St. Louis Botanical Gardens

In a recent article, I talked a little bit about buying a new camera. While I have used aforementioned camera to take some stills of flies off the vise, I decided I needed a bit of nature to spruce up my life. Coincidentally, today was a rainy day, and thus my place of work was closed. The Missouri Botanical Garden was still open though, and happened to be featuring their yearly Orchid show. I hope you enjoy the photos half as much as I enjoyed taking them.

Gallery dedicated to Richard and Jean Jones.

Greater grandparents than I deserve and bigger flower lovers than anybody I know. 

February Dry Fly : Griffith’s Gnat

I’ll be completely honest. I did not plan this one. I had all intents to publish and tie a completely different fly for the month of February. However, as in most things, life got in my way and I had to call the audible.

The positive in changing flies for the month actually excites me. I have more materials, and it set in motion a new pattern. Wet fly, dry fly. We’ll see how long that lasts.

I settled on the Griffith’s Gnat because of an article on postflybox.com. I do a good amount of winter fishing for trout, so I enjoyed gathering some ideas from a great resource. I try to set a goal for myself everyday I go fishing, and one that pops up almost every outing is to watch a fish take a dry fly. If you haven’t seen a trout sip down a high floating caddis, or gnat, then you’re missing one of life’s purest joys.

Getting right to the tying, I tied 3 different sizes for my gnats. I started with a size 14. Not too small, and not too big to be unrealistic on the water. With a brown size 8/0 thread, I wrapped the shank half way down and tied in my peacock herl. After trimming the end nearest the hook eye and making sure I had secured the small feather, I tied in the “grizzly” hackle. I use quotations around the word because I have a second confession. I didn’t use actual grizzly hackle. I was cheap, and so I decided a sharpie on a light colored hackle feather was good enough.

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Good enough?

After both feather’s were secured, the thread is wrapped forward to just shy of the hook eye. The peacock feather comes forward first, making delicate and tight wraps up the shank taking care not to pull too hard. Once the herl has reached the thread, make one wrap of herl in front of the thread, followed by one wrap of thread behind the last wrap of peacock. dsc07300.jpg

Trim the peacock off at the eye, and then begin to palmer (wrap) the hackle feather forward to the eye of the hook. Using the same method as the peacock to secure the feather, make a wrap in front of the thread, and then make a wrap of thread behind the feather. Once both feathers are secure, finish the fly with a few turns of a whip finisher tool. Make sure and be careful not to wrap the hackle feathers in the whip finishing knot.

I tied 7 different flies that session, 3 different sizes in all. The size 14 and 12 hooks are both going to make killer flies for panfish and warm weather trout. The size 18 will be unstoppable for cold winter days during a hatch of insects. I could see myself using these as an indicator fly with a dropper, in a fly releasing later this month called the White Fluff. The final fly of the night was a fun tie, with no set pattern and nothing in particular in mind. While at the shop, I bought two packs of UV2 materials. I came home with a string of UV2 peacock herl, and purple UV2 dubbing. Erica, the fiancé, wanted a fly tied in purple. What I came up with was a streamer of sorts, white and purple barred marabou tail with a blend of purple, white, and flash dubbing. The head of the fly is a triple wrap of the UV2 peacock herl. It doesn’t necessarily fit the bill of any specific fish or bug, but I know quite a few ponds where I can get a good bass or two on streamers. dsc07307.jpg

While I’m not sure if the UV2 material will be any different than natural and conventional material, I figured I would give it an honest try. The theories behind it seem to make sense, but I’d like to test it myself. Heck, I do live in the “Show Me State”.

Stay tuned for more monthly flies, trips, and results for the UV2 material. The new camera is eager to get a new macro lens, and then the fly videos will start!

 

New Toys, Old Water

Craigslist is a strange beast. A man can find anything there. New lawn mower? Check. Fresh vegetables? Check. Urine stained, free-to-good-home couch? Double check. Anybody who needs knickknacks has searched the website, and most have found deals. When I began my search for a new camera, I went straight to “The List”.

