Heavy Petting

by Jim Lampros

It’s a problem…

“I’ve become an adequate tier almost by accident, and I’ve decided that many of the fine points of fly tying are lost on the fish.”
-John Gierach, Good Flies

That flowing mane and trim underbody. Those flashy accents. That trim profile and those perfect proportions. And those eyes. Those perfect little bead-chain eyes.

When you choose to make a permanent home in the Midwest, you resolve to find coping mechanisms for seasonal affective disorder. I don’t care much for skiing and would have to travel even if I did. I enjoy hunting but lack the motivation to rise at a productive hour, and when I do get out, I’m a lousy shot. Exercise just sounds like a whole lot of work. By my count that leaves drinking and fishing. I consider myself an expert at both, and the fact that these activities are not mutually exclusive (to the contrary, rather) can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on who’s asking.

  David Wilson

David Wilson

Fishing requires terminal tackle, and for me that means flies. Buying flies is expensive. I know, because I sold them for a living for several years. It’s also not sustainable, and rolling your own is therapeutic in many ways. So, while I’m not the least bit opposed to paying for someone else’s bugs, in the off months especially I make an effort to fill my own boxes.

My current state of craftsmanship oscillates between a focus on execution of only the simplest, most utilitarian guide-tested patterns, to the occasional one-off artisanal tie. When alcohol is introduced into the equation – which is to say, most of the time – the results fall somewhere in between.

All things being equal, I prefer to tie “in season.” To me, it is the sharpening of the arrowhead, the fine-tuning of fletching. To observe the patterns of a days’ fishing, season them with concept, and contrive the flies of tomorrow is in so many ways the essence of the sport. To capture the immediacy of inspiration born of real-life context is to harness a powerful mojo. It is for this reason that, over the years, many a fly box has been chocked up to donation or, worse yet, reclamation. The cleansing of shanks, only to be born again, a new wheel. A tongue-in-cheek screenplay of the circle of life.

In winter though, anything goes. When the rivers are in a hard water state, I tend to experiment. With the conventional testing grounds unavailable, a finished bug might not see playing time for weeks. And so, I dote and dottle… examining the finished product in all available light sources and at all angles. Stringing them up for a pass through the kitchen sink, the bath tub or, in some instances, (I ain’t gone’ lie), the toilet bowl. If it’s good enough for my dog, it’s good enough to swim a woolly bugger.

This examination process takes time, and it can become peculiar. I will line up a new batch of bugs on the kitchen counter and revisit them through the day as the ambient light changes. Depending on river conditions this vetting process may last for weeks. My wife calls it “petting.” I say, petting is vetting. Only the strong will survive.

I have been known to bring this strange habit into the work place. When I was employed in the fly fishing industry, the petting fetish never really raised any eyebrows. But these days I have to be careful when I pull a couple steelhead streamers out of my pocket for intermittent examination. I don’t think my insurance covers psych exams.

If there’s a saving grace, it’s that I know I’m not alone in this oddball obsession. I once had a confessional of sorts with a fishing buddy who caught me stroking a couple fresh ties. He immediately calibrated the situation, and referred to the habit as “Playing with the dolls.” Needless to say, this didn’t make me feel much better about the whole ordeal, but at least I didn’t have to explain myself.

Kendrick Chittock