This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

November 22nd, 2004

Of Flies and Memories

Writers need to read. Outdoor/fishing writers need to fish too, but the seasons and situations do not always allow us to fish whenever we wish. So like many of you I dig out a book and immerse myself in someone else's fishing.

Some times my recreational reading is limited to the 'tile library' (bathroom or loo) or in airports and such. But this week JC (my husband) had a surgical procedure to repair a hernia and hospitals being what they are, the scheduled time past without JC being in the operating room and some two and a half hours later they got him in. So I had most of a day to read. And I did.

The book I took to the hospital was Steve Raymond's Blue Upright. The book is about flies and fly patterns, but different in that the origin of the flies, how they evolved over time is also included. The best part however, is the connection with whomever created the fly or where Steve got the fly - and moreover how that particular fly evokes vivid memories of the places, anglers and fish for him.

Steve, in the book, also does a complete inventory of his fly boxes, which flies (and boxes) he prefers and why. Several of his comments brought up some old memories, flies especially I hadn't seen or heard of in years.

Like many fly fishers we have a collection of flies. Most of the ones not fished are in shadow box frames on the wall. Some quite old by Carl Richards, Dave Whitlock, Doug Swisher, Vince Marinaro, Ann Schweigert, Pat Barnes, Will Godfrey, Don Murrey, Art Winnie, Pat Russell, Neil Travis, Lefty Kreh and Zimmie Nolph. There are others intended for frames as well, but for now they are safely stowed in boxes with names on them. Some of those names I've mentioned may be unknown to you - friends who long passed to the great beyond. Others were local people who had their moment of fame in a fly they created.

There are some neat stories in just those few flies - including my first steelhead of note, which won an Honorable Mention in the Field and Stream annual trophy fly rod fish contest. I still have the framed award and the pin on one of my fishing hats - and while it was a very neat experience, the thing I remember most was the fly which allowed me to catch the fish.

The fly was Zimmy Nolph's Skunk. Zimmy tied it, gave it to me, and practically guaranteed it would catch a 'nice one' for me. The fly as it sits in it's case, is on a XLong streamer hook, has a black chenille body, rib of flat silver tinsel, tail of pheasant barbs and a white polar bear wing. Not a trace of red as in some of the other 'variations.'

We were fortunate to know Zimmy while he was still active. He lived on the Pere Marquette River and was instrumental in the 'Fly Only' restrictions which finally were put into effect on the P.M. He also lobbied other local landowners with river frontage to allow fly fishers to cross their property for river access. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (Fish and Game) erected nice wooden signs on those properties saying access was provided by the landowners. The whole thing was very nicely done.

Pere Marquette sign

Zimmy did guide at one time, and was a professional fly tyer who supplied several shops with flies for the P.M. He owned a sizeable chunk on the P.M., and he could sit in his living room and watch whomever he had allowed to fish his waters and their success (or lack of it.) He knew every piece of brush, hole and redd. I suspect he enjoyed watching some of us flailing away without a clue.

By the same token, no one was more pleased with my catch than Zimmy.

Zimmy was one of the founding members of the Pere Marquette Watershed Council - which has done an outstanding job of river restoration and preservation. The quality of the fishery on the PM is a direct result of Zimmy and others like him who had the vision and perseverance to see it through. Zimmy passed in I believe January of 1997, but his legacy, the Pere Marquette lives on.


As for the Skunk, it may have been created in Oregon on the North Umpqua, or by the late Wes Drain of Seattle - but in my mind the original 'Skunk' fly, came from Zimmy. ~ DLB

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