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How does one classify an old fly?

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My fly boxes are a wreck most of the time. A garbled wad of fur, feathers, and steel in a plastic box dating all the way back to the late ’70s. And that sounds old, even for me.

Most anglers organize their fly box by fly type and hook size, color, and whether its fished wet or dry. I organize my flies by the time period in which I tied them. For example, a box may only contain the old leftover ones from last year. As I was perusing through my vest investigating various fly boxes and what I had stuffed in them, I proceeded to find a Sucrets box from 1978 bursting with flies of all sizes, shapes, and rusted hooks. The old Sucrets’ boxes made great fly boxes. The hinges were rugged, and the aluminum boxes were light and would not rust. A person could change flavors of Sucrets and the different flavor box colors would help distinguish between the various flies and their uses. I still carry a Sucrets box of old flies today.

Some years I just rotate fly boxes. The old fly patterns popular decades ago tied by folks like Lee Wulf, Vincent Marinaro, and Art Flick still catch plenty of fish. Most of these patterns were tied with various types of animal hair, roosters and colored hen neck feathers. The internet has promoted newer versions of the older flies with synthetic materials and changed all the fly names to names that resemble their family trees. I went through a stage where a sleeve of every new material was purchased to pursue this passion. They caught fish and still do and found them somewhat easier to tie with. But in my old age I again am beginning to revert to using natural materials such as fox fur, muskrat, angora, and snowshoe rabbit to tie with. My arthritic fingers are not quite as nimble and the smaller sizes 20-24 are now nearly impossible. Even if I could tie them again, I could not visually see them, much less try to attach these little guys to a leader.

There is always that one special fly that comes out perfect in your eyes. I may tie anywhere from 6-12 flies every time I sit down at the vise depending on what is on television and how large a cocktail I fixed but it seems like there is that one special fly that turns out exactly perfect. It looks so good that even I want to bite it!

It was a beautiful late spring day. I hiked the 2 miles along the river on the Georgia side of the Chattooga and crossed over it twice to get to this run above Reed Creek. The current is long with just enough momentum to give a delicately laid fly a long, drag-free float. I had noticed a usually large rainbow had perched his lips above the water’s surface to inhale a delicious insect. Chill bumps and anticipation of a great tug are in order. I pull out this one perfect fly that was manufactured while I watched Netflix the night before and got ready for battle.

Quietly I wade into position and there he is again. Rings form from his appearance. I have narrowed his feeding lane down to about 5 feet of river right below a small hemlock reaching out from an undercut bank. I decided on a long rollcast and let the fly drift right by the mossy rock and hemlock.

And then my picture-perfect cast. My tiny 6x tippet material wraps on one single hemlock limb hanging over the target area that I had paid no attention to. I am forced to make a decision, lose my perfectly tied fly or just go retrieve it and find some more fish rising and singing that same feeding hymn further up the river. I hate fishing decisions. One should only have to stress over what to eat before going fishing and what time to leave the house. Coming home is not a decision. You leave when the fish quit biting.

Losing a perfect fly is almost like parting with a girlfriend, from what I have heard. If you lose one through no fault of your own (it may have gotten hung in the current on a rock, lost in a tree or laurel branch, broke off on a fish) it softens the blow and makes it a little easier to rebound. You just get another one by reaching in the box, deciding what flavor to fly, tie it on and keep fishing.

But you just fished with that perfect fly which took extra time to tie and lost it from being hung up in a tree. A sense of frustration and sickness in the stomach appears. Maybe that fly took 25 minutes of meticulous preparation to be presentable in your eyes to the fish. All the hackles which make it ride high in the water and float are perfect, the body has excellent proportions, and if you make one bad cast, it’s over. The end with no take backs. Then you wade across the stream and put down every fish within 50 feet cursing under your breath. You follow the fly line only to find that special fly hanging in a tree, wrapped once around a limb, and dangling gingerly just out of reach. Do you climb the tree or just break it off? At least you attempted to fetch it back but ruined a good trout run in the process and are having to rebuild the entire leader before you tie on another fly. And you ask yourself, was all this worth it?

It is hard to lose a fly, throw away or even discard an old fly when cleaning out fly boxes to make room for freshly tied ones. The old ones stay lodged in like ancient pillars and are always there if needed. They will always represent a good time at the vise and on the water. I guess that makes me an old fly too.

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