I spent some time talking to a good friend about some choices. Coincidentally, I used said friend to help me investigate a camera for a craigslist deal. I was located a full three hours away from a camera that looked great on paper. A good deal, good price, and a few necessary accessories. So I enlisted Kyle to go take a look. I contacted the seller, and then Kyle made a connection that worked out. He’s a fellow fly fisher and happens to be a wedding photographer. The camera checked out, and I bought a camera I couldn’t touch.

What better excuse to make a fishing trip?

Between myself and Kyle are a few Missouri trout parks, Meramec Springs closer to me, and Bennett Springs closer to Kyle. I fished Bennett a couple of times in the summer, but I’d never seen it in the winter. It was the obvious choice.

I hit the water right after the horn. In the trout parks, the winter season is catch and release only, which is how I spend most of my fishing anyways. My rig was a classic. Elk caddis as an indicator, and a double dropper zebra midge. The first drift was smooth, and I was able to see quite a few follows and refusals.

I turned over my shoulder, and waved. Kyle was turning the corner, and pulling the truck into the spot next to mine. My camera had arrived, and I needed to get into a fish. Like clockwork, Kyle opened his door while I was watching my caddis. It disappeared. A quick flick of the wrist upwards, and the tiny rod doubled. I turned to look back, and gave a quick, “Right on time!” to Kyle. He pulled out the phone, and snapped a few pictures. I brought the fish to net, and quickly back into the water.

“I could have taken pictures, but there’s plenty more where that came from.” I said before exiting the water.

We walked to the trucks, started surveying the flies and tackle for the day. In classic Kyle fashion, he started to pull out his 8wt. I had a plan though, I’ve known the family for far too many years to not be prepared. I handed Kyle my 2wt Cabelas Cgr, and he made a remark about how light and tiny it was. While he looked the rod over, I opened my passenger door and pulled out a rod tube. A small finders fee, I gifted Kyle an exact replica of the rod I had just hooked a fish on. His reel was too big, his line was too heavy, but the new rod had the action. Slow, smooth, the fiberglass had a feel new to Kyle. The perfect action for energetic small stream trout.

I found great success on the water the rest of the day. I notice some fish were rising to the surface for some hatching bugs. The unusually warm winter day had awakened a hatch of winged insects. I had two beautiful dry fly takes from wildly aggressive trout, and a few missed shots on the Zebra.

The most fish came from a new fly. It’s called a White Fluff. It mimics a floating piece of flesh through the water. The first drift, and on the rod I gifted Kyle, I snapped into a beautiful thirteen inch fish. The fight was on, and soon the fish found the net.Trout Redo.jpg In the moment, I handed Kyle the new camera. We only snapped two pictures. With beautiful fish, and a great cameraman, that’s all you need.

Kyle ended the day fish-less. After I set the first hook with the White Fluff, I handed Kyle the rod immediately. In three casts, I watched a hungry, fat trout sip the fly. Kyle did his best, but he made a bit of a mistake. He reared back, pulled line, and saltwater strip set on a ten inch trout. The fly, shockingly, didn’t stick. I razzed him good, laughing all the time.

Kyle has now shared the trout stream with me twice. Both times I’ve ended with fish number close to the double digits, and him with a big zero. This time, he had a take, and I’m quite sure he had many more than one. Next time we share a stream, I won’t let him down. DSC06371.JPG

Family is Not First

My family doesn’t come first. And I’m fine with that.

As you read the title, you’re probably a little mad at me.

You don’t know what it’s like to have a family!”

“You are too young, one day you’ll learn! Family is the only thing that matters”

“You’re wrong.”

If you found yourself with the above thoughts, this article is meant for you. On the other hand, if you read the title and your first thought was that of approval and agreement, this article may also be for you.

Over the last few days, this topic has been weighing on my mind pretty heavily. It is undoubtedly the result of my constant wanderlust, and my recent planning for the upcoming year. I find myself looking internationally and locally all at the same time. I’ve been invited on trips, and I’ve sent out invitations of my own. In all of my travels, one thing has always stood out to me. Family is not family.

