Her hand, inches from my nose, is filled with a half dozen hooks in varying states of undress and oxidation. Reaching out, I choose a moderately rusty hook with a small clump of fur dangling from a bit of unraveling thread. “Just think of it like summer camp craft hour,” she says, holding up a handful of pine needles, “only without the Elmer’s and popsicle sticks.” A groggy pre-dawn conversation filled with mumbles and yawns had led to an oversight—our fly boxes still sat on the kitchen counter while we sat streamside, hours from anywhere. After a heated “he-said, she-said” conversation in which neither of us would accept the blame, her eye caught a Blue Jay feather lying among the pine needles at her feet, and she suddenly knew what to do. “Make me a fly,” she says.
I did make a fly once out of a blue-jean hem and a twist of wire, but all it caught were a bunch of obese sunfish that would have swallowed a rusty nail tied to a shoelace. What she is asking of me is altogether different. The browns and brookies here are a real paranoid bunch. Like little weathervanes spinning in a gale of nervous energy, you end up casting to the ass-end of the fish just as often as you put one in front of them. Even when you do manage a decent fly placement, you can often see them frown and slap the morsel away in disgust like a picky three-year-old in a high-chair. I didn’t know what I could put together streamside that would possibly have a chance with this crowd.
“I can’t promise that they will sink, or float properly,” I say, letting two one-of-a-kind trout flies slide from my palm into hers.
“What are you talking about?” she asks. “They have to do one or the other.”
“The Blue Jay Pine-Needle Streamer should float, at least for awhile, so put that up top and drop the Levi’s Larva off of that.”
She laughs and turns toward the stream.
“Let’s just go home,” she says to me hours later, as I sit on the bank, my face soaked in boredom. “Oh no, Honey, don’t give up now,” I say. “I think boot-cut acid-wash fly-tying material is about to make a breakthrough.”
Another hour and still no takers. A sucker-faced bottom feeder would suffice at this point; anything to make my efforts seem worth it.
“You should eat something,” I say, measuring the fatigue and frustration in her face.
“Yeah, I probably should,” she says. But before swapping the rod for a sandwich she casts one more time, rolling out a gentle loop of line that puts the feathered streamer and jean-jacket larva into the center of a riffle. A moment later it actually happens, and the flash of silver, splash of water, and tug on her line can mean only one thing.
The battle ends sooner than she would like, but as she scoops her net through the water her excitement and surprise are obvious.
“What’s eight inches long, slippery, and loves to be teased with a feather?” she asks with a holler. But before I can answer she answers herself. “This little fishy!” she yells, holding up the small but substantial brook trout.
A smile spreads across my face as I see, from the corner of its lip, my impromptu Blue Jay Pine-Needle Streamer, nearly unraveled, its feather bent at an odd angle.