all about the fly

The (Reversed) Spiderman.

When I was a kid I liked comic book superheros, and my favorite was always Spiderman. I could easily identify with his alter ego – an unpopular, skinny kid by the name of Peter Parker. But once he donned the crime fighting tights I marveled at Spiderman’s ability to shoot his webbing between buildings and catch bad guys, very much in the same way that a skilled fly angler can fire a tight cast between overhanging branches and catch hiding fish. I’ve always wanted to be able to do both. Hey, a guy can dream can’t he?

Sea run cutthroat (SRC), or coastal cutthroat trout, are common to these parts (Western Warshington). When I was a comic book-reading kid I trolled for them along the beaches of Hood Canal, and later in life I’ve fished for them in the lazy stretches of the Snoqualmie River. I’ve known all along that SRC like the slow moving “frog water” and lie near structure so that they can ambush prey. I’ve also known for many years that there is a special fly tied just for these fish:  the Reversed Spider. But knowing these things, and even possessing the fly with alleged super powers hasn’t brought me any good luck. The few times that I’ve gone after them have resulted favorably for the fish and left me feeling more like an unpopular skinny kid than a superhero. Recently, however, my SRC fortunes improved a little bit.

Brian Paige, who is a real life fishing superhero, recently invited me to join him for a steelhead float on the Wenatchee River.  Unfortunately rains had caused the Wenatchee to rise and it was decided that we’d save ourselves the gas money and fish closer to home on the Skykomish River. As for what finned quarry we would be pursuing, Brian said, “Bring a 4 wt, an 8 wt and your Spey rod.”  Apparently we’d be chasing SRC, Coho salmon, and steelhead.  The prospects of that trifecta sounded rather enticing to me, so I grabbed my Sage Z-Axis 4 wt and Spey, and my Sage XP 8wt. I am admittedly a Sage whore Poster Boy, as I also have a few other Sage rods besides the ones employed for duty on this day.

I met Brian at the Sultan launch and we were joined by none other than the mysterious man who goes by the moniker, “Flybill”. There were enough rods in Brian’s boat to outfit a fly shop as we headed downriver under cloudy skies that threatened drizzle. There was even a spinning rod with the cork still in shrink wrap. I’m still not sure what that rod was doing there – all I know is that it didn’t belong to either Brian or myself.  It had rained most of the night before and unfortunately the Skykomish was slightly on the rise.  As we all know, fishing a river that’s rising isn’t what one would prefer to do, but to date I’ve not tapped into the superpowers needed to alter nature’s course.  The weather forecast had indicated that the day would be clearing so we weren’t expecting much if any rain and hopefully the rising river wouldn’t become unfishable.

We immediately began casting toward the slow water for cutts.  Brian guides for a living and fishes when he’s not guiding, so he’s on the river a lot.  In between time on the water he works at All About The Fly, so fly fishing pretty much consumes his life. Brian starts fishing for sea run cutts in July, and had caught over 100 fish this past summer, even with a 5 week hiatus to do some guiding in Alaska. Bottom line: he knows how to fish for these SRC. Since I don’t, I was all ears when he described the tactics needed to trick these trout.

I watched as he demonstrated a technique developed by none other than the Reverend Mike Kinney , a northwest fly fishing legend who just so happened to create the Reversed Spider.  With the rod tip close to the water, a quick flip of the wrist lifts and drops of the rod tip, followed immediately by a strip of the line. This gives the Reversed Spider the undulating action that drives these fish crazy and lures them into its web of deceit, and it didn’t take long for the fish to start hitting the fly tied to the ends of Brian’s line.  It’s a fast-paced, visual type of fishing with rapid casts, frantic stripping and split second hook sets as these silver-sided fish rocket from their hiding places to hit the flies. It took me a while to get the proper technique dialed in, but finally I had a fish on!  I was about to declare myself a bonafied Web Slinger, but when I finally landed a fish it wasn’t the species we sought: instead of a cutthroat, I had done a stellar job of fooling an 8 inch steelhead parr. Brian seemed hold my antics in contempt as if I was some sort of child molester, but I assured him I wasn’t trying to catch baby steelhead. Once again I felt like a skinny, unpopular kid.

