Back in 1995 I purchased a phenomenal fly tying vise from The Classic Vise Co. It is engineered very very well and built like a M1 Bradley. It detents four times in full rotation, and allows me to tie flies as small as #28. I purchased the vise in Canada and am not sure if it is still in production. My little HMH is always well used but The Classic Vise has holding power like no other vise I have used before. This vise is made from very high quality stainless and has endured countless wet hands while tying soaked quills and still shows no signs of weathering. Tools such as these make the craft of fly tying that much more enjoyable. Being a creature of habit it will more than likely be my last vise I ever purchase.
To save the planet from present practices of destruction.
To find and re-employ real truth.
To promote true balance between both genders.
To share and be less materialistic.
To become rid of prejudice.
To learn to be related.
To play with one's children and love each equally and fairly.
To be brave and courageous, enough so,
To take a stand and make a commitment.
To understand what Generations Unborn really means.
To accept the Great Mystery
in order to end foolish argument over religion.
“Late Afternoon Below the Fields” oil on board
“Down River” oil on board
I have been waiting a long time to find a really functional and comfortable wet wading pant. During the summer months shorts just do not cut it for me because of sun, brambles, poison oak, poison ivy, leaches, deer fly's, the occasional hungry mink, and various other man nibbling critters. Patagonia's Guidewater Pant is the best wet wading pant I've used period. I have used these pants for about a season and have no issues at all with the wear, general design, or comfort. These pants do not bunch up or bind when wet. They are pliable, dry very quickly, and repel water like a raincoat. Finally I found a wet wading pant that works great which is a genuine relief because I have been searching for a wet wading pant that fulfills all of the above criteria. I really have no reason to wear waders during the summer months now. Even my waist high waders are now collecting dust during the summer months which is a relief because I just don't like the extra bulk when its over 80 degrees.
Recently I was asked by a customer out of Upstate New York what inspires me to lean towards my more “antique-esque” hardware patterns. I definitely have an affinity for some past rod makers one being the late Fred D. Divine who began making rods in 1875 out of Utica N.Y. I always felt that his hardware was somewhat medieval in personality. After going through the armory exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art for the fourth time I started seeing some basic geometries that were very reminiscent of some of Divines tooling and stamping. Meandering about in arms and armor exhibits is a good way to develop a taste for forging and tooling. I soon started making drawings of my own and surrounding myself with little artifacts of “Divine” inspiration. I have a small collection of Divine paraphernalia that keeps my creative juices flowing. Most of my cap and ring sets are slightly reminiscent of Divines “Classic Reel Seat”. The cap is slightly elongated, a pronounced taper, with an even more pronounced domed butt. The rings are chamfered and banded and echo some of the trim detailing not only on the cap and rings but also adapting on the cork check and winding checks. Generally speaking Divines hardware is very elegant and simple. When I glance at the few Divine rods that I own, I break into a Cheshire Cat grin, I am then inspired to stand in front of my lathe for hours and burn the midnight oil.
I definitely love wrapping with silk. I have always been a big fan of Pearsall’s silk threads. I honestly believe that the dye batches are the most consistent, color fast, and easily matched. I have been wrapping with Pearsall’s consistently for the last fifteen or so years and have had no guide failures at all. I suppose this sounds a bit like a sales pitch but I’m typically a very reserved optimist and a bit superstitious on top of it all. So I usually keep my happy thoughts to myself. I wrap a lot of rods with white silk which eventually ends up as clear wraps. I have managed over the years to consistently create crystal clear wraps, no glassing at all, no thread tunnel pockets or bubbles by paying close attention to time, temperature, and viscosity using spar. Pearsall’s silk is all I will use to achieve clear wraps to my level of “perfectness” or maybe I just have a high level of comfort and trust with our friends in the UK. My wife has watched me over the years reach scarey levels of deep meditation and severe cognitive dissonance over this particular process. If you approached her on the topic of clear wraps she would wink at you and say I was truly insane. Most people who have seen my wraps would understand my level of OC when it comes to finishing.
One remarkable property of silk is its high tensile strength and its fibers will not easily tear or damage. It is also an elastic medium that can be stretched and then will recover to its original size unless stretched beyond 20-25% of its original length. It has been used in the past in making guy ropes to take advantage of this resilliency.
The attributes of silk all are very positive in my point of view. Pearsall’s offers “Naples”, a heavier diameter silk, which I use for overwrapping ferrules, and the standard “Gossamer” silk thread that I use for guide wrapping and tipping. Again silk has a very high tensile strength but maintains a very consistent minimal diameter. With this in mind it is perfect for whipping threads. Silk evenly absorbs solvent like a sponge, so if you are using spar or even spar urethane blends you can get a very consistent clarity if applied and diluted correctly.
Silk thread has the property of being a very flexible material. For example, a silk scarf can readily be pulled through a wedding ring, and it will quickly retake its original shape without a lot of wrinkling. In addition, silk holds its structural integrity and will not rot. Silk is also more heat resistant than many other types of thread, including nylon, and is actually rather difficult to burn.
Silk takes well to dyes, both natural and synthetic, which results in wide variables when it comes to color especially in threads. Another property of silk is its soft feel, and it retains it shape well, even after having been stretched. In appearance silk has a sheen and luminosity which makes it easier to work with while wrapping under a magnifier. Both bamboo and silk complement one another as raw mediums. They have been used in tandem for hundreds if not thousands of years for swords, suits of armor, and specialized tools. I suppose if a synthetic equivalent to silk was ever developed I would turn my cheek because like bamboo it is truly a gift from Mother Nature.
At age thirteen I was a diehard ultralight fanatic armed with a wee Abu Garcia spinning reel spooled with four pound Maxima mono and a cork handled 5’6” fiberglass Shakespeare rod. Growing up on the South Shore of Oahu was an incredible classroom for playing very aggressive saltwater fish on light tackle. I caught my first Marlin at age eleven which dwarfed my smallish frame as well as the 9/0 reel that I caught it on. When I caught my first Mahi Mahi at age eleven on very light tackle I got the fever for life. The O’io, or bonefish was not the fiercest or most popular of quarry’s, the Papio, or Juvenile Jack Trevalle and the Ulua, or adult Jack Trevalle are really the signature sporting fish of the islands. Open any “Hawaii Fishing News” publication (www.hawaiifishingnews.com) and you will realize the fanatical clubs that revolve around this particular species. However small or large these fish will leave you weak in the knees after stripping your reel clean and making off with four weeks of your allowance money in the form of monofillament.
We loved and honored all these fish and actually in the valley we grew up in, Niu Valley, every one of our streets was named after a fish. There was Mahi Mahi street (dorado), Nenue street (rudderfish), Opakapaka street (red snapper), Aku street (skipjack tuna, Ono street (Wahoo), Malolo Street (flying fish) etc... So I actually learned the Hawaiian names for fish before I knew what the English names were. Today I still make reference to this day by their Hawaiian names. The take away from growing up in Hawaii’s saltwater environment and moving later in life to a fresh water world is that in saltwater you experience pound for pound some of the most sporting fish in the world. It really cannot be argued until you have actually fought either an 8 lb. or 80 lb. Jack Trevalle. Both are simply terrifying on light tackle. I watched a friend of mine in the flats in front of my neighborhood fight a large Papio (probably no more than seventeen inches in length) it made two violent runs at break neck speed and snapped his rod like a toothpick. My friend started crying, he was shaking like a leaf and being boys of only thirteen years old at the time we simply felt defeated by these beasts time and time again. It became a regular occurrence to either have your reel stripped clean or rod broken. As we grew older we learned how to play the fish more efficiently and prepare ourselves emotionally for sudden bouts of these piscatorial meltdowns. I was lucky enough to have a mother and father that allowed me to go out for days at a time and fish in some very dangerous waters off of Molokai and Oahu at such a young age. If you asked my father what I looked like when he handed me my first fishing rod he would probably laugh. We were taking a long weekend off to go out to Pats at Punaluu a small Kamaaina motel back in the early 70’s. It was on the winward side of Oahu and the area was prime Papio (juvenile jack trevalle) and O’io fishing (bonefish). He handed me my first fiberglass rod on the beach and I was so excited I could barely thread the mono through the guides and work the skirted reel. I remember I was about nine years old at the time and I was casting like I was batting in the World Series.
At age 43 monofilament has long given way to fly lines and bamboo rods with fairly traditional light reels. Lures have transcended into hackled dry fly’s no bigger than a fingernail, and emotionally, well let’s just say I still cry if I lose a twenty inch Brown trout. Having an extensive background in saltwater fishing has helped me later in life. I often shudder when I read or hear other fly fisherman talking about smallish fly rods as being “dangerous” to fish. I think if you took this opinion to the late great Lee Wulff or even Vince Marinaro they would dress you down pretty quick, and as I recall they both were fairly environmentally conscious men that loved smallish rods. The fact of the matter is that it takes no longer to bring in a fish on a 6’ rod as it does on a 8’ or 9’ rod of the same weight and tippet diameters. If the fish is played correctly you can bring it in as quickly as you want. If you walk a St. Bernard or a Shitzu both can give you equally a hard time on a leash, it’s how you lead them and hold the leash that matters. I always use the dog walking metaphor because it really holds true in regards to playing the head of the fish not the body. With a small 6’ or 7’ bamboo rod you can leverage a large fish with the right leading language. The Jack Trevalle will teach this lesson very quickly, on any tackle. Having been punished time and time again by such aggressive saltwater fish growing up made me go down an internal list of criteria in my head when I’m playing a large Trout or Salmon on light tackle. I would definitely say being from the islands that the Brown trout is a formidable fighter. Like the smallmouth bass (hold my tung and wait) the Browns personality is pretty aggressive at 15” and up. After landing a large fiesty Brown trout I often murmer under my breath, “wow, your a Jack in Brown trout clothes”
Standing for long hours leaning over a bench, planing, straightening strips, pressing nodes, turning cork, and squinting a lot at 8/0 silk thread you realize that time passes very quickly but that time spent working at the bench is time well worth spent. For the processes and manipulations that go on during the course of building three bamboo fly rods at a time, which is how I work for the most part, one also realizes that solitude can be found not only on a river but standing in front of a well crafted bench.
About twelve years ago I had a wild hair and decided to build the ultimate rod making bench. Fred, a master cabinet maker from the west coast, was a good friend I worked with for many years and always wanted to make a traditional cabinet makers bench. One day during the fall of 1998 we decided to go for broke and took a trip to a Homish lumber yard and purchased some very large pieces of beautiful maple. We spent a lot of time designing, customizing the plans, and eventually resawing very large heavy blocks of maple to make two benches 7 feet in length. Having access to our model shop at FITCH day or night we had access to a Powermatic 24” bandsaw, large jointers, massive table saws, not to mention 4 lathes, a five axis router, 4 Hurcos (C&C machines), a large spray booth, mortiser, two large drill presses, a large power planer, and a ton of layout space. We spent roughly three months making these benches that weighed close to 500 pounds a piece. We used traditional mortise and tenon joints and milled all the hardware. We mounted the old large blue Record vises into the benches, which were of the same design and size that were used to build the British Spitfires of WWII, these imported vises unfortunately are no longer available.
Years later my bench has really become a best friend in many ways. It’s original odor of tung oil has given way to the distinct smell of bamboo. The bench is like a Swiss Army Knife because it can transform itself in multiple ways to meet the demands of all the processes involved in building split cane rods. The importance of a good bench is that it becomes an extension of your body.
The bench acts as the ultimate vessel that houses everything you need to practice your high craft. Occasionally I treat it to some indulgence and give it a good wiping of tung oil for being such a good friend.
Sometimes when it’s cool and breezy in the early spring, nothing is seemingly coming out of the water. If you really want to catch a nice trout on a dry fly you have to pull something out of your vest that is part of the buffet line menu for the surface feeders.
Over the years I’ve developed my own tactics by doing lots of sight fishing, and casting very small midge emerger patterns. Prospecting, i.e. standing in the water and simply casting dry fly’s in likely areas just does not work that great in early spring and it is not a preferred way of fishing for me personally. If you carry a monocular and spot fish ever so slightly pecking at the surface you may be pleasantly surprised. Sometimes you may find they are Shiners or Chub, but most of the time it’s a trout looking for something to nibble on the surface. The little sucking action is very deceiving during the early spring, they are conserving energy and will not move far from their feeding lanes. So the little nibble can be quite a large fish, they are not going to throw surface bulges like other times of the year.
There are two fly’s that I use almost exclusively, it is the Black Quilled Midge Para Emerger, and the Black Quilled Fore & Aft. I have tweaked my patterns around a bit over the years to my liking using quills, mini silk thoraxes, hackle hues, and different hook types. I fish these on 6x and 7x, and coincidently lose a lot of them too. So I tie up about a dozen at a time. Remember midges do not have tails!, so if your tying up a natural and want to mimic a trailing schuck a few fibers of undyed mallard flank works great. These two patterns are definitely my old stand by’s to transition myself from winter to spring and keep me satiated with my dry fly obsession during the colder parts of the season.
Quilled Midge Para Emerger
Hook: TMC 2487 #18-24
Body: Black dyed quills
Thorax: Pure silk dyed black
Wing Post: Turkey flat
Hackle: Black or dark dun saddle hackle
Black Quilled Fore & Aft
Hook: TMC 101 #20-26
Body: Black dyed quills
Hackle: Black, medium dun,
or ginger hackle.
Through the dog days of summer in many parts of America a strange mylar-like terrestrial shows upon many trout streams. The Trout seem to just sit quietly in the shade of an overhanging tree or shrub and wait for these crunchy morsels to drop from the heavens above.
The stout Japanese beetle plops down every few minutes soon after an often violent slurp turns a quiet pool into a variable tsunami.
2) Begin to wrap the peacock herl first. Then wrap the two quills individually around the body in a spiral not to cover up the herl but rather to segment it and reinforce it.
3) After both the peacock herl and the tag end of the quills are wrapped towards the head of the beetle fasten them down and pull them back with a few wraps of black thread. Clip the herl and quill legs so they extend just slightly behind the bend of the hook.Tie in some black hackle for a few turns near the head.
This pattern can be fished dry or just under the surface in fast water. Remember to be careful when striking fish that come up for beetle patterns, the strikes are often sudden and it’s easy to strike too hard and pop tippets.
I was very inspired at around age 29 by a man who I thought really had a honest and contemporary perspective on fly tying. He used a lot of traditional materials but used them in a way that was innovative and thoughtful. Not only did he resurface some of the forgotten materials but he taught how to use them in a highly functional way. A.K. Best has since then been very inspirational when it comes to my own personal tying experience. The use of quills is something that now riddles my patterns as well as the use of hen hackle wings, and silk dubbing. I still dye my own rooster and pullet capes myself as well as strip and bleach my own quills. His hands on approach allows me to get exactly what I want when it comes to color, proportion, and profile. Back when e-mail was not as accessible I wrote back and forth to him quite a bit and he sent me some feathers in the mail. He introduced me to Coq de Leon feathers and their many uses especially when it came to tailing. I did not like artificial tailing for duns or spinners so he enlightened me on the many uses of this highly prized feather. Now I still get my Coq de Leon from Argentina and employ the use of this feather in a myriad of ways. I have used many of A.K.’s dun patterns over the years and they have always proved themselves time and time again. I never quite warmed up to post or cut wings but fell in love with his winging techniques using pullet, which once learned, these wings are actually quite easy and fast to execute. Most of the dry fly’s that I tie are A.K. inspired with the exception of my terrestrial patterns. A.K. seems to be a blend of Catskill, British, and good ole’ Yankee know how when it comes to fly tying techniques and patterns.
A Modern Dry-Fly Code by Vince Marinaro is book that I have read from cover to cover about thirty times and much of his dry fly perspectives are similar to A.K.’s. Both definitely hold a certain conviction when it comes to profiles of fly’s, color, and proportion. Again they are more inclined to use natural materials and do some very creative improvisation to manipulate these materials. Hackling duns for example Marinaro style is very intriguing and also very difficult. If you’ve ever tried the “x” criss-crossing manipulation while winding hackle it can be very fickle. A.K.’s method of creating a uniform and sparsely hackled fly is much more obtainable, and fast. Although the thought behind Marinaro’s technique is spot on. I personally tie it both ways depending on what kind of water I am fishing and the size of the fly. I was able to obtain a lifetime supply of porcupine quills from a veterinarian and tie Marinaro’s hopper pattern that floats perfectly with the two outrigger-style quills. A.K. uses quills the same way, for buoyancy, and layers them on larger fly’s creating a kind of life-preserver making them float like corks. Traditional Catskill-style fly’s that use quills are so thin that you cannot see any contrast to create the illusion of segmentation. A.K. uses a thicker section of Chinese Rooster quill and overlaps the quill on itself to create a more profiled abdomen.
Both of these men were and are very giving when it comes to sharing their perspectives and craft with the world. I feel blessed that I was inspired by them so long ago and still employ and evolve their techniques today.
Production Fly Tying by A.K. Best
Fly Tying with A.K. by A.K. Best
A Modern Dry-Fly Code by Vincent Marinaro