Monday, March 29, 2010

One toe over the line,

One toe over the line,
A fisherman's primer for middle age
By Trevor Shpeley
Photos by Travis Shpeley

Published BC Outdoors Magazine, April 2010

My doctor made a face like that of a bulldog chewing a wasp.

With the enthusiasm only a person who is sure they have an inoperable tumour can muster I detailed the physical problems that had been plaguing me. Every morning I hurt as though I had worked out yet in reality the closest I had come to a gym was picking up Blizzards from the Dairy Queen next door. My joints hurt, eyes were fuzzy, someone was regularly hiding my car keys. He let me ramble on for about 15 minutes and when I was done he asked me, “How old are you?” I had just turned 45 and told him so. He informed me with far more brevity than I had allowed him, “go home, get over it, you're getting older. It happens to the best of us” I left his office to face my life as a middle aged man.

I don't feel middle aged but my body is telling me that I am; so is the cute girl at the grocery store when she calls me sir and offers to carry my groceries. Certain irreversible changes occur in most people at around 40 years of age. Your eyes lose their ability to focus on close objects even though your long range vision might be perfect. You can't consider a hike up a lonely mountain trail without thinking about the heart you've been ignoring for four decades, and your fingers, former wizards of manipulation, start to feel like hotdogs wrapped in rubber bands. You've reached your best-before date and it's time to make a few adjustments.

If the preceding paragraphs don't describe your own recent experiences, please go back to your x-box and skinny-leg jeans, the grown ups need to talk.

I've been fortunate in my life to be blessed with exceptional eyesight. You can imagine my shock when I tried on a pair of reading glasses at the grocery store and looked at the palm of my hand only to see dozens of little lines that simply weren't visible without them. I took off the glasses and looked again just to be sure and there was no mistake, my vision was flawed. The $10 reading glasses declared it and the $75 opticians appointment confirmed it. The $75 Optometrist suggested I buy a pair of $10 reading glasses....

Cheap reading glasses work fine if you don't mind swapping them back and forth with your regular polarized glasses but why not pick yourself up one of the really nice polarized lens/reading glass combos available at your local flyshop? The optics in these bifocal type glasses are superb, but like most things in life you can expect to pay for quality. If you would rather not contend with bifocals you can get very good clip-on readers that attach to your sunglasses and flip out of the way when not needed.

These speciality lenses are available in a wide range of tints and coatings and a quick internet search will help you to find a suitable pair in your price range. Be sure to stop at the grocery store and try on a few pairs of reading glasses to find the right magnification before you order.

When you are at home tying a few flies you can't beat a large magnifier with a light around the outside of the lens. Your tying will improve, and you will tie more flies and not become fatigued as quickly due to eye strain. There are plenty of smaller magnifiers that attach to your bench and are widely available but I find it hard to beat the large unit that looks like you stole it from your dentist. In fact go ahead and steal one from your dentist, it will teach him for jamming needles the size of umbrellas into your gums for the last 40 years. When you are middle aged that's called “being a character.”

Now that you can once again tell the difference between a #12 black/red rib and a #14 black/copper rib, it's time to focus on the balloon animals you use for hands on cold days. I feel your pain, when the weather is cold I will sometimes leave an unproductive fly on my line for hours because I can't face the prospect of tying another microscopic fly on an invisible thread with fingers I can't bend. Fingerless gloves help a lot and there are some fine ones available, but the flexibility you had even 5 years ago just isn't there anymore. Fortunately, there are solutions as long as you are willing to stretch your sense of tradition.... just a bit.

The first thing you need to accept is that a tiny piece of metal is not going to turn your carefully tied fly into a hideous beast that no self respecting fish would cross the pond to spit on. We've all seen the little kid with the giant brass snap swivel bolted to a #10 Spratley out-fish everybody else in the boat. Repeatedly.

A very small clip or barrel swivel is not going to scare a fish under most conditions. Tiny steel loops that allow you to quickly and easily change flies are readily available in almost any tackle store and are nearly invisible in the water. I overlooked these little gems for years until I noticed that a friend of mine who also happens to be one of the finest fishermen I know uses them regularly and still catches more fish than me. I use them now, my fingers thank me and yours will too.

Another dexterity related problem can be tying tippet to leader. To solve this, buy a pack of barrel swivels in the smallest size you can find. (Buy them in black and pay the extra 50 cents for the good ones.) Tying on all new tippet becomes a snap and there is the added benefit of eliminating the floro/mono line cutting issues sometimes encountered with direct line connections. A swivel placed between leader and tippet will also aid in turning over extremely long leaders while chironomid fishing.

