September 23rd, 2002

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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Life Is Like My Fly Box
By Paul Dieter (pdieter)

I'm a middle aged married guy with an eight year old daughter and I'm obsessed with fly-fishing. This is not a problem because I'm under the assumption that life is supposed to be an endless string of chaos broken up with brief moments of clarity. I'm currently trying to identify the moments of clarity that flashed by my window during a 3,000-mile family vacation. Which, if I can digress already, strikes me as an oxymoron. Wouldn't a family vacation be one where you go alone? Anyway, alone I was not; in fact my fishing on this trip was pretty much a wonderful string of excursions to a remarkable variety of waters with equally remarkable people.

My last day on the water was with Al Campbell showing me around Rapid Creek. We took a break to try and regroup our brains and get into a few more fish then the sparse results up to that point. Sitting on the bank I opened my fly box in search of inspiration and Al exclaimed, "Hold on there, I've got to get a picture of that fly box!"

Paul and Fly Box

I can't really say what other people see when they look at my main trout box. I know I often see the spaces where I'm missing something I think I really need right then. But Al's attention made me take a slightly more objective look at my box and after he took his photos and I picked out a fly that worked no better or worse than the one I cut off my line; I continued to think about my fly box.

The first thing everyone notices is that it's a handmade wood box. It's more a functional creation than a work of art but the wood is scraps from a frame I made for a charity benefit so it has fond memories of it's own. Inside it is a record of my experiences as well as a reflection of my anticipations and hopes. Mostly it's filled with my own work but distributed throughout are contributions from others, both gifts and swaps. Some of the flies trigger memories of fulfilling events, others remind me of seasons or traditions while others sit there unknown and untried promising to be the perfect incantation to unravel a secret spell. Then there are the empty spaces, which carry far more weight than they suggest. These spaces are made up of true triumphs that just wore out with age, gifts that I was able to give to others who's boxes were lacking in my own strengths, or (that which I remember the least) tragedies of lost opportunities or bad decisions broken off and left behind.

It is not a young man's fly box, although my youth can be found in it. Hopper patterns that were my transition from live bait to flies, when I discovered how much easier it was to use a fly than run around my Idaho streams catching grasshoppers between fish. I was lucky enough to revisit the waters of my youth on this trip when I stopped for a few days at my parents and Fished the Middle Fork of the Boise with James Pio. I'd been watching James for a few years as he learned the wonders of his new home in Boise. I enjoyed pointing him away from the well-known and well-healed waters and towards the Idaho I knew as a child and also knew still existed up rough dirt roads. After several years of Internet correspondence we finally got the opportunity to head out and wade a river together. We fished along the road and then ended the day with a revisit to one of my first fly-fishing revelations. The water with the toughest hike from the road holds the best fish. A respectable rainbow and cutthroat were my rewards for a vertical climb and bushwhacking.

A few days later I was using the predawn light at Almont, Colorado to peer into my fly box looking for an answer to the Gunnison River. I had already tried a dry and dropper combination and had the same results as the night before when I had a spare hour to fish around the campsite, a few small fish. Well, I'd had enough of "proper" technique and the match the hatch approach; it was time to teach some browns about anger management. Although I keep a separate streamer wallet in my back pouch, I keep a selection of streamers in my main box as well. I fished the whole stretch, from the campground up to the town, ripping big bunny strip streamers through pockets, seams and pools, yanking out countless respectable fish which needed timeouts because they couldn't share their space with something as flashy as themselves. I met my wife and daughter in town for morning coffee as most folks were just getting up and heading out for the day, with my fishing needs completely satiated. The early bird then had the rest of the day to eat the worm.

Every now and then I even buy a few flies to add to my box. I usually do this when I'm in a fly shop away from home and have pumped the staff for some local insight. It's not much compensation for their assistance but it's a time-honored gesture. I gladly bought a few flies a couple days later at Flies and Lies in Deckers, I wanted to replace my clear 6wt line and buy a pair of Simms neoprene socks but they had neither. I didn't need the line and socks right then but I will be buying them soon and I wanted to spend the money there to do my part to offset the losses of the Hayman fire. The river was dark with ash but the shop owner told me the fish were there and feeding on any nymphs they could see. Indeed they were and I had a couple nice mornings nymphing the usual haunts. It was with mixed emotions that I waded into that mess of natural destruction but if I didn't fish it I wouldn't know how much it will be changed in two years when I return. Fishing is my connection to nature and I need to maintain that connection when either nature or myself are hitting rock bottom.

