A winter pine siskin (click to enlarge)
Last week a flock of pine siskins appeared. These cute little birds are manic fliers. They swoop around the bird feeder, practically climbing over each other. Some hang upside down. Others circle the feeder waiting for a spot to open up. A group of 15-20 cluster on the ground beneath the feeder, cleaning up the spilled goodies. Then all at once they fly off together. When they leave, the goldfinches, nuthatches and house finches come back to snack. I don’t know how long they will stay this year. Usually just for a few weeks at our house, but others stay in the area all year round.
Unpacked Fly Vest
If step one was deciding to wash my vest, then step two is finally getting started. So I unzipped every pocket, unclipped every zinger, unfastened every Velcro fastener and laid the contents around the vest. It’s amazing the collection of stuff. Of course none of it is unexpected. I knew where everything was and why it was there. But after emptying the vest, I was amazed at how light it was! And how limp and lifeless it felt.
I didn’t bother to include the garbage I found. You know, the broken toothpicks, the energy bar wrapper, the stray piece of string, empty spools that I keep forgetting to throw away when I get home. It wouldn’t be a pretty picture with that trash in it.
Ten fly boxes might seem like overkill. It would to my wife or son. But if you are a fly fisher, you understand the insanity I suffer from. There are all the standard flies you just have to carry. Then there are the specialized boxes, streamers, nymphs, and so on. They start adding up. Then there is usually a container, either a round plastic fly shop type or as in this case a plastic hook container, that holds a few flies I tied especially for the last outing. Funny how rarely I use those flies.
Anyway, step one and two are done. Time to wash the vest and repack it.
The temperature is in the single digits this week. Frozen fog coats the bare branches of the trees out the window. I haven’t seen the sun in days.
So I am taking a break from my to-do list, and looking back at sunnier times. Scrolling through my folder of Kelly Creek pictures, I came across this one and decided to share it along with a little story. If you come to Kelly Creek via Superior, Montana you follow Moose Creek until you hit the road that winds along the creek. Instead of turning right to follow the river, if you turn left, there is a camping/parking area just before the bridge that leads you on to Cayuse Creek. That is also the trailhead to hike upstream along Kelly. If you are a back packer, you can follow it all the way to the junction with Cayuse and beyond.
Upstream along Kelly Creek (click to enlarge)
When I visit Kelly Creek, I always allow one day to fish the trail. The walk isn’t strenuous, the scenery is incredible and the fishing pressure decreases with each mile you hike. The water gets smaller as you go, but there is always nice fishable water. I’ve had some amazing days along that trail. This picture, taken 10/19/2010 is from the high point of the trail.
In the picture, you can see a small outcropping just above the riffle. Well about 10 years ago, I was hiking back down the trail at dusk. Like every other fly fisher I know, I watch the trail to see where I am going, but keep an eye on the water, because isn’t that what it’s all about?
It had been a long day with dozens of fish and hours of hiking and wading, but when I saw rising fish I stopped to watch. You can see in the photo that from the trail to the water is a steep drop. So it wasn’t an easy decision. I was tired and hungry, but there were rising fish. I gave in and skidded down to the river.
Stripping out some line, I made an awkward steeple cast to let my parachute Adams drift down riffle. Before the first strike, I heard a snort and the splash of a rock rolling into the water. Looking upstream fifteen feet to my left, a huge bull moose stared back at me. Let me say that I didn’t waste much time reeling in my line and backing down stream. When I got far enough to feel safe, I scrambled up the bank to the trail and let my heart rate get back under a hundred and my breath down to normal.
Now every time I hike the trail, I pause at this spot and remember my adventure. It keeps me humble and reminds me we share these waters with each other and the native residents of the this wonderful country. You never know who or what you’ll see along the trail. Each trip is an adventure, but you want to make it home to share your tales.
As fly fishers, we spend hours tying flies, researching rods and reels, talking about streams, and debating nymphing versus dry fly fishing. But other than just before buying your vest, when did you last think about it at all? Once you have one, you take it for granted. Now, with the temperature in the teens, this is the right time to think about my great old vest.
I really like my vest. It is a Simms Guide Vest. I bought it in 2000 for about $90. Seemed pretty steep at the time, but I’ve never regretted it. After 13 years of solid use, it is still like new, as you can see in the picture (click to enlarge). Well, not quite like new. It’s been 6 years since I washed it, so it is a bit dirty, and if I am to be honest, it smells a little of the that wonderful bouquet of sweat, fish, campfires and sunscreen. What a wonderful aroma. The scent of memories of great fish, and great trips. So you might say it is better than new.
Well used and well stocked fly vest
There is fear in washing a fly vest. Why do it? It won’t make it work better, hold more flies or catch more fish. It is possible washing it might make it lose it’s mystical ability to provide the right fly or indicator or spare tippet just when you need it. Even more dangerous, it might not feel as comfortable after washing. What if it shrinks, or is stiffer, or if the zippers aren’t as smooth or silky? These are real concerns, of course. But the last time I washed it (I think the only time) after a trip or two, I forgot I had done it.
Yes, I didn’t even think about washing it again until a couple years ago, when I began to notice the dirty corners and pockets. And when rummaging around in a pocket, I found an increasing collection of crumbs, feathers, and other such treasures. As a trusted and respected part of my fishing experience, I began to feel that the vest deserved a bath. But I didn’t want to rush into it. Like a ball player who won’t wash his socks for fear of snapping a hitting streak, or Michael Jordon who wore his UNC shorts under his Bull’s uniform for luck, it’s hard not to be a little superstitious.
But in the end, it comes down to respect. This is a great vest and deserves to be treated like a valued fishing partner. So I will empty all the pockets, sort through the junk and think back on how this got there and why I put that in the back pocket. I will remember the fish and streams we experienced together. Then after my wife does her thing, I will restock it, looking forward to many more years together.