By Sam Larson
The last log settles noisily in the stove. Outside the frost-rimed glass of the study window snow is falling heavily and softly. There’s a river there, under the snow and just beyond those trees, but you wouldn’t know it now. Filled edge to edge with eager brookies during the summer it sleeps now, slow and dark, flowing gently beneath rippled riverine ice. The dog startles when I push my chair back to stretch. He stands, looks at me sleepily, and then settles again, closer to the warmth of the stove. The vise stands tall in the center of the desk, modern and out of place among the tying debris, all CNC-sculpted steel and brass. My fly box is lying off to one side, half buried beneath a disorganized jumble of feathers, tying thread, and tools. Two dozen freshly tied dries stand at attention there, with their crisp hackle and attentive, upright wings. If I squint at them in the gentle light from my desk lamp and I can almost see their wings shiver, the vibratory surge of hovering Mayfly energy. I look out the window again and think of the sleeping river, of the trout dreaming in its current.
I’ll level with you. If you live this Gierachian fantasy, or even one half of it, then I am both deeply and wildly jealous of you. When I began thinking about maybe someday entertaining the possibility of learning to tie my own flies, one of the truisms that got trotted out over and over again, typically by an older gentleman angler, was that winter was the time for tying. Spring runoff was for streamers swung in a high current, the summer heat was reserved for the glory of dries, hoppers, and trout who will rise to almost any half-assed piece of tackle as willingly as they do to a proper Catskill fly, and fall, when the heat of summer had receded and the high-alpine flows gentled, was when both anglers and trout had settled into a more mannerly approach to life. Found the rhythm of the thing, so to speak.
But winter was always about tying. Settle in, revel in the enforced solitude and quiet industry of it, clean out your fly boxes, maybe retire those tattered flies that had seen a bit too much of a trout’s rougher nature, and just tie. Fill those boxes again so that when spring finally manages to dust off the last lingering shreds of winter’s hangover you can hit the water with an array of new, perfect flies, everything a winter-starved trout’s heart could desire.
My winters never look like that. I have not, and likely will not, shovel long, uninterrupted hours of tying into my winter evenings. Jobs (the 9-to-5 variety, not time consuming avocations like writing or fly fishing), life partners, the holidays, and the strictly temporary setup of the messy craft box I call my tying desk all curtail my efforts to, Boy Scout-like, be prepared. I’ve accepted this and moved on. Instead, 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 enjoy it in a way. It might be a bad, unprepared, hectic rhythm, but it’s my rhythm, damn it. So settle back into the chair at your tying desk, throw another log on the fire, and contemplate the beauty of an Adams by the glimmering, golden light. I’ll be madly tying beneath a single desk lamp, trying not to wake my girlfriend, struggling to remember if I packed any emergers for this trip last year, and figure out just where the hell all my nymphs have gone. But I’ll still see you on the water, and you won’t have any idea what it took to get me there.