All fishermen take pride in their ability to tie knots; not just any knot but the right knot for the right application at the right time. That sounds great in theory, but once the age-train starts building up steam and chugging up the long hill towards checkered pants and bad hairpieces it's time to accept a little help in the knot tying department.

Knot tiers have been around almost as long as knots, and are well worth the frustrating few minutes of fiddling required to become proficient in their use. Whip finishers in particular are very easy to use, once figured out and nail knot tools are absolutely indispensable on the river when your leader gets so short the fishes teeth are actually cutting your flyline. Fly shops carry many varieties and the proprietors will be happy to point you in the direction of the models that are the easiest to master.

In true frontier fashion and in light of an almost legendary reluctance to spend money on things I can build myself I put together a real nice boat rack that allows me to load and unload my boat by myself. Unfortunately this process is usually accompanied by a lot of grunting, swearing, slipping and back wrenching twists as the boat teeters between peacefully resting on the top of my rack and violently tumbling back down to the water leaving nothing but a dented truck and a fisherman shaped smear in it's wake.

Of course there is no need to put yourself through that kind of annoyance, (and danger.) When you absolutely must put your boat on top of something by yourself, automatic boat loaders take all the grunt work out of getting your boat on and off your vehicle. These devices work from the front, back or side of your vehicle and generally work very well. Autoloaders don't run cheap but how much is six months recuperation from injury worth to you? After you decide which type of loader suits your needs your local boat or RV dealer will be able to set you up and your days of fearing the end of day pack-up are over.

Once the boat is on the ground, you need a decent set of wheels to move the cumbersome beast to the water. These come in a number of varieties from the type that permanently attach to the transom of your boat to those that attach with brackets to the sides. Very light dollies that make long treks to the water with a fully loaded boat nearly effortless are also available.

Don't forget that although your boat moves like it's weightless on a good set of wheels, it still has mass. If that boat has your motor, battery, lunch, safety equipment, fishing gear, dog, etc loaded into it then it has a whole lot of mass, and if the path to the lake is steep you better have a friend to help you or at least have a total disregard for personal safety and property loss.

It's hard to believe when you look at me now but I used to race mountain bikes; I could hike all day into far away lakes and many times I did. The farthest thing from my mind was the family history of heart disease and diabetes but I think about that a lot now that I'm pushing 50. In fact it's a factor in every decision I make these days. I've learned to enjoy multi-grain bread, I try to avoid fast food, I walk to the store and I no longer think vegetables are something food eats. I look at every hill I walk up with an eye towards it's survivability, and I think a lot about how long it would take an ambulance to find and rescue me given that I spend most of my free time as far away from pavement as I can manage. If you are over 40, it's time to add a new dimension of safety to everything you do outdoors.

When far away from civilization everybody should have a reliable method of communication. Satellite phones are nice but not really practical due to cost. Normal cell phones have range limitations but are still better than nothing in a pinch as small bands of coverage can be found in the oddest places.

The best bet for my money and it really doesn't cost a lot of money is the “Spot Messenger System.” For the price of a good flyline you get a small waterproof satellite messenger unit, and for about that much money again you receive a year of Spot's monitoring service. With the Spot unit you can send messages such as: “I'm OK”, “send assistance”, “a prerecorded special message,” or “send search and rescue, emergency!” Your messages go to whomever you want and they get a google earth map with your location pinpointed on it; they can even follow your progress online if you choose to allow it.

OK, I know that the last time you were able to get a good look at your legs they were like mighty tree trunks. Well, guess what? Things have changed over the last few years. Your legs may turn to jelly halfway across the river you used to cross at will and before you know it you'll be swimming and shedding gear like a sinking shopping cart full of pop cans . The old tree trunks just ain't what they used to be and you'd best take some precautions before you tackle the flow.

Firstly, you'll need a wading staff; your favourite tackle shop will have plenty to choose from. A good wading staff should be collapsible and have a good long loop to wrap around your wrist. It should be longer than a typical hiking staff or ski pole, and about shoulder height will allow you to get some decent triangulation when the river starts to push.

You will also need a good inflatable vest or harness. The type that auto inflate when they hit water are the best and they should all have a manual inflation valve in case of propellent failure. Vests typically have roomy pockets, and harnesses can be quite comfortable on hot days because of their open design. This is not an area where you want to try to save money so you should go with a vest that your dealer or fellow fishers recommend. When the water starts tickling your nose is a lousy time to find out your fancy new vest is useless.