Eventually I did manage to land a SRC, and my lifetime of being skunked at this game was over.  The fish wasn’t impressive in size, but nobody had landed anything over 10 inches so I was holding my own in size if not numbers.  Over the course of the day the rain that wasn’t supposed to fall, fell – sometimes hard, though it didn’t last long.  I caught another couple small cutties, but it wasn’t enough to make me feel like Spiderman. We covered a lot of fishy looking water, and whenever Brian cast to a spot, he nearly always hooked a fish. At one point while I sat and watched, Brian went 5 fish for 7 casts. I had chances on what would have been the nicest 3 fish of the day – fish of about 12 inches, but I couldn’t seal the deal and ended up striking out. If I’d just landed one of those fish I could have worn the red and blue tights of the friendly neighborhood Web Head. It was probably best for all on board that I didn’t.

We saw a few Coho jumping throughout the day, but we never rigged up our rods for these tight-lipped fish that were in the river not to feed but to breed. And then die. I’ve never actually fished for silvers in the rivers, but I’ve heard that catching them on a fly is not impossible, just difficult.  We decided not to waste our time to instead keep fishing for SRC, and occasionally pulled the boat over to the shore when good swinging water offered a chance to do a little Spey casting for unicorns steelhead. Not surprisingly, none of these anadromous rainbow trout were caught although Flybill had a good bump. Or so he said.  I’ll take his word for it. I have no reason to doubt Flybill. Afterall, he’s a fisherman and fishermen never stretch the truth.

By the end of the day the rain that wasn’t supposed to fall finally stopped for good.  I didn’t count the number of SRC landed, although Brian was into double digits and Flybill was well ahead of me. The fatigue in my casting arm confirmed that the total number of rapid fire casts I made was near 1000, which is the number of casts it usually takes to catch a steelhead. In that regard I’d done pretty well, as I’d caught at least a half dozen steelhead parr during the course of the day. Oh well, Peter Parker suffered many hardships before earning his Spiderman tights.

Fly Fishing is a stickery business.

It’s been said that the type of car one drives says a lot about that person. That may be true to some degree, but the stickers that one adheres to their car say even more about that person.  Many people put stickers/decals on their cars to show an allegiance to a cause, or dedication to a brand or product, or simply to make a statement (which sometimes they ought not do – just sayin’). As a micro sampling of society, fly angling folks seem to be even more prone to the practice of decorating with decals than any other group of peoples, except maybe surfers.  But I digress. Even with fly fishing folks it’s a generalization that all are sticker-hoarders because clearly not all who angle with a fly slather their vehicles with adhesive-backed messages.  However, many do and that is the focus of my report.

I’ve had a few stickers on my vehicles over the years, but until recently I kept the habit in check.  The downward spiral started innocently enough when I purchased a 2003 Toyota Tacoma that came complete with a Leer canopy on the back. That rear canopy window was prime real estate just waiting for development, and the vast empty expanse of glass taunted me. Being desciplined, I started slowly and tastefully with a lone Sage sticker applied top center. When my buddy Marck went and applied a much larger Sage sticker to his Toyota Forerunner, I got competitive and devised a plan: my mission became that of, “Marck ‘s may be bigger, but I’ll have more.” And so began my quest for domination. I like to rep the local fly fly shop, so on went an All About The Fly decal. Next I decided I should fly the colors of the Coastal Conservation Association and the Euro-style STLHD sticker from Moldy Chum to profess my fondness for the anadromous fishes.  That trifecta provided a nice clean look: simple, balanced.  Being a graphic designer I like order, and design principals call for odd-numbered groupings (such as 3 and 5). Three was good, so 5 would be better, right?  Simple algebra, so a couple more were applied. Then came the annual  trip to Montana and Yellowstone Park which resulted in a couple more stickers from the Stonefly Inn & Outfitters and Blue Ribbon Flies. I paused to take stock of what was happening on the canopy glass and reassured myself that it wasn’t too bad. So I added a couple more.

Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler took notice and commented on the growing collection. “I see you got some new stickers,” she said in a tone that was clearly one of judgment being passed more than a simple observation being made. I shrugged it off as jealousy and went about sifting through the stash of stickers I had collected over time but never applied. I extracted a few strategic samples and placed them in an orderly arrangement flanking the perimeter of the window glass. I told myself that as long as I maintained an order I wasn’t out of control. Soon after that I got my hands on an Airflo sticker that didn’t fit neatly into the existing arrangement so I put it where I could and acknowledged that it marked the beginning of chaos. Mrs. UA now just rolls her eyes each time she notices a new sticker.

But I am not completely alone in this strange obsession, and misery loves company. Today I’ll take a look at a few folks – some of whom I know in person, others whom I know virtually in the interweb sorta way – all of whom are passionate about fly fishing and have something to say about the stickers on their vehicles. Disclaimer: It is the responsibility of the press to report the news, not impart opinion or edit facts to suit the personal needs of the reporter. To that end I have not edited any of the information, nor do I necessarily agree or disagree with what has been stated by others. Edward R. Murrow would be proud, for journalistic integrity is not dead.

