Lighter Side

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March 20th, 2000

My Scientific Study Shows That Fish Eat Bugs

by Ken Hackler, Crystal Lake, IL

Late winter is when I clean and organize my vest. While I'm doing that, I think about all the fish that got away, the ones that didn't get away, and the stuff that collects in my pockets during the year. (Where on earth did I get a bent commemorative spoon from Arkansas?)

My wife gave me this vest about 15 years ago, and it's starting to look a little rough around the edges. The large pouch on the back is permanently stained from holding countless fish (OK, only 23 fish), and several of the zippers have lost their zip. The D-ring that I clip my net on is badly rusted, and the wool patch on the front pocket is all but gone. I never use it anyway.

Now I keep flies in those little plastic film containers with the snap-on lids. They don't have hinges that break, they won't sink if I drop them in the river, and I have a limitless supply due to my other hobby of drinking beer with a professional photographer. For those who may be wondering, my flies don't get mixed up in the canisters because I only put one type in each.

Ater years of careful scientific study I've found that fish eat bugs (it's true), and most bugs come in two major groups - Dark (D) and Not Dark (ND). They may have some color on them, but nature isn't too consistent there. My 'D' and 'ND' flies come in three sizes: S, RS, and ATSTU. That stands for Really Small, and Almost Too Small To Use. Forget the number system used by technical purists. This way is easier to remember and a lot more practical.

My system works perfectly. I have six plastic film containers in my vest, one for each size of 'D' and 'ND' fly. I buy them by the handful from a shop that specializes in the ones I use (and lose) most often - the inexpensive ones. They may be black or brown, fuzzy or smooth, or just plain hairy looking, depending on what the fly shop has on sale. But the fish don't care. No matter where I am or what the local hatch is, trout always seem to prefer the flies I happen to have in my vest.

I guess the point is that fly fishing to me is not only simple, it's simply fun. My vest is a great example of simplicity. In it I have the flies that I've just talked about, a roll of floating and sinking line, some leader, tippets, and a little bottle of Dry Fly. Oh, and a pair of $5.99 sunglasses from Wal-Mart in case I break the ones I'm wearing. That's it. The large pouch on the back is where I normally carry my lunch, although I leave my sandwich in the truck after any fish have spent a few hours in the pouch. Even salami sandwiches smell better without the 'delicate hint of brook trout.'

I toss it in the washing machine for its annual bath while I have everything out of the vest. Even though it smells better after that, it always looks a little more ragged than it did before. I'll keep it though, getting the seams repaired and the holes patched as needed. My goal is to give that old vest to one of my grandsons in about 30 years, along with the 1940's bamboo fly rod (and original reel) that my father-in-law gave me before he died. I will also pass down my prized collection of plastic film containers filled with Dark and Not Dark flies. I think that would make a wonderful family tradition.

Since I'm thinking about it, a common question heard on any lake or stream is: "What kind of fly are you using?" I'm usually saved from having to answer that because people only ask what you are using if they see you actually catch a fish. If someone did ask, they would probably expect an answer like: "I'm dead-drifting a weighted, #16 Fuzzy-Legged Flimjigget, tied with waxed 6/0 Flymaster crimson-colored thread, using hare's mask dubbing for the body and brown hen-hackle barbs for the tail."

I would say, "I'm using a really small dark one with a little bit of red in it," thus embarrassing myself in front of a more knowledgeable angler. Of course, I could say that I was using a Woolly Bugger, Woolly Bear, Woolly Worm, Adams Worm, Iron Blue Spider, Stonefly Nymph, Royal Coachman, Elk Hair Caddis, Black Ant, Bumble Bee, etc., but then they'd probably ask to borrow one.

I'd be oblige them, of course, by reaching into one of my plastic film canisters and giving them a really small dark fly with a little bit of red in it. Then I would tell them to pass it on to their grandkids. ~ Ken Hackler

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