Archive for October, 2009


Midges (Dinky Droppers)

Nothing much to these lil’ flies. They simply reinforce my love of peacock as one of the 5 best materials (don’t ask) and the fuzziness of wrapped turkey feather fibers turned out to be much fuzzier than when I recently used it for a BWO pattern. This fuzziness is akin to wrapped pheasant tail barbs. Fragile though, hence the ribbing. But, the turkey did give a nice fuzzy look. Also, look at that bottom pattern. I used the most miniscule piece of Rootbeer Krystal Flash, but look at the twist to it and the colors. I tied all these smaller on the size 16 hook. I also didn’t resort to the curved shank pupa hook. Mostly just dinking around to see how materials look through the lens and to play with presentation. Winter/early spring are great times to fish small midges given the limited hatches.





John Holt (Damn Gates!)

The Obsession with Possession          Fencing the Sky


I suspect that men are going along this way for the last time, and I for one don’t want to waste the trip

Robert Traver–Anatomy of a Fisherman

john holt

John Holt

My difficulties with fences began some years ago, a delicate transmutation arising from problems I had and still have with gates. Either my hands get scratched from trying to latch the ragged compilations of weathered tree limbs and barbed wire that block passage to some exotic fishing water or I pinch my fingers in the workings of the newer hook-type mechanism or I become inextricably tangled in the wire while crossing through. And with the certainty of an eastern-horizon sunrise, I find myself on the wrong sides of these gates after closing them. Coming or going, it doesn’t matter. The Suburban is always beyond the gate waiting for me to figure things out.

When I turned fifty crossing fences turned into a struggle. I’m in fairly good shape, not too much overweight, and manage to totter around with a modest degree of authority, but now I cannot get over, under or through a fence, particularly barbed wire ones, without some sort of mishap. All of the shirts I wear fishing or bird hunting are torn along the shoulders and back. My sweaters have loops pulled from their tight knitting large enough to hold ice axes, and my waders leak, doing little more now than visually announce that I’m about to chase some fish.

One time along the Shields River I became entangled while stooping and grunting through some wire that silently guarded a delightful stretch of prime water. Frustrated – I could hear trout splashing after caddis less than 30 feet away- I jerked free only to have the tip guide of my fly rod hook on a rusty barb. Jerking the rod sharply I lost my footing, the rod separating at mid section. I slid to the bottom of the embankment with line humming off the reel as though I’d hooked a five-pound brown. Nothing serious came of this calamity. I lost a few minutes of my life during regrouping. The tip guide was bent into a narrow oval and my torn shirt was now more torn. I was dusty and bedraggled, but that’s how I wind up looking after fishing anyway. I went on to have a pleasant day catching a few browns, but that incident was the beginning of my firm dislike for fences and an beginning of an awareness concerning our obsession with closing land in, delineating, and not so tacitly stating that, a given piece of property that is owned is now longer a part of what’s left of free range in the West.

We’re all obsessed with possession. Relationships between the sexes are often defined by the scars of these emotional turf wars. That’s to be expected. We’re a flawed species. And purchasing a piece of land is overt possession, but controlling this land is absurd. Yeah, I understand that if someone pays the bucks they can do what they want with the acreage. Cattle must be managed. And riffraff such as myself needs to be kept at bay. A dwindling few ranchers still allow access to their land if a person politely asks and remembers to thank them with a Christmas bottle of rye whiskey or such. But the whole ownership thing is out of control on the high plains. Orange spray-painted fence posts by the millions, “Keep Out” signs swaying in the wind and “No hunting or fishing. No trespassing” warnings. How a person can do the former two without committing the latter is a mystery. This variation seems a case of restating the obvious. If you can’t pass, you logically can’t fish or hunt.

And I love the entrances to many of the newer ranches or ranchettes, the ones marked by a pair of enormous Ponderosa pine trunks topped by an equally large trunk across the top. And dangling below the top brace in clear examples of human hauteur are signs that dance to the tune of “Smith’s Ponderosa” or “Jones’s Wild West Retreat” or, my personal favorite, “Wall Street Retreat.” Thankfully the plains Indians never adopted this insecure form of territorialism. Visions of “Plenty Coups’ Palace” or “Dull Knife’s Estancia” come shakily to mind.

