The Art of the Fly

My parents spent the happiest days of their 64-year marriage fly fishing.  Mom was even more passionate about the sport than Dad.  Every chance they got, they’d round up her brother, load the car with gear and head out for Utah’s beautiful mountain lakes and streams.

When I was about twelve my dad bought me a license and taught me how to cast.  It never quite took.  I loved tramping around in the mountains and the challenge of landing the fly in just the right spot.  But when it came to a choice between clubbing the poor fish to death or watching it lie there and gasp, I lost heart.  I no longer fish.  But I have some great memories.

Those memories came back to me this past month when I finished my novella for Harlequin’s 2012 Spring Brides Western Anthology.  “The Hand-Me-Down Bride,” is the story of a proper Boston belle who finds herself jilted on the Montana prairie when her fiancé marries someone else (but never fear, the real hero is waiting in the wings).  In one scene, my heroine is taught to fly fish by the hero’s sister.

This led to a bit of research.  Needing to make sure fly fishing was a common practice by the mid 1800’s, I went on line and found a few surprises.   The earliest known description of fishing with an artificial fly was written in the 2nd Century by the Roman, Claudius Aelianus.  He jotted down his observations of Macedonian anglers on the Astraeus River:

They fasten red . . . wool round a hook, and fit on to the wool two feathers which grow under a cock’s wattles, and which in color are like wax. Their rod is six feet long, and their line is the same length. Then they throw their snare, and the fish…comes straight at it, thinking from the pretty sight to gain a dainty mouthful…    

Except for some improvements to the pole and line, and the 1874 modernization of the reel, by Charles F. Orvis, whose company is still in business, the sport of fly fishing is not so different today.

Back to my novella – in the fishing scene, the two women use flies that were tied by the hero to pass time over the winter months.   More memories.  My dad tied beautiful flies.  There’s a real art to it.  You wedge the tiny hook in a vise, wind the body with silk thread, then tie the feathers into place and finish off the head with a dab of glue.  It’s harder than it looks.  Dad taught me how to tie flies, but I lacked the patience and steadiness to do it as perfectly as he did.  This classic fly is called a Royal Coachman.  The one in the photo is for salmon.  My dad’s were for trout, so they were smaller .

My mother died of cancer in 2002.  Dad lingered on for more than three years, but without his sweetheart his life had lost its meaning.  A few days before his death at the age of 91, he woke up with a smile on his face.  “I had the most wonderful dream,” he told me.  “Your mother and I were fishing on Boulder Mountain, keeping the big fish and letting the little ones go.”

Dad, I thought, you may have caught a glimpse of heaven.

I hope I was right.

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20 thoughts on “The Art of the Fly”

  1. Good morning, Elizabeth,

    What a tender memory of your mother and father.

    My grandfather was the fisherman in our family, and most of the time he liked just going with my dad (mainly because my dad is the strong, quiet, calm type). A couple times I was allowed to go along (thanks to dad), but a little girl who couldn’t sit still, loved to chatter and was more interested in exploring than fishing…well let’s just say I wasn’t invited back. :o)

    But I have great memories of helping my dad clean and fix the fish afterwards.


  2. Wonderful post, Elizabeth. That picture looks like heaven to me.

    I’m not a fisher-person, but I’m attracted to the serenity of lakes and rivers. My husband and our youngest son spent some time at Burke Lake in northern Virginia. Those were good times 🙂

  3. Hi, Elizabeth. What a lovely testimoney to real-life romance your parents were. 64 years! What a blessing!

    My Granddaddy loves to fish up in Oregon near his home. He’s in his 80s but still loves the quiet peace that fishing offers. Not to mention the tastey delights of pan-fried trout. 🙂

    My Grandma on my mom’s side used to fish at one of the lakes in California, and I can still remember the pictures that hung in her hallway of the huge bass she got for a first place ribbon in one of the local fishing contests. She was so proud of that fish!

    I’m a lot like Vicki – I love the serenity of lakes, rivers, streams, and mountains – but I never really caught the fishing bug.

  4. I use to go fishing with my dad and I loved it. Also went on my own up until I got married. When I got married I moved away for the river so I didn’t get to do much fishing anymore.

  5. Kirsten I love the image of you as a little girl trying (unsuccessfully) to keep still. Interesting that you enjoyed helping clean the fish. That wasn’t my favorite part. Thanks for visiting today.

  6. My parents had a lifelong romance, Karen. They were the perfect couple.
    Interesting that your Grandma was a fishing enthusiast. My mother was the only woman in the family who really took to the sport, but she lived to fish. We had so much fresh trout for dinner that my sister and I would groan – “Oh, no, not fish again!” What I wouldn’t give for some of those fish now.

  7. My Dad was a fly fisher person in my family. However, my Mom came in a close second as a non-fly fisherperson. We live near the High Sierra. When I was little we spent the entire summer camping and fishing. My Dad and Mom left most mornings in different directions and returned with creels full. That is when the limit was 25. This was the late 1930’s and 40’s.
    I can always remember my Dad returning to camp with his clothes torn and tattered and my Mom looked as spiffy as when she left. He went to a place called the Gorge and would fall between rocks and ruin his pants. He most always went alone, too. Crazy. But the most delicious fish in the world. The picture of the Royal Coachman brought tears to my eyes. He also tied his own flies. As you say—much smaller hooks (16).
    Wonderful post, Thanks.

  8. Elizabeth, I’ve never liked fishing much. I’m just too impatient and can’t stay still for that long. I do envy people who live to catch fish. I know there’s an art to it. Fishing was one of my dad’s passions also. If he drop a hook in some water his day was perfect. I’m sure your parents are up there fishing up a storm along with mine.

  9. The High Sierra must have been a gorgeous place to grow up, Mary. Picturing 25 fish in a creel…
    Have to say I’m impressed that you remembered the hook size. I’d forgotten that. My favorite fly was one called a Silver Doctor (you’ll remember that one). I tried to load a photo but the one I found was too big. Thanks so much for visiting today.

  10. Lovely post, Elizabeth. Brought back some terrific childhood memories of my dad. He loved fly-fishing in the Kings River of the Sierras. He passed away way too soon in my life, and I believe God is letting Daddy spend eternity in Kings Canyon, his heaven on earth. I remember salmon eggs and him making wonderful feathery lures…I still can smell his equipment, and it wasn’t a bad smell at all. Sigh.

  11. I fished a bit in my youth, but for the most part, it was the hike up into the mountains I enjoyed the most. We took all our children fishing, but I don’t think we did much fly fishing. None of them had the patience for it. Our son enjoys it and one of our daughters is a avid fisherwoman. She , her husband and sons spend many days out along the streams catching supper.

    The best “fishing” trip I ever took was out on a lake in Maine. It was a beautiful fall day, blue skies, and just a light breeze. My husband and I put out in our canoe, threw our lines out, and reclined. We just floated in peace for the afternoon. We didn’t have to worry about the fish disturbing us, we didn’t bait our hooks.

    Thanks for a lovely post. It sounds like your parents found the perfect life partner. The certainly had a long and happy marriage.

  12. Very poignant blog today, Elizabeth. I was told right before a person dies, maybe days before, they “see” their spouse. I remember my mom telling me, dad was crowding her in bed. He’d died seven years prior, and Mom died the next day.

    I’ve never fished in my life. I’m one of those, who doesn’t get fishing. Other than being out in beautiful scenery, I think I’d go a little stir crazy. But I’ve been wrong before!

  13. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it, Charlene. I remember the feeling of peace and joy that lingered in the hospital room when my dad passed away. I will always believe he was in a happy place with Mom.

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