Fishing With a Paintbrush

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Published on: Jul. 2, 2005

Last revision: Nov. 19, 2010

The resurgence of fly fishing brought about by that movie, “A River Runs Through It,” has increased revenues in fly shops dramatically. Every wanna-be fly angler desires to be the best dressed on the stream. They look like they just stepped out of one of those high-priced, fly-fishing catalogues. Every fly angler who chooses to tie his or her own flies has to have the most expensive feathers and the latest materials.

Yes, I admit it. There is something about those extremely expensive, genetically engineered feathers that makes me drool. However, you do not need to invest a small fortune to have a great time tying flies and catching fish.

When I started tying flies nearly 40 years ago, many of today’s materials did not exist and, at least in my part of the Ozarks, there was no such thing as highpriced feathers.

I was raised by a pair of pre-depression fly anglers. My grandfather and grandmother were as pure to the sport as anyone. They plucked feathers as we needed them from the four barnyard roosters that ran with our chickens. My grandfather was pretty proud of his chicken collection. He had one that was a perfect ginger color, one white, one grizzly and one black. There wasn’t a dry fly made that he could not tie with a hackle from one of his own roosters.

Our roosters were pretty darn neurotic. I suppose it was because of the occasional grooming we forced on them. After a good plucking they would fight each other and anyone else who happened to venture too close to them for a week.

We never ordered our fly-tying materials out of a catalog. We mostly used what we had around the house. We did buy our hooks and some thread from the fly shop at Bennett Spring. However, many of the materials we used were common household items. Granny’s quilting thread was a bit heavy, but worked in a pinch. If you waxed the thread with candle wax it worked well and lasted at least long enough to lose your fly in a tree or to a big fish.

My grandfather and I were tying caddisfly adults one September when we ran out of white-tailed deer body hair for the wings of the adult dry fly imitation. It was still two months before the opening of deer season and the caddis hatch on the Meramec wouldn’t wait that long.

Gramps went out

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