I consider myself an environmentally conscious person. That is to say I believe strongly that climate change is happening, has been shown scientifically to be very much a man-made phenomenon and is a very dire circumstance that we as intelligent and cognizant inhabitants need to look at and take action to reverse as best we can.
I try to recycle, re-use and re-purpose as much as if not more than the next guy. I have cut down on packaging wherever I can... most notably, I don’t buy bottled water. Yes, we own a gas guzzling Toyota 4 runner and a second car. I try to make my trips away from the house by car efficient errand runs or take my bike to the nearby store. We do have solar panels on our house and we look at ways we can conserve water. I also try to stay up to date on the environmental news as it pertains to water and habitat conditions for fish and other aquatic life.
We should see this thin crust of Terra firma we live on as a singular, inter-dependent organism.
Looking at the earth this way we see ourselves as a vital part of that organism. We have the choice to be a conscious and healthy part of the organism of earth and see ourselves as a part of that organism or we can be parasites sucking the health from it to our own demise.
As part of my personal work to simplify my lifestyle, I have reduced my personal possessions and gotten rid of considerable clutter. The process has been mind-opening. I want to live simply and responsibly and not be a collector of things that are ultimately impractical and that do not add to my life. What I have found is that living with simplicity in mind I find myself closer to nature and in touch with my relationship to the planet and its resources.
This weekend I tried out a new fly and had some sure hits on it. What was remarkable about the fly was that it was comprised of 100% biodegradable material. We have all lost flies to the trees, snags and to the fish as well. Why not make these losses easier on the environment?
The fly I created was wrapped simply enough with a simple head and base layer of cotton thread, then a feather hackle and finally a wrapping of a thin strand of burlap string pulled right off the edge of a piece of burlap. (See photo above)
I appreciated the simplicity of this design. It had a very rustic look that was pretty buggy and did manage to attract fish with it. The idea of using items that would naturally break down in the environment made me feel slightly more responsible.
I know that even synthetic threads can biodegrade as well… but the one thing that natural fibers have over the synthetic is that they are produced with less of an industrial footprint. Synthetics typically are made up of petroleum based chemicals and have nasty bi-products and potential pollutants that do end up in waterways.
If you stop to look for natural materials that break down easily, you also see that they are usually quite readily available and that you don’t have to pay out the nose for the materials. You may also be surprised by what does break down and what kinds of flies you can make with these materials. This can spark new and creative fly ideas for you.
Some natural materials you may want to consider.
Burlap: Strands are simply woven and come off of the cloth so easily. If you run them through your pinched finger nails slowly you can even remove some of the looser fibers and make the strands thinner. There are certainly other natural fiber sources around that you can find too.
Rubber bands: I made a wonderful midge pattern with a rubber band and a tiny tuft of wool. Latex is very biodegradable. Consider using this material as a body material. It looks quite segmented. You can even make interesting hopper legs and bodies with different widths of bands.
Wool roving: I have a bunch of alpaca wool roving in multiple colors that I use for dubbing. The roving works well for creating your own thin yarn too.
Cotton Sewing Thread: Switch to regular cotton sewing thread instead of the expensive fly shop spools. The best way to tell if a thread is synthetic or natural is to put a lit match to it. Natural fibers will burn and synthetic will melt.
Found Feathers: You don’t have to buy expensive capes if you have your own chickens, know someone who does or don’t mind looking around at the feather pillows on your couch for suitable hackle material. You would be surprised.
Animal Fur: Perhaps you are a hunter too. Save some deer or elk hair swatches, I found and interesting pelt of bison at a bead store. it has strands and wooly tuft that I can use creatively.
Recycle your hooks: We all have a few flies lying around that we know we will never fish because they didn’t tie up well or because they are haggard and ratty. Put the still usable hook in your vise and take a razor blade to remove the materials.
Keep your eyes open: In the wild there are opportunities for various natural materials too. You never know what you will find. Many traditional tenkara flies were made with natural materials found in the forests. I am going to be looking at the local yucca plants this year for fibers too.
This is not a movement but just a suggestion
I am not in any way pushing an extreme outlook here, nor am I suggesting that synthetic materials don't also have a biodegradable property to them. I am instead advocating only for your consideration of a tiny step that you can try out (if only for fun). This is not a revolution or movement for fly tying materials that are all natural. But I am personally challenging myself to be responsible and set some creative and fun guidelines for how I tie my flies.
Finally, I would be remiss if I forgot to mention that we all need to work to clean up our streams and be sure that we are not contributing to angler litter with strands of tippet and other stuff. Pack it in, pack it out and a little more if you find some.
Please share your “natural material ideas” in the comments section. I would love to hear them.
Feel free to share the designs you have come up with as well.