The Mardi Gras Bug and The Fish That Made My Day
By Ol' Red, Aurora, Colorado
I figured it's time to spill my guts. You know, relate one of those hugely
embarrassing moments in a burgeoning fly fisher's life that one would rather
live down than have advertised all over the place? Luckily, I'm the type
who realizes life is nothing but embarrassing moments, and if you can't
laugh at yourself, how are you ever going to build up enough wit to laugh at
It all started with fly fishing. I learned how, basically. And, as anyone
who has learned how knows, eventually, you end up watching someone tie a
fly. Or, a few dozen, as was my case. Bill tied flies for a whole week. Five
days he was hunched over his handmade fly-tying bench, perfecting ... well,
I dunno what he was perfecting. I just know he finally got it right, and I
needed his magnifying goggles to finally get a look at the thing. And then
he went to test his skill. On a Saturday. On a Saturday, I might add, when I
was sick and lazing around in my fuzzy slippers, and my daughter was
working. All day and most of the night! I was ... alone. After I had blasted
all my music, practiced my evil cackle nine or ten times, harassed the cats,
played on the computer, cleaned the toilet, watered the plants and done so
many channel checks that I could now spend less than .003 seconds per
channel to know that this was not something I wished to watch, I decided I
Then what to my wandering eyes should appear? Why, Bill's fly tying bench, of
Let's face it, it's fascinating to watch an insect being woven into
existence, whether it's by sitting on a rock and watching something cocoon
itself or watching some guy who forgets where the soap is kept in the shower
spinning and weaving one into being from bits and pieces of dead animals.
Bill made it look easy, but I realized it's for the same reason that I make
knitting a sweater look easy to the common observer. Practice, diligence,
and more practice. So, despite the dumb look I usually have on my face, I
knew it couldn't be easy. I backed away. Not because I was intimidated or
anything, I just looked at all that stuff and all those hooks and thought,
"He's gonna blow a vein somewhere if I use his good stuff!" I didn't have
any idea what the "good stuff" was, let alone where the "eh, who cares"
stuff was kept. Even in boredom I have some discretion. So, I went back to
watching videos. Or at least appearing to. My mind kept wandering to that
little thread thing zipping around a bunch of feathers and stuff on a hook,
finally becoming something brilliant and life-like, even if it couldn't be
seen without Hollywood studio-type lighting and the Hubbard Telescope
zooming in for enhancement.
"I can't do this," I told myself truthfully. I can, however, goof around and
have a little fun. I am too old for illusions. Fun, on the other hand, is
never an illusion. But, how to do it responsibly? I sat down at the bench
and pondered. Bill had a big tackle box beside it that he used for storage
of hooks, threads, this, that, the other. He's very anal when it comes to
organization. Even the hooks were in little envelopes, marked by size,
style, and some stuff I didn't understand. (The only people that could
relate to Bill's coding systems are the guys who worked to break Enigma
during WWII.) I opened the envelopes and looked at the hooks. I picked some
hooks that a) looked old and half-rusted, b) were what I considered a
"common" size and would be easily replaced, and c) would be likely not to
put him into cardiac arrest when I told him I had used them. That was the
But it was all the dead animal parts that confused me. Some were in sealed
envelopes. Some were scattered together in bags. Some were just shoved into
the accordion folder in which he kept all the above mentioned parts filed in
whatever order his mind seemed comfortable with. After looking at all this,
I wanted to call the Pentagon and ask anyone who would talk to me about this
filing system and was it by this time declassified and would they take the
time to explain it to me? Maybe it was best if I just waited for the NSA to
show up and take me into custody.
Then, it hit me! Literally, really. I was sitting on the chair all bent over
and squished, and I got up too fast. My head hit some thick plastic and
metal. I glared at the thing that just nailed me and ... well lo and behold!
Bill's trash basket! It's just a little thing that hangs from the side of
the bench and happily takes in everything he throws into it. Bits of
feather, snips of string, some hair-- mostly from animals, but some from
Bill as he does tend to yank his out by the roots when something isn't
working. Castaways, that's what this stuff was! Stuff no longer needed,
wanted or considered useful by a fly-tying expert. (He makes a hook, some
string and a duck's butt feathers look like a bug that, if I saw it, I'd
swat it, so he is an expert.) It was trash, and, as any good cop will tell
you, once it's thrown out, you can go through it. Relying heavily on this
legal standpoint, I proceeded to go through it all with glee. If it was
fuzzy, I saved it. If it still looked like a feather, I saved it. Let's face
it, I saved it all. Bill was organized and knew where everything was. I work
better with chaos than order, so I eventually put everything back and
decided a "close your eyes, yank something out and then figure where you're
going to put it" approach was best for me.
Bill had shown me a few tricks the night before. He does that when he sees
I'm interested with something he's doing, and he'll do it wholeheartedly.
Which is a pity, because after a while, my head starts to buzz and I worry
all this new information will wipe out my ability to knit and recall
patterns, so I go into ignore mode. But I did remember the part about how to
"roll" fuzzy stuff onto a string. And I thought I remembered how he used
that crooked little thingy to tie off the fly, but as it turned out, I
didn't really. I faked it pretty good though, but once he was home, Bill
informed me I was using the thingy in reverse. Would explain why it didn't
work except the one time, but I had my crocheting and macrame skills to rely
on, so I figured something out that wouldn't fall apart. The real fun was
tying thingies on in the first place!
