All Tied Up

This winter is getting a bit long. I’m getting a bit of cabin fever.  As my daughter put it this week: “I’m tired of not fishing.”

Me too!

I have not started fishing in earnest yet this year.  I usually buy my license the first week in January, and I’ve caught fish on dry flies in MA in 11 of the 12 months of one calendar year.  But, right now, I’m feeling like an imposter.

I have been writing and posting on this blog as if I am a fly angler.  Y’know, a real fly angler.  One that eats, breathes, sleeps and thinks about fly fishing all the time.  One that ties their own flies, catches lots of fish, and so on.

I now confess that this is not the truth.  I didn’t even realize this was the case anymore, but it appears to be so.  I thought I was…and I used to be…and I will be again.  But, not right now.  (It turns out that I do still meet the requirement of thinking about fly fishing all the time.)

You see, apparently at some point in the last two or so years, I morphed from a fly angler into a “Fly Fishing Dad”.  Being a Fly Fishing Dad to my six year-old daughter and eight year-old son bears some outward resemblance to being a fly fishing guide.  My sports don’t tip, but in many ways, the pay is better.

Mostly this means I am a knot untangler, casting coach, safety captain, and snack Sherpa while I carry my rod, their rods, and their gear and help them catch fish.  Once in a while, they get distracted by frogs, butterflies, or tadpoles long enough for me to slyly start casting one of their nicely rigged rods and try to beat the clock by nabbing a fish or two.  This behavior quickly catches their attention, and they wander back to catch what I’m catching.

Pumped over a dry fly rainbow!

Honestly, though, at this point, I often get more enjoyment out of “fishing” with my kids than fishing on my own.  Now, when I wet a line after work or take advantage of some free time to hit a stream, it can sometimes feel like there is something missing: fun!

Kids, as it turns out, are better than adults at a lot of things.  They celebrate a lot more easily, they let their guard down more easily, and they get downright delighted at what would seem to be a trivial thing to an adult.

Frankly, I’m often a bit jealous.  I am hoping I can incorporate more fun into my usual habit of solo, comparatively contemplative style of fly fishing.

As Ray so appropriately quoted Louis L’Amour in a recent post: “Few of us ever live in the present.”  Where adults struggle to do so, even for a few moments, kids might ask, “I’m hungry, did we eat lunch yet?” at 5PM.  Or, seemingly to prove they are not burdened: “What day is it?”

I have noticed that children genuinely appreciate things that adults have experienced so many times they neglect to even notice them.  Last summer, my son and I missed an evening rise on the Deerfield River because we discovered that toads come out after dark in June; they hop around to find a mate under the cover of darkness and lay their eggs in the river.  Suddenly, there were toads everywhere you looked, but only if you stopped to look for their mottled brown bodies in the fading light.

Hitting a “Toad Hatch”

I’ve never seen so many toads, or toads that large before, and that night, we discovered where all the small black tadpoles come from that live in the Cold River.

The next morning we found many long, clear chains of neatly corkscrew spirals, each containing thousands of small black eggs that collectively made the river margin look like it had been sprinkled generously with pepper.  I remember that a lot better than catching one more rising trout.

Things like this only happen if you can manage to hold your “adultness” in check long enough to follow the lead of a child to find some new perspective and a hint of wonderment.

Two amorous toads unashamed of the daylight, making more toads

Even though we haven’t been fishing lately, we’ve been into tying flies.  Tying with kids is…interesting.  We end up with a lot of hooks laying around with a thread base and a single hackle feather tied to it, and some true abominations to the name of fly tying.

There’s also some uninfluenced originality and some unique and colorful things that I think will catch fish.

Left on their own, they have discovered that a pipe cleaner wrapped over a marabou tail makes a thick, weighted, fuzzy body for a Woolly Bugger. (Google claims that this has been done at least once before, as Youtube delivers us  “The best damn woolly bug”- tied by, ahem,  Uncle Ken, who tells us that his version is a small fish that has eaten a nymph that therefore makes big fish angry for eating “his” nymphs…. So, I’ll let you be the judge!).

Arts and crafts time with Dad

Tying together has become a regular enough activity that I picked up a cheap old rolltop desk on Craigslist that allows us to contain our mess and tie together.

So far, our best flies are simple patterns like small beadhead nymphs, Woolly Buggers, and simple marabou flash streamers tied with sparkly threads that look good enough that I am excited to see them in the water soon.

That’ll catch fish!

Anyway, here are a few things you might learn or hear when tying with kids:

“I gave this fly a big butt.  I like big butts.”

“It’s all fun and games until somebody loses a third eye.”

“I think that fly needs some persudo.” (I respond with a blank, confused look) “You know, persudo hair.”  (I still have nothing) “You know, that giant type of rabbit with striped fur?”  (Wait, what? This explanation makes me even more confused).  My son then proudly produced for his ignorant Dad a large package of synthetic barred pseudo hair with the Hareline logo of a running rabbit on it…. “Oh, thaattt!”

So, if you need a little excitement in your fly fishing as a change of pace? Don’t step into a Slim Jim (unless you are craving some mechanically separated chicken).  Try tying or fly fishing with kids and seeing what happens…

Some new flies to try out this year
My son’s favorite from his vise (Note: I do the head cement!)
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4 thoughts on “All Tied Up

  1. This is great, thanks for sharing. Enough fish having been fooled, enough time spent alone on the water, you’ve put it all into a greater perspective.

    1. Great post. I started tying with my 8 year old grandson a few weeks ago. My granddaughter wants to make some bugs with grampy too. Kids see so many things that we take for granted in our haste to get to the fish.

  2. Really enjoyed the post. I too served as the guide when my kids were younger. Some of my best memories from their young childhoods are from those moments. To this day, I try to do an annual trip to Pittsburg, NH, with as many as them that will go. They’re all invited, but, usually, only one can make it.

  3. Thanks for the nice comments guys. I like how you put it Damon. Dan, glad to hear you are tying with your Grandson- have fun. Jo, I am thankful for the time I get now while they are young, as I know it doesn’t last forever! I have to take advantage now while they still think I am somewhat smart 😉

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