Our Man In Canada
February 8th, 1999

Why is winter so damn long?
And just how many pike flies do I really need?

By Clive Schaupmeyer

Winter is okay. Words are written. Flies are tied.

Us northerners are irrational about winter. We say we love winter. Which we do, at least to some ex้tent, or else we would move. But why does winter have to be so long? And why can't I coordinate one good-weather day with a day I can get away from work so I could fly-fish at the Crowsnest River? I should have been out fishing veral times this winter. But I have not.

The last time I went fly-fishing was in early October before going to China. This is the longest stretch that I have not fly-fished for many years. During winter, we aim to get to the Crowsnest River or Oldman River at least once a month. It never quite works out that way, but we usually manage three or four trips between November and March. It's not much, but enough to keep us in form. It reminds us that we have more trout flies to tie before spring. And it's simply satisfying to wade rivers and catch a few trout on a warm winter day. I really do need to figure out why I am not getting out.

I have not been fly-fishing for about 117 days (but who's counting?) and it seems clear I must be having a mid-life crisis. But it shall come to pass. The first warm day (that I can also book off work), and I'm out of here. It's been so long, I may need casting lessons, eh?

To show you how desperate I am, two weeks ago I actually went ice fishing for the first time in three years. It was a hoot. The weather and fishing was cosmic: warm, sunny and the pike were hungry.

Okay . . . so it's not fly-fishing. Just so you don't think I have sold out, perhaps I should say we really did not go ice fishing. We went on a "pike fly field testing mission." No kidding. We dropped pike flies through the hole and watched the action down below. We were evaluating fly action and effectiveness. It was not the plan, but that's how it turned out. We were in an ice hut, the water was shallow and clear and we could see the pike cruise in and eat the flies--or not. It was pretty neat.

We learned (or confirmed) a couple of interesting things about pike flies and fly action. The fellow I was with is new to fly-fishing and tying. He tends to over-dress his flies as I did when I started tying. When tying pike flies it is easy to keep adding neat stuff to the hooks until they have grown into huge monstrosities. It seems like a great idea at the time. After all, we all know pike try to eat anything less than about half of their body size, so huge pike flies must work better than smaller flies. Right?

Well not exactly. Here's what we saw through the two holes in the ice hut. I was using a lightly dressed fly with heavy dumbbell eyes. The action in the water was 'crisp.' When I jigged the fly (just like when we strip retrieve when fly-fishing) it would shoot up a few inches and instantly drop back down. The fly used by the other fellow was a bit longer and had four times as much stuff lashed to the hook. When jigged, it would float up and down sluggishly because all of the material acted like a parachute in the water.

Three or four times a pike came over, looked at my friend's sluggish fly and then looked at my fast-action fly and instantly ate it. Their selectivity could have been the result of the slight difference in fly colors. But I really think it was the crisp action of the lightly dress flies that got their attention.

It was a fun trip and perhaps we really did learn something about dressing pike flies. Lighter is better. "Pike fly field test mission" sounds way better than just ice fishing, eh?

So far in the New Year I've tied 30 lightly dressed Great Pumpkins and green and yellow pike flies. I still have enough colorful materials to tie at least that many again. But really. . . just how many pike flies will I need this spring? Ten? Twenty? Certainly not sixty.

The long range is for a warm spell. Warm enough to get to a river and catch trout. There's a lot to be said about "anticipation." Canadians spend half of their lives anticipating. It's okay. Sort of. ~ Clive Schaupmeyer

Our Man In Canada Archives

Bio on Our Man In Canada

Clive Schaupmeyer is an outdoor writer and photographer. He is the author of The Essential Guide to Fly-Fishing, a 288-page book for novice and intermediate fly anglers. His photo of a boy fishing was judged the best outdoor picture of 1996 published by a member of the Outdoor Writers of Canada. He fly-fishes for trout in Alberta's foothill and mountain streams and for pike near his home in Brooks, Alberta. For information on where to find, or how to get a copy of Clive's book, Click here!

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