So is middle age a big deal? Not really. It would be foolish to ignore the fact that your body is changing with age, but you're not going to fall apart like a cheap lawn chair the day after you turn 40. As long as you are willing to make a few changes in your normal routine and maybe pick up a few gadgets designed to make your life easier there is no reason why you shouldn't be buying cheap licenses and telling outrageous lies about the fish you never caught for many years to come.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Book Review

Stillwater Selections, a collection of proven patterns - By Phillip Rowley

Learning with the Pro's, Stillwater Fly Tying Volume One – By Phillip Rowley and Brian Chan

Reviewed by Trevor Shpeley

The first time I met Phil Rowley outside of watching one of his presentations was at a course he was teaching at the ski resort in Fernie. I was immediately struck with how friendly and unassuming he was in real life as opposed to some other media personalities I have been acquainted with who were one person for the camera and another for the stream. I was also struck by how easy it was to pry him away from his teaching duties and get him into the nearby St Mary river for a little “on the water training” When push comes to shove Phil fishes because he loves to fish and he talks about fishing because he loves to talk to people who love to fish. He is very genuine and it shows.

Phil is no stranger to the members of FlyBC. In the 25 years since he started fly fishing he has written for most every fly fishing magazine in North America, put out a number of benchmark DVD's, marketed a line of stillwater specific tying materials and is currently splashing around in the waters of television while working on the New Flyfisher series.

He is also, should you happen to have not been paying attention, one of the prestigious members of our very own pro-forum where he takes time from his busy schedule to answer your questions both big and small with the kind of enthusiasm you just can't fake. I was therefore thrilled when I was asked if I wanted a copy of his new book “Still Water Selections” and his new DVD, “learning with the pros” to review for the FlyBC website.

Stillwater Selections, a collection of proven patterns:

By Phillip Rowley, published by BC Outdoors Magazine

book coverThe first thing you will notice about Stillwater selections is that although they are not fraternal twins, there is a definite family resemblance between this book and his previous offering, Stillwater Solutions Recipes. Gone is the cool little self propping feature of the recipe book but the chocolate brown, spiral bound heavy gloss paper and landscape orientation feels both familiar and welcome on the tying desk.

The second thing you notice is that this book isn't just “all about Phil.” As Phil himself says in the books forward, “this book was written to inform and educate fly fishers” “it is intended to be an educational reference to BC designed and inspired patterns.” Phil's goal in Stillwater Selections was to introduce the readers to new patterns, new techniques and new tiers that they might not be familiar with. FlyBC veterans will recognize many of the names attached to the various patterns, names such as Ken Woodward (Woody), Todd Oishi(Tyson), John Kent(JohnK) and Ron Thompson(Phisherman). There are also more well known names you would expect to see in any collection of this type, Brian Chan, Gord Honey and Steve Jennings. Together they add up to an exciting blend of proven ability and burgeoning new talent.

Phil confesses in his introduction that while he has in the past been guilty of tying flies that look great but are complicated to tie and not as lifelike in the water as they could be. In this book Phil leans towards simple patterns that display a lifelike silhouette and exhibit convincing behaviour in the water. Stillwater Selections assumes the reader to posses a basic understanding of fly tying but honestly, I feel that any reader who has mastered putting a hook in the vice and can tie a knot of some variety is going to be able to tie flies that will work well on almost any BC lake if they follow the instructions as written.

The first pages of the book are given to knot tying. You can have the best fly in the world but it's just a decoration if it comes off your line the second a fish takes an enthusiastic interest in it. Stillwater Selections shows the reader in intricate detail how to tie enough knots to handle almost any fly fishing requirement as well as a short tutorial on how to use a nail knot tool, a skill valuable to all fumble-fingered fly fishers and one never properly explained in the instruction manual that comes with the deceptively simple little devices.

From knot tying the book is divided into eight sections laid out roughly in order of importance to the fish's diet:

Chironomids (20 patterns)

Scuds (3 patterns)

Damsleflies (3 patterns)

Leeches (8 patterns)

Dragonflies (5 patterns)

Caddis (7 patterns)

Mayflies (4 patterns)

Waterboatmen and Backswimmers (5 patterns)

All sections start with a chart showing the availability of a given insect to the fish throughout the seasons as well as when you can expect the most activity from any stage of the insects development. There is also, (and in my personal opinion this is the books real strength,) a number of bullet points for each insect that pretty much cover everything you really need to know about the food source without having to fight your way through a lot of text just to find the nuggets you want. A good and very typical example would be this excerpt from the section on Chironomid Pupae:


* 3/8 to one inch, hook sizes #8 to #18

* Chironomids tend to be larger in mud bottomed algae type lakes, try pupa patterns from #12 to#8
* In clear water marl/Chara type lakes, chironomids are smaller, #10-#18 work best
* #12 standard hook is an average pupa size and a good starting point
* If trout do not appear to be selective on size, try using a pupa pattern one size larger so your fly stands out from the naturals.


