I used to think the surest way to attract expert opinion was to pop the hood on my truck.
Then I started tying flies.
To be fair, I asked for the criticism… sort of. I posted a few photos of my feeble fly tying attempts on social media. As everyone knows by now, social media is the kingdom of experts. Folks can tell you whatever you need to know whether you want to know it or not. You can learn why you’re wrong about hating kale and you can learn that a lot of what you thought was settled science is far from it. This wisdom is passed along with just a whiff of condescension, but most experts feel like they’re providing a service. They won’t hide their light under a bushel.
If any of my fly tying mentors are reading this, know that I appreciate the advice, I do. But I don’t think my bobbin work is going to be about crafting the perfect fly copied true to proven form. If I want a perfectly tied Clouser minnow I can order a perfectly tied Clouser minnow, or I can ask some of my indeed expert fly tying friends to make one. The loose feathers, hair, and thread represent something more personal, even metaphysical in my hands. In the eternal search for a definitive solid answer, it’s a gray world. But here is a rare opportunity for black and white.
You may have a Zen-like mindfulness that transcends worry and a clear-headed decisiveness knifing through the thick uncertainty that can plague waking hours and often robs sleep. If this is you then color me green because it’s not me. With every passing year, I become less certain that any answer is certain. Time has shown that no matter what silly delusions have been entertained, there are often various answers to whatever question we ask, and those options are dependent upon a range of variables that we often don’t even realize exist. Everything we consider is layered with nuance and defined by context that we may not understand. And it never ends. The questions erupt in a gushing, crushing torrent of white, and the fearsome currents foment even more questions. Solutions are slippery. You just can’t pin them down. It can drive a person to near madness if you let it.
I try to find ways to neck down that flow, to slow the deluge, to consider one thing at a time. This is one reason I fish. A little Tennessee whisky every now and then helps, too, but apparently the crazy has been festering and is swelling beyond these coping habits because now I tie flies. After only a week I can tell it’s helping. It’s a here-and-now activity with future implications. Crafting each fly is like capturing and taming one of those questions. I can work with deliberation, at my own speed, and always with the opportunity for revision. And I am guaranteed an answer. One answer. It can go only two ways. As I wrap and dab and clip and tie, I envision the question gently tumbling among rocks and bubbles in impossibly clear liquid before the water slows to a deep and mysterious aquamarine. Shadows highlighted in bronze patrol the edge of turbulence and calm in my mind. I’ll have my yes or no in the coming months. It’s an absolute.
Over the last four decades, I’ve grown intimate with my local smallmouth bass. I know where they spawn and which pools they frequent during the sultry green days of summer. I know which riffles always produce a take and the stretches of creek enduring so much pressure that first light, a wraithlike approach and only the stealthiest presentation will bring a strike. And I know I’ll only get one shot, one opportunity to ask the question I so desperately need answered. This year, that question will be laced with more intimacy. But it can’t be a copy. It must be mine. It must be intricately crafted within the confines of my experience and with subtle realizations learned from a lifetime on home waters. I know that either answer will bring more time at the bench, more refinement in an effort to focus everything down and tight to the intersection of fish and fly.
If only all of life’s mysteries could be laid at the creek’s altar and answered with such resounding certainty.