Posts Tagged With: Fly Fishing

A Book Suggestion: The Feather Thief

“I don’t think you want to write that story… Because we’re a tight-knit community, fly-tiers, and you do not want to piss us off.” — Roger Plourde, quoted in The Feather Thief

“…The Feather Thief proves that the most obscure, “candy-ass” activities can be made interesting for the general reader.” — The Times of London review of The Feather Thief

Kirk Wallace Johnson served with the U.S. Agency for International Development in Iraq, first in Baghdad and then in Fallujah, where he was the agency’s first coordinator for reconstruction. He has also worked extensively on behalf of Iraqi refugees and is the founder of the List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies. If anyone ever could benefit from fly fishing, it was him, and it was while fishing that he heard a story that made him want to know more. The Feather Thief is the result of his investigation, which took more than six years.

Risking the wrath of fly-tiers and their tiny scissors, Mr. Johnson has taken a deep dive into the “feather underground” which, in this true story, consists mostly of people who tie Victorian salmon flies using authentic materials called for in the original recipes. Unfortunately, many of the feathers in those recipes are rare and expensive, heavily regulated by international treaties and acts intended to protect the endangered birds who possessed those feathers in the first place.

The Tring Museum, a part of the British Museum of Natural History, was the repository for one of the world’s largest ornithological collections, including specimens collected in the 1800s by Alfred Russell Wallace, a contemporary of Charles Darwin. In June of 2009, Edwin Rist, an American flautist and champion fly-tier, broke into the museum and stole hundreds of bird skins, including many from the expeditions of Alfred Wallace. As if stealing material for flies that would never be fished wasn’t strange enough, Mr. Rist hoped to sell some of the feathers he’d stolen in order to raise money to buy a golden flute he’d had his eye on.

How those feathers found their way to the cabinets at Tring is just one component of the story told in The Feather Thief. Men like Alfred Wallace explored the Amazon Basin, increasing human knowledge and documenting new species, suffering disease, hostile natives, ship wrecks, and more as they did so. Kirk Wallace Johnson tells their harrowing stories well and explains the significance of even old museum specimens as new technologies help us unlock more information than ever before.

As valuable as old feathers may be for research purposes, there is no denying that feathers are inherently beautiful and The Feather Thief also examines the mania over feathers in fashion, including the wholesale slaughter of birds like egrets to satisfy the need to have hats, dresses, capes, etc. adorned with a plume or two (or, where appropriate, even entire birds). The history of wildlife refuges in the U.S. is directly tied to the feather trade and it was useful to be reminded of the role of feathers in the creation of international treaties to protect wildlife.

Once a museum tag has been removed, there is no way to know where a rare bird skin may have come from, and a feather plucked from that skin would be virtually impossible to trace. It is not strictly illegal to possess the feathers of birds such as quetzals, blue chatterers, or Indian fruitcrows and a lack of provenance works in favor of the possessor. While a good number of skins and feathers were recovered after Edwin Rist confessed to the theft, Mr. Johnson adds one more dimension to The Feather Thief with his quest to discover what became of the remainder.

Through it all, the story of Edwin Rist is wound like gold tinsel. From his first Durham Ranger fly to the golden flute he desired, from his confession to his historic defense, his story is interesting enough, even without the resultant international intrigue.

Fly fishing is riddled with rabbit holes to fall down, including the tying of flies which is one of the deepest. The Feather Thief gives a glimpse into that dark tunnel, beyond the light, where the most obsessed reside. Well-tied “full dress” flies can sell for hundreds of dollars, destined to hang on a wall and never fulfill their original purpose, works of art despite their lowly origins and the fact that the tier may be the only one who gives a fig whether the tiny turquoise feathers are authentic blue chatterer.

The Feather Thief is much more than the story of an interesting man who committed an interesting museum theft. The story of what he stole and why he stole it is just as intriguing. With its many themes assembled so masterfully, if The Feather Thief was a fly it would catch fish. As a book, it hooked me (I’ve read it twice) and I suggest it as a good winter read.

The Feather Thief is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound for less than four blue chatterer feathers.

ISBN: 9781101981610 (hardcover)

9781101981627 (e-book)

9780525559092 (EXP)

 

 

 

 

 

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Categories: Fly Fishing, Product and Gear Reviews | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

A Visit to Mossy Creek Fly Fishing

One of the most important things to remember when booking a guide for a fishing trip is to make your reservation early, especially for popular guides on popular water at popular times of year. Still, it never hurts to ask, and the folks at Mossy Creek Fly Fishing couldn’t have been nicer while explaining to me, in mid-April, why a guided float down the Shenandoah for smallmouth bass in early May was out of the question, though they still had spots open for May of 2019.

A self-guided float down a nearby stretch of the Shenandoah, however, was more within the realm of possibility so, when rain chased us off the lake on Saturday afternoon, five damp-ish, possibly smelly, smart alecs mounted an expedition to Mossy Creek’s shop in Harrisonburg, VA, for advice and flies to use on Monday’s river run.

Mossy Creek Fly Fishing HQ

I want to say her name was Melissa and If I’m wrong, I’m sorry. I’m just going to say it and stick with it. I’m nearly certain she didn’t say her name was Myrtle and she was the only person in the shop that rainy Saturday afternoon. Having dealt with damp, smelly smart alecs fly fishers, myself, a time or two, I quickly saw she was up to the task. Her advice and fly recommendations turned out to be spot-on, and her exasperation with our antics hardly showed at all.

Previously located in the strip mall part of town, Mossy Creek Fly Fishing moved to their new location last year, and the painted brick exterior of their building gives little indication of what’s inside.

Temptations

Mossy Creek Fly Fishing is a full service shop, able to outfit an angler from head to toe with a wide variety of everything from clothing to rods, reels and lines. They also carry an extensive selection of fly tying materials and accessories, along with flies already tied, chosen specifically for their region and season.

Tie Your Own?

 

Just the Flies You’ll Need

The nearest fly shop to my home is the Orvis flagship store in Manchester, VT, where they are obligated to carry every darn fly in the catalog, and it was kind of nice to see fly bins that didn’t overwhelm with too many patterns in too many sizes. The empty sections weren’t sold out of certain flies; the flies that weren’t there were flies you weren’t going to be needing. Hindsight being 20/20, I do wish I’d taken a picture of their smallest nymph next to their biggest musky fly (which, if I remember correctly, resembled a medium-size pink parrot).

From Head to Toe

In addition to guided trips for trout, smallmouth bass, musky, and carp, Mossy Creek offers classes, from instruction for beginners to advanced casting. They also host the Orvis Virginia Fly Fishing School, for those interested in a full-day’s immersion in the Orvis way.

Vests, Nets, and Bags for Everything

An Orvis endorsement is one thing; endorsement by customers and clients is another. The online reviews of Mossy Creek Fly Fishing I found are overwhelmingly positive and, perhaps more impressive, those reviews all received responses from Mossy Creek.

Mossy Creek Fly Fishing is located at the corner of East Market Street and Sterling Street, across from the Woodbine Cemetery and just up from the Stonewall Jackson Inn in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Or, they can be found online, at mossycreekflyfishing.com.

I’ll be back.

(It should be noted that one of my motivations for visiting Mossy Creek Fly Fishing was the possibility of sighting the rare and elusive Tom Sadler, known as something of a Tenkara guru, among many other things. As some of you may know, we here at The View from Fish in a Barrel Pond are also fond of Tenkara, though our techniques may differ from Tom’s in a few important ways. See Vermont Hand Crafted Tenkara Rods from November, 2010. Tom, of course, was on the water, right where he should be. ~QG)

 

Categories: Fly Fishing, Product and Gear Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Castwell’s Curse is Lifted

In the short story “Mr. Theodore Castwell”, by G.E.M. Skues, the aforementioned and deceased Mr. Castwell approaches the Pearly Gates and presents himself as a fly fisher. Escorted to a perfectly lovely cottage next to a perfectly lovely piece of water, he catches fish after fish from the same spot, over and over again. When he decides to move along to another spot, he is told he may not, and it slowly dawns on him that he won’t, after all, be spending eternity in the place he thought he’d be spending it.

Halcyon Days

After eleven years fishing the same small watershed and lake in Vermont, Quill Gordon could relate. Same water, same fish, same “fellow” anglers — not all of whom treated him well — year after year. It was a classic case of Castwell’s Curse, exacerbated by the fact that there is some stuff up with which he will not put, and so it came to pass that Quill Gordon broke down his rods, packed up his gear and, unlike Castwell, got the hell out of there, making his way to a cozy hibernaculum at the top of the hill in which to pass the winter while waiting for the sap runs of spring.

“F*ck trout, those dainty, speckled beauties, always delicately sipping in their cold, limpid pools,” he thought to himself. “And f*ck those who are obsessed with them, too.”

Quill Gordon was in a serious f*nk.

Then a mid-winter message arrived, an invitation to fish somewhere other than what had become his home water. Suddenly it made sense again to have all those books about bass on his shelves. Henshaw and Whitlock and Murray displaced Proper and Brooks and Wulff on the table; skinny hackle and tiny hooks gave way to buck tail and an old box of #6 Stingers at the bench; lines designed for delicate presentations were stripped from their reels, replaced by heavy-headed rigs meant for slinging big flies into places where a little commotion can be a good thing.

Places like western Virginia.

The morning plane to Boston flew 150 mph at 5,000 ft. Fortunately, the afternoon plane from Boston to Richmond did 600 mph at 34,000 ft and Quill Gordon soon found himself drinking bourbon, listening to whippoorwills in the Appalachian twilight. Having shipped a gallon of syrup ahead, the bourbon tasted of maple.

Appalachian Twilight

It was Thursday night, and plans were made to fish for bass on Saturday and Monday, which makes this a good place in the story to inform readers that Quill Gordon didn’t really mean it when he thought to himself, “F*ck trout,” although the jury is still out on the anglers.

On Friday morning, Quill rigged up his 6′ 2-wt while the morning mist rose from the folds of the hills and, after a healthy breakfast, he was off to wade small streams in pursuit of Virginia’s famed brook trout. Having shipped a gallon of syrup ahead, the bacon and grits tasted of maple.

Morning Mist

Brook trout may not be trout (they are char) but they are enthusiastic, and it was almost anticlimactic to hook the first “away” fish in a decade on the first cast.

Almost.

Standing knee deep in an unfamiliar stream on the side of an unfamiliar mountain, there was still something familiar about the whole thing. The glint of sunlight on the riffle and the spray of diamonds at its tail when the little fish struck the #14 Adams felt remembered, not as anything in particular that had happened before, but in a vague, vestigial way. Kind of like deja-vu. Kind of like finding home in a place you’ve never been before.

Regular readers know not to expect pictures of fish (unless it’s an old picture of someone else holding them) but that small brook trout was significant. Castwell’s Curse had been lifted.

A Very Heavy Fish

It was a heavy little fish.

Some more photos of small streams fished last week in the George Washington National Forest in western Virginia:

To Mark, Gary, Todd, Mike, and Doc, I say thank you for inviting me down and accepting me into the group. Our times in Vermont were always special and I am fortunate to have been included in your spring ritual.

To all seven of my loyal readers, I say thanks for hanging in there with me while I worked on removing the curse that had been placed upon my head. This little jaunt gave me plenty to write about and I look forward to sitting down to share more.

Tight lines, wubbas.

~QG

 

 

 

 

Categories: Fly Fishing, nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Pictures Don’t Lie and Neither Do Fishermen

Digital technology has given us filters and apps that do all kinds of things to the images we share, making them “better” or even more “artistic” than what was originally captured. Some of us take liberty when sharing our surroundings, maybe simply tweaking the contrast or saturation, but some of us go so far as to create completely surreal, imagined landscapes to picture ourselves in.

Speaking of surreal, most of us, in our own heads, are stylized versions of ourselves (if not someone else altogether), and because we can alter the way we appear on a screen, humans being humans, we have done so to the point that “Snapchat Dysmorphia” is now a thing.

What’s next, digitally altered fish?

Now, before someone gets their knickers in a twist, I want to make perfectly clear that I am not implying in any way, shape, or form that a person who fishes might ever  present anything but the unvarnished truth. I’m saying it.

(Twisted knickers may be addessed in the comment section, below.)

Along with the digital wonders we can work with images, it is easy to take for granted that anyone, anywhere, can show a picture to everyone else in the world in a matter of seconds, something some of us do with alarming frequency.

There was a time we didn’t photograph everything, willy-nilly, and put it out there for all to see, as if it was interesting or important, fish included. Cameras weren’t part of our phones and we sure as heck couldn’t take our phones wherever we went. Instead of chips and a “cloud”, capable of holding pretty much everything there is, photos were recorded on a strip of treated plastic and the length of that strip determined how many pictures we could take.

The number of miles that film had to travel for a chemical bath and to have light shined through it onto special paper — which then got its own chemical bath — determined how soon we could see the pictures we’d taken. It was quite a process but my, how exciting it was to see those vacation pictures, sometimes weeks after they’d been taken!

With a fixed number of exposures on a roll of film, bad pictures cost the same as good ones, so every shot had to count. Companies like Kodak™ were there to help tell and preserve our stories, and if anyone can tell stories, it’s anglers.

Yeah, but I bet he’s going to tell you anyway.

