The honest truth about this fly is that I stole the pattern from Jeff, who either invented it or modified it, I can’t remember. I contributed almost nothing to the development of this pattern, except for the name, the erroneous pedigree, and the verbal abuse I offered up to Jeff whenever he was catching fish on it and I wasn’t.
When I was a kid I used to put on my raincoat and matching yellow plastic pants and go sit on the front porch when it rained. Every thunderstorm would find me sitting on the milkbox looking out at the falling rain. It made me feel alone, tough and self-reliant, to know that I was out of doors while everyone else stayed inside and watched the rain stream down their windows.
My first fly tying vise came from a kit. It was terrible. I bought it, even knowing that I would hate it, because at the time, when my life felt like it was falling apart and things around me were lacking in sense, I needed something to grab ahold of. I’ve always fallen back on using my hands to get through the hard times.
I cultivate a fly tying lifestyle of carefully curated panic. Last year’s trip to Steamboat Springs, when I was supposed to be on the road at 5am? I was up at three, in a stone-cold panic, tying as many foam beetles as I could before I had to leave. Last minute trips to the fly shop for essential materials are a matter of course, and hot-blooded tying sessions the night before I leave, or in the pre-dawn gloom, are almost a requisite part of any trip.
I remember the way the swell of cork nestled perfectly into my left hand. I remember giving the rod that was going to become My Rod a pointless, ceremonial wiggle to see how it would cast. And I’m sure I squirrelled up my face so the salesman would recognize me as a savvy angler. Later I would learn how utterly perfect it felt when the line loaded that thing just right; it was my first brush with magic.
By the time I return to the cabin I am dead tired. It’s all I can do to get my boots and waders off, gulp down some food, and then collapse into the bed, a mess of sweat, mosquito bites, and sunscreen. I caught fish despite myself, and a full day’s worth of jumping brookies fills my head, individual fish blurring into a long montage of strikes and releases.
You’d found an unconvincing, fifteen-year-old report that there were golden trout in the lake, so after dinner, you hike down to the shoreline where you see intermittent rises blinking like radar pings.
“Just wait,” another angler called without looking away from their indicator. “In another two hours there’ll be forty-five, maybe fifty people standing here.” And so it goes on Joe Wright Reservoir, where the inlet is off-limits until July 1st, and the grayling spawn draws crowds of anglers eager to stand shoulder-to-shoulder while a veritable herd of fish stampedes upstream, deep in the throes of piscine lust.
It’s the kind of place where, if you start early enough—bringing well-bagged peanut butter sandwiches and full water bottles—you won’t have to leave the water until it’s almost too dark to find the cabin again. On days like this, a small group of anglers can catch so many trout between them that good-natured competition quickly gives way to gleeful confusion.
Streamlined and minimalist, my Blue-Winged Olives are impressionistic, a sketchy rendering of the barest outlines of an insect: hackle, body, and tail with no fisherman-pleasing upright wing to complicate the pattern.