My father taught me loads. My mother is a beautiful woman of God. My brother is the ideal husband and a master of business. My fiancé is about to graduate medical school. Even surrounded by these great people, I find myself trying to get further away from them. I spend time trying to plan trips they aren’t on, with people I know very little about. I know for a fact that it frustrates my betrothed, and I’m sure that my family wishes I would spend much more time travelling to see them than attempting to fly to a new country to catch a single fish.

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The picture above is the entire reason why this article exists. In the photo above, are five guys that I will consider family until the day I die. We’ve spent days and nights together, shared caves and tents, weathered rain and snow, and survived some things that should have killed us. Most of the time in a hammock. Without these guys, I wouldn’t have my travels. Without them, I would believe that my goal in life was to spend my time with my family. Because of them, I honestly believe that my life’s purpose is to grow my family.

I want as big of a family as one man can reasonably ask for. With that said, I’m not interested in children, and I’m less interested in having multiple wives. I want my family to be made up of a man named Gustavo from Spain, and a woman named Diane who loves to fly fish the mountains of Montana. I’d love to spend my time meeting people who I may never see again. I yearn to share lifelong memories with people who I may never see again.

Call it click-bait. Call it false advertising. This article is what it is. I travel to fish. I travel to hunt. More than anything, I travel to meet my family. Family isn’t the people you leave behind at home. Family is others you meet in the world, with whom you share a love and a passion for similar things.

My Addictions

“I’ve never been motion sick in a tree, but today may be that day.” –Actual text message to Tim Kjellesvik.

A few days before this was written, my good buddy Tim wrote a great article and posted it on his website, The Thinking Woodsman. It was titled, “ An Open Letter To Casual Deer Hunters”. In the article, Tim poses some great questions. I won’t spoil it, you’ll have to go read for yourself. As I sat in the tree on that cold December afternoon, I came down with a case of the grumpys.

To set the scene, it was an overcast day, with the temps in the “50s”. However, the wind decided to howl and whip and the temperature felt a balmy 30 to my precisely calibrated ears. I was decked out in Nomad gear outer-wear, and plenty of base layers underneath. My tree moved constantly, and the wind came in what could only be described as a cyclone. There was no wind direction, there was just wind. In the midst of the weather, I began to think that mother nature, and by some extension, God, owed me a deer.

I was somehow entitled to a deer because I was sitting in this weather, archery tags unfilled. Thankfully, this was a fleeting thought, and it’s thanks to the article above. I may have had bad weather, but I was hunting. Better yet, I was hunting two hundred and fifty acres of prime deer habitat. Add to the list that I work on the property, and it becomes ridiculous to even begin to complain about my situation. I am blessed with a job that pays me money, and allows me to hunt on the land. I can walk from my office to a stand in less than 10 minutes, and I can do it every day of the season. Some people aren’t blessed with a stable income, and fewer are blessed to enjoy the outdoors where they work. Tim’s article isn’t about being grateful for the land you hunt. In that moment, it was a needed reminder that I hunt the bad days so that great days are great. It was a reminder that for me, hunting isn’t a choice. It’s an addiction, and a way of life that I can’t quit. There will be great days, and there will be days where you hate all 8 hours of your sit.

By the way, at the end of this self-reflection, my target buck walked out at 50 yards. A skinny rack, but a tall, beautiful ten. There wasn’t a shot, and in 50mph winds I probably wouldn’t have tried anyways. His presence put my butt in the stand at 6am the next morning.

The First Whitetail

“I did my waiting! Twelve years of it!” – Sirius Black

Few adults have a great deal of friends left from high school, unless you live in a smaller town. Even fewer adults have a friend left from kindergarten. I’m lucky enough to have Taylor. We’ve been hunting buddies and best friends since the ripe old age of six, and there are more stories than days left in our lives. From backyard squirrels, to out of state pheasant hunts, we have chased it all. Or, most of it. Taylor never went deer hunting. It all came to an end in 2016 when Taylor chose to spend his first deer camp with his new girlfriend instead of a guy he had known for sixteen years. I wasn’t mad, but I was and he’s stupid.