As I said earlier some of my flies sit unused for years, waiting for their potential. Such was the case with Joe, or as I knew him from the bulletin board, Riverats. Joe and I tried to meet on my previous visit to the cabin but communications failed (communications are primitive at the cabin, in fact they don't exist) and we missed the chance but promised to try again. This time I was better organized and was treated to a trip to the St. Vrain. Joe really had his heart set on directing me to a day of brookies, browns, bows and greenbacks, which was more pressure than this tourist is used to but I was more than willing to try. Well, first off a fine fly fishing tourist like myself would figure that if going up to Lyons to fish the St. Vrain one should bump into John Geriach. Sure enough like he was on salary with the tourist bureau John was in the Café when we stopped to pick up some sandwiches. Joe knew him and introduced us and John was cool enough not to get all clingy and fawn over me, telling me how much he enjoyed my work when we were introduced. He did however get worked up enough to divulge the name of an under utilized watershed where he went on the weekends, then wondered aloud how the hell that fell out of his mouth.

I must confess to having a few flies in my box that shouldn't have been allowed off the tying desk. I don't know why I sometimes fail to edit these decisions; it could be an assumption that anything is better than nothing or my faith that my fishing skills can overcome a raggedy fly. I welcomed my final fishing invitation in Colorado from someone who introduced me to the finer details of Cheesman canyon 3 years ago. David needed a relief from a hectic job and offered to introduce me to the Miracle Mile of the S. Platte below Spinney Reservoir. In David's usual style of hard nosed combat fishing we were to meet at the 285 park and ride at 4:30 AM so as to be some of the first on the water as well as back early enough to get some work done. Something at dinner went to work on me and by 3:30 I was puking back by the outhouse, but I was sure that I would be fine by sunrise. Instead at sunrise I was briskly walking across the desolate landscape of South Park praying that the outhouse in the distance wasn't a mirage. I spent the whole morning with several brief efforts at fishing followed by longer stints napping away nausea next to the stream. I managed not to chum the river and I even managed to annoy one respectable rainbow enough to impale himself on my hook. David's infinite sympathy led him to comment that it's a good thing I caught a fish or he wouldn't let me forget the skunking. There is no way I'm going to forget this outing, high altitude, desert fishing is no way to get over food poisoning. There are some ills even fishing can't soothe.

By the last stop on this vacation my fly box was showing some bald spots, it being the first trip I didn't bring my tying ensemble. However there were only two possible days for fishing in the Black Hills and I knew I could make do. The glitch turned out to be my wife's cousin deciding the best option was a local river filled with small mouth and carp. To date I had fished for neither and certainly not tied flies for either as well. But then again if you've got a woolly bugger than you're prepared for pretty much anything. It was a grand excursion, as new to me as any exotic locale could be. I hooked and lost a couple carp right away but was still impressed with how spooky they are. I have suspected for a while that I didn't have the eyesight for carp fishing and the suspicion was being confirmed as I missed or spooked fish after fish. The small mouth were not present in the numbers or size that my cousin-in-law was used to but the carp were entertaining enough for me as well as healthy numbers of the largest and brightest bluegill I've ever caught. Finally a mile upstream we spied a few good bass cruising the far side of the river. Never before have I seen a fish turn so hard and fast on a fly splatting on the water. One twitch of the flash-a-mudler someone sent me in a swap last year and it was fish-on. It was a fight worthy of the Smallie's reputation I keep hearing and I brought to hand a fish that reached from finger tips to the inside of my elbow. I stepped back and let Greg cast to and land the next one and we both had photos to share with the family back at the ranch. That same flashy, well-chewed mudler caught my first cruising carp, contradicting most of what I've read and heard on the subject. Later I had a good shot at another carp where I could let my bugger sit on the bottom. I was in a good position and laid down a good cast and just as the fish turned on my fly I saw very long whiskers. Oh what the hell it's all exotic; and I set the hook on my first catfish. It was big and mean and looked very tasty and finished off some sort of Dakota Grand Slam.

Al Campbell was to be my last fishing partner on the trip and I looked forward to it like the fly in my box purchased years before for that special hatch that I'd yet to hit. Al and I tried to fish a couple years before but the timing was wrong and we had to wait for our orbits to come around again. That's one of the beauties of a middle-aged fly box, it knows of seasons and patience and has some space set aside for reserved flies. Al showed me some new flies and a new way to fish them; sort of a cross between nymphing and streamer fishing how I would describe this wet fly fishing. Once again my companion and I caught our share of fish but the prize was in sharing local knowledge of a river with another fly fisher, and for me it was the joy of watching a fellow fly fisher come to life.

My fly box is well stocked and I can make anything it might need. Often however, I will take a new fly when offered from friend or stranger. Maybe I'll use it or maybe not, but I will always appreciate the nature of the giving and respect the camaraderie of the exchange. I'm old enough and wise enough to know that I've much to learn but not nearly wise enough to recognize every opportunity as it's happening. I'll sometimes open my box and peer at the contents knowing the answer to the puzzle is right there, a fly I've made and used before or one that someone gave me even though I couldn't see its usefulness, a pattern I use all the time or one that has languished for years. I sit there beside the water and search knowing the answer is there in my fly box, sure that I have seen all the evidence needed but in the end relying on faith to make the choice. That's what my box is, a lifelong collection of faith. ~ Paul


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