Mike Nutto: Scandalous Fly Fishing Brothers blog

“I only have companies I think are good on my truck. There is a ton of garbage out so I wont support them. I wouldn’t even support them if they asked me to be sponsored by them! So it is like that when it comes to stuff on my truck. I try a lot of stuff out and if it fails me once I’ll take the sticker off my truck, I have a Ross Reel sticker on my computer. I hate my Ross Reel so much and I hate that the sticker is on my computer now so I’m slowly covering it up!”

A fly fishing sticker on a computer is cool. However, a computer sticker on a fly fishing vehicle is not. I love my Apple G5, but I’m not putting an Apple sticker on my truck. I’m not one to judge, but I will say that I’ve got several Ross Reels and I’ve not had any issues. In fact, I like ’em all. Making a product that can stand up to the rigorous demands of every hardcore fisherman is a tall order. Speaking of tall, our next featured fisherman is Josh Mills.

Josh Mills: Chucking Line and Chasing Tail

“I have to keep it somewhat classy in the advertising field… so I keep my logo’s to three:

1.  The Silver Bow–my buddy’s fly shop in town, and a really cool logo if I must say
2.  Moldy Chum’s steelhead logo…cause it’s all I want to fish for
3.  The original Moldy Chum fly…cause I dig it and it looks classy. I also added the license plate holder.  My wife says that if I add more, a line will have been crossed – the invisible one that separates normal from nutty.”  [Josh also sent along a photo of the sticker collection belonging to his father, Old Man River, who reportedly out-fishes Josh every time they go out.]

Classy?  What’s that? Cross that line, Josh.  Throw caution to the wind and publicly jump into the waters of nuttiness –the water’s fine!

Which raises an interesting point: When is too much of a good thing a bad thing? As far as I am concerned, never. Unless the mass of stickers becomes so dense that the driver can no longer see out the rear window of their rig.  One way to avoid that is to apply the stickers to the side windows, like Cameron Mortenson has done.

Cameron Mortenson: The Fiberglass Manifesto and Fishy Kid

“At last count I have almost fifty decals on the vehicle which represent TFM and Fishy Kid sponsors, friends, or just companies that I think are doing a good thing.  The badged-out Element has been a great conversation starter and a way to spread the word about Fishy Kid and TFM.”

Roger that, Cameron. Your rig certainly would be worthy of inquisition – great job with Fishy Kid and thanks for the photos.

Speaking of photos, the next offering was provided by Rich Schaff, who takes some amazing photos, and not just of his stickered truck.

Rich Schaff: East Fork Fly Photography

“You guessed right I’m a ’DECAL FREAK’…figured it safer than getting actual tattoos and earrings at my age. Guess they are a mid-life crisis sorta thing anyways… Guess we just want to
stay as immature as long as possible…Hope that’s a good thing.”

Yeah, Rich, I’d say it’s a good thing. And your immaturity makes me feel better about myself. I like the rationale that stickers are perhaps a safer choice than tats or piercings.

You won’t find body art anywhere on our next guest, even though my buddy Large Albacore is big enough that he could host a full size tattoo of the Space Needle on his back if he were so inclined.

Large Albacore:

“The STLHD, Airflo, and spey sticker are all about my love of fishing for steelhead w/ the two handed rod.  The other stickers, UA/Ross Reels/Winston rods are all my attempt to promote quality fishin’ stuff in my small way.  Overall, they communicate that a large part of my life/identity is tied up in fly fishing.  Kind of sick when I think about it.”

I’m not sure how the UA sticker qualifies for “quality fishin’ stuff” status, but thanks for flyin’ the colors. As for it being kind of sick, I would have to disagree. It seems a rather healthy indulgence if you ask me.

And for some like Derek Young, the indulgence isn’t just a personal thing, it’s professional advertising.

Derek Young: Emerging Rivers Guide Services and Fly Fish the Yakima

“To me, my stickers represent a few things. I’m proud to be the only Orvis Endorsed Guide here in WA, and I fly those flags proudly. I also think conservation is important, so I support TU and CleanAngling.org. But, and it’s reflected in my blog, my stickers (I think, anyways) signal my inclusion in the fly fishing culture that I am proud of, and it’s a personal signature of who I am.”

