Angler’s Conceits, Part II


There are two species of Ephemerella mayflies in these parts, one of which is kind of a big deal on the lower Kinni. Or at least it was until the City released all that sand into the river. Anyway, because of its rather light color, people got into the habit of referring to it as the Light Hendrickson. Traditionally the Light Hendrickson was an angler’s term for E. Invaria but there were at least two other species that were lumped together under that angler’s term. It wasn’t until about 2005 when Clarke Garry, Ph.D, correctly identified it as E. Excrucians that we knew what it was. Now you’d think that anglers would welcome that news, but you’d be wrong. At least one of my customers was visibly upset by the news and shouted, “No! It’s the Light Hendrickson!” He got over it but it’s a clear illustration of another angler’s conceit. Is hanging on to an inaccurate term really more important than a positive ID from a scientist? 

I used to go to the Fly Shop when Bob and Jean owned it to find out what was hatching on the Kinni. Bob always said the same thing, “Blue Wing Olives.” I was always kind of disappointed by that because I kept expecting to find something else to fish over. However, Bob was right because so many Baetis species are bivoltine means that they’re almost always available to the trout. But they are not all olive. The vast majority of the samples I’ve collected have been tan. Don’t believe it? Get yourself a little insect net and try it yourself. Baetis could be olive, but they’re more likely to be tan, brown or even grey. It’s hard to break a habit. And the one I hear most often is, “Are the Olives hatching?” 

OK, one more and then I’ll stop. For decades people who tie imitations of the Trico spinner have tied them with three, widely separated tails. Back in the ‘70’s I watched Tom Andersen tie some of these flies for Bob and he artfully positioned his dubbing needle underneath the tail filaments, spread them apart and held them for a second or two until they stayed in that position. Look at the selection in any fly shop and you’ll see many examples of this style. Gary Borger once opined that a trout’s IQ was 6. Six. Do you really believe a trout would reject your Trico imitation if it only had two tails? With that robust thorax and spent wings why would the fish focus on the tails? They probably don’t, and to bolster my opinion there’s this; Perry Palin is one of the better tiers around here and he’s been tying a very effective Trico pattern for years using a few grizzly barbs for the tail. They’re not long, they’re not spread and they’re definitely more than three. And it works fine.

Big Paul

Photos by Mike Edgerly

Sometime early in the century when I was helping out – or so I claim; Mike may have a different view – at Mike Alwin’s Bob Mitchell’s Fly Shop, a guy named Paul Wiemerslage, would drop in, usually near the end of the day and usually accompanied by his pert and perky wife, and just sort of hang around, often well past closing time.  By that time of day my supply of bonhomie had run low and I found him kind of irritating.  He obviously came to talk to Mike and didn’t seem even to notice me, which, when you get down to it, is likely why I found him irritating.  I learned that he was a high-level executive at a large local manufacturing concern and presumed that with that came a certain level of disdain for the help.  I have never been more wrong in my life.  I had mistaken a sense of respect for disdain.   Sometime in the Christmas Holiday season in my days as a putative Lutheran, probably when my daughter was participating in a Sunday school show, Paul, who was a co-parishioner, stopped me in a hallway and asked me how my steelhead season had gone.  I was surprised that he knew I’d been fishing.  That one question breached the metaphorical levee between us and led to a conversation so long that I was, much to my wife’s consternation, late to my seat for the performance.  Subsequently Paul and I forged a friendship that led us on adventures with venues as disparate as Paul’s home kitchen, the north woods, and the famous trout streams of Montana.

