imagine a box filled to brimming with them and a wide-eyed tyke peeking in over the rim. I suppose it might be kind to say that dad wasn’t much of
a fly tier and leave it at that, but he still had a treasure chest, didn’t he? As crude as they are, his flies still have charm. He didn’t care if they were hump-backed or block-headed, and he meant it when he said that flies looked more real if their heads had all sorts of stuff sticking out. And eyes, let me tell you about eyes: paint them yellow on any fly you can, and the trout will like it. Do you think that’s funny? No bug I know has a gold bead for a head, but fish like that, too. Yellow eyes aren’t much of a stretch, and neat flies don’t count unless you like tying them that way. You have to believe that if you fish them well, anything can happen. Let me tell you how this works.
A Golden Afternoon, a Big Fish, and Being Grateful
I’m thinking about a Royal Coachman that was placed in my small hand a very long time ago. I bet the smile I’m wearing now is the same as it was then. My dad had finally decided I was old enough to take me fishing and I was having a miserable time trying to keep up. I had to act big, but it was too much of a job. Dad was no fool, and he knew what was what, but he also expected toughness in his fishing partner. I was learning that lesson as much as any other.
Now, maybe it’s my memory speaking, or maybe it really did turn into a golden afternoon when dad made a great show of giving me a very special fly that had been buried deep within a special box. Perhaps I’m remembering more than one trip and have built the perfect memory, but it doesn’t matter. All that matters now, as then, is that this fly was “guaranteed.” That’s what dad told me, and I believed him.
After he tied it on for me, we crept up to a spot in a river bend that was very good for trout. I remember being extra careful to tread softly, just as I was shown, so the fish couldn’t hear me coming through the undercut bank.
I didn’t have to cast at all. I just had to dabble my Coachman in the water.
Bang-o! A trout actually ate it!
Memory of the big fight comes in flashes. There was pandemonium and many attempts to lead the fish to the net. Above all, there was glee riddled with fear that it might get away. Finally, surprise was mixed with overwhelming happiness when my trout was finally laying in the net. And then it was time for my next hard lesson. Dad said you should always, always let the day’s first fish go. It has to do with being grateful and knowing you’re fortunate.
Bill “Bugs” Logan is the perfect blend of artist, poet, and angler. He is also one hell of a fly tier. When he’s not on the water, you might catch him in his studio in New Jersey. To learn more, go to his website, www.billloganart.com.