By the time Bill got home that night, I had several bug-like things waiting
on the table. I took no pride in them. I was too busy laughing at myself and
the fun I'd had despite any lack of skill on my part and the bugs. They were
funny. Take my word for it. I used pheasant feather tips for wings.
Sometimes I used them for the bodies. I stuck long pieces of
I-don't-know-what under them to make them look like antenna sticking out
behind. I have no idea why, it just looked like they needed long things
hanging out the back. Bill got a good laugh too. He said as long as I had
fun and didn't mess up his filing system, it was all worth it. But then, the
critical eye came forward.
"They won't float," he announced.
"That one in the corner will," I informed him. "I used some cork from the
"Ah! So that's what the lump is. Okay. That one will probably float. On it's
"Okay. So it'll look like a dead bug. Trout eat dead bugs, right?"
"Uhhh . . . sure. What the hell is that?" he suddenly laughed, pointing at a
pretty big fly.
"That," I announced proudly, "is my pride n' joy! I call it the Mardi Gras
Bill looked it over, commenting on what I had used. He can spot this stuff.
I had no idea what he was talking about, I just told him if I had somehow
used that duck's butt feather stuff on it, I didn't want to know. I had
railed him long and hard about even having that stuff, and how I considered
it morally wrong to pluck an unsuspecting duck's butt while said victim was
head-down trying to eat in a lake. (To tell the truth, I don't have a lot of
morality problems. I just think it's sick.)
I had pretty much everything else in it, though! It was tied on a size . . .
well, I dunno what size it was. I wasn't really keeping track. All I was
worried about remembering was to squeeze down the barb so there wouldn't be
any lipless cripples in creeks because of my bad memory. It was a fairy
flight of fancy! Long wings, stuff hanging out the back in a three-pronged
fork balanced perfectly over the hook, colors galore, but only in "natural"
tones. (I forgot to use the tinfoil and that bright orange fuzz that had
attracted my eye earlier.) And when you set it on a flat surface, it
immediately dropped on it's side. It was as balanced as me PMS'ing during a
high wind and drawing back the last wind knot I was going to put up with.
Bill claimed he had never seen anything like it. He tried to be nice. He
didn't have to. I was laughing too hard to hear his placations anyway. Then
he got serious. I know this by the way he picked that fly up, squinted
at it long and hard, then turned his little direct light on and studied it
"You know, plenty of fish get fooled by something like this," he muttered.
"They don't know what it is, so they attack it."
"Oh good," I grinned. "If I can't finesse 'em, I'll intimidate 'em!"
"It won't float," he sighed.
"Do you know what you've made here?" he asked with a grin and real interest.
"A complete mess on a perfectly good hook?" I offered.
"No. Seriously! This is a wet fly."
"Lemme guess. That's a fly that won't float."
"It floats . . . just under the surface. This one will definitely do that," he promised.
"Oh this I gotta see," I rolled my eyes and tucked it away in my fly box.
"Bet I catch something with it."
"Weirder things have happened," he shrugged. "It's the final validation for
any fly tier. If a fish goes for it, it's a good bug."
I didn't get to use it until our inglorious trip to the Frying Pan River,
and by that time, Bill had discovered that there already existed a Mardi Gras
Fly. It even looked a little like mine, and would have looked even closer
had I remembered to tie on the orange fluff stuff and some tinsel and tin
foil. It had been a long day getting longer. It was our last day. I'd gone
through every fly he had tied for me. Except the ones he beggared off me
because fish were eating his. I had been openly harassed for two hours by a
big old trout sitting in the water about 4 feet away from the waterfall. He
would, on the occasion, come up long enough to flip his tail at every fly I
offered. Once he didn't even break surface, he just blew a bubble at me in a
very arrogant manner. I had lost my 7X roll of line somewhere and was back
to 6X, and, as I had been repeatedly advised, "No trout on the Pan is going
to go near 5 or 6X!" So spake Bill, and he was right. I opened my fly box
and scanned and re-scanned what I had left. I sighed, ready to call it quits.
The last thing I needed that fiasco day was a fish with attitude blowing
bubbles at me. And then I saw it. My Mardi Gras fly! It was stuck to my
lighter. It was a sign from the Mighty Trout God. Or, a complete accident of
chaos to remind me I had promised to use that fly at the Pan. I loaded her
up on the 6X. I tossed her out. She sunk. Just under the water. I saw that
big arrogant bastard rise and eyeball it. I could see him just under the
water, watching it go by. I pulled it before the waterfall caught it. He
disappeared. I threw it again about 4 feet upriver from his last known
position and it drifted just under the surface as easy as you please.
I've never seen anything like it, and of course, Bill had his back to me and
was upriver at the time. But this is mine to keep forever, and I don't care
who believes me. The fish and I know it's true. That fly floated even with
me and was about to go past when 18 inches of rainbow leaped from the water,
his tail clearing the surface. I saw my fly shoot out of the water and I
heard a sharp, short snap that had that hollow echo to it. My leader came
out of the water minus one irreverent fly. I looked at that line closely. It
had been bitten clean away. No hemming, no hawing. He saw the fly, shot out
of the water to get it, and wanted it so bad he had snapped that 5X without
caring that I had insulted him with that heavy a line in the first place.
There is a place where everything grows silent, where one moment gets saved
in its simple entirety and you just know that it's going with you, even into
death. Let me tell you, this one's mine.
~ Ol' Red
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