Paul had held many different positions with his employer and had excelled in all of them, but the job he had liked most, and was certainly best at, was in sales.  He had a preternatural ability to earn people’s trust and to put them at ease.  This wasn’t some sort of technique or act; it was simply and genuinely Paul.  The first time I traveled with Paul we took his travel trailer deep into Wisconsin’s Driftless Region and set up at a campground on the upper reaches of Timber Coulee Creek.  It had been a wet spring and the water table was high.  The campground was soggy in many spots, but we’d parked the trailer in a high and dry spot.  One afternoon I heard a group of campers talking.  One of them was grousing loudly about where and how we’d parked and what jerks we must be.  I told Paul about it.  He shrugged and said he’d take care of it.  He strode out to where the men were talking, introduced himself and asked them where they were from.  “La Crosse,” the chief grump replied.  “Me, too,” said Paul, “My father worked at Heileman Brewing for years.”  This established Paul as a local and within minutes the entire group was laughing at Paul’s storytelling.  There was no more grumping.  I saw Paul build or reinforce relationships wherever he went.  When we traveled, he brought along good bottles of wine and blocks of aged Wisconsin cheddar cheese from the Cady Cheese factory.  He presented these as gifts to fly shop workers who gave him good information and to campground hosts who treated him well.  Some of this was done, of course, as a means of ingratiation, but the real driving factor was Paul’s genuine respect for the knowledge they possessed and the effort they put in.  These folks never forgot Paul, either.  Perhaps they recalled the gifts, but I always felt it was more likely that they remembered Paul’s big heart and even bigger personality.

Paul had a close friend, John, a brilliant architect and businessman.  John, a giant of a man, had an appetite and a lust for life that equaled Paul’s.  John had  an expansive cabin on what was essentially a private muskellunge lake in northern Wisconsin and another utterly primitive cabin in a vast lake-dotted landholding in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  We fished hard on trips to these midwestern paradises, but we ate Paul’s gourmet cooking and drank John’s French wines prodigiously as well.  John was never happier than in these settings and Paul once said to me, “I just love to watch that man have fun.”  The feeling, I’m sure, was mutual.  The only problem for me was keeping up with these two characters and I soon learned that I was a better observer than participant.

In essence, Paul loved to watch all the people he liked and admired have fun.  In the last few years of angling author Jim Humphrey’s life, Paul hosted a mid-winter get-together at his house with Jim as the guest of honor.  Paul didn’t know Jim particularly well, but, again, he admired Jim’s work and what he’d done to help others through his writing.  These were titularly discussion groups with specific topics pre-selected by Paul. The guests ranged in age from Jim at the oldest to anglers Paul’s son’s age with several of us in late middle age in between.  Everyone’s input was welcome, but Paul made certain that everyone understood that Jim’s word was gospel.  There was food and drink, of course, with typically three different varieties of Paul’s delicious chili served as entrees.  Paul put hours of work into those soups, expecting nothing more than the obvious satisfaction of his guests.

Paul was a born organizer.  We (Friends of Paul and friends of friends – Paul subscribed to the idea that his friends’ friends were also his) made trips every spring to Cottonwood Camp on Montana’s Big Horn River for several years.  The fishing was superb and the camaraderie was excellent, but the best part was that everything was taken care of!  Paul secured the lodging, planned the menus, and did the grocery shopping.  In almost everything Paul did he started at wretched excess and went on from there, so while it took half the crew risking hernias and ruptured discs to haul his massive Yeti cooler from the truck to the cabin, we could be certain that we’d dine like kings throughout our stay.

One of the very best adventures I ever had with Paul was a trip that the two of us made to Montana in the late summer of 2012.  Paul asked me to go along with him to pick up a gorgeous, custom-made wooden drift boat he intended to buy.  I had been downsized from my job that spring and felt that I ought to stay home and be responsible, but Paul worked his salesman’s charms on me, made an offer I couldn’t refuse, and it was off to Montana we went.  We took a southerly route through Wyoming, country I hadn’t seen, staying overnight in Sheridan before heading up across the Big Horns and on to our lodging at the historic Chico Hot Springs Resort.  Eventually Paul took possession of the boat and we fished out of it on both the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers before returning home.  However, it looked for a time as though details might block the sale and we were both nervous.  When the details were resolved and the deal done, Paul drove us back to Chico and produced a bottle of sixteen-year old Lagavulin single malt scotch whiskey he’d brought along in case a celebration might be in order.  I’d somehow made it into my seventh decade without ever having so much as had a nip of this delightful potable, but I rapidly developed a taste for it and it took a couple of hours of soaking in the hot springs and several cups of the resort’s potent black coffee to make me whole the next morning.