* Black, maroon,brown,olive, shades of green, tan
* Dark day, dark pattern, bright day, bright pattern.
* Pupae use trapped air and gasses to aid pupal ascent and adult transformation which gives pupae a distinct silver glow.
* Pupae can change colour as they absorb or replenish trapped air and gasses.
* Chironomid pupae have prominent white gills. Chaoborus pupae do not have white gills.
* Use super white beads in algae stained waters, they do not foul with algae as natural or synthetic materials do.

With this simple yet effective technique Phil manages cram a lot of valuable information in a relatively small space without forcing the reader to decide what is trim and what is tasty steak, it's all steak, no fat here and no trouble digesting what you take in.

As I mentioned earlier, this book is laid out in a “landscape” orientation. The pages are wider than they are tall and are stiff enough that propping them up against your vice or back wall while you tie is not only possible, it's the obvious way to use the book.

boatmenOn the left page of the opened book is a large clear picture of the fly being presented. A short biography on the flies tier or originator is followed by a history of the fly itself and some tips on how, where and when to fish it. A separate window displays the materials needed to tie the fly and for many experienced tiers this is all you will need. For those that would like a little more instruction, especially since many of the techniques discussed are relatively new to most people, a detailed step by step photo-intensive tutorial occupies the facing page for each pattern.

All in all Stillwater Selections is a very useful book, especially to someone like myself who places high value on flies that work well and are simple to tie rather than flies that may dazzle your fishing buddies but have all the life and appeal of a coat hanger tied to an extension cord when in the water.

I daresay most will find something they hadn't thought of within it's pages and for those just starting out, you could save yourself a lot of time and trouble by starting here.

I enjoyed Stillwater Selections very much. I will (and do) recommend it to anybody wishing to both simplify and improve their stillwater fishing.boatmen2

Learning with the Pro's, Stillwater Fly Tying Volume One

By Phillip Rowley and Brian Chan,

produced and directed by Mike Mitchell

dvd coverIn addition to Stillwater Selections, Phil and his longtime friend and fly fishing legend, Brian Chan have released a DVD titled “Learning with the Pro's, Stillwater Fly Tying Volume One” produced and directed by BC Outdoors senior editor, Mike Mitchell

Learning with the Pros showcases a dozen or so very effective BC Stillwater flies and focuses on several tying techniques that may not be familiar to all BC tiers. Each fly demonstration is preceded by a verbal description of the materials needed as well as a recipe screen you can pause on to ensure you have everything you need. The macro video is very clean and well focused and the background is neutral enough that detail is not difficult to follow.

Phil and Brian take turns demonstrating various ties and both have a soothing, easy to follow narrative style. It is worth noting that while they are both master tiers, their techniques differ enough that it is to the viewers benefit to observe them both do the same techniques in very different ways as it demonstrates very well that there is more than one way to scale a fish.

I learned many things I either didn't know or didn't fully understand just by watching them tie on the crisp high definition video. I learned for example how to properly hold scissors while I tie, how to double up materials very neatly and how to glue a Peacock thorax without making it a matted crusty mess. I've been tying quite awhile, you would think I would know those things but I didn't. I do now though.

Every fly demonstration is followed by a trip out to a very rainy Morgan lake to discuss and demonstrate how to properly fish the fly that was just tied. If you ever wanted to know how to fish chironomids naked, what leader to use and how to tie it, etc, you won't want to miss these sections. I love that it's obvious they couldn't care less about the rain, they're there to catch a few fish, have some fun and spread a little of their knowledge while they do what they would probably be doing on that day anyway. It's clear that Brian and Phil love their jobs.

So there you have it. Stillwater Selections and the Learning with the Pros DVD. To be honest I was a little nervous about accepting the assignment to review this book and DVD. I don't know Brian and Phil real well but I know them both at least casually and I respect them both tremendously so I had to ask myself, “what if I don't like the book?” “What if the DVD is as sleep inducing as some of the other tying videos out there?” “What if Brian and Phil know where I live?” I'm happy to say all those worries turned out to be a non-issue. I thought the book and the DVD were great. I'd buy them myself and actually use them which is a little unusual for me, I tend to do my own thing but this book and DVD merge seamlessly with my own style of tying and fishing so I expect to see these on my desk for some time. Check them out for yourself, I think you will too.

Stillwater Selection and Lerning with the pros are both available on the BC Outdoors website: