Outdoor Writers Association of America
Northwest Outdoor Writers Association
This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

November 24th, 1997

Getting Wet for an Education

Big Guy, grinning from ear to ear, showed up carrying something strange. It was either a bad practical joke - or the world's weirdest aquarium. The thing was about three inches wide, two feet high, maybe three feet long, and made of very heavy clear plastic.

I need to tell you here, Big Guy is Castwell's best friend and fly-fishing-fanatic. Hanging around Castwell is contagious, even without visions of wild trout and huge salmon. Behind the serious mad scientist (that's certifiable - he really is an inventor with patents on thin film technology) there is this childlike curiosity that has to know about everything. And it's catching.

Have you guessed what the thing is? It's a tank to test out flies ... yes, they really did it. Big Guy had tied up some really great-looking shrimp. So the tank was filled with five gallons of water, and leaders were tied to the new flies.

Wow! What an education. Oh, all right, I got into it too ... no, not the tank, the experiment. They let me drag a couple flies through the tank. This lets you see some things you just can't see any other way. Yes, of course I've drug a fly through the water while I was fishing. And checked out how it looked in the water. But that's different.

Why? For one thing you can look directly through the tank and see how the fly rides, from the front, side or top. I should probably say here we were testing wet flies, stuff we want to use for salmon. Imitation bait; sandlance, shrimp and other flies that look like the food salmon eat.

Big Guy's beautiful shrimp sank. Not exactly, but sure didn't look like a real shrimp. Neither did a terrific shrimp I was given by a well-known tier from California. This shrimp is so involved it takes a pro an hour to tie one. The end with the eyes (supposed to be on the hook end) went straight down for the bottom. No amount of strip, snap, jiggle, twitch or pull would make it ride realistically.

Time for a cup of coffee and some head-scratching. How could this be? We dug out more flies. Castwell's Chum Choker, (featured here recently as Castwell's Chum Fly) the one he caught the huge one on, literally swam. Perfect! We knew why that one worked.

I landed a small silver recently on a Pink Humpie fly. That went into the tank. Another winner. Now the guys are looking through everything. What else do you have? Even bare hooks were not safe. Leaders were tied on and into the tank they went!

An hour later we had learned even more. Some flies we had purchased flopped over sideways once in the tank. Some rode head down. Others rolled over not quite on their back ... the hook really shows up that way. Materials that looked great out of the water looked awful in the water. By the time we had gone through our fly wallets we discovered something else.

Here's an example. You go into a shop, to get a few flies to go after your favorite fish. Do you pick out the flies yourself? Do you look at each fly as you pick it up? Probably not. We're all in a hurry, even when we're planning our recreation. You can't catch fish with flies that don't work - unless you snag one.

Besides looking for the obvious, like thread coming off, unevenly tied flies that won't swim properly; look for something you might not have expected. A fly with the colors reversed. Visualize any bait fish. Fish generally have white or light colored bellies with darker sides and tops; the colors can vary.

What do you think the odds are on a fish taking a fly that is dark on the bottom and white on top? The point is we have examples of the proper tie, right alongside the bad ones. They were purchased together, from the same bin.

How can this be? Easy, fly fishing has become big business. Television, books and movies have brought many new people into the sport. New industries have developed. Lots of flies are imported, from places you wouldn't expect. How about Africa? Malaysia? And more. Yes, there are American tied flies. But even that is no guarantee.

Take a good hard look before you buy flies. And if you are a tier doing any wet flies, a "try" tank like Big Guy built might be a terrific investment. It sure is an amazing education. ~ The LadyFisher

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