All of this makes sense to me. Let’s all hem in the land and its spirit with miles of barbed wire and then announce to the world who exactly is responsible for this self-absorbed mayhem. Like we own the good country in the long term. Recent wildfires in Montana and now California say otherwise, as do drought, earthquake and the inevitable ice age. I’ve never been a wannabe Indian. Not my style, and quite sensibly on the tribes’ part, they don’t want me, but whatever happened to respecting the land that can never be truly owned? What about honoring and submitting to the long-running buzz that is the electric spirit of the West?

Sure fencing one’s property ensures at least the illusion of privacy and security. We can all drive down our private, dusty lanes, sit on the front porch and arrogantly say while sipping some expensive single malt, “I’ve got mine. You can’t have it. I’m really living now.” The mentality that made us great hideously guts the essence of open space.

Up until a few years ago I couldn’t imagine what Montana or the Dakotas would have been like 150 years ago. A land of no fences, few people and a vastness filled with wild animals that rivaled Africa’s now ravaged Serengeti. For the past several years I’ve been drifting up to the far north of the Yukon and Northwest Territories with increasing frequency while researching a book. When I first drove through the hundreds of miles of uncut boreal forest and crossed rivers like the Mackenzie that are more than a mile wide and 40 feet deep, when I saw thousands of woodland bison grazing by the dirt roads that are called highways up there, I was blown away. To finally experience such an immense wealth of wilderness, an area many times the size of Montana, with so few signs of people was staggering. To catch countless grayling of several pounds from one small stretch of river was stunning. One day last June as I cruised up to the First Nations Dene De Cho settlement of Pedzah Ki, I watched the Mackenzie flow, not flow but power, its way north to above the Arctic Circle and finally into the Beaufort Sea. The Canyon Range, then the Mackenzie Range, then other mountains rolled away to the west for hundreds of miles. Moose ghosted through stands of dwarf birch. Black bears were all over the place feeding on the green, rich grasses of a short, intense summer. Through binoculars I sighted grizzlies wandering the slopes of the McConnell Range. Fifty miles to the south, Nahanni Butte shimmered silvery blue. For days I saw only a few settlements of maybe 100 people each. No phone or electric lines. No fences. The difference in the energy, in the feel, of this land was palpable. The countryside sizzled and seemed to flicker with a light that is not seen by the eyes. This must have been what the Big Sky felt like a couple of centuries past. Montana is home in my heart, but the North in its, for now, untamed radiance owns my soul.

Experiencing all of this up north made me see that we don’t improve things for ourselves or, more importantly, for the good country when we attempt to stamp our designs of control on the landscape. Instead we cut out the heart of the place and in the process slice away chunks of ourselves. In a few years my children will be off to college and I’m going to move out of Livingston and back into the empty, open spaces. I’d like to believe that I’ll tear down all of the fences on whatever place I find, but knowing myself, I doubt it. I want my piece of paradise just like anyone else.

Last October while returning from another day fishing on the Shields I crossed several fences on the way back to the Suburban. Angus cattle were casually grazing on the last of the year’s good grass. As is normal these days, I fought with a fence near the highway. When I finally passed through I looked up and saw a lone cow standing on the road-side of the fence. Cattle do this. They always want what they see on the other side, then decide that they really need to return to their original side of the obstruction. The animal was pushing against the barbed wire trying to rejoin its herd. The cow bawled in its frustration. A large gash ran along its flank. Blood from the wound glistened in the sunlight. I turned away, unlocked the back doors of the rig and started to put away my gear. I looked down at my right hand. A long scratch ran from the base of the little finger to the wrist. There was a good deal of blood that, too, glistened in the light.

John Holt has been called the Hunter Thompson of Montana. He is the author of numerous books, including the gripping novel Hunted, and Coyote Nowhere: In Search of America’s Lost Frontier. He lives in Livingston, Montana and can be reached at:

Found this 2004 piece by a writer I have no familiarity with but should. Anyone likened to that renegade Hunter Thompson is worth a look see. Here are some additional pieces by Holt re Montana.


Keeping You In or Keeping You Out?

