Take It To The Limit

Guest Blogger: Michael Vorhis, author of ARCHANGEL suspense thriller, OPEN DISTANCE adventure thriller & more to come

It occurred to me in that genius zone between sleep and wakefulness how ridiculous it is to forever seek a false balance in fly design–a balance sought through extreme measures. This quest for the perfect shade of dubbing, the perfect hue of feather, the most endangered creature’s newly sprouted whiskers–we have this silly notion that gentle nuance can be found somewhere in Nature if only we look for it with frenetic haste and a hammer. And so we poke our noses and rake our clumsy hamhocks through the very corners of the globe, deep in the gooey ooze of rainforest marshlands and under rocks that are buried under other rocks that are themselves beneath volcanoes or pinned between slabs of polar ice, hoping to find that which is…moderate, that which is…subtle, that which is…harmonious.

The zone of genius between wakefulness and sleep revealed this to me after I’d nailed my head on the end-table falling out of bed, but before my clumsy frontal lobes could step in and block the epiphany…so I was lucky. And I didn’t conclude that we should seek said balance through more reasonable means, noooo…I decided in my newly found wisdom that we didn’t go far enough. What’s so good about balance, anyway? What’s so superior about a graceful approach? I decided that from now on I’d pretend forbearance no more–I’d henceforth Take It To The Limit.

I started right in. I tied a Hare’s Ear Nymph. But I didn’t stop with a sniveling little pinch of greyish bunny-fluff; I tied a sho-nuff Hare’s Ear nymph. Figure 1 illustrates the triumphant result. It’s really fast to tie, although it needs a 1200-grain skagit line and a catapult to heave it, and presentation consists of a loud plop and a three-foot-high splash that scares 16-inchers right up onto the bank. But no matter; it’s an honest presentation, true to the physics of how a hare’s ear would really sound in nature, were one to fall off into the water. That’s the point, right? The realistic presentation.

Figure 1: A Hare’s Ear Nymph

My next step was to revisit the bin in which I keep fur and hair. I have lots of it–pine squirrel and otter, deer and moose and antelope, camel and baby cow and…zonker, whatever that is. Carabou, billy goat, yak. Aussie possum, monastery doggie, fox and wolf; platypus, I’m pretty sure, and skunk. This bin sounded like a recital of the Daffy Duck Rhapsody; it was time to stop messing with the comparatively benign habits of being a collector and just go all-out.

So my decision was that instead of collecting, I’d become a farmer. I’d raise my own! I would be a pro tier from the ground up. Judging by photos I’ve seen, many of the best tiers are balding…and it dawned on me: They’re using their own curly locks! And they’ve over-harvested! The truth was finally clear, and I knew I could do the same. We’re all a “farm” for hair of various textures and colors anyway. Some–the long swoosh I usually drape over my own shiny scalp and paste down with viscous tonic–can make nice streamers, while other–eyebrows, wispy knuckle hair, schnozola, you name it–would be great in dubbing loops. I can even dye my moustache any color I need just by drinking cool-aid carelessly. I began to put the new plan into practice, and let me tell you, there are advantages you’d never imagine. I’ll say it from personal experience–you can easily keep your buddies from raiding your fly box by stuffing it full of Butt Hair Caddis.

Then I turned to feathers. So many kinds, mottled, white, grizzly…and yet insects are by nature as translucent as evolution will allow. And who knows what bugs may exist that are so translucent our human eyes cannot even detect them? It hit me when I watched trout rising to something I couldn’t see: “They’re going after bugs that have no color at all!” It would prove a liberating revelation.

The epiphany was useful from a variety of perspectives. First, I could reduce my “colors to stock” list down to two: Translucent, and More Translucent. Then I could further just Take It To The Limit, and reduce to one: Clear. It was, after all, the logical next step in this reformation of mine. Also, my erstwhile sloppy tying techniques would now be invisible to other tyers.

Ultra-translucency proved to be applicable to dubbing too. I realized how easy it was to spin a perfect noodle out of clear dubbing–I could taper it so quickly and easily to the tying job at hand. What’s more, I never seemed to run out.

