On gray winter days when an Arctic wind moans through the eaves and sleet peppers against the windowpanes like No. 7 bird-shot, I enjoy sitting by the fire and tying flies.
And before you ask, no, I don’t have trouble getting them to stop buzzing and hold still.
I’m talking about fishing flies — little tufts of fur, feathers and floss tied onto a hook to resemble (theoretically) some sort of aquatic insect that (again theoretically) fools a fish into trying to eat it.
I became interested in fly-tying as a kid, reading about the craft in Field & Stream and Outdoor Life. I sent off for a fly-tying kit. It came complete with vise, glue, waxed thread, packets of feathers, fur and hair, and an instruction booklet that showed how to tie various patterns.
My favorite was the Rat-Faced McDougal.
I liked the name. It sounds like a Chicago gangster who ran off with the girlfriend of Baby-Face Nelson.
The Rat-Faced McDougal is not the only fly with a goofy name. There’s the Woolly Bugger, Bunny Leach, Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear, San Juan Worm, Pheasant Tail Nymph, Parachute Adams and Elk Hair Caddis.
Evidently trout have a sense of humor.
My first try-trying effort produced a mixed result, sort of a Woolly Hare’s Tail Bunny Bugger Rat Nymph. The only insect it resembled was one splattered on a windshield.
With its gobs of fur and feathers, it looked like something the cat hacked up.
I walked down to a neighboring pond to try it out. I shooed the cows away and started casting. On the third or fourth cast there was a swirl behind the fly and the line jerked tight. Fish on.
It was only a 5-inch bluegill, but it was a fish. And I had caught it on a fly – a fly I hand-tied.
In ensuing weeks, I caught scads of farm-pond bluegills and even an occasional bass. I decided it was time to time to try trout, so I headed to the Sequatchie River.
It was early morning and a pearly mist hovered over the icy water. For the first hour or so all I caught were snub-nosed creek chubs and stunted pumpkin seeds.
I waded upstream to an emerald pool called the Bridge Hole, usually good for a fish or two when bait-fishing. I flicked my fly into current, and it drifted into a deep pocket beneath the roots of a craggy sycamore on the far bank. Suddenly the line snagged. I gave it a yank to pull it free.
It yanked back, and a 15-inch rainbow rocketed from the water. It darted and danced on the surface, dazzling in the first rays of the morning sun, before being led wriggling into the net.
There’s something special about catching a trout on a fly. This one was extra-special because I caught it one of my hand-tied creations: a Cat-Hack Special.
That must have been one hungry fish.