I remember when one of the first assignments we were given in school after Christmas vacation was to write a theme on what we got for Christmas. I haven't done that for awhile, but in the spirit of Ralphie in Christmas Story, writing the masterpiece on what he wanted for Christmas (a Red Ryder BB Gun), here's my theme.
WHAT I GOT FOR CHRISTMAS
I didn't get a lot of cool things, like some people I know, because we are "saving" our "money" for more "important things" like banks and credit card companies and gas and food, and because we have teenagers.
But what I did get was pretty cool anyway. Like this travel mug from my Sister-in-law who still lives in Chicago. She knows I like coffee--a lot--and she also knows that I still like the Chicago Bears (that's a football team) even though I've managed to break some other bad habits I picked up in Chicago.
One of the coolest presents was a new camera that I've been wanting and asking and begging for for a long, long time, even though it wasn't a present that was under the tree and I got to open it on Christmas. Instead I got to pick it out online and then wait for it to come in a delivery truck, and I had to make sure the dog wouldn't find it before I did because he likes to EAT PACKAGES. But I got it before he did, and it's really cool.
I also like fly fishing--a lot--but I didn't get anything like a new rod, or new waders, or new stuff for when I tie flies, or anything like that because people know by now that I like to pick out my own stuff and they always get me stuff that they think I would like but I really don't. But this camera is like a fly fishing present because I will take it with me all the time and take pictures of lakes and rivers and birds and trout and lots of really cool stuff. So I'm really happy.
And it's also like a present for my boys, too, because they like to watch videos of themselves playing sports, or maybe fishing sometimes, and this takes REALLY COOL videos. So they're happy, too, but not as happy as me.
Then I got one more present that I didn't have to order or unwrap, but it was a really cool surprise, and like something someone just sent me because they knew I would like it a lot, and I did. I was walking out to the woodshed to get some wood on Christmas night and an owl flew up RIGHT OVER MY HEAD. It was dark, but there was some light from the house so I could see the wings and the shape. It almost stopped right over me, so I could see it real good, then it flew away. But then it came back and flew over again, and then it did it again. And the whole time it was really quiet outside and even though it was flapping its wings I DID'NT HEAR ANYTHING. That's one of the really cool things about owls, they can fly in the dark without making any noise with their wings at all.
That was really cool. I didn't have my new camera, or my old one, so I looked this picture up online. But that's what I saw, except not so bright. That was a really cool present, or like a present.
So that's what I got for Christmas and even though it's not as much as some people I know might have got, or like the people on TV who get cars for Christmas, I thought what I got was really cool.
After solstice, winter days just beginning to stretch
A frozen lake under overcast skies. The invisible sun
pours light through the clouds. They gleam.
Beneath the ice and thin layer of snow
light seems to beam from lustrous depths. The lake is
The world shines. Two small figures,
dark against the glow,
skim over the ice, arms swinging.
They're skating, skating on
No, he didn't kill it. He's not smart enough to do that. Either the weather or coyotes did the deed. Or, most likely, a motorized vehicle. The dog just happened on exactly the kind of thing he loves to bring home with him.
To share with us.
Actually, I do plan to keep the antlers. I have this notion of a knife with an antler handle. That could be dangerous--you could accidentally stab yourself with either end. But all good ideas carry a certain degree of risk.
This year especially, it seemed,life was too busy, funds were too stretched, time was too short, and loose ends were too loose. Yet, by some mysterious seasonal alchemy, when the day arrived, Christmas--in all its warmth and glory--arrived with it.
The day may soon be over;ah, but let the season last!
It has come at last: the Winter Solstice. After today, the shortest day of the year--we could say the darkest, the light begins to return as the sun grinds to a halt on its southern transit away from us and begins its journey back to us. After this the days get longer and longer, and warmer and warmer. This is the beginning of those long summer evenings on the water.
Sunlight on Earth, on the day of the winter solstice.
Notice that the northern polar region of Earth is in 24-hour darkness,
while the southern polar region is in 24-hour daylight.
I came across a poem years ago that I cannot find today, but I remember its central image, that it is the very friction of that cosmic change of direction that produces the heat and light of the coming days. In our own lives we know in our bones, we have taken in the hard-earned lesson, that light--enlightenment--comes only through friction, as old ways of thinking and old ways of living grind up against new revelation.
This, then, is the day for new beginnings, for shifting our own direction, for recommitting to the light, however you define that in your life.
As for me, I take inspiration from this poem:
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him,
and without him not one thing came into being.
