Welcome to Copper Fly - Beginners Instruction to tying flies

The Great Gadget Guru

by ArkieFlyGuy

Tugging on neoprene waders, lacing up my wading shoes, untangling and putting on my chest pack, and rigging up my fly rod is usually the extent of my preparation for fishing a stream. But for Phillip, my fishing companion for the day, preparation for a wade in the river took about as long as the fishing itself.

Phillip is the "Inspector Gadget" of fly fishing. The evolution began when his fly tying station in the corner of his living room and two rods and a vest propped in the corner of his bedroom began to expand. He had to move his gear to the west half of a spare bedroom his wife used for her sewing and scrap booking. When he began invading her half of the room with his rod building, she forced him to find another spot which turned out to be their garage. He spent an entire weekend cleaning out the garage, moving his fly fishing and tying gear, setting his rod building equipment in place, and scouting a spot to park his Pathfinder now that there was no room for it in the garage. He did, however, leave a spot just large enough for his wife's Santa Fe.

Gradually, the need to store other household "stuff" required him to seek new accommodations for his passion. After copious calculations and trips to his architect friend, Phillip constructed a 16 by 24 foot building deemed "Flip's Fly Hut" complete with heat and air, natural and artificial lighting, 26 feet of workbench, refrigerator, microwave, Bose stereo system, bookshelves for all his fly fishing related books and videos, a poker table with five chairs, a recliner, and a handmade wooden sign with the name and "all fishermen, poker players, golfers, and other liars welcome!" Plans are in place to add expand the hut by another 10 feet with the addition of a shed on the side to accommodate Phillip's skiff, canoe, kayak, pontoon, belly boat, and drift boat.

Phillip's scan of a new catalog or website is limited to the "What's New" section. He has at least one of everything that is not new somewhere in the hut. He is addicted. If some company or individual comes out with a new product, Phillip is one of the first to purchase it and try it out. In fact, he recently signed up as a product tester for a couple of manufacturers and fly fishing equipment suppliers. So far, he has reviewed several different products which he gets to keep.

And heaven forbid if you ask if any of this stuff is for sale.

Phillip arrived at my house at 4:30 am. Not 4:29. Not 4:31. In fact, the combination watch / compass / radio / depth meter he wore on his left wrist beeped just as he exited his truck. After helping him load his equipment, Phillip would not let me start the engine until he had positioned his GPS system on the dash of my pickup. He turned it on, pushed a few buttons, looked at me and asked to which access we were headed. A couple of buttons and beeps later, he gave me the go ahead to fire up the engine and pull from the driveway.

On our way to our fishing spot, Phillip reached in a bag between his feet and pulled out a small box wrapped in brown paper with his name and address printed on a label. It had been opened previously and he was opening it again to show me the contents. "Look what the UPS man brought me yesterday," he said with more than just a hint of excitement in his voice. "It's a current meter," he added without my asking. The little hunter green box and dime-sized plastic object were encased in bubble wrap. Removing the plastic, Phillip held the doohickey up to eye level halfway between us. I nodded, made some kind of acknowledging and approving noise, and continued driving as he put the device back in its container.

I had learned after only a couple of fishing trips with Phillip not to wait on him before entering the water. I politely waited the first time or two, but now I simply get myself ready and tell him I'll meet him in the river when he catches up. Usually, we catch up about halfway through my return to the entry point.

Waiting on him is akin to waiting on Martha Wellington, my date on prom night. I arrived at our appointed time to find that she was just then getting her hair fixed and would be down "in a few minutes." That gave her father plenty of time to warn me on the rules of dating his daughter - the etiquette, the distance between Martha and I during all dances, and the hazards of drinking, leaving the prom early, returning her home late, and/or touching her anywhere past her forearm. I'm sure my wait was not quite as long as the three years that seemed to pass while I sat in her parents' living room on the couch across from her father sitting in his wing back chair sizing me up as he gave me the strict instructions for the night.

For some reason on this day, I decided to wait on Phillip. It could have been the fact that the drive to this spot had taken a couple of hours and waking up at 4:00 a. m. after only a couple hours sleep was beginning to catch up with me. Maybe it was just out of curiosity as to what Phillip would be "trying out" for the first time today.

Whatever the motive, I rested on the tailgate of my pickup as Phillip rummaged through the three storage boxes, four duffle bags, eight rod cases, and three reel cases located behind the cab. He would take a glimpse of the river, and then make a selection. First it was neoprene versus breathable waders. Then pant versus chest. Belt or no belt. Belly boat or just waders. Felt sole, lug sole, or studded felt. Then which chest pack or vest. What to put in the vest. Hemostats, compass, nippers, tippet, etc., etc.

After putting on his third fly vest, he began to swap item from the pockets and retractors. Putting things in one bag or box and taking others out, he filled the vest with a plethora of cutters, pliers, gauges, line, and other gadgetry until all the pockets and retractors were full. I refrained from even attempting a guess of what the vest weighed, but as Phillip stepped around the truck, there was a definite clacking and tinkling sound in his walk from all the metal and plastic banging against each other.

When it came to fly box choices, I was prepared to rush him to the hospital when he had his nervous breakdown while trying to consider every possibility imaginable on the river that particular day. He reviewed, sorted, swapped, and discarded flies and boxes until he had finally settled on three boxes of assorted nymphs, midges, dries, scuds, and streamers that he would be using that day. Of course, he then had to decide which one of the 43 patterns and which color of that pattern he was to tie on. Once he settled on an olive sculpin, it was minutes before he chose the particular one in his box that suited his fancy. I had tied a scud to my tippet at the end of my leader the night before just after tying a half dozen.

Without much forethought, Phillip reached in the cab of my truck and pulled out the contents of the UPS package. "Can't forget my new toy!" he exclaimed.

Once his rig was set and his vest all situated, Phillip donned the last two items to complete his wardrobe. The self-inflating life preserver was a gift from his wife. She had heard about a couple of drowning's in Trout Rivers like the ones we fished and out of concern, had purchased a set as a Christmas gift. With forethought, she had ordered one that was rated seventy-five pounds over Phillip's body weight due to her knowledge of his tendency to take everything, including the kitchen sink, into the water with him. (I swear one time while we were hiking from the parking lot down to the river I heard him say, "Wait… I forgot the kitchen sink!" Tuned out it was a new fly pattern he had tied the night before.)

The last thing Phillip put on was his "I 'heart' fly fishing" cap. He had brought four, choosing the correct one to match his wader/vest combo and the weather conditions of the day.

As he adjusted the placement of the brim and positioned the cap on his head, I anticipated the top to open up and a small satellite antennae to emerge and scan the river, feeding information to a viewer in one lens of his "super polarized self-light-tint-adjusting" sunglasses on the size, location, depth, and feeding patterns of each fish in the stream below. While disappointed in the lack of this technology, the cap did include a clip on LED high-low adjusting long life light, a flip down double lens magnifier, two fly patches, 200 gram Thinsulate ear flaps, a solar cell connected to a heating system, and a water repellant coating.

Phillip then startled me from the short nap I took while he made final adjustments to the cap and indicated he was headed for the water. I followed down the embankment to the river's edge and pointed to a spot across and to our right. I indicated that I would start there. Phillip said he would be right behind me in a few minutes.

Having just gotten set and made my first cast, I heard Phillip's voice from across the stream. "Water's 52 degrees F," he reported with authority and confidence in his digital water thermometer. I saluted and nodded to him and continued casting to a small eddy just upstream and 30 feet out. A nice Brookie grabbed my fly as it passed overhead and I landed him in my net. Turning to show Phillip, I saw him kneeling in the stream in the exact same spot where he had given the temperature report. He had seined the stream and examined his catch to determine what the fish were eating. "Wow! You should see the sow bugs in my net!"

Rummaging through four pockets of his vest, Phillip finally found the waterproof, underwater, 4.5 mega pixels, 1-40 zoom lens digital camera he had opted for in lieu of the four other cameras in one of his bags. He snapped a few images of the bugs before returning them to the water and searching his fly boxes for the perfect imitation of them. Not finding any, he began drudging through the water towards the bank yelling to me that he was going to tie a couple of flies at the truck and would be right back.

Meanwhile, I had landed four more nice trout on my scud and began to move upstream to some even fishier looking water. From my vantage point, I could see Phillip sitting on a picnic table in front of my truck spreading his portable tying kit out over half the top. Even though I was not close enough to witness, I knew the drill. It would take him every bit of fifteen minutes just to decide which of his four portable vises he would be using. Then he would take another half-hour setting up the vise, gathering the correct materials, organizing them on the picnic table, and adjusting the lighting to his fancy. Only then could he begin tying the half-dozen or so flies to fill his needs.

Eight 'Bows, three Browns, and a Brookie later, I noticed Phillip re-entering the water. From my vantage point some 250 yards downstream, I could barely make out what Phillip was doing. I knew it was either choosing the correct tippet for his fly or he was about to try out his new toy. As I watched him bend down and place his right hand into the current, my guess was the latter.

I could not hear him, but from his gestures I deduced he was informing me of the current at that point in the river, that this was not conducive to fishing that particular fly, and that he was going to wade upstream and across to find a current more to his liking. As if I had hung on every word, I gestured my approval to him as he waved and headed upstream.

Every other cast, I would pause to watch Phillip do his handy work. He would pull something from his vest, poke it in the water, look around, and move to another spot. Even with the sound of the current, I could make out the sound of various beeps and dings from the contraption he was using at the moment.

Shaking my head and turning back to make a cast toward a boulder some thirty feet in front of me, I began to take count of the number of casts I would make compared to Phillip. I had already made over one hundred this morning with Phillip only casting once.

