Episode 38: Fly Fishing Hacks

fly fishing guides

Fly fishing hacks – every fly fisher has them. The word hack has so many meanings today, but for our purposes, we’re defining the term loosely to mean shortcuts or quick solutions to regular problems that we fly fishers face. In this podcast, we offer a few of our better fly fishing hacks.

Listen to Episode 38: Fly Fishing Hacks Now

How about some of yours? We’d love to compile a long list of hacks that make our lives easier and, of course, help us catch more trout.

Post your hacks below!

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Why I Learned the Art of Fly Tying

The art of fly tying – I may not be the best one to champion the art of anything.

Two decades ago, I learned to tie flies, and the flies I have tied over the years are truly wonders.

Now I’m not bragging.

My flies are mediocre at best. But they are wonders considering that I was born artistically challenged. And I still am. At age 54, I draw at about a 5-year old level. When our family holds its occasionally-annual gingerbread house competition, the mansion I construct ends up looking a shack in a third-world country.

I repeat, I am artistically challenged. So it’s a wonder that I’ve actually caught trout on the flies I have hand-tied.

Why in the world did I set out to tie flies, knowing that I have zero artistic talent?

Here are five reasons I learned the art of fly tying. You can figure out which ones are silly and which are serious. Maybe this will inspire you to learn to tie flies too. Here we go, starting with number five (drum roll, please).

5. It would help me learn to say “tying flies” rather than “flying ties.”

If you’ve never made that mistake, then you won’t understand. But it’s so easy to get tongue-tied and talk about flying ties (think about that image) rather than tying flies. I figured that if I was around a veteran tie flyer, whoops, I mean fly tyer, I would learn to say it right all the time.

Alas, I was wrong. So this really is not a good reason to become a fly tyer.

4. It would put hoarded stuff to good use.

I’m not a hoarder, even though it runs in my family. But like most folks, I have a garage full of old extension cords, balls of yarn, and peacock plumage. Yes, peacock plumage!

One of my neighbors in rural Montana had peacocks, and my kids used to pick up some of the long feathers and bring them home. As any fly tyer knows, peacock herl is used in a lot of fly patterns. The yarn turned out to be decent dubbing, and the old extension cords have provided me with a lifetime supply of copper wire. The downside of this is that I’ve become a magnet for stuff people want to discard.

I could buy the top-of-the-line Sage rod if I had a five-spot for every time a friend said, “Here, I thought you might want this for fly tying material.”

3. It would allow me to use the feathers and hides I collected from hunting trips.

One of my dreams has been to catch a trout on an elk hair caddis that I tied using the hair from a bull elk I would shoot with a bow. Believe it or not, that actually happened. However, my counsel is: if you want to tie flies from the fur and feathers of game you harvest, just stop. Those materials are harder to work with than the commercial elk hides or feathers you can buy for a handsome feel.

Here’s a bonus tip. If you’re stubborn and decide to use the fur and feathers from game you harvest, don’t tell anyone your intentions. Otherwise, you’ll have friends giving you deer hides, turkey feathers, pheasant feathers, and all kinds of other raw materials.

2. It would eliminate the need to shell out two bucks (and more!) for a hook with a bead and some wire.

Now we’re getting serious. There are some fly patterns which are more than worth the two bucks I pay for them. But tying a bead head brassie only requires me to put a bead head on the front of the hook, followed by a couple turns of peacock herl, and then a few turns of copper wire. Even I can do that relatively quickly.

San Juan worms are the same. If you can tie on a piece of chenille, and then use a lighter to cauterize both of the ends, that’s all it takes.

1. It would make me a better fly fisher.

This is the most important reason of all. When I learned to tie flies, I got more than I bargained for. I learned a lot about the feeding habits of trout, when certain flies worked (and when they didn’t), and how much of a trout’s diet comes from beneath the surface (something I needed to hear as a lover of dry fly fishing). Learning to tie flies is worth it for no other reason than becoming a better fly fisher.

Like playing the saxophone, fly tying is easy to do poorly. But even a poor imitation can catch trout. That’s the key. My theory is that a lot of flies are tied to catch fly fishers, not fish.

I’ve never interviewed a trout, but I’ve caught a lot of them on some of the rather clumsy looking patterns I’ve tied. So don’t be afraid to give the art of fly tying a try. If I can do it, you can do it, too.

Still not convinced? Then try something else. Perhaps tie flying.

December’s Fly Fishing Miracle on the Bear Trap

It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas. From our picture window I could see a dozen or more houses decorated with Christmas lights. Our house was perched on a hill overlooking the north floor of Montana’s Gallatin Valley. The valley floor was dusted with an inch of snow.

Inside our house, the tree was decorated, and the sound of Karen Carpenter singing, “I’ll be home for Christmas,” filled our living room. Christmas was seven days away.

Shiver Me Timbers

But all I wanted to do was to go fly fishing.

It had been two months since the last time I had cast a fly on the water, and I was itching to spend some time on the river. Tomorrow was going to be in the high thirties, and I could take off work a couple hours early.

So away from the window I flew like a flash, tore open my duffel bag where my fly gear was stashed. I got everything ready for the next day. When I retired for the night and nestled all snug in my bed, visions of rainbow trout danced in my head.

The next afternoon, I left work early at two o’clock and arrived at the mouth of the Bear Trap Canyon an hour later. My plan was to park at the Warm Springs fishing access and walk up the Madison River about three-quarters of a mile to a run where some decent sized trout always seemed to lurk.

But the visions that danced in my head the night before had not included the gale force wind that I felt as I opened up my door. No wonder mine was the only vehicle in the parking lot. Every other fly fisher had the sense to stay home and tie flies. I was angry at the wind, but I was too stubborn to give in.

Fly Fishing Miracle

After I lost my zest for hiking three quarters of a mile, it occurred to me that I could fish the elbow of a bend in the river that jutted up against the parking lot.

I had never fished it before. That, too, was due to stubbornness. I refuse to fish water that is so accessible. But with the howling wind whipping around the falling snowflakes, I was in no mood to be true to my mantra: “Always walk at least a mile before you start fishing.” Besides no one in their right mind would have fished this elbow during the last few days of blustery weather.

I tied on a beadhead prince nymph and dropped a little copper behind it. For the next few minutes, I got into a consistent rhythm: cast, shiver, mend, shiver, retrieve, shiver, complain. Then, suddenly, I saw a happy sight for tear-stained eyes (from the cold wind).

My strike indicator disappeared.

For the next minute, I felt that old familiar feeling of a fish on the end of the line. It turned out to be a 14-inch rainbow, which looked surprisingly plump for the time of year. I wouldn’t call that catch a true Christmas miracle. But I would call it a small (and cold) fly fishing miracle on the Bear Trap a few days before Christmas.

After I released it the fish, my shivering increased.

It was bone-cold, the sun now below the mountain. I began the long walk back to my truck — all fifteen steps. When I returned home an hour later, I stood at our picture window and looked out over the Gallatin Valley. Beyond the houses dotted with Christmas lights, I could see faintly the gap in the distant hills where the Madison River emerged from the Bear Trap Canyon. It was almost dark, and I was thankful for the light and warmth of home.

But I was also thankful for those fifteen minutes on the river that lifted my spirits. Now I was ready for Christmas.