Rightfully so, they saw no deer. There has to be an unspoken rule that the man who betrays a lifelong hunting partner for a woman sees no deer. Probably biblical. Instead, I shared the stand with another great friend, who harvested his first deer less than an hour into opening morning. The messages and slander ensued, and I made Taylor promise that he would join us in the stand the following year. After months and months of constant texts and calls to make sure he was coming, I got the message that gave me the final nod of hope.

“I just bought my tag!”

I’m sure some of you can relate, when you spend $17 on anything, it’s basically a blood oath. Money doesn’t grow on trees.

For the next two weeks, I barely slept. I spent more time preparing for this hunt than any I had ever been on. I bought new binoculars, a new backpack, and still didn’t feel like I had enough. When the time finally came, I was hoping for a fairy tale. I pictured a deer walking out around 7:40am, through the same grove of trees that I had watched for years. I saw the shot, the buck jump, and the hero pictures after. It was all planned out. And then, hunting happened.

The three of us got to the stand around 5:40, and I climbed first. I had come in the day before and hung a climber above my two man permanent stand. I carried no gun, I was there to watch my friends harvest their first and second deer. Sunrise came quick, and I had never been so awake in the stand. My morning ritual had always been the same. It involved climbing into the stand, getting set up and safe, and then taking a nap until daylight. That day, I was wide awake. I watched the light give birth to shadows, and the grass was moved by a dark, familiar mass. It was a deer, and I was sure this meant good things were coming. The deer was a spike, and nothing much to write home about. I KNEW that my friends were going to kill a good deer. Instead, we saw nothing for the next two hours, and even then it was eight hundred yards away. I was shocked. My stand always produced. And when it mattered, I had nothing.

Our farm isn’t really known for the morning sits, so I had hope for the evening. The three amigos were in the stand quickly after breakfast, back in the tree by 11. In the time before we saw the first deer, we took two rotations of nap breaks. Around 3:30, we saw 4 deer run across the same field we saw the second deer of the day, too far to shoot. I decided to stretch my legs one more time before 4, and the action really picked up.

At the end of my stretch break, I turned around to see 3 does standing in the field behind our tree. I told the guys, and they were both eager to shoot. Ethan is a meat hunter, and Taylor was ready to fill his first tag. I told Taylor his shot was first, and that he got to make the call. He could take the doe, or wait and see if something with antlers walked out. He chose to wait it out, and he was rewarded quickly. In an adjacent field, the spike from the morning and a doe were walking towards us. Taylor wanted a deer with antlers, and nature had set the plan in motion. I had seen deer walk the same path time and time again. They would enter the front field at a 45 degree angle to us, and would cross into the short green grass between 100 and 125 yards. I told Taylor where, and to be ready. The spike covered the ground quickly, unaware that he was the quarry of a predator deadlier than any other. The Remington .308 thundered.

The hunt was complete. Nothing else mattered. My friend had his first deer. It wouldn’t go on a wall. It wouldn’t be toted around camp as the monster of the weekend. Yet, that deer meant more to me than the 12 point bruiser hanging on my wall. And it always will.IMG_1935

January Fly: Zebra MIdge

By the time this article exists in a form other than thought, it will be January. In my infinite wisdom and fore-planning, I decided to start with a fly that everybody has used at one point, but a majority choose to buy over build. A small Zebra Midge. I could have chosen smaller, but I chose to start with a size 18 Dai-Riki #135 scud hook, and a 5/64 bead. Midges are a staple in any box, especially in the cold months that plague us all. Most terrestrials are dead, trout aren’t super aggressive, and the forage naturally found in the water is microscopic. In order to stay busy hauling in fish, we must change our tactics.

For my very first midge, EVER, I decided to try it DIY style. I have a very rudimentary knowledge base of fly tying. I was gifted a fly tying kit when I was about 10. It contained all of the necessary parts to build a few wooly buggers, a couple of dry flies, and that’s about it. Most tied on hooks too big for the fly that they were, but it was fun. It kept me entertained for a while.  I figured I could make something adequate on my first attempt, so I hopped right in.