Figure 2: A Perfect Transparent Dubbing Noodle

Hackle sizes were no longer a problem either, nor did the sparseness vs. fullness debate rage anymore. Now, I wasn’t flying in the face of every bit of lore here…after all, I ain’t crazy. I continued to accept the tenet that dry fly hackle–even transparent–still rides the surface tension better than feathers from a hen neck. So I still needed two separate pelts. But that aside, for drys I could tie transparent Adams, transparent Light Cahills, even transparent hoppers, all with ease and all from the same neck. And as for subsurface patterns, there should be nothing more enticing to trout than perfectly clear soft hackle undulating in the current. It’s as appetizing as…well, fluoro itself. So stocking two hackle necks was all I’d need.

But…how to get clear materials? Dye, of course. For example, let’s say you own a fine, exhorbitantly-priced, premium rooster neck in a beautiful rare solid cream color…something you bought at an upper-crust auction that had been owned by old Izaak himself…or maybe a fabulous, extraordinary 19th century cree. Rather than dyeing it tan or dun, why not dye it clear? A dye similar to bottle-strength Clorox will certainly do the job. If steeped long enough, even the stems will let light through. Figure 3 shows some nice “Grizzly Dyed Clear” hackle, perfect for a delicate #18 Catskill-esque dry.

Figure 3: Near-Perfect Grizzly Dyed Clear Hackle

You can also mix translucent and opaque on the same fly, to good effect. Sometimes the addition of a single opaque element mixed in with the transparent materials can be effective as a “hot spot” or “trigger point.” Maybe it’s just a bit of tailing; maybe it’s a fuzzed-up collar. I show a photo of such a killer fly in Figure 4, with every material wholly transparent except for one–some synthetic flash–after all, advocating use of transparent synthetics would be ridiculous. The pattern is quite distinctive, and you’ll never find it in fly shops.

Figure 4: An Ingenious Hot-Spot Pattern

And see how my ties have become as good as those of the pros? That’s another advantage. I believe I’m on the forefront of tying evolution here. Cal What? Gary La Who? This is sure to be as big in the fly fishing world as…uh…power bait.

(Speaking of which, why tie up fake imitations of everything we know trout will eat *except* the infamous department store doughball? Correcting this oversight, I now tie wetflies made to imitate small blobs of free-range power bait, adrift in the current. I tie them out of power bait. They look real.)

Then I turned to my bin of flash. “Krystal Pearlescent Holographic Polar-Ice Shimmer”…gad, it’s enough to drive one to drink. So why not just Take It To The Limit–go pure fiber-optics? I bought one of those lamps, but sadly, blood-knotting hundreds of optical fibers together did not result in a leader that piped UV down to the hook. So now I just tie a light-emitting diode and micro-battery into every one. They shine, they blink, they pulse to the rhythm of Winchester Cathedral. I have high hopes…after all, everyone says a nymph pattern has to “get down.”

And finally, in my Taking It To The Limit quest, I sought to address the most exotic materials Nature has to offer…among them the infamous Lady Amherst pheasant tail. Beautiful, but…I mean, why search high and low for this egomaniac bird, this chicken in perpetual search of a fashion show? Made no sense. So I Took It To The Limit–I went after Lady Amherst herself. I was arrested for pinching.

Her hat, of course–her big, luscious, feathery hat. I tried to pinch it. There was enough material there to tie a hundred decent salmon flies…although, remembering my Hare’s Ear inspiration, my plan was to just tie the whole hat onto a hay-baling hook and get a…I guess big…skagit head, and toss ‘er on out there in search of the mother of all Chinook.

Figure 5: The Unquenchable Lady Amherst

Sadly, that last scheme has yet to be put into full motion. As I sit here rotting in a cell in London-Whitehall, trying in vain to explain all my finer logic to the Scotland Yard boys (I showed them my fly box too but they just said “blimey”), with Lady Amherst popping down each afternoon to scold my barbarian arse in a most unpleasantly prim and proper way, I am reminded of why we may have sought our balance through more genteel means all these years. As I await release into the hands of some nice white-coated men from our own consulate, delightful chaps all, I ponder that we may have rightly realized all these centuries that running afoul of decorum, that flirting with the perils of extremism, is not without its drawbacks. We may have wisely felt it prudent to take things…well, not quite to the limit.

But I notice her purse has a bunch of cool feathers on it too.

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