A Ghastly Disneyland with High Rise Outhouses Gating Montana

The Feedback Loop Gating Montana: Part Two



Lil’ Grey Nymph (So Simple You’ll Ignore It….Don’t)

Lil' Gray Nymph~SwittersB

At first blush you would discount this pattern as too simple to be worthy or effective. I understand that more adornments seems better. But, this pattern has REPEATEDLY proven itself on stillwaters and streams. I have taught fly tying to beginners over the years. After the Woolly Worms, Elk Hair Caddis, Hare’s Ear Nymph, Bead Head this and that…I would end the class with this pattern. I would invariably see the baffled looks. ‘This fly does not seem complex enough to work.”  A gift horse in the mouth….

Work it like any nymph…it works. The Lil’ Grey was the original color. I was on a grey kick. It work as a Lil’ Brown or Lil’ Greenie. Simple to tie for a young tyer and absolutely efficient at catching trout. Trust me…trust it. The tying sequence is hopefully simple to follow.











Grey or Gray…this lil’ nymph is probably too simple to warrant all the pics, but I am not given to the usual tutorial sequences. So, I thought I would give it a try. To recap….simple to tie, simply tight.You can look at the fly and go….well a wire rib would add more flash….A little Krystal flash to the wing…oh the tail is too bushy….see you are thinking too much. Take a break…keep it simple.



Judgment & Discretion (Because Someone Has to Tell You!!!)

If you surround yourself with like minded goof balls, you will unfortunately have bad behavior reinforced as acceptable. You will be the one at 50 years of age, that never got the memo about harassment and the hostile workplace. So, I think you need help or an alert of sorts when you venture out of the confines of your reinforcing group to that new group that invited you over for the Halloween Party tonight…reconsider that costume.

sheep fucker


Steelhead, Clearwater Class B’s and Mama Ain’t Watchin’

“Singing done, I took my seat at the bar right in time for the cops to waltz in and throw down the native woman sitting next to me. Amid a shower of curses, with cell phone cameras a’glare (we’ll get you you sons-of-bitches), the cops wrestled the wreathing mass out the door and all went back to normal….” Angler’s Tonic, Clearwater Steelhead, Greg Thomas

I see

I always enjoy those that get to sneak away beyond home waters, and it reinforces to me what distilled corn, rye or barley can do for courage and to that morning constitution. Anymore, ugh…where did the endurance go? Nice writing…if you are just finding it…. quite good… the enjoyable mix of visuals, words the obligatory tunes and the ability to put you there. Greg Thomas Blog


Oracle Wet Fly (Almost as Hot as an Adrienne Comeau Beer Can Holder)

adrienne Yes, I know. There is little in the way of fly design that can equal the simplistic, single syllable utterances re the Adrienne Comeau Budweiser Beer Can Holder. Normally, I would not even attempt to suggest that much short of the take could equal Adrienne’s pull. But, tonight I almost found a match. Not quite, but for awhile, until I looked at the pic again, I thought I was close.

The Oracle Wet Fly is just plain seductive and inviting. It has all the stuff in the right places and well it makes you pause for a longer look. Not the ACBBCH, but close.

IMG_1515X Oracle Wet

Oracle: authoritative, devines future, believed to be infallible.

Hook: Size 16 Dai-Riki 700B   Thread: 8/0 Black   Tail: Mallard Tail Barbules    Body: Gold Tinsel with Copper Ribbing    Wing: Tan CDC & Olive Hen Feather wrapped.  (No thorax material).


This Oracle Wet has a body constructed from Root Beer Krystal flash. It still picks up multiple colors when wrapped.


Basic Fly Fishing Presentation for Steelhead



~ When the water temperature drops below 40 degrees, switch to sink-tip lines.

~ You don’t have to dredge the bottom with your sinking line. It will work as long your fly is within 4 feet of the bottom.

~ Don’t swing flies in runs more than 8-feet deep because you probably can’t fish them effectively, even with a sink tip.

~ If you only have a floating line, use a sinking poly leader as a substitute. It will get your fly down deep enough in most cases.

~ When the river is getting lots of pressure, fish out-of-the-way places like pocket water, and the fringes of popular runs. You may find fish holding in unlikely places.

