American travel writer and novelist Paul Theroux once wrote that winter is a time of recovery and preparation. He must have had a vision of what’s left of my fly box from last year, because his observation is spot on – my selection needs to recover, and I have a lot of preparing to do. But beyond the time of recovering from last season’s outings where I offered up my share of patterns to fish, snags and streamside trees and the preparing for another season to come, winter also gives me time to dream of adventures on old familiar streams, new ones I’ve stumbled upon and the ones I have yet to wade in.
I made a new year’s resolution at the turn of the calendar to tie one fly each day, and so far, so good. I’ve had a couple productive hours at the vise, cranking out over three dozen of my favorite go-to flies in just the first week of the new year. While home on lunch hour on those busier days where evening meetings or family activities don’t allow for marathon tying sessions, I squeeze in one or two simple flies to keep refilling the foam ripples in my fly box. Whether as a quick break from the work day, or an extended effort, each fly gives me pause and, as the ones I’m working on now have been so effective in the past few seasons, a chance to think about the fish their brethren have landed for me and those to come in the near future.
My love of pheasants is well known and well founded as one bird provides enough feathers to tie hundreds of flies. My patterns start with the basic pheasant tail nymph which landed my first trout on the fly – a stocked rainbow on the Turtle River near Grand Forks, ND. I think back to that spring, with my fly guru Einar showing me the ropes, and encouraging me to put the spinning rod down and pick up the long rod on the tiny stream. It isn’t long until a line of the nymphs in size 12 is running across the top of the box.
Followed by that pattern is another that I have found success with, a wire-bodied nymph in black and silver on a curved hook I call the zebra nymph. It has more than enough weight and flash with the black-tinted beadhead and shiny spiral leading up to a thorax of ice dub, and proved to be a game-changer on the small streams in the Driftless Area the past few seasons. With the quick-twisting wire, it isn’t long before a dozen of them also line the fly box, ready for a springtime trip.
Finally, I reflect on last spring on my local flow, a partially-hidden stocker stream plunging through nearby Camden State Park. With low waters and lots of pressure, the Redwood River in southwestern Minnesota can provide a number of challenges, as it did this year. But on some days (and in colder springs with fewer anglers) it can give up the hungry and aggressive brown trout like candy on Halloween. In either event, there’s a fly that I turn to more often than any other when I locate fish; the Prince Nymph tied with a turn of pheasant church window feather, as opposed to the standard hen hackle. Its peacock herl and silver ribbing give it a royal feel and the fish have a tough time turning down this weighted little wonder.
While putting each fly into place, making sure the hook sticks securely in the foam strip, I think of where it might end up. Tucked firmly in the corner of a charging brown trout? Tagged tightly in the nose of a wily rainbow? Or, just maybe, connecting me with my first brookie? All just as possible as being wrapped around a streamside bush or the low-hanging branch of an elm tree – but much more fun to think about. We’ll see what winter preparations lead to in just a few short months, but as long as there’s snow on the ground, sub-zero high temperatures and streams locked tightly under ice, there’s plenty of time to dream at the vise about what I’ve experienced and what is to come…in our outdoors.