Monday, January 25, 2010

Favorite Flies Volume 2: J.A.Z. (Just Another Zonker)

Zonkers are terrific streamers. They're relatively easy to tie, and they produce like few other streamers do. I'm sure that there are hundreds of variations in thousands of fly boxes. The pattern that follows is the one you would find in my box. It is hardly anything groundbreaking, but it is crazy effective. I tie this fly in several colors, but olive/white is my standard.

Hook: TMC 8089 Bass Hook Size #10
Eyes: Dumbell style with a yellow iris tied in 1/4 the length of the shank behind the hook eye
Thread: UNI 6/0 white
Tail: A tuft of orange rabbit pulled from a dyed hide
Wing: A short section of olive/white bar-dyed zonker strip, tied in directly above the tail
Body: White crosscut rabbit wound up the shank, ending behind the eyes
Head: Olive Senyo's Laser Dub tied in a dubbing loop and x-wrapped through the eyes

Don't be skeptical of a bass hook on a trout fly. I had been searching for a hook with a wide enough gape that the zonker strip wouldn't foul, while at the same time maintaining excellent hooking and holding properties. The TMC 8089 fits the bill perfectly. Also, don't make the mistake of thinking that a #10 makes for a small fly. This hook's gape in a #10 is about the equivalent of a #4 or #2 streamer hook.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

There was a time ...

There was a time when nothing - absolutely nothing - would stop me from getting to the river. I remember being an undergraduate student, and working the night shift at a local convenient store. My schedule was set. Classes from three or four in the afternoon until nine or so at night. Grab a quick bite somewhere, and then off to work for eleven. My relief came by seven a.m., and by eight I was on the river. Six or eight hours on the water, nearly everyday. The weekends meant fourteen hour fishing days, and evening spinner falls.

I remember once being so sleep deprived and out of sorts that I asked my buddy to pull the car to the shoulder, and I promptly vomited all over route 313. Three days worth of Green Mountain Home Blend coffee and gas station chimichangas formed a Jackson Pollackesque smear on the shoulder of the road. Afterward, I simply shrugged it off, and continued on to Arlington to fish the hendrickson hatch on the Battenkill. Caught some good fish too.

How many times have you swatted at your alarm clock as the buzzer rang, and the LCD flashed 3:00? I've done it on the first of every April since I was sixteen. Every April since I was sixteen I've been the first person to the river. Nearly every April since I was sixteen I've caught fish on opening day, but I just don't know that it's going to happen this year. I'm getting older. I'm getting tired. I have other stuff on my plate. Let's face it, even though I've plenty of natural insulation, I just don't deal as well with the cold as I once did.

Is it possible that fishing just isn't my first priority anymore? Yes, I suppose it's possible. After all, I am a husband and father. Three children have a way of making one reorganize the essential elements of one's life. My wife isn't exactly high maintenance - in fact, she's about as laid back a woman as any man could want - but she needs some attention too. Then there's my career. Contrary to popular belief, teaching takes a lot energy. Teaching well does, anyway. All that aside, however, I am in no way suggesting that fishing isn't essential.

I simply couldn't imagine my life without fly rods, waders, and bits of fur and feather wrapped around strands of wire. Few things bring me as much joy as a well tied fly, a well executed cast, or a solid fish pulled from a difficult holding lie. As I look through the kaleidescope of my history, most of the images I see involve running water and fleeting flashes of silver and gold. Increasingly, however, these moments - precious as they are - run in the background.

Now, images of family occupy most of my thoughts. As I sit here at this keyboard I find myself thinking that it will be a special day indeed, when memories of family and of fishing begin to meld into one. Until then, I'll try to be content with looking forward to the day when my boy and my girls ask to fish one of my bamboo rods or to teach them to tie a woolly-bugger. And while this might be the first year in two decades that I miss fishing on the first of April, you can be damn sure I'll probably be fishing on the second.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Snowbound Videographic Masochism

Here's an outstanding video from a group of German bug chuckers. Beautifully shot and professionally edited, it is well worth your time, and likely to leave you wishing for spring to arrive.

FLY-FOCUS Trailer from Marcus Sies on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


When I was a boy I was terrified of the ice. Dad would take me to the pond, hockey skates in hand, and try as I might I just couldn't make that first step off the firmament. The old man would throw rocks - veritable boulders in a child's eyes - onto the ice to prove its solidity. He'd jump up and down like a Zumba dancer at Carnivale, stomp like Gargamel rampaging across the rooftops of Smurf village, and still I wouldn't budge. My memory is a little fuzzy, but I think he may have given up after a single winter. That paralyzing fear persisted into adolescence and continues even today.

"Hi. I'm Mike, and I'm a pagophobic."

There's no need to say it. I know what you're thinking. Six feet three inches tall. Two hundred ninety pounds. Former infantry soldier.


It's O.K. No hard feelings. I agree. My fear is unfounded, some might say unreasonable. Unfounded and unreasonable as it is, however, it is still very real. Pagophobia is also probably why - regardless of my enthusiasm during the normal fishing season - winter fly fishing has never much appealed to me. Sure, I've made the occasional steelhead trip. I've walked the banks of the Battenkill on New Year's Day. Honestly though, winter fishing is cold, it's uncomfortable, and occasionally winter fishing can be very nearly deadly.

I'm reminded of one particular winter - twenty years ago I suppose it must have been - when Adam and I spent quite a bit of time fishing the Kill. The trophy section (something of a misnomer) was open year round, and as young men we had few responsibilities and little else to do but fish. I remember it was February, the brilliant glare of sun shone on ice hardened snow. I remember seeing dark shapes that were fish in the run immediately above the inlet of Camden Creek. I remember spotting more fish in the Spring Hole, and Adam stinging one there.

I also remember walking the bank just upstream of the Battenville Covered Bridge, and the knot in the pit of my stomach as that bank gave way beneath me. I remember the rush of February water over the top my Redball waders, and the pain of a cold so total and complete, I thought I might have been stabbed by an errant piece of rebar hidden beneath the inky surface. I remember my desperate, ragged breath. I remember clawing - very slowly, clawing - my way up a slick, frozen stream bank. I remember the weight of the water, and the weight of my fear. I remember my gratitude for the blast of a car heater on naked - frozen flesh, and cursing my stupidity for not having brought a change of clothes.

I remember all this, and still I find my mind is off on the Salmon River and the trophy section of the Battenkill. Who knows? Maybe sometime in the coming weeks I'll make the trip to Massachusetts, and fish where there is generally no designated season or prohibition against taking one's life in one's hands for the sake of a January trout. Maybe I'll forgo the long rod altogether, and accept Ben's invitation to fish Champlain through the ice. I just don't know.

What I do know is that I need a break, some alone time, a few hours on the water. Ultimately, I suppose it doesn't matter if that water is frozen or not.