Thursday, April 13, 2017

Stupid flies

I spent at least an hour on that dang thing. Two virginal casts, and it was gone. Another sacrifice to the gods of rip rap and underwater snags. Somewhere down in that dirty green hued abyss lay a beautiful fly. I had poured love, attention, and detail into that thing. Maybe I should start carrying a wet-suit and goggles, I thought to myself. Should I throw caution and comfort to the wind and make an exploratory dive to salvage that little work of art? The thought was a tempting prospect at the moment. It is painful to lose something created with such care and attention to detail, and only after the second cast. In a grumpy funk I tied on another pattern. This time it was one I could fish and lose without the same agony I had just experienced. Two times in a trip would be more than I could take. I made the switch, cut my loss, and slowly drifted into a focused state. Without the risk of lost artwork, I could dedicate my attention to the reason I was there; to fish.

I try not to think about how often this scenario has been revisited. It's a natural following for someone who loves to create and experiment with fly patterns. The flies that are most pleasing to the eye are often the hardest ones to lose.

Anglers are left with two options: 1- they can fish beautiful flies, enjoying the confidence they induce, but all the while stressing over the potential snag and loss, or 2- they can fish a basic bread-and-butter fly that took a fraction of the time to tie, is far less painful to lose, is cheaper to make/buy, and induces a different type of confidence born of consistent success. Each scenario has unique consequences.

What is a stupid fly?

Beautiful and complex flies can create a confidence that is remarkably valuable, but also often results in a distracted angler, who gingerly fishes the fly in a superficial manner, and only hits the sweet spot zones here and there. This confidence is a result of seeing something that resembles the real thing to the angler. It may not move or really look like the real thing at all to a fish, but out of the water it may resemble, at least with the help of our imaginations, what we're trying to mimic. For one of these more artistic, many-materialed patterns, fishing it slower, deeper, or tighter to cover is to risk losing that little labor of love.

Bread-and-butter, or what I like to call "stupid flies," can be fished with a reckless abandon. Sometimes they are ugly. Sometimes they don't actually have an apparent relevance to a living thing. These patterns are stupid because they are often extremely simple to tie, and are made of relatively inexpensive materials. They let the angler probe the deepest depths, toughest cover, and snaggiest riffles to get to those sweet spot zones rarely reached by the cautious fly guys. This is one reason the tried and true woolly bugger is so amazing. Simple, cheap, and easy to tie, and probably one of the most effective patterns out there. Usually boring, always effective.

Confidence is a crucial element of success in the world of fly fishing. We work a run differently when we have some degree of faith in the catching. A fly that has so much attention to detail that it truly resembles what it is trying to mimic, or at least gives us that impression, is phenomenal for inducing confidence, but the pain of losing one of these flies is considerable. If the resulting success is substantial, we usually endure the pain. Whether bought or tied, this can be hard on the pocket book.

To summarize, one confidence comes from an impressive looking fly, but another type of confidence comes from fishing a fly that just plain works, even in it's simplicity, and can be lost without much remorse. With this kind of confidence an angler fishes the deeper, slower, faster, and snaggier runs, and covers those sweet spot zones better and longer. Anglers who tend to fish the stupid flies are generally more effective. They fish without fear of loss, which is to say, they are far less distracted.

Stupid flies are for anglers who like catching. Fancy flies are for those who like to tie, or admire what has been tied on top of the attempted catching. So, if you like catching fish, I highly recommend identifying your stupid flies. If you're nymphing, these could include Pat's Rubber Legs, Glo-bugs, San Juan worms, or mohair leeches. If you are throwing dries, these could be Parachute Adams, Chubby Chernobyls, or Rusty Spinners.  If you are throwing streamers, these could be Wooly Buggers, Circus Peanuts, Peanut Envys, or any other glorified, articulated woolly bugger-like streamer. For myself, I always have woolly buggers/leeches, Skullcrackers, and Skullchasers, in my box. These are all flies that are relatively easy and fast to tie, and don't break the bank. I can fish them with confidence, and without fear of losing a fly or two in the process.

It isn't stupid to like the nicer flies, to enjoy purchasing or tying them. Sometimes that is just one way to find more enjoyment in the sport. It really all depends on your goals, and what stage of angling you are in. In fly fishing, we all have different things we consider stupid. For some it could be a view that someone else's methods are unorthodox, or not really fly fishing. For another, fishing is stupid when there is no catching going on, or the catching is not easy. For me, it's probably because on the end of my line you will usually find a stupid fly. They work, and that's why I love them. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the others, but you'll never find me without my stupid flies.