What has come into being in him is life,
and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.
And also from this one. This is a translation of a haiku by Seibi written in 1816:
spring in winter
a ray of light strikes
a clutch of eggs
He knew the miracle: there can be spring in winter. The miracle happens--the epiphany strikes us--when a ray of light reveals the presence of life-yet-to-be. It takes looking--it takes seeing--to find the miracle; and, even after we find it, it is fragile, tenuous, at first. We, like the light itself, need to enfold it in our own protective warmth, thus becoming a part of it. And before long, what we thought was fragile will come into its own with the power of the sun. Life will not be denied: birth will come, and life will endure.
So, as I post this at the exact time of the solstice, I extend this Solstice wish: that we may all look to the light, incubate the hope, and fish long in the coming days.
One of the pleasures of putting up a Christmas tree each year is hanging up those ornaments that were handmade by our kids. Some have been with us for a long time, some are a little more recent. Jeremiah has one from grade school made with a small paper plate with his school picture pasted in the middle of it. Around it is a festive border of pasted-on pretzels. One of the pretzels is broken. I always thought it was simply a casualty of the yearly unpacking and repacking, but Jeremiah told me that he got hungry one year and took a bite.
You can't buy that in a store.
For me, every fly I tie is like that. I have some that have survived many seasons of fishing, some that I just tied and fished a month ago. But old or new, each fly I tie is something personal, and I can look at one and remember when that tail got chewed off, or exactly where I was and what fish I was trying to fool when I clipped the tail off and trimmed the hackle back to make a mayfly look like an ant.
Every once in awhile it's time to clear the fly patch on my vest, and it's a little like undecorating a Christmas tree as I take off each fly, ponder the memories that come with it, and carefully put it away.
Flies are a special part of our sport, because of their beauty, and because of all the pleasure and personal satisfaction that comes from their creation--and from just holding them in your hand. But much more than that, flies are the sport. That's why we call it fly fishing, after all. Rods and reels and slick new lines are nice, but they exist only as an efficient means of getting the fly to the trout.
And, in the final analysis, that's what it's all about. When we tie on that fly and cast it out, it becomes the key that unlocks the gate and allows us to enter the magical world of the trout; and when that fly and a trout converge in a flash of energy, they become the flint and steel that strike the sparks that keeps the fire going that burns in us for these creatures and their beautiful world.
So it's with great pleasure that I honor and celebrate the flies that made this season at the lake one of the best ever.
TROUT FLY OF THE YEAR
The Carpet Caddis
The Carpet Caddis was First Runner Up last year, but this year it blew away the competition. It was the first dry fly I tied on way back on the first day of the season, and it didn't disappoint, taking the first Rainbow on a dry. Throughout the rest of the season, it was the go-to fly in almost any situation. I had my best days ever on the lake stripping this fly around weed beds. It was killer when dropped right up against the shoreline, or when stripped over shallow flats, or off of drop offs, or over deep water. And there was many an evening, as the midges swarmed over the still water, that rising trout would slam it as soon as it settled on the water.
I first saw this fly on TV as Don Freschi used it to catch big Rainbows on the Columbia in B.C. He named it "Carpet Caddis" because antron yarn is its main ingredient. His version is tied on a shortshank hook, I believe. I've had better luck with a #12 2X streamer hook.
Hook: #12 curved shank 2X streamer hook
Tail: Olive Antron yarn with a few strands of copper Krystal Flash
Body: Olive dubbing, or Antron yarn, wrapped
Rib: copper Krystal Flash
Underwing: Copper Krystal Flash
Overwing: Olive Antron yarn
Thorax: tan or orange dubbing
Hackle: Brown saddle, oversized
FIRST RUNNER UP
The classic Muddler, in several variations, was the fly I went to when my go-to fly wasn't working, or slowed down. I found it very effective plowed through the waves behind me, or stripped back from the shore through the breakers, on very windy days. I also found that a big, juicy Muddler towed behind me on the still surface after it was too dark to see a fly would elicit big hits from better-than-average fish.
It was also a Muddler--the very one pictured above--that got me into fish on my first trip to famed Chopaka Lake. In the middle of the day when others were trolling deep, I tied on this pattern and caught more than enough fish to keep me busy by casting along a reed line and stripping it in.
