With a fairly steady stream of anglers plying the waters of Fish in a Barrel Pond I find flies everywhere. I pick them up and if they are intact I add them to my boxes. If not, I keep them anyway. Mangled and broken, tattered and frayed, shredded and unwound, dropped, stepped on and left behind, it sometimes seems that I accumulate as many un-fishable flies as good ones. I find them in boats, on the ground in the parking lot and stuck in the nap of rugs at the doors of the camps. No fly lasts forever.
Most people wouldn’t give these worthless bits of feather, hair and thread a second look but I just can’t throw them away or leave them behind, rusting away to nothing.
I, myself, have added quite a few dead flies to the collection. Some of them have been retired with honor, like a Coffin fly destroyed one mid-summer evening during the Hexagenia hatch or the Muddler Minnow shredded by that 16-inch brook trout last fall. Others fell apart after a few casts due to (my own) shoddy workmanship and I also have a few with broken hooks because I dinged them off rocks. Some never even got wet because I broke their hook pinching down the barb (Quill’s tip of the day: pinch the barb before tying the fly. If the hook breaks before you get it into the vise, at least you haven’t developed any emotional attachment to it.)
It recently dawned on me that, if I’m going to continue collecting mangled and broken flies, I need to find some place to put them other than my pockets or loose on the counter where the cats will get into them and, at a recent tag sale, I found the perfect place to store them.
Utilitarian and whimsical at the same time, this piece of pottery looked to be just the thing.
I asked the man in the lawn chair, “How much?”
“Well,” he said, “I’ve got to get at least fifty cents for that.”
This guy was obviously a shrewd operator, determined to drive a hard bargain, so I said, “Hmmm …”
“Fine piece of work right there,” he said as I examined the container more closely.
“You’re right. The quality shows, but look here. The cork lid is worn and rotted at the top and it seems to be stuck in place. Kind of reduces its usefulness, don’t you think? As something to look at, I don’t think it’s worth more than a quarter.”
“Someone else offered thirty cents not more than an hour ago. Turned ’em down flat. Forty.”
The man squirmed and pulled his T-shirt back down over his belly. As he scratched at his stubbly chin I knew I had him.
“Fine,” he said. “Thirty five cents but, mister, it pains me to let it go for that.”
I paid him and left, confident and happy. Not only had I talked him down from his original price, but I still had sixty five cents to get through the rest of the day. Not a bad morning at all, even if the cork lid of my new treasure was stuck in place.
As soon as I was home, I set to work on that cork. I tried shaking it loose but it wouldn’t budge. I did hear a dry rattling inside the container and the thought that I had also purchased its contents unbeknownst to the man in the lawn chair only made me more determined to remove that cork. Threading a sheetrock screw partway through was the ticket and out it came with a satisfying “pop”.
I’m still not sure exactly what I expected to find in a jar labeled “dead flies”.