~ When fishing nymphs under an indicator, use a heavy fly in front like a stonefly or egg sucking leech, then trail a small nymph or an egg pattern behind it. In the spring, an egg pattern is your best bet.

prince xxx~ If there’s lots of fishing pressure, fish with smaller flies, as small as size 10. Make sure the hooks are strong enough to land a steelhead.

~ It’s never too cold to catch fish on a fly, but when the temperature drops into the mid to low 30s, dead drift flies instead of swinging them.

~If you prefer swinging flies, swing them when the water temperature is rising, which makes fish more active.


~ Learn to identify steelhead water. Steelhead hold in fairly distinct spots. Look for current that’s about walking speed with underwater structures in the form of boulders or bottom contours where deep areas turn shallow.

~ Steelhead prefer water that’s from 3 to 10 feet deep, but there’s a lot of leeway there.

~ Pay attention to seasons and conditions and know how they will affect fish. As the water gets colder, steelhead tend to like water that’s deeper and slower.

~ Learn a section of river. It’s tempting to chase rumors of a hot bite, but if you know where fish hold in a particular piece of water, you’re usually better off going there and waiting for fish to bite rather than trying unfamiliar water.

~ Be adaptive. Steelhead fishing conditions are constantly changing. If you adapt with the conditions, you will catch more fish.

~ Think presentation. No matter what tackle you’re using, how it’s presented is critical. Slower is usually better. You want your gear in front of the fish as long as possible.

~ Learn the local tactics. People tend to fish the Snake River differently than the Clearwater River or Salmon River. Tactics even change between the lower and upper Salmon River.


Plan to Drill on Colorado Plateau Meets Resistance

Roan Valley Natural Gas Drilling Site

Natural Gas Drilling in Roan Valley, Colorado

“As it lays plans to exploit the Roan Plateau, the Bill Barrett Corporation is promising sensitivity to the area’s wild character. The company acquired its drilling rights last year after buying a 90 percent stake in the leases from Vantage Energy, which won them at a federal auction last August. (That auction netted nearly $114 million, a record for a lower-48 onshore lease.) The company has told investors that if it is allowed to develop the plateau, it may drill as many as 3,200 wells. But Mr. Zavadil said the company would diligently avoid trout streams and minimize other disruptions by using advanced techniques to pack dozens of wells together. The company has also pledged to develop only portions of the plateau at a time, and to put up money to improve wildlife habitats.”


Target Acquisition (Does Hot Thread for Heads, Thread Wraps or Hot Beads Matter?)


DO WE USE RED ENOUGH? REMEMBER WHEN EVERYTHING WAS RED? Course that was when you bought your flies at a hardware store: the Royal Coachman, Red tail Yellow Woolly Worm, the Red tail Joe’s Hopper. Red was so there on spoons, lures, eggs, flies…..

bloody mary fly

Bloody Mary Nymph (SwittersB)


Filoplume Wet Fly (Don’t throw that fluffy stuff away)


The above fly is the standard wet fly imitation. Sometimes, depending upon what is being imitated (mayfly or caddis) there is a tail. Above, of note, is the peacock herl thorax. Note how it pushes outward the barbs of the wound hen hackle. Theoretically, this allows the feather to pulse away from the sides of the body suggesting life. I can’t swear to this, but is make sense.

Now, below is a similarly purposed fly with tail and a wing. What I like about this fly (suitable for streams or stillwaters) is the filoplume material at the base of the quill. This portion is often discarded after plucking away the top portion to wrap a wing (like the above fly’s wing).


It is fascinating to look at this fly and see what was not evident with the naked eye….the wire ribbing was snipped off flush (so I thought). There it is…protruding from beneath the thread head. It won’t hurt the effectiveness of the fly or its durability…but aesthetically that is quite unsettling to some. Maybe I need to wear those big goggles to better focus on minute details.

So, you see the filoplume feathers tied in for the tail and wing on this size 14 hook. It is like miniature marabou and a wonderful material to utilize in tails and wings on small flies ( a great tail on a truly mini-bugger). Below is a portion of a hen saddle hackle.

Hen Saddle Hackle


This is the individual feather.IMG_1512x

The top is usually used for a wing

and the bottom portion once plucked

away discarded. Use the fluffy barbs at

the base of the feather for tails & wings.

To the right is a pinch of plumes from the

feather on the left.

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October 2009

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