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Fly tying and Fortune Telling

Philip Hunt

Tales of the Hunts

Fly tying is one of my favorite past times. The combination of imagination and intricate detail allows a healthy escape for my perfectionism.

My mentors in this endeavor were “old school” in their teaching style. When I would sit in their fly shop as a teenager, I would learn new fly patterns. After the first time finishing a new fly, they would look at it and say “Well, it can only get better from here.” This critique was a welcome refrain from the positive reinforcement that permeated most of my other education and sports. While tying flies requires skill, the hardest part for a fly-tyer is guessing what the trout will actually eat.

I am currently writing this column by a campfire in Yellowstone National Park. Our family vacation this year was in the works since June of last year. We reserved our campsites and our rental truck a year in advance. Since then, the only thing I had to obtain were the flies to use to catch trout a thousand miles away. This task felt more like fortune telling than woodsmanship.

Over the years, I have figured out a few patterns that regularly produce fish on our local streams. As long as I tie a few patterns throughout the year, I will catch fish and, more importantly, my wife will catch fish. I am the main fly-tyer for my wife. If you don’t know by now, she catches more trout in a year than I do in five.

Since I have no crystal ball to look into, I had to use the next best thing: Google.

During the first week of August, the list of flies that every fisherman must have in Yellowstone is the length of the census of Polk County. If I were to tie all of these flies, I would have to quit my job and have an eighteen wheeler deliver the flies to Montana.

I would need a Sherpa to follow my family around the mountain streams to carry all of the possible options a trout in this ecosystem would eat.

With no crystal ball and Google proving to be no help, I relied on dumb luck. Many fishermen will tell you that having confidence in your lure is almost as good as having the right lure. With that in mind I tied a half dozen patterns confidently. I was determined to “fake it until I make it” in Yellowstone.

This plan was all well and good until the first fishing foray yesterday. I had confidence that the flies were tied well. If the trout would bite was still a question.

The first night of our trip we camped beside a small stream. The soothing sound of tumbling water helped take the bite out of the anxiety of tying one hundred flies with the possibility that none would work.

My family walked down to the stream and we began to pry the waters in Montana with flies tied in South Carolina. To my surprise, we ended up fooling a half dozen Cutthroat trout before the kids started a rock skipping contest.

Who knows? I may be a fortune teller.