First, I had to pick a color.  The definition of “Zebra”. Black UNI thread and a silver bead/wire combo. My first obstacle was getting the tiny bead onto the hook. I could only imagine how hard the rest of the process would be if the bead presented such a big issue. After a minute or two of struggles, I had the bead on and the hook on the vise. I was taught early on to always wrap a thin layer onto the shank of the hook to start, so that’s where I began. Easy enough. Next, to decide where to place and wrap the wire. I decided to start from back and work forwards, figuring that at the end of the process I would have to build a thorax/body about the size of the head, and it seemed like a good place to end. I wrapped the wire in with three twists of the bobbin, and then trimmed the tag end on the bead side. There was a bit of wire exposed, but it would probably be covered up later I assumed. Before wrapping the wire, I moved the thread up the shank to the head of the fly, preparing for the eventuality that I would have to finish the head by securing the wire at the head. Once that was done, I began to wrap the wire up the shank. I wasn’t sure how far apart to space the wire, and to be honest I’m not convinced that it matters too terribly much. The wire reached the head, and I wound the black thread around the wire as tight as I could. In all honesty, my main problem in tying has always been finishing the head and keeping the material secure. After I was sure it was tight and not moving, I trimmed the excess, and moved to my least favorite part of the tying process. The whip finish has always eluded me, especially with a finishing tool. I’ve watched countless videos, attempting and watching simultaneously. I still have issues. However, I have a vast knowledge of ropes and knots, and so I tend to rely more on that than a “proper” finish. I used my fingers and made a couple quick turns of the thread, and pulled the thread tight. Pulling the thread too hard, and it snapped. I checked the knot quick and saw that it held well enough. I finished the midge with a couple drops of Dave’s Flexament on the head and body to seal everything in place. Challenge complete.

Overall, I’m very satisfied with my first product. Some might even say ecstatic. I had low expectations on how well I would tie this fly. Midges are terribly small, I’m not the most delicate or patient person, and I tend to tie too heavy. I’ve noticed that my flies have a lot of material, and one of the key ingredients to a good midge is using less material. I didn’t stop at one though. I made more.

Midge number two was a red beauty with a tungsten brass colored head and wire. For this fly, I decided to find an online video to watch and follow for fun. I chose to go with a good ol’ fashioned Orvis video you can find below. The video was simple, detailed and exactly what I needed. There were a couple of noticeable differences between my method and the experts over at Orvis.

First, the instructor used a nifty popsicle stick with a magnet to hold the bead. What a million dollar idea! Second, the wrap was a bit different. While I started with wrapping the whole shank very thin, he wraps the first quarter of the shank a bit heavier, and leaves the bend bare until the wire is attached. Third, he begins his wire from underneath the bead and wraps towards the bend, where as I started from the back. His method secures the wire along the shank of the body, securing the wire to the underside deep into the bend of the hook. I liked this method, it provides stability for the wire, and created a very flat body profile. The fourth difference was very subtle, and I didn’t prefer either way over the other, but his method of removing the excess wire was to “helicopter” the wire in a circular motion until it broke off clean. Fifth and finally, his finishing knot was a whip finish, and he chose not to use head cement.

Overall, I see both methods as valid. If I was to go with a particular method as a reader, the Orvis method was great. It was well explained, has a video as the process happens, and created a great looking fly. When I used the Orvis method, I created a great fly body, the wraps look neat and the taper of the body is nice. The problem for me comes at the end with the whip finish, I’m terrible at it. By using a whip finish, I created a bit of a loose area of thread, and thus my head/thorax area is a bit sloppy. In the end, when all were created and done, I combined the best of both methods. I used my personal modified finish, head cement, but used the Orvis instructors method of building the body.

I enjoyed this tying very much. It’s a small fly, but it’s no small task. It was very simple, but requires a delicate touch. I’m sure in about 50 years when I’m finally starting to lose my vision, this task won’t be great, and I’ll resort to using a magnifying glass. Better yet, I’ll be retired blowing through money, and I might as well just buy flies. For now, I’ll gladly tie 100 Midges anytime the weather is cold, the water is angler-free, and the fish are eager to fight.

http://howtoflyfish.orvis.com/fly-tying-videos/nymph-flies/659-zebra-midgeIMG_1643