I am curious, what are some stupid flies you would add to my lists?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Neascus trematode: It's a Dam Shame

Who doesn't love catching a big beautiful trout. Their large and small spots make for unique artwork on the canvas of life. Unfortunately, these are not the only spots that can decorate a trout's side. During one of my busier semesters this past year I had been spending my scant fishing time on the Henry's Fork of the Snake River, and what I encountered had me somewhat concerned.

Diversion dams litter the landscape here in Idaho. It's how we water all those potatoes. It's not altogether a bad thing. It often presents excellent fishing opportunities, but the fact is, they are not natural, and often prevent nature from taking care of business. The situation it creates is similar to the plaque that builds up in a human artery. Poor circulation ruins health and prevents cleansing.

The main culprit fueling my concern is a parasite called Neascus trematode. And, while fishermen often like worms, these little guys are a pain in the side, or neck, or whatever other fleshy surface they can sink themselves into. The process can ugly up a trout in a hurry.

Neascus trematode is a type of flatworm, called a fluke. These parasites burrow into the flesh of a vertebrate (trout in this case), after which the host encapsulates the parasite in melanin, creating a little black cyst. The fluke lays dormant inside of the cyst, waiting for its host to be consumed by some type of fish-eating bird. Once the fish has been consumed by a bird, the parasite matures and lays eggs inside the bird's digestive tract. The eggs are then scattered in the birds droppings. Once in the water, the eggs hatch, and the babies look for a host to mature within. In this stage they only have a short while (roughly 24 hours) to find their next victim, which, in this ecosystem is a snail. Once in the snail, the parasite matures. Then they leave the snail, looking for a fish to burrow into, and the cycle begins all over again.

Now, I'm no official biologist (though I do aspire to teach biology), but the proliferation of the parasites seems to be dependent upon how many hosts are available, for any of the given stages. In many river systems snails are a normal part of the ecosystem, but the quantity is kept in check by a lack in standing, silty water. Here is where the dams become a problem, especially on beautiful freestone rivers like the Henry's Fork. When the parasite is present, and silt and still water allow for snails to reproduce in copious amounts, the result is a spurt in parasite population. This is exactly what I have observed on the lower Henry's Fork in places that have not previously been affected by the parasite. To see it down lower, where the water meanders through silty farm fields is to be expected, since the Teton river is rampant with the parasite, but up further, on some of the water that is classified as world-class fishing, it is a frustrating find. 

In 2008 the Fall River Electric Cooperative was given the green light to install a rubber bladder system on top of the already constructed Chester Diversion Dam. The bladders added height to the dam, to further divert water into their little power-plant by increasing the water depth. This created even more of a lake than there already had been. Now, I'm not sure that the bladders made things worse or not, or if the increase in parasite population has been a direct result of warmer temperatures, but I had not noticed any fish infections before their installation. I feel they have slowed the flows enough to cause greater silt collection (more breeding ground for snails), and warmer water. The combo is hard on the fish. Warm water, and parasites! This past summer the vegetation in the water was incredible, which is definitely a correlation to warmer water. Now, I'm not sure how big of a role the dam changes play in this little equation, but it seems to be the straw that broke the camels back. It has the potential to be a tragedy for those who love the big feisty beautiful trout of the lower Henry's Fork. 

Neascus trematode Teton River victim
Another Neascus trematode Teton River victim

I wouldn't be too concerned if I had only noticed it on one or two fish, but I noticed it on every brown brought to hand, and I have seen just how bad it can become. Also, by way of note, this is not likely to become a concern much higher in the system, as the water maintains a decent flow. It is just frustrating to see it taking such a hold in the lower stretches. 

For those concerned about human health: The black spots (cysts) that result from the infestation have not been found to be fatally harmful to the fish, or even to anyone consuming the fish, though it is recommended that those who choose to eat the fish will do so after thoroughly cooking the meat.

I wish I had some kind of solution for this problem, but when money is involved, I worry that much can be done. Is it a large enough cause to rally behind? Is it even a real issue, or maybe a spike in the natural ecology? Is fish and game aware? Do they even care, or do they have bigger fish to fry? (Pun extremely intended).

At this point, I feel the best thing we can do is to keep an eye on it. With this winters snow pack, it bodes well for the coming year bringing a good flush. Who knows, if we have multiple winters like this one, maybe it will succeed in cleaning the system up as well as providing plenty of cool water for the fish throughout the warmer months. Let's keep our fingers crossed.