I was to have another memorable experience involving Paul and scotch. Late in the afternoon last December 20th, Paul called and asked the name of a smoky Scotch I’d told him about.  I told him it was Ardbeg.  He asked me if it could be found in any of Hudson’s liquor stores.  I suggested he try Casanova’s.  Not two hours later there was a knock on the door.  It was Paul.  He thrust a bottle of Ardbeg into my hand and told me that he’d bought a bottle for himself, too, and intended to go home and drink a glass of it and suggested that I do the same.  He turned and walked out to his Jeep and out of my life.  Paul died of heart-related issues sometime late that evening or early the next morning.    If you knew Paul only casually or only by reputation, it was easy to think of him as a sort of Falstaffian character – which he was.  Paul was a man of huge appetites and interests, but he was also one of the kindest, truest, and most generous friends a man could hope to have and I will miss him always.

Paul loved the outdoors and he loved fly-fishing for trout.  He was a long-time member of Kiap-TU-Wish and once served on the board of the Kinnickinnic River Land Trust.  His family has asked that memorials in his name be directed to those two organizations.    

A gift Turned Into a Treasure

One day this past Spring, a FedEx shipment in a triangular box  arrived on my doorstep. At first, I was confused as to its origin, and  my wife, Suzanne, who in all our years together has become quite  familiar with triangular boxes and their contents, quickly asked “Ed,  did you order another fly rod?” I had not. Further investigation of  the label revealed that the package came from my good friend Ernie  Chupp ,who lives in Omaha, Nebraska. 

Over time, I’ve shared with Ernie my fervent passion for fly  fishing. I’ve mentioned my fondness for older rods and explained  how fly rod construction had progressed over time with the advent  of modern materials such as fiberglass and graphite, eventually  finding favor over bamboo. I was delighted to learn that one of  Ernie’s relatives was none other than Ferdinand Claudio, a builder  of premier fiberglass fly rods in the 1940s which are still in great  demand today by vintage rod collectors—and Ernie has one of  Claudio’s rods. 

After opening the box, I was surprised to see a vintage bamboo  fly rod. It was a three-piece rod with two tips. Each section was  cradled in a slotted holder. The rod was in pretty rough condition,  but something told me that it had character and qualities that, if  paired with a little TLC, might result in a usable fly rod that would  provide loads of fishing fun. I needed to find out more about the rod  and whether it could be brought back to its nearly original condition.  

My next thought? “I need to go out and see the Norlings.” I  contacted Dave Jr. and asked if I could bring the rod out to their  workshop, if they’d be willing to help me figure out where and when  it was made, and if there was a possibility, we could give it a new life.

At the workshop, Dave Sr. took the rod in hand, and asked “what do  you want to do with it?” I told him that I would like to fish with it.  He gave me a wry smile; I think he was pleased.

At first glance, Senior thought the rod was made in New York, but  he couldn’t verify the manufacturer and said he’d need to do some  further research. On closer scrutiny we determined that one section  was missing some guides, and that a series of narrow thread wraps,  which Senior told me were called “intermediates,” were placed along  the sections of bamboo for added strength. Many of these wraps  were either loose or missing and would need to be replaced.  

The Norlings offered that I could come back out to the work shop and they’d help me get started with winding new wraps and  attaching new guides. I left the rod so that Senior could do some  additional research and determine what else was needed to get it  into fishing condition. About a week later I received a note from  Dave Jr. telling me that they would be fixing up the rod at no charge.  What a surprise! They had found that the rod was indeed made in  New York, by a company called Horrocks-Ibbotson (H&I), and they  placed its manufacturing date around 1910. Horrocks-Ibbotson was  one of America’s largest production rod companies for many years,  competing head-to-head with Montague and South Bend. It later  became known as the world’s largest manufacturer of fishing tackle. 

I soon got another call to come and pick up the rod. Dave Sr.  also informed me that I could likely get a reel on Ebay to match  up with the rod, and I was able to purchase a wonderful, small,

single-handed reel made by H&I that turned out to be a perfect  match for the rod.  

When I arrived, Senior handed me the rod. I pulled it out of its  rod sock and was astounded. The rod glistened. He had put fresh  coats of varnish on it. There were new snake guides where needed,  a new stripping guide, and a set of new ferrules. All of the guides  and thin intermediate thread wraps were re-done. The reel-seat was  re-glued as well. When I put the rod together, I knew that I was  handling a treasure. I felt blessed! I showed Senior my vintage reel,  and just the sight of it made his day. Next, Senior’s command: “Let’s go cast it.” He felt that the  rod could probably handle a 6-weight line, which Dave Jr. quickly  spooled onto my vintage reel. First casting honors went to Dave  Jr. As I watched, he quickly began to shoot the most wonderful  tight loops imaginable, making clear what an excellent caster he  is. Then it was Senior’s turn. It was soon evident that Senior hasn’t  lost his touch. I followed and was delighted with the feel of the rod  loading and unloading and how effortless it was to throw a perfect  cast. The three of us reveled in our success. 

