A Hobby for All Seasons with No End in Reason
"Nobody who did not know how to fish should be allowed to disgrace a fish by catching him." – Norman Maclean
“Somebody behind you, while you are fishing, is as bad as someone looking over your shoulder while you write a letter to your girl.“ ~ Ernest Hemingway
It's been said that everyone should have a hobby. Everyone should. It doesn't matter what occupies your working hours, how hard you work, or how much it takes out of you. You should find something that gives back. To you. When you have that hobby that's an activity all yours alone, be greedy with it. Get to it whenever you can and dive in. Follow your creativity, challenge your ability, and work until you satisfy yourself completely.
I'm speaking here more about hands-on, small scene hobbies. Crafting, knitting, sewing, anything where you are producing something from nothing by the use of your hands, and all the necessary paraphernalia of course.
I have no experience in any of those handy hobbies I mentioned, so I can't know the cost or the number of parts, pieces, tools, and supplies you require, but I would hazard a guess that they fall a fair bit behind the plethora of purchases needed and never-ending to pursue my hobby. Fly Tying.
Fly tying is a hobby that turns into addiction then obsession. Unless you are a pure artist, creating flies meant to only ever sit behind a glass frame, never to see to the end of line tied it and cast to water, then fly tying has to lead to Fly Fishing. Fly Fishing is not a hobby. I even argue against those that would call it a sport. It's a pursuit. A challenge against the landscape of wild woods and rushing rivers. A test of skill and stealth sitting atop the surface of a flat as glass Stillwater.
Beneath those watery wonders lay one the finest, finickiest, most marvelous of God's creations. Trout. Yes, there is plenty of other fish in the Fly Fisher's arena but the finest of all is Trout. I won't break down the species available to chase after since they are all magnificent in their own right. All of them eat bugs. Bugs below that swim. Bugs above that fly. Bugs in between that are either following their life path from larva to pupa to adult, from river bottom to surface then airborne or variations thereof, larva, nymph, adult and returning to the surface to lay eggs and maintain the cycle of life.
If you don't really know about bugs, then you'd likely be amazed to learn just how many thousands upon thousands of them are out there. Or maybe you don't love creepy-crawly, buzzing, slithering, and skipping little nuances of nature? The fact is there is a multitude of them, even those specific to the dietary cycle of the trout number in the thousands. Take the Stonefly alone for example. A primary meal of Trout in all its life stages. There exist somewhere in the neighborhood of 1600+ species of just that one fly. In North America's waterways, there are approximately 600 variations.
Even we stick with say the top 6 flies in a Trout's diet in my neck of the woods; Stonefly, Caddisfly, and Mayfly for rivers and streams, to the Damselfly, Dragonfly, and Chironomid for Stillwater. This excludes a huge catalog of other bugs. Even with that top 6 list of flies a fly fisher will need to imitate to trick a trout, we have somewhere in the vicinity of 10,000 different recognized patterns. Just for those patterns. The total number of all recognized patterns is in the range of 30, 000. All of those stamped into books with recipes affixed. Yes, I said recipes. Ingredients and instructions on how to make the tasty little trout dish.
There are two trains of thought on fly tying. A.) Trout are wildly selective and finicky eaters and thus require constantly changing menus to draw their interest and their lips into your hook, and therefore having every variation of color, size, and shape of each fly is critical to success, or B.) It's all a crapshoot and Trout willingly takes any combination of feathers and fur spun onto a hook at any given time.
The jury is still out on this one.
Fly tying requires patience more than any other attribute for success. No, wait let's change that. Fly tying requires persistence more than any other attribute for success. No, maybe it's top-quality ingredients? Okay, it requires a lot. Of which, tools are vitally important. Tools for twisting thread, stacking hair, spitting feathers, winding wires, and tying teeny tiny knots with your thread.
Of all these tools, much like a kitchen requires a good quality, sharp knife, fly tying requires a good pair of scissors. Make that pairs of scissors. You can't do without them. Like a surgeon's scalpel you need to be able to nip single strands of feathers at a time, trim and shape hair, snip wire, and most critically, cut those materials and thread precisely where you need.
Back to the variations of flies required. I run more than the top 6. If you had to, you could fairly confidently and successfully get away with using between 7 and 10 patterns that would cover both lentic and lotic water. I have at least 9 fly boxes filled with more patterns than I could probably name. Like painting or poetry, there is always one more you need to create. Always finding new patterns or variations of existing patterns, new attractor flies that rely on the aggressive predatory instincts of a trout rather than a cautious dietary selection. Or you've collected samples from the water or a harvested fish and get to learn the precise size and color of the insect consumed, local to that waterbody.
A fly fishers boxes are filled with patterns named after people, places, or things, many of which make no sense and nothing whatsoever to do with fishing. Take the attractors division for example. We have Boobies. Who doesn't like saying Boobies? Anyone? Doubt it. It's a happy word. A smile producer, and Trout like Boobies too. My favorite is the Tequila Boobie, naturally, they come in all sizes.
Then you have more naughty (or knotty?) ones such as Sex Dungeon, Butt-Monkey, Hairy Mary, the Wooly Bugger, and Sick Dick to name a few. If you're a risky fisher you might get the Black Dose, which could lead to White Death. Then you'd need to find the Doctors. We have Silver Dr., Gold Dr., or you can go for the Lady Dr. or play it loose, and go with the Quack Dr. I only have one Dr. I take fishing me, that's Doc Spratley, and he's good! If things get serious you might need a General Practitioner or possibly the Surgeon General.
There are flies named for cars which you need, to get to the water; The Gray Ghost, 52' Buick, and Red Corvette. You might encounter old Rat-faced McDougal, and Cow Dung walking through homesteads on your way to the river but hopefully, you've called ahead for permission or you might bump into the Bloody Butcher.
There's a load of patterns honoring religious figures but we will let those alone.
These days, if you're heading into the woods to enjoy a good bit of fly fishing there's a fair chance you're going to run into either a Dirty Hippie or a Rainbow Warrior.
All the above-mentioned are legit, recognized patterns.
As you can imagine the number of materials, supplies, hooks, and scissors to work your bare barbs into those colorfully named patterns is insane. We've had fly fishers walk into the hobby room at the end of the season in October not to be seen again until ice-off in mid-May.
My introduction to fly tying began at the age of 15 with a $25 kit and scissors I stole from my mother's sewing box. I don't even want to talk about how much money I have spent over the years that now sits spread through boxes, bins, bags, and crates in my basement. All I know for sure is that I'm going to be missing that shade of crystal flash purple-blue fur dubbing for the newest magic pattern that trout cannot turn away from. It has no end.
So what's the draw? Why the hardcore addiction?
It's a deep pride, the satisfaction, and shock, that your high-cost, handcrafted, hobby room creation has matched nature enough to trick a wily trout into taking your fly. It's Victory! It's the scintillating sensation of the icy-cold Rocky Mountain river water rushing through your legs as you stand tall, head up, shoulders back that, you, Yes! You! With your great big brain managed to outsmart a fish. You can't bottle that kind of kick-ass. You've got to go back for more.