Finally, I watched the loop over his head as it carried his fly toward a spot a few feet from the opposite bank. When Phillip finally did get a hook wet, he was as good a fisherman as you will ever see wading a stream. I was envious of his nymphing and dry fly fishing techniques and he was, to some degree, a master with most streamers. He attempted to make every cast count and was somewhat disappointed when a cast did not produce a strike.

After watching him cast four more times and landing a couple of nice 'Bows, I noticed Phillip heading back out of the water and up to the parking lot. I shrugged it off as time for another fly or a change of wading shoes to fit the stream bottom conditions. I continued to cast and land several fish before noticing hunger pangs in my stomach triggered by the smell of something cooking coming from the general direction of the parking lot.

Phillip was designated "camp chef" on all the trips we had made together. His inventory of camp kitchen gadgetry had gone unnoticed until this moment. I made my way upstream, casting several times on the way and landing a few more fish, including a very nice 19 inch Brown who gave me a good ten minute tussle.

Walking up the path to the parking lot, I soon caught sight of Phillip's layout. On the tailgate of my truck sat a two-burner propane stove, portable oven, and an ice chest. Just behind the truck was a fold-up table and two chairs already set up with plastic dinnerware and a cold beer with a cozy keeping it that way. To the left of the truck was a portable sink and a container filled with enough water to wash up and do the dishes afterwards.

After a lunch of hot Reuben sandwiches, fresh potato salad, and baked beans, Phillip jumped up and ran to the oven to remove a small homemade apple pie. It was then I noticed the portable electric ice cream maker sitting in the back of the truck covered with towels. Phillip cut the pie and dipped a generous portion of the ice cream into the bowl, covering the steaming apples. Handing me the dessert, Phillip commented that the ice cream freezer kept him from getting to the river that morning. "I started it after you started fishing."

My belly almost bursting, I sat back in the chair and soaked up some of the sun and fresh air. Phillip began washing the dishes and cleaning up as I protested that I would do that in a minute. "No," he remarked. "You don't know how everything is packed. I do."

I shrugged and continued my rest period, nodding off a couple of times for a quick power nap.

Phillip urged me to get back in the river once I woke up and began to stir around. He insisted he would get everything back in order and that I should go ahead and get back to the fish, "so you can catch up with me!" I wondered how long it would take me to catch up to his two fish having already landed 18 myself.

Soon I was back in the middle of the river, casting and tugging more fish into my net. I hardly noticed as Phillip eased back into the water, now downstream from me. He had changed waders, shirts, vests, and hats. He had opted to trade his nine foot five weight rod for an eight foot four weight set up.

He worked his way downstream in the spots I had been successful a few hours before. I landed another nice 'Bow as I watched Phillip dragging out gadget after gizmo and checking the water for every conceivable condition. While fighting another Brookie, I saw him finally make his first cast of the afternoon. I had cast in that same area to a huge Brown Trout who snubbed his nose at five different flies I had drifted by him.

I dipped the Brookie from the stream as I took a glance downstream in time to see Phillip's rod take a wild bend. He pulled the rod tip upwards and struggled to keep it in his hand. The Brown had taken his fly on the first pass.

Phillip fought and tussled with the Brown for almost 15 minutes before easing his net under the fat creature and holding him up for me to see. As he took the fish towards the bank for examination, I splashed, stumbled, and almost walked on water to get downstream to him.

As I approached his position, he announced his length, girth, weight, species, sub-species, gender, age, and general health conditions along with his stomach contents and everything else but his IQ and the number of spots on each side.

There Phillip sat on a rock with a huge 27 inch Brown Trout at his feet. Around him were scales, tapes, calculators, books, pictures, and other thingamabobs and doohickies. He had emptied every pocket of his vest, waders, shirt, and pants. But something seemed to be wrong. Something was missing.

I almost fainted as Phillip looked up at me with a hint of fear and sadness on his face. "I forgot my camera," he said, almost sobbing. He had always had his automatic, high definition, high mega pixel, waterproof, SLR digital camera on every trip we had ever taken together. He always kept it in the mid-size duffle in the end pocket with one of his three rain jackets wrapped around it for protection. "I took some pictures at my son's ball game last night and the camera is still by the computer."

Phillip's face lit up as I reached in my wader pocket and pulled out a re-sealable plastic sandwich bag containing a one-time-use camera I had picked up the night before while at the store. "I only have a couple of exposures left," I explained as I took out the only gadget I owned. Phillip just smiled and held up the monster as I snapped two shots with one left over to take as he let him go.

"Thanks buddy. You're a life-saver!" he said as he put an arm around me still smiling.

"Now… Where'd I put my Color-C-Lector?"

Born and raised in the Ozarks of Arkansas, Terry Beeson has been fishing all his life. He was introduced to the world of fly fishing in 2001 and has become permanently attached to the sport. His love of nature and the outdoors is evident from the list of his passions - hunting, fishing, camping, guitar, golf, woodworking, and his latest passion, fly tying. Still living in Arkansas, Terry is an active member in the North East Arkansas Fly Fishers club in Jonesboro, Arkansas.

Visit Terry's website here.