Just when you thought that fly fishing culture was reserved for just fishermen, our next featured angler is girl and an outdoors person through and through. You might even call her an outdooress…

Rebecca Garlock: The Outdooress

“I just got a the new FishCruiser a couple of weeks ago =) About the stickers. I’ve only put one on so far. I recently bought a new Waterworks-Lamson reel and it came with a sticker, so the timing gets credit for the first sticker placement. I plan on slapping a few more on the rig since I figure if I’m going to have an official FishCruiser, I might as well make it look the part. Now I just need to buy more crap so I can get more stickers. An angler can always find a legit excuse for buying new gear right? I should mention I’m also taking sticker placement applications, so if you want the official Unaccomplished Angler sticker on the FishCruiser you can submit the proper paperwork for review.”

Done. Anyone else who wants to apply for representation should contact Rebecca for the paperwork. I can vouch that it’s an easier application process than applying for a building permit.

In sticking with our female contingency, next up is a woman who can outcast most anybody – man or woman – with a Spey rod. I observed Mia Sheppard casting at the Jimmy Green Memorial Fly Fishing Expo and it made me realize I’m not a real Spey caster, no matter how long my rod.

Mia Sheppard: Little Creek Outfitters and Metalheads blog

“Our cars are pretty stickerless currently. Our old guide truck use to be covered in stickers.” But her husband’s ammo can is certainly worthy of mention.

Unfortunately no photos were available of the old guide truck. I hope you get those cars stickered up, Mia– the ammo can shouldn’t have all the fun.

Interesting that the subject of ammunition has come up, because Pat Konsoke applied one of his stickers to deter break-ins.

Pat Konoske: Fishing for Words

Zero Limit (http://www.catchrelease.com/) – While I do subscribe to catch and release, the hope is that advertisement of this principle will allow my car to go unmolested on waters away from home and guarded by fanatical fly fishermen.

Diablo Valley Fly Fishermen logo (http://www.diablovalleyflyfish.org/) – Carefully placed in acknowledge of my turning away from the dark side. This is the club through which I attended an all-day fly fishing class, and for which I now serve as secretary and webmaster. (I never did learn to keep my head down.)

California Department of Fish & Game Warden Stamp (http://www.dfg.ca.gov/wardenstamp/) – The first California Game Warden stamp, from which the $5 cost supposedly goes into a special fund supporting game wardens. True or not, it warms my heart that in some small way I may be helping protect our resources. I figure in a few years, among the outdoor sports crowds, it’ll be like the now common “KMA” license plate frames of today. (KMA refers to the prefix of FCC callsigns for many law enforcement agencies.)

That’s my story…”

Nicely stated, Pat- what are you, a writer or something? I see and appreciate your reason for the Zero Limit sticker. Allow me to suggest a firearm sticker not in lieu of but in addition to your Zero Limit sticker for discouraging break-ins. Nothing scares a tweaker faster than an “Insured by Smith & Wesson” sticker.

I wouldn’t wish a break-in upon anyone, but if you were to be granted a welcome entry into the trailer of Rocky Maley, you would be in for a treat. I’ve only seen photos of the inside, and it’s awesome. The outside is like a billboard on wheels.

Rocky Maley: Fly Tier extraordinaire

“I bought it to tie in. It would be a lot cheaper than an addition to the house. And it’s easier than tent camping on fishing trips. I put the stickers on to add character to it.”

Not only cheaper, Rocky, but a whole lot cooler than an addition to the house, too because you can take your tying room with you on the road.

And if that road takes you in the vicinity of Ashton, Idaho, make sure you look up our next guest, Marc “Rowdy” Crapo.

Marc Crapo: Fly Wallets and No Sports Allowed

“I’ve held off for many years when it comes to putting decals on my rig. I hate to advertise for anyone unless they are legit and badass, a sponsor, and or (of course) me.”

Rowdy, you’ve got high, if not impossible standards! Guess those high standards are why your fly wallets kick so much butt.

Anyway, there you have it – a few perspectives from folks who are stuck on fly fishing and fly fishing’s stuck on them (or at least their cars). Fly fishing is more than just a sport, it’s a culture. It consumes and defines many who venture into it, and we fly the flags of our obsession proudly.

It’s no coincidence that this hot topic is being discussed elsewhere as we speak.  Take a click over to  Fishing for Words AND Fly Fish the Yakima for more on this matter of the fascination with fly fishing stickers.

PS– if you have some vacancy on your fishing rig, drift boat or tricycle, please consider adding an Olive the Woolly Bugger sticker. All proceeds go to support Casting 4 A Cure to help find a cure for Rett Syndrome and support those families dealing with this terrible disease. They’re available over at Myflies.com.