"Environmentalism" Its about being a part of the planet
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.
"Natural" is not a dirty word
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.
The joys of spring are upon us in Colorado. This of course means that the snow is melting away. the trees are leafing out, grass is growing, we’ve renewed our fishing licenses and are getting ready to scratch that itch that has been bugging us for so long.
We dream of pristine waters, bubbling holes and sight fishing those favorite streams. Chatter on-line about the rivers and the proverbial “Mother’s Day Hatch” is spoken of often. Then, like ripping a band aid off a hairy arm, we remember …Oh yeah… run off and mud season. *Insert your favorite game show loser sound track here.
We had some great weather early in May and spring did seem to come in rather early. I was able to get out for a nice day and found much of the water I visited starting to flow high and get that familiar muddy color. so I fished the banks. I was lucky to catch one brown trout that was long but still looked a little “winter skinny”. He took the fly hungry and put up fair fight. I felt very lucky to hook a fish on such chocolate milk colored water. I was excited to start my season off at last with my first catch for the year.
After taking a quick photo of my season opener I put him back in and watched him take off for the depths. “See ya later pal!” Looking back at my rod I could see my line had fallen between a large rock and giant boulder and my fly was dry land snagged. Simple enough fix. Just pull the big rock back and free the line. So the big rock was heavy and needed two hands to roll backwards. I didn’t realize how heavy until I let go with my left hand to retrieve the line and fly from between the two. The big rock rolled back toward the boulder and pinned the tip of my right hand ring finger. YIKES!
Well I had gotten the line out of the snag but now my finger was throbbing between the rock and boulder I rolled back the rock just far enough to get my finger out. And then the throbbing gave way to a stream of blood. I swore quite a bit and nursed my bleeding finger like a strange starved river vampire.
I gathered my senses and made my way back up the banks to my car hoping there was still a first aid kit in the car. Yes, there was. Unfortunately it was also really old. No band aids, but there was some gauze some cleaning packets and a roll of tape…a really OLD roll of tape. The adhesive had melted years ago into a “goo” that made it more like double stick tape and was virtually useless.
Despite the smashed finger I was still happy as could be about catching a fish. I wanted to keep fishing and not let this minor setback be the end of my day. I decided I would have to at least stop for a bit and get to a grocery or drug store in the near-by town for a proper first aid kit. I made my way to the first aid aisle and rolled my eyes at the clerk who said "looks like you need a first aid kit eh?" (Thanks man.) Now I have a much better set up for these kinds of accidents in the future. It made me reassess my gear a little too and decided that I would be sure that all of my emergency gear however minor was in good working condition.
Alas, the rest of the day was fruitless. I visited another regular stream to find it even more blown out than the first and an even darker shade of brown. I was reminded of the floods we have had and how much the water changes the banks and hiding places for fish. The usual spots sometimes cease being good holding places and you have to discover new ones. I look forward to finding those new places when the waters settle. The day was far from wasted and I had spent my time better than if I had gone home early.
If anything the spring is a time to clean out our hovels and assess our needs. Purge the old first aid kits and boxes of stale granola bars in the trunks of our cars. We can reorganize ourselves and our minds. Spring is here and while the muddy waters make us wait just a little longer there is always something to do to keep us busy.
I have spent a little more time looking at my gear and a little more time tying up a few more interesting patterns. I plot and plan for the waters to clear. I am also reminded that Colorado has snow in the mountains still and just last weekend, on Mother’s day we got another 8 inches of snow down here in the city. Some folks basements were flooding and much of the mountains also got more snow on the caps too. We have to wait sometimes for nature to cooperate. In the meantime it is best not to muddy the waters further with frustration and anger at those things we can’t control and instead put our time into preparing for clear days, lightly tread paths and new fish hiding in new spots. Hooray Spring!
Dennis Vander Houwen lives in Colorado with his patient and supportive wife, talented artist son, a cuddly dog, and a very lucky cat. Dennis is an avid minimalist, wood craftsman, curious tinkerer and learner and most notably a deeply focused tenkara angler.