A good idea is often the sum of a series of random events. My Demo fly is an example.
The need for the pattern began on the day when Doug Webb and I drove to where the Kitwanga River leaves Kitwancool Lake. We wanted a look at the mobile counting fence the Gitanyow Fishing Authority was operating there as part of the excellent work they have been doing with sockeye on their lands.
We were enthralled by the passage of the juvenile sockeye migrants. We had no idea the undulant little fish were so large. Seeing them wriggle downstream into traps made it abundantly clear why smolts cause such a stir among char and trout. A few of those large char were sulking in the capture boxes that day.
We get them a lot bigger than that, You should see some of them, one of the fisheries workers told us. The spectacle we saw that day reminded me of the time I’d examined the contents of Sky Richard’s fly box on the Spring day on the upper Lakelse River. He’d opened it to generously give me a nymph. I pointed at row of monstrous silver minnows lurking amid the jumble of fur and feathers and asked what he used them for. Sky told me that they were designed to emulate the sockeye smolts in Kitwancool Lake. Sky had built his silvery smolts so they would float in the film, which was probably a good idea, but they seemed too large. After our morning at the fence, I realized that Sky’s minnows weren’t too long but I felt they were too stiff.
The dog was shedding her winter underfur. I combed her with a wire brush, as I do every spring day, it seems. The product of this combing are bags of soft brownish dun fur which I tossed out with the trash. I’ve too much fly tying material as it is, but even though I couldn’t conceive of a use for this nondescript underfur, I put a freezer bag full of it in with my collection of natural fur dubbing.
A few weeks after this someone brought a small hawk they’d struck while driving to the Kermodei Veterinary Clinic. The bird was still alive but there was nothing Dr. Farkvam could do. Knowing that I dressed flies, he brought the cadaver to me. The unfortunate bird has some long, soft breast feathers that looked appealing so I plucked them and stuck them in a plastic bag and shoved them in a drawer containing all manner of exotic plumage that kind people had given me over the years and had, for the most part, lain there unused.
Around the same time, Fred Seiler showed up at my shop and enquired about the spool of spider line lying on my fly tying bench. I told him I had never been satisfied with the long streamer hooks because their long shanks made it easier for fish to free themselves. To avoid that problem, I told Fred, I’d been attaching short shanked, off set salmon hooks of the kind bait fishers use, to long shanked salmon hooks, shearing off the larger gaped hooks of the latter, thus creating longer flies with better hooking properties. To demonstrate, I sat down to the vise, stuck a large, turned up eyed salmon hook in the jaws, threaded a length of stiff spider line through the eye of a small bait hook, and lashed the smaller hook to the larger just above the bend. To cover the smaller hook (and not wanting to waste useful feathers on a demo fly) I reached into the exotic feather drawer and pulled out the bag of hawk breast feathers, selected the longest softest feather and tied it in as a tail. Employing the same logic, I took out the bag of dog fur and dubbed half way up the shank, where I wound on another hawk feather and few strands of pearlescent tinsel as a passing flourish. I enclosed the whole contraption in a pair of shaggy barred rock feathers from the most scraggly cape I had in the hackle drawer, added a tuft of red schlappen at the throat as a feeble imitation of gills, then snipped off the large hook before handing the fly to Fred.
Months later, Fred and I were fishing together when he started catching at least 3 fish – char, trout, and steelhead – to every one I hooked, and he was fishing behind me.
What are using? I called back to him.
He reeled in then waded down to me, unclipped the fly from his keeper and held it out. It was the demo fly. At the next opportunity, I tied more and was rewarded with some fine fishing. A year later, I was sitting on the banks of the Gitnadoix, after freeing three large dollies and a pair of steelhead, that I looked at my demo fly quivering in the current. The reason for its success became evident. It looked and moved like those sockeye smolts Webb and I had seen at the Gitanyow fence.