I want to thank my friend Ernie, whose gift started the whole  experience, and Dave Jr. and Dave Sr. Their generosity has  provided me with not just another fly rod, but a treasure that will  always have a special place in my heart.  

Views From My Side Of The Vise

Have these words ever passed your lips? “But honey, I will save a lot of money if I start tying my own flies!” That is where some of us started out. Saving money by tying flies is possible in theory with some self discipline and constraint. Until it isn’t. When you finally admit that you have no impulse control when it comes to your tying addiction, you will need to give some serious thought to material storage.

Those that are just getting started tying their own flies can probably put all of their tools and materials in a shoe box. I can still vaguely recall those days. Now I need an entire room, plus a little more in my basement to keep everything that I have. But I don’t have a problem. Really I don’t. And if my wife asks about my tying material collection, I assure her that my collection is very normal while doing it with a straight face if possible.

I like to keep all of my tying materials neatly stored in my tying desk and a couple other cabinets. I keep materials that I use the most in my desk. Most of the materials are kept in their original packages so they are appropriately labeled and similar materials are grouped together in larger plastic bags. My tying thread and wire are kept in smaller drawers and sorted by brand and size. Likewise, hooks are sorted by style and size.

If you don’t have a dedicated space like I do for your fly tying, plastic totes work very well to keep your materials organized. Another option if you
don’t tie a lot of different fly patterns is to organize your materials by what is needed to tie a particular pattern. You could keep a plastic tote that has just the materials needed to tie a Parachute Adams or an Elk Hair Caddis.

One thing you need to pay very close attention to is keeping bugs out of your tying materials. Materials that you purchase from your local fly shop are going to be clean and bug-free. If a friend gives you a beautiful full pheasant or wood duck skin that they harvested, be very careful! The best
thing to do if you have great friends like that is put those donations right into your freezer. After a couple of days, take them out and let them thaw.
Gently wash and dry them. When they are dry, put them in your microwave for about 10 seconds. After that, they should be safe to keep with your
other tying materials.

Wherever your fly-tying journey takes you, try not to become like me!

The Frantes Technique

Let’s begin by recognizing that Trout Unlimited is not a fly-fishing club, it’s a conservation organization dedicated to trout and cold water fisheries. It’s motto could be, “What’s good for the trout is good for the trout angler.” Founded in 1959, TU accepts any trout angler who wants to help conserve and protect trout and the cold-water habitat they rely on. Angling methods, whether bait, fly or spinner, are less important than your desire to protect and conserve.

Among Great Lakes steelhead anglers there’s a technique that calls for a fly rod fitted with a fly reel loaded with monofilament. The advantage of this rig is twofold: the fly rod, generally longer than a spinning rod, extends the anglers ability to lengthen the cast and control the drift, and the thinner mono allows the spawn sack, egg, or fly to sink deeper faster because it is less subject to the vagaries of the current.

Years ago, there was a debate in the Fly Shop about what actually defined fly fishing. At that time a veritable hoard of guys would crowd the shop every Wednesday to drink coffee, trade the same old stories, and debate various issues, one of which was what defined fly fishing. We called them “the Lost Boys.” Gordy was the one member of this unofficial club whose life had purpose; he fished every day, no excep- tions. While he had explored every method of catching trout on a fly and was an excellent caster, his favored method of trout fishing was with mono because he recognized its advantages. With a weighted nymph or two, split shot, and a wood strike indicator, Gordy relied on the weight of his rig to make the cast. The Lost Boys rejected this method as “spin fishing” with a fly. And therein lies the debate.

If you want to practice your spin casting you need your rod, reel spooled with mono, and a lure or plug because it’s the weight of the lure that pulls line from the reel. If you want to practice your fly casting you need your rod, reel, fly line (which supplies the weight), and something that could pass as a leader. You wouldn’t need a fly because a fly weighs nothing. So, what defines fly casting, as well as fly fishing, is the fly line.

Bruce Maher and Bob Trevis wrote an excellent article in the January RIPRAP about Tenkara and Euro Nymphing as trout fishing techniques. Tenkara relies on rods that are long and willowy and a short “line.” What they describe is either level fluorocarbon or braided or furled nylon. Both are described as roughly the length of the rod, 10′ to over 14′. Approximately 3′ of tippet is attached to the end and a fly attached to that. I’ve frequently thought that Tenkara, because the rods telescope to 20″, would be an ideal lightweight outfit for backpacking into those small mountain streams I love. But to make a point, the authors admit that the “line” rarely touches the water and in fact is not cast in the traditional sense. Likewise, in their description of Euro Nymphing, they explain that the fly line, usually only a foot or two beyond the tip top, also rarely touches the water. With a 20′ leader and heavily weighted nymphs the angler is actually casting the weighted nymphs, not the fly line, copying Gordy’s tech- nique. If you think a 20′ leader is kinda long, brace yourself; I found a leader formula that was 45′.

Both of these methods, Tenkara and Euro Nymphing, are legiti- mate and excellent fish catching techniques. Maher and Trevis should be applauded for introducing us to these techniques, and we could all stand to adapt some of these ideas into our fishing repertoire. Absent a fly line, however, is it fly fishing or is it spin fishing with a fly? Therein lies the debate.

Skip’s Loose Threads

How do I get started tying flies?

One of my colleagues at work mentioned that her husband was a fly fisher, but that he was making noises about taking up fly-tying as well. She wanted to know what she could buy to get him started in the right way. I’m sure that there are lots of folks out there in the same boat, and a little guidance might help. So here goes.

The first requirement is a comfortable space; a good, comfortable chair in front of a white or light colored piece of wood or laminate, thick enough to be stable, but thin enough to fit the vise’s clamp. One friend used a folding chess board, to which he glued two pieces of white board. Another lays down a white placemat on his desk. I bought a simple desk at Scandinavian Design about 25 years ago that is built from white melamine that serves as my tying table now. Is Scandinavian Design still in business? I just checked, and the answer is “yes.” They even have a desk like mine, but not in white.

The second requirement is a really good light source. I have a pantograph lamp that uses two bulbs, one incandescent in order to capture all the natural colors, and one fluorescent for brightness. I use a 100 watt bulb that I replace every few years by buying one on Ebay. The fluorescent bulb has never been replaced…knock on wood… it’s forty years old! I also use a large magnifying glass, 4 inches in diameter, that I can position between my eyes and the
business end of my vise to make those #22 Tricos easier to tie. There are ‘goose-neck’ fly tying lights that throw a narrow beam of light, but when I’ve had to use one of those my eyes got tired very fast. When you are tying on the road, the desk light in most hotel rooms
is adequate if not ideal.

Then, you need a good vise. The jaws of the vise should hold hooks firmly enough that you can bend the shanks with pliers while the bend of the hook is secured in the vise. The jaws should also hold the various sizes of hooks that you will be using. If you tie trout flies, you don’t need a vise that’s capable of holding size 3/0 bass bug hooks. There are several ways to open or close the jaws of a vise, and most of them employ a cam or lever, sometimes with an
adjustable collet and sometimes not. There are many vises available, with all sorts of gadgets on them to rotate, hold a bobbin, hang a tool, or secure a thread, but what’s truly necessary are really good jaws and a simple way to open or close them. I use a Regal Inex vise, which runs around $150. It has a clamp base to secure it to my tying desk. I still have the vise I bought when I was 11 years old, an AA manufactured by DH Thompson.

That brings up a problem. Your fly-tying place better have plenty of places to store stuff because you’ll never, ever, throw anything away. You can buy small tools like scissors, bobbins, whip-finishers, and hackle pliers in a kit or individually. You generally get what you pay for in terms of quality. I love Matarelli bobbins and Ice Scissors.

Complete fly tying kits are available, and may appeal, but my experience is that half of what comes in the kit you will never use, and you’ll be running back to the fly shop to buy more of what ran out. If anyone would like to discuss this with me, let me know. My phone number is 715-690-4503 and my email