An angler’s story, nicely told through photos. Handsome fellow gets in boat; handsome fellow nets fish; handsome fellow displays fish; handsome fellow ends up cooking hot dogs because that looks like a pike to me and everyone knows those things don’t taste good.

For less than $55 he could also have recorded 8mm movies, early precursors to modern video which, by the way, is much too easy to produce and distribute. Either way, it would have been days before he knew how his pictures looked.

Not that the aforementioned handsome fellow or his fish needed any work but, with all our opportunities to enhance, a modern angler might be tempted. With a little tweaking, that fish could become a good six inches longer and ten pounds heavier, but that was then and our hero is stuck forever with a middling 28-incher.

Not that the modern angler would need to do such a thing, especially with today’s cameras that can make any fish exciting. Miniaturization and advances in materials make it possible to take fish pictures our handsome fellow in the Kodak™ ad couldn’t even imagine. To think such a picture could be seen within seconds by anyone in the world would probably explode his tiny brain.

Such is the nature of modern life that we can present ourselves and our fish any way we want, any time we want and, in theory, our millions of digital fish pictures, doctored or not, will live forever out there in the cloud. But the truth is, despite their supposed immortality, most will never be seen again.

Old fishing photos have their own version of our modern cloud, consisting mainly of shoe boxes and old albums. Some are as faded as the memories they were meant to preserve, torn from their pages and consigned to dusty corners of antique shops and other such places frequented by the likes of me.

Most of the old photos I scan require a certain amount of doctoring to make them presentable but, no matter how much I struggle to bring out such things as the patterns of socks, there are some things I would never change even if I could.

Kodak print, 1949, location unknown

Handsome Fellow Displays Fish

 (cluttering up my own little corner of the cloud on Instagram)

 

 

Categories: Humor | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

1000 Words + 1 Picture

Startled awake by who knows what, Quill Gordon came-to face-down at his fly-tying bench. Slowly, he realized the wail he heard was not banshees at the door, just cold wind in the chimney. In the thin, feeble light of dawn, on the first day of the new year, he saw in his hand a Mason jar, the one in which he stored head cement thinner, now empty. Belching, he came to grips with the fact that, apparently, he had consumed the entire contents, no doubt in some sort of shack nasty-induced rage.

Shaking off a shaggy coating of cobwebs and dust, he sat up. Clipped deer hair covered the floor like whiskers in a sink. Afraid it might not actually be deer hair, and fearing the influence of such volatile fluids as blackberry flavored head cement thinner, he felt with his hands for his beard. It was festooned with hackle feathers but, much to his relief, largely intact, though noticeably grayer and longer than he remembered, as if an entire decade had passed. Continue reading

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Even More Macro Mayflies and Musical Mayhem (But Is It Art?)

Some say a well-cast fly line is art. The graceful flex of a rod and a tight loop unfurling is exquisite unless, of course, someone is using their “art” to poach your hole while you’re still fishing it; then those 80-ft casts are something else entirely.

Some say a well-tied fly is art. There is certainly skill involved, getting everything just-so but, from personal experience, I say the fish don’t give a fig about thread wraps or the number of tails an imitation has. There is also the question of “imitation of what?” but even so, you have to hand it to folks who can wrap some feathers, tinsel, and what-not onto a hook and create a marvelous thing of beauty.

I, myself, tend to rely on rough deer hair, bunched-up dubbing, and tufts of Antron® to achieve my results, choosing representation and function over beauty. Some people go the other way, creating as close to an exact copy of a food item as they can produce. Still, even the fussiest among them probably leave out little details in their replicas.

Details like the moustaches of mayflies.

Mayfly with a Moustache

They are actually antennae but their position, in front of those compound eyes and above that (non-functioning) mouth, makes them look like a moustache to me.

Another Mayfly with a Moustache

As adults, mayflies don’t generally live more than a day. There are some exceptions (not by much) but, by golly, you’ve got to admit that they spend the time they have looking good. There might just be some art in that.

Not Around for Long, but Looking Good While I’m Here

There might even be some art in these photos but who am I to say? They do, however bring art to mind, especially when I realize what those mayfly moustaches resemble.

Salvador Dali

Say what you will about his paintings, that moustache is art.

A surrealist in life, in death Salvador Dali has become the subject of a nearly surreal court battle in Spain, with Madrid’s Supreme Court recently ordering his remains to be exhumed in order to settle the paternity claims of a woman born 61 years ago.

Unlike Salvador Dali’s tightly waxed lip hair or the antennae of mayflies, my own archaically spelled moustache is bushy and a bit droopy but, in my own special way, I consider it art.