Hook:Streamer hook, any size
Tail: Black Marabou; a few strands of Krystal Flash
Body: Tinsel, silver or gold
(or black dubbing with silver or gold tinsel rib)
Underwing: Krystal Flash and white Marabou
Overwing: Black Marabou
Head and Collar: Deer hair, stacked and clipped
SECOND RUNNER UP The Bead Head Carpet Leech
The Bead Head Carpet Leech (if I have to come up with a name for it, that's as good as any) was the fly I consistently went to when it was time to troll. I always troll when moving from one location to another, or when the fish go down and won't come to dries anymore, or when I simply feel like a relaxing paddle around the lake. In the past, a black Bead Head Leech was a guaranteed fish-getter, but when I wasn't having any luck with that this year I came up with this fly. Yes, it was definitely inspired by the Carpet Caddis. And it worked just as well.
Hook: #12 2X streamer hook
Tail: Antron yarn
Body: olive dubbing, or Antron yarn
Rib: black Krystal Flash
Wing: Antron yarn
Thorax: black Krystal Flash wound around thread
THIRD RUNNER UP
The Black Ant didn't catch as many fish as the other flies, but it afforded me with one of the most enjoyable interludes in the season. After observing an ant fall one day, I went home and tied up a few of these, and for the next two weeks trout would eagerly take them during the evening rise. This fly encapsulates the great cycle of pleasure for a fly fisherman: from observation to imitation to fish in the net.
Hook: #14 dry fly hook
Body: black wool dubbing in ant shape
Wing: white or amber Antron yarn, sparse,
tied in between abdomen and thorax
Hackle: Grizzly, tied in between abdomen and thorax
PEOPLE'S CHOICE AWARD
The Black and Brown Stimulator
I love The Black and Brown Stimulator. I tied this particular fly two years ago, caught the biggest Brown of my life on it last year, and it still catches fish when no other fly will. It's a little fly that gives big results. I didn't use it as much as the Carpet Caddis this year, but when I did tie it on it produced.
It further captured my heart this season on a Father's Day trip when the Carpet Caddis--and any other fly--was getting no attention. I tied on the Black and Brown and caught three large and lovely Browns in the same bank side hole. I have caught Rainbows on it, but it seems to have a special attraction to Browns. And to me. I love this fly.
Hook: #12 dry fly hook
Tail: Black deer hair
Body: Orange dubbing
Body hackle:Dun, palmered
Wing: Black deer hair
Hackle: Brown saddle
The humble Scud is a fly I have neglected in the past. I tried to remedy that this Spring by tying up a few and fishing them persistently. It paid off. For several weeks in the chilly waters of the lake I caught fish consistently. There is no better way to spend a Spring afternoon than watching your indicator dip under the glinting surface telling you that yet another hungry Rainbow has taken your fly.
Hook: #14 wet fly or scud hook
Body: Olive flash dubbing, picked out
Shellback: plastic bag cut to shape
Rib: copper Krystal Flash
Tail and Antennae: Dun hackle fibers
VERY HONORABLE MENTION
The Good Old Red Head Stimulator
I don't have a close up photo of this fly except the one above. I tied this many years ago. It has caught lots of fish for me, and this Fall I luckily stumbled onto it as I was tackling the interesting challenge of fishing the pocket water between heavy weed beds and the shoreline. I had broken off my last Carpet Caddis and so went for this old standby. I don't know if it was the red head, or what, but when there was a fish in those pockets it slammed this fly. This Brown was one of the best of the many it took.
Sadly, I broke off this fly, too, maybe in a bigger fish than that Brown. It's gone forever. But I will be tying up little clones of it before next season.
Some amazing photos from a sampling of fires in the 2011 fire season. These are from a friend's son who started out as a hotshot and now supervises crews and strategies on fire sites all over the West.
You've got all winter to dream about and construct your plan, and maybe much of the summer, too, if you take this to heart:
•The other end of the season, fall, delivers some of the most interesting and consistent fishing of the year. I expect more of the same next year. Angler traffic is at a low and wind is less of an issue the later you come. My advice has always been that if you’re coming in September or October, the later the better. The weather and water are cooler, the bugs are smaller, but conditions are more stable in October than September. The fish are on their pre-winter feeding binge and dense hatches of midges and small mayflies bring them rising to the top in good numbers. If small bugs aren’t your game, use big flies like streamers and go for big fish.
Of course, this is the Lodge, a place I'll never set foot in, and they may just be trying to drum up more high end business from the 1% who can afford their prices, and who would be warm and dry on those cold October nights in their plush rooms.
I love fall fishing at the Fork; we've had some of our most memorable trips in that beautiful, elky time of year. But I'll be just down the road at Riverside Campground, sleeping in a tent, and having a blast.