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Monday, December 2, 2013

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: The Second Season – On The Fly

Episode 3 – Fly-Tying For Retired Tie-Dyers
"I think I fish, in part, because it's an anti-social, bohemian business that, when gone about properly, puts you forever outside the mainstream culture without actually landing you in an institution."   -  John Gierach
By Robert Yarnall

In case you didn't know, may have forgotten, or just really don’t care, be advised that Whiskey Tango Foxtrot was spawned in 2012 as a serialized account of a small boatload of perpetually perturbed neighbors who set out to harpoon a wind energy project known as “Whalerock.”

The Big Whalerock Circus has pretty much packed up and left town, leaving behind just a small group of clowns who seem to believe they still have some mileage left on them thar shoes. So Whiskey Tango Foxtrot continues into a second season, following their goofy footprints even as they try to cover them up, recalcitrant doggies pooping their way across neighborhood yards.

Sure, our aging Whalerockers and Whalerockettes will cleverly (they think) say, “So whaddya expect, the guy’s tellin’ fish stories!!!...” But serious anglers know it is not about  fish, it’s about fishing: who knows what lurks in the shadowy depths of The Moraine Zone?

Abandon All Common Sense, Ye Who Enter There…

We can learn a lot from our cousins the fish, not the least of which is to be wary of tidbits dangled in front of our noses when something about the situation just doesn’t seem quite right. Wiley brook trout native to the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed are notorious for their instinctive ability to discern reality from fantasy. For anglers like me, transitioning from live bait to artificial imitations of indigenous aquatic insects involves an intriguing learning curve.

The bedrock of fly-fishing is, of course, the science of entomology, an intriguing topic in its own right. Aside from Boy Scout merit badges and high school biology, my limited encounters with insect study took place within casual conversations with former URI/ current UVM Professor Josef Gorres, a plant and soil scientist who designed and conducted a series of popular field workshops for Rhode Island middle school teachers and their students during his tenure at URI.

I actually know Josef from our mutual interest in the study of martial arts - the essence of which is not unlike the art of fly-casting, but that discussion is for another time – and one night after we had spent a couple of hours picking each other up off the floor, I casually asked him, “So what can we learn from studying worms and stuff?”

Dr. Gorres, or Josef as he insists to be addressed, replied humbly, “We learn about ourselves, what we do, where we are going, what happens when there are lots of living things sharing small spaces…”or something pretty close to that.

Josef’s retort was vintage professorial, a genuine exhortation to make the inquisitor more inquisitive. Going on two decades later, I still recall that conversation, usually when I sit at my fly-tying desk working on the basic skills all fly-tiers must master in order to advance to the next level of the art, very much like martial artists advancing through the belt ranks.

When I can finally tie that near-perfect imitation of the quintessential Wood River mayfly hatch, I am going to dedicate it to my former karate training partner, Dr. Josef Gorres. Right now, however, I’m simply moving on to Fly-Tying 101, Basic Bug Building.

Even if, like me, you’re nearly Medicare-eligible and have never tied anything in your life besides shoe laces and a Woodstock-era dyed tee shirt, you can actually handle this very cool activity. You know you want to. Who doesn’t want to channel “A River Runs Through It” just up the road in Arcadia, where rural is really rural? You know you want to do this.

Our first stop on the winding gravel road to the trout stream snakes through a couple of the kazillions of online information booths that hobbyists of all slants smack into as they careen around cyberspace.

Early-on in my embryonic, curiosity-seeking stage of fly-fishing technique, I bit on a snappy web graphic popping up as “The Bug Guy.” For folks needing an informative, entertaining introductory lesson to aquatic entomology (and anyone wanting to be a true fly angler needs one), look no further than Colorado State University’s Dr. Robert Younghanz, aka The Bug Guy, a fly-fishing academic who is also not interested in hearing you utter the word “Doctor” - unless it’s in the context of a quick trip to Urgent Care to have a hook removed from your ear lobe.

Robert has created an online video library of lessons on just about every aquatic entomology topic critical to understanding and appreciating the delicate balance between humans and the environment, which is admittedly more important than the care & feeding of  fly-fishing enthusiasts. You can access them at no cost, except for a guilty conscience, on his website.

 If you want to duly recognize and respect Younghanz’s effort to make the sport more accessible to wretches like me, you’ll cough up a measly $30 (less than a spool of fly line) and buy his two-DVD set, Entomology for the Fly Fisher.  

Quick mend here: As a three decades-plus career teacher – every minute of it in an actual classroom – I respectfully say to my colleagues statewide that you will find Robert’s DVD’s an invaluable resource for any learning venture, but most hopefully as a prep lesson for a field trip to the highly acclaimed school offerings at WPWA.

The second and final stop before we get to the actual act of hooking oneself and cursing the dog is a visual demonstration of the art of fly-tying by a fly-tying professional. My booth of choice here is the online 12-part Beginner Fly Tying Class authored by Pennsylvania State Fly-tying Champion Scott Cesari. 

Scott is not a schoolteacher per se, but he certainly has the teaching gene, presenting a series of sequential lessons covering basic fly-tying skills and applying each skill within ten basic fly-tying patterns common to all devotees of the art. You can grab his stuff for free as well, and if you can do that without a guilty conscience, to paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy, “…you could be a CCA-guy…” (To avoid that dubious distinction, it’s well worth a $25 DVD purchase to support Scott’s unique fly-tying niche. Check it out here.)

It may be a good idea to have a go at Scott’s distance learning sessions before you sign up for winter fly-tying workshops like WPWA’s, so when you are in the presence of real people you won’t feel like a total idiot, although I can tell you from experience that no matter what you do, it is going to be painfully obvious, mostly to yourself, that you are at least 50% idiot.

The rest of the tying group will forgive that part of you, because they were all there once themselves. Learn to laugh at yourself (even if you’re a CCA-affiliated novice fly-tier) and you will do just fine. Even I eventually figured it out, though that timeless paradigm, “laughing with you vs. laughing at you” was very much in evidence the first couple of hours.

So here it is class, your homework: check out the respective websites of Robert and Scott and meet me back here next time where I will demonstrate that you can indeed teach an old dog new tricks, except for those attention-craving canine types whose main hobby is to yap and crap wherever and whenever it is conveniently self-serving to do so because, uh, er, uhmm, well, because that’s just what they do.

For everybody else looking for a productive, challenging hobby, get on the fly and enjoy the planet while we’re still here. Get ready to finally tie one on.

Next time on WTF’s Second Season – The Jam, The Pinch, The Whip Finish (Say what??!!??)