Not everyone agrees what is and what isn’t art. Some people think The Who were artists. Others believe Johnny Cash to be an artist unsurpassed. Heck, some people even find clowns and clowning to be high art, although I think we can all agree that paintings of clowns are, to say the least, a little creepy.

If only there were a way to combine The Who, Johnny Cash, and a clown. Now, that would be art, even if it didn’t include moustaches. Fortunately, just such a thing has occurred, thanks to Big Mike Geier and Puddles Pity Party:

Again, you’re welcome.

Categories: Humor, nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

More Macro Mayflies and Musical Mayhem

As if making the transition from aquatic nymph to airborne adult (imago) wasn’t enough, mayflies do so without passing through a pupal stage. Instead, they emerge from their nymphal shuck with fully formed wings as a subimago, somewhat drab and not yet sexually mature. After a short rest with nothing to eat, they shed their skin one more time, spread their clear wings and join others of their kind for the first and only sexual experience of their lives.

Long Arms for Grabbin’ the Ladies

Random handing-off of sperm packets is probably more like it and there’s no regretting one’s choice, for they all soon will be dead. Such is the life of a mayfly. Continue reading

Categories: Fly Fishing, Humor, nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Macro Mayflies and Musical Mayhem for Your Monday

People come to these pages for many reasons. Some actually subscribe and come on purpose but others simply stumble in as the result of tragic search engine accidents. Either way, many go away confused, some even leaving before they get to the good stuff.

Short-form posts are not our forte here at Fish in a Barrel Pond. A thousand words is never out of the question, meaning someone could spend four or five whole minutes reading these ramblings. We do our best to reward intrepid readers and most posts end with a treat, whether it finally be the punchline or an interesting photo or video.

No guarantees as to word count, since we’re just getting going, but the plan for this post includes multiple treats. We’ll let you decide for yourselves which are the treats and we’ll also drop the pretense of referring to myself in the third person.

An Unblinking Stare

The so-called “major” hatches of mayflies have begun for the season. Some are sporadic but others come off like clockwork, albeit a different clock than we puny humans watch. Intricate, delicate and very nearly absurd, they exchange the drab coloration and digestive tracts of their nymphal stages for the reproductive organs and gaudy apparel of adults. I find them in boats, on porch screens, clapboard walls, and in spider webs. When someone asks “What’s hatchin’?” I know, and not because I’m fishing all the time. Continue reading

Categories: Fly Fishing, Humor, nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Objects May Be Smaller Than They Appear

There are those who believe places like this simply emerge from the mist at the beginning of each season, like some rustic Brigadoon.

Fish in a Barrel Pond

Those people have never chased a possum from beneath a bunk with a broom. As long as the lights are on, the toilets flush, there’s a fire in the stove and — most importantly — the ice is off the lake, they are free to believe in magic but, just between you and me, there’s a bit more to it than that.

Getting six old camps up and running by the last Saturday in April is one thing; keeping them running is another. Throw in a bunch of anglers at the height of black fly season and May becomes a bit of a blur, even if one’s left eye isn’t swollen shut by a fly bite in the lashes. They can be enough to make a guy want to thrash his arms over his head and go running into the woods screaming but, deep in my heart, I love them and I try to remain stoic. For the flies, I just try to remember the bug spray.

Emerging

Continue reading

Categories: Fly Fishing, Humor, nature | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Say It With Me

Go ahead.

Say it.

You know you want to.

Tufted Titmouse

Titmouse.

Some people can’t help but titter when they hear it or say it themselves, expressing child-like delight at making something so cute and delicate sound so nasty. A single Titmouse shows up at the feeders once or twice a season, events so few and far between as to be worth noting on the calendar. The other day they appeared in droves.

Well, maybe not droves. Probably not even a full drove, if you get right down to it, but the definition of drove is decidedly ambiguous so who’s to know? The point is, there was a dozen of them, which may not seem like many, but they were menacing.

It had only been an hour since I published my post about beard balm, where I wrote that the birds would have to wait if they wanted my winter whiskers for nesting material. The Titmouses came closer and closer and I began to think that maybe they didn’t want to wait, but how could they have known?

After a few photos (for identification purposes later, if needed) I struck what seemed, to me, a reasonable bargain with the Titmouses: In exchange for two cups of sunflower seeds a day in the meantime, I am allowed to keep my beard until the ice is off the lake. Continue reading

Categories: Humor, nature, Rural Life, Vermont | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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