I closed the back cover of the book gifted to me by Tom Sutcliffe a year or so ago, The Dettes. A Catskill Legend by Eric Leiser. A fascinating read and an insight into not just the personal life of this family, but their unique vantage point and significant contributions to fly tying techniques – a charming history of a legendary family and the Catskills.
I slipped it back into its place in the bookcase next my collection of others on the Catskills, my thoughts drifted to the fact that the new river season is upon us. Aside from withdrawal symptoms from a long closed season and the anticipation of the tug of cold currents and wild trout, a surge of mild anguish burst the bubble of euphoria – there are flies to tie before opening day, just a few days away.
The quiet before the storm.
Looking into my fly box, there are vast stretches of unpopulated foam, where Zaks, Pheasant Tail nymphs, GRHEs and others lived, all burned through last season or lost to hook thieving vegetation and nimble-fingered fishing companions. There is a forlorn survivor of a once immense swarm of Para-RABs, it’s post out of shape and hackle spiraling outwards, lone Hoppers and Wolf Spiders in compartments. Tucked into a corner behind a row of semi-colon sized midge pupae, expectantly tied, but never used, is a sole surviving #16 DDD, it’s once beautifully manicured deer-hair body chewed raw and what’s left of its hackle, bedraggled and matted with dried fish slim.
Leftovers from last season, battered and beaten.
I know because it’s happened before after a layoff at the tying desk, the reflexes for minute intricate movements and dexterity of fingers are rusty, even the thread of patterns need refreshing. I fumble with beads, threads break under tension or tails and wings skew under not enough. Anger surfaces at discovering that moths have out-evolved the protective halo of eponymous balls and the platinum grade hackle has been turned into a wasteland of naked quills and lung choking powder.
A journal entry from a few years back suggests it will improve – “ I tied my first flies today. They went from unacceptable to acceptable after the first 6. By number 12 they were ‘not bad’, ‘much better’ by 18, ‘good’ around 24 and by 36 I had delusions of expertise – I even convinced myself that I was technically accomplished, artistic and moderately creative.”
I see anticipation in all the flies for another fishing season, for times spent on streams and rivers, alone or with old companions of past seasons and expectantly, new ones.