Sunday, March 3, 2013

Mining the Archives

As I was putting some gear away following a recent trip, I took a look inside a couple ratty chestpacks. These packs are just cheapies with one fleece-lined main compartment and a few small outside sleeves that fit sunscreen and bug dope, but not much else. They were perfect for bonefish and trout when you wanted to “travel light”. They didn’t last long; maybe one or two seasons, then a seam would blow or a zipper would fail. I’ve owned several them over the years, but only these two remain.

The fleece inside served as a catchall during the “heat of battle”. I would clip flies in the fleece when I was in a hurry and didn’t want to take the time to store the discarded fly properly in a box. I thought I would use these flies later, but since fishing time is precious and somewhat tattered flies never inspire confidence, I knew the fleece was more of a graveyard than a storage area. I always told myself I would use these doomed flies again, but I rarely did. As I dug out a few usable wooly buggers, I suddenly realized that this wasn’t a graveyard at all, but a scrapbook.

There was that odd parachute hopper I had used on a narrow spring creek near Twin Falls, Montana. That creek was truly unique. Grasses along the bank grew as tall as a man. The stalks stretched out over the water and made casting an adventure in accuracy and anger management. One section, appropriately called Vietnam, had a casting corridor of only about two feet. You hooked the grass as often as you made a good cast, but it was all worth it to see a 24” brown inhale these parachute hoppers.

Then there was a prototype bonefish fly that I had used on South Andros. Almost immediately, this fly lost my confidence when a big bone completely snubbed it and moved on. I was sure this pattern would be the next great bonefish fly. Now it sat alone and forgotten, relegated to spend its career in the dark bottom of this chestpack along with a few pine needles and some split shot.

Beside this forgotten bonefish fly sat a 3/0 Lefty’s Deceiver. It seemed out of place with all the small trout and bonefish flies. I wondered why I had never removed it. Then I looked more closely and saw that the fly was almost totally destroyed. The bucktail was crooked and eaten. The hook was savagely bent. It was then that I remembered its history. This was the deceiver that had hooked and caught my first big trevally in the Seychelles. It had been a monumental battle. Apparently, I couldn’t bring myself to discard this old warrior... then or now.

Buried deeper in the fleece and smashed flat was a beetle pattern with an orange post. I had used this fly while in Chile where huge two inch cantaria beetles fell off the trees into the Rio Paloma. This big foam-bodied fly was intentionally smacked on the water’s surface then stripped one time about 3-6 inches. If a brown was in the area, the fly was inhaled in that slow, mesmerizing “big brown” way . Those cantaria beetles must have looked to the browns like a 20 oz. Porterhouse steak looks to a guy who’s been on a diet of tofu and rice cakes.

And there was that little, green chenille, sauce’ worm fly I had used in Argentina on the Alumine’ River. Browns and rainbows, sometimes well over 20 inches, would race six feet to take one of those little worms flies. When the wind would blow, the sauce’ wasp grubs would blow from the willow trees into the river creating some of the best dry fly opportunities I’ve ever experienced... a great memory!

In one corner of a chestpack sat a white strike indicator I had used one day only on Montana’s Bighorn River. So many cottonwoods had been shedding their fluffy seeds that at times it seemed to be snowing. By mid-day the surface of the Bighorn was littered with white cotton balls. We had nymphed in very shallow water for twenty inch rainbows that were stacked in the riffles. Traditional chartreuse and orange strike indicators had spooked fish to such an extent on our first day that we were virtually skunked sight nymphing. The next morning, when we saw the white antron yarn indicators in one of the shops in Ft. Smith, my friend and I independently came to the same conclusion and bought one. They worked like the wheel and we felt as clever as card sharks. There’s nothing like fooling a fish to make you feel like you’re way up the evolutionary scale.

As I dug a bit deeper, I found two balsa wood crickets that I had removed from a twenty-two inch cutthroat on Wyoming’s Tongue River. Apparently, the fish had eaten the same fly twice. I have no way of knowing if it was on the same day or if an old codger had come back another day intent on seeking revenge. In any case, I haven’t seen these homemade balsa wood flies in many years so I’m sure of two things: it was an old timer that hooked and lost the fish twice and I’m sure the big cutt was thrilled to finally get all this hardware out of his mouth. I wish I knew the whole story here. I bet the old codger still thinks about that fish...

I’m sure it will be hard now to throw out these old chestpacks. I’ll probably put them in a box confirming that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. They’ll sit in that box until I find them again some day... then I’ll get to relive all these great moments again. But then isn’t that the purpose of a scrapbook?

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