I own about 450 flies spread out over a dozen boxes or so. Dries, nymphs, streamers; crazy stuff I bought internationally—probably not going to use that 4” dragonfly from Argentina on a Catskills’ creek—but all have a reason and purpose.
Here’s the thing about my flies … I didn’t tie a single one.
“My hobby doesn’t need a hobby,” is my pat answer whenever someone asks if I tie. I usually get a quick laugh, but there’s a much deeper reason. I like fly shops. Especially older ones and the bullshit camaraderie and hard-to-find discontinued gear that comes along with them. I would never have found my go-to wading boot, the Weinbrenner Ultimate Wading Boot, covered in dust at the back of a shop in Roscoe, NY if I hadn’t stopped in to pick up some emergers.
More importantly, I tend to DIY when I travel to fish and therefore throw myself into the hands of (or at the mercy of) the local fly shop for the inside skinny on nearby water. Buying a dozen flies tied by people who fish the river every day seems like a pretty fair trade.
But occasionally there are flies that don’t come from a shop and just magically appear.
I was in Dunsmuir, CA, for the first time to fish the Upper Sacramento when I wandered into the Ted Faye Fly Shop and met its owner, Bob Grace. He nodded at me as I went over to check out the fly bins. I must have looked like I had no idea what I was doing, so he called out, “Try some ‘Little Black Shit.’ Alternatively, ‘Little Brown Shit’ will work as well.”
We got into a conversation about the relative merits of black versus brown and I left with a box of flies, a cool pair of sunglasses and a decent river map. The flies worked and I caught a few fish, but they were mostly accidents and I didn’t feel I was doing as well as I could. This was back in the day when I cared more about that kind of thing.
The Upper Sac is a high-sticking weighted-nymph river and none of that is my strong suit, so that night I went to a café in town for a legitimate catch of a burger and beer. The fellow at the next table was having dessert with his wife when I noticed the flies in his cap. I waited for an appropriate moment and asked if he fished. His wife gave me a pained smile then sat back knowing that she just lost her man for 20 minutes. Sorry, sister, but we all have our burdens to bear.
I pulled out my river map and he went over each named pool and run, pointing out his favourites and how to fish them. We got on the topic of flies and he agreed with Bob then added, “But you need the right Little Black Shit.”
My food arrived so I thanked them and turned to dinner. Long after they left, the waitress dropped off my bill with a small cup of 20 or so flies. The guy had gone to his car and kindly put together a selection for me. He had written “LBS” on the lid.
In my tent that night, I compared his flies to the shop flies. As I really couldn’t see any discernible difference and would probably need every fly I had if I was going to dredge the river bottom, I mixed them in the hope that right and a different kind of right would combine to form a super right.
In the morning, I fished along the tracks to Mossbrae Falls and the river exploded for me. I highsticked the pockets, dry droppered the runs, even bobbered the deeper pools and pulled fish from every spot that looked promising and a few that didn’t. The right day? Sure. The right flies? You bet.
There are too many factors that go into catching a trout and sometimes you can’t analyze them and it’s better to simply have faith. I trusted the flies and they delivered.
A box of flies labelled “LBS” now sits on my shelf. They even work on a Catskill creek when the Brook trout aren’t hitting the dragonfly.