In Search of the Holy Grail
The endpoint mission of all fishing gear is
to present the fly. There is no fly fishing without the fly. Boats, waders,
vests, books, fly tying tools, rain jackets, rods, reels, lines all join
together, each playing its part, united in one central mission: get the fly to
the fish. Here is the distilled essence of the sport. Sounds simple. But
getting to Simple is sometimes complex, sometimes hard, and always challenging.
That’s why thoughtful, mystery-loving people are drawn to fly fishing and its
many facets. There is much to learn, much to unravel, sort, experiment, and
strategize about in order to get to Simple. The beautiful secret is that you
never quite get there. It’s always just beyond our reach, and that’s good. We
are better for continuing to reach, always in search of the Holy Grail.
The Humpy, besides a name that often provokes a snicker, has a rather unique design, an interesting look. I remember it graced the front cover of the first fly-tying book that served as a tremendous aid along my path to creating my own flies. The book cover showed a split, upright white hair wing and a red body, somewhat reminiscent, coincidentally, of my once-beloved Royal Bucktail. It was exciting to watch the heads of numerous Deschutes River trout emerge through the river’s surface to grab this fly and run. It floated well, even in rough water, and I could see it at great distance. I expanded into additional colors and sizes. This pattern filled my lone fly box. No matter morning, noon or twilight the Humpy was the fly on the end of my leader. If I was not catching fish I assumed it was only because I had not chosen the right color or size Humpy.
Fueled by my flyfishing success of late I started to read every book and magazine article I could find dealing with fly fishing. Everything! The sport was promoted from passionate past time to obsession. I loved, in particular, lists of authors’ very favorite fly patterns. Those that did not list the Humpy among their top choices I assumed had not fished it. If they had they, too, would have found the Holy Grail. In spite of their ignorance I discover a few fly names that repeatedly showed up on many Top Ten lists. I acquired a few of these to squeeze into my fly box among the Humpy horde. One of them would eventually lead a revolt to dethrone the King.
The revolution began late afternoon, an August day like any other on central Oregon’s Deschutes River. The sun began to sink below the high canyon rim. As shadow overtook the river, trout began to rise in pursuit of caddisflies. The targets were obvious and near me --- along a mid stream rocky bar that I risked a swim to reach --- at point blank range. The proverbial fish in a barrel. Cast. Nothing. Cast, again. Nothing. Shockingly, the feeding rainbows ignored my Humpies, no matter the size or color combination. How could this be?
When I finally resigned myself to the obvious, I pulled a Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear Nymph from my box. I had exactly one. After a few casts I wished I had more. The trout were, apparently, intercepting the emerging caddisflies as they swam from the bottom toward the river’s surface. The upward momentum of the pursuing fish caused it to break the surface as it intercepted those insects very near or in the surface film. They appeared to be rising for floating flies but it was energy efficient for them to grab the hapless emergers rather than expending calories, often futilely, to chase a darting, bouncing adult insect.
Not being skilled at fishing submerged “wet flies” flies --- the Bucktail Royal Coachman and Humpy were floating “dry flies” --- I did little more than cast my Hare’s Ear slightly above the rising fish, allow it to sink out of sight, and let the fly swing into their general vicinity. This, much to my delight, elicited some ferocious strikes on a tight fly line. I would feel the hard tug of an eager trout. Very cool! But the fishing was short-lived when one of the hard strikes broke off my only Hare’s Ear. Nothing else in my box enticed the fish as they continued to rise. Though I have carelessly and dangerously violated the rule since, I vowed to never carry only a single representative of any fly in my box again. In fact my preference is to carry a minimum of four: two to lose to fish or trees; one to give an unprepared companion; and, the last to tie onto a stout leader to insure I finish the day’s outing with this fly.
As you might guess the Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear was soon deposed. There were occasions when the exiled pretenders were temporarily reinstated to their former status as Holy Grail, only to fall from grace again. I changed Holy Grails faster than third world countries change dictators. All the while my search continued for The One True Fly.
My search for the Ultimate Fly began anew. The quest
would take me to distant places, through countless books, to emotional peaks and
valleys, and numerous dead-ends. All were opportunities to learn about fly
fishing . . . . and myself.