TWIN FALLS — It’s a deadly bit of blur, this tiny burst of feather bits taking shape on Dave Swanson’s hook.
“That fly right there will nail the fish,” the Hagerman angler promises.
It’s the Sheep Creek Special, whose originator designed it for a reservoir on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation south of Mountain Home. Swanson came across this fly pattern a quarter-century ago: a brown hackle tail, a body of iridescent peacock herl and a scrap of duck feather for a wing.
On vacations, Swanson stops at fly shops, buys a couple of flies the locals recommend and tries them on the local streams. Then he switches to the Sheep Creek Special.
“And then the action begins,” he says. “I have used it wherever we go.”
Bent over a vise under bright lamplight, Swanson is among nine anglers giving free demonstrations at the Magic Valley Fly Fishers club’s Fly Tying Night on May 18. Each is stationed at his own table in a Twin Falls event center, surrounded by his stash of beads, feathers and threads and circled invitingly by extra chairs.
Anglers drift from table to table, learning how Swanson fills his bobbins with a cordless drill or how Rupert angler Doug Gosnell stores his crystal flash in straws. I start at Swanson’s table, and he opens with a convincing spiel.
“My vise is completely different than everybody else’s,” he tells me, showing how his rotary Nor-Vise’s spin means he can wrap thread around the hook it holds without moving the bobbin around the vise.
The appeal is obvious even to me.
That Norlander Co. bobbin is special, too. It’s spring-loaded and retracts the extra thread. No need to rewind by hand.
With the Sheep Creek Special, Swanson targets mostly West Coast half-pounders — immature steelhead that return to freshwater — but southern Idaho trout take it too. The Pacific Gas and Electric Co. retiree moved from California to Hagerman nine months ago and frequents Riley Pond, where his Sheep Creek Specials perform well.
“Confidence in what you fish with is about half of what the battle is,” he says, hooking the finished fly into my hat. “And I have so much confidence in those.”
‘Not going to let it go by’
At Glenn Buscher’s table, five men watch as the Twin Falls angler ties a big Canadian Olive Leach, explaining his trick for making a fly that will slide over lava rocks in Salmon Falls Creek Reservoir without turning over.
The chartreuse version of this fly had wide appeal at C.J. Strike Reservoir recently, Buscher says, getting a lot of crappie and bass and some trout.
“They can take it for a minnow, they can take it for a crayfish, they can take it for a leach. I don’t care what …” he says, trailing off as the conversation moves on.
Buscher offers to tie a big leach for me and asks what color I’d like. When I hesitate, a couple of anglers decide for me. Chartreuse, they insist.
Buscher approves. That yellow-green will attract practically anything that swims in Salmon Falls Creek Reservoir. “If he sees it, he’s not going to let it go by.”
He pops his dubbing into an electric coffee grinder and gives it a couple of puffs.
“Now look at it,” he tells his audience. “Isn’t it fluffed up so beautiful?”
Buscher is full of other tying tips, too, but skill at the vise isn’t the essential requisite. It’s not the fly, he says. It’s the life you give it.
“It’s the dance that you put in that fly in the water.”
‘Stay up all night’
The talk at Jake Miller’s table is this spring’s high water — submerged docks, flooded cabins, unfishable rivers.
Twin Falls angler Chris Foster is doing more listening than talking. He’s an observer, it appears, and he’s noticed how any fly-tying demonstrator reacts when someone he thinks is more skilled walks by.
“The first thing this guy says is, ‘It’s not really a good one. This is an ugly one,’” Foster tells me.
He doesn’t tie flies but likes to watch. “I’m one of those lucky guys who has a friend that likes to tie. And I have no trouble giving him materials.”
When Foster and the others move on, Miller turns back to his vise, looking a little self-conscious. He’s used to an audience — the refugee children he teaches at Robert Stuart Middle School’s Newcomer Center — but hasn’t before tied flies in front of others.
He’s tying mice: a buoyant foam head and a bit of rabbit fur for the bedraggled swimmer’s body.
Why haven’t I heard of this before?
“Around here, you fish them at night. Most guys aren’t willing to stay up all night and fish mice,” Miller explains, sprinkling a wink here and there in his conversation. “But typically when you catch a trout on a mouse, it’s a big trout.”
The big, educated trout of Silver Creek — wise to the wiles of catch-and-release fishing — drop some inhibitions in low light. Miller’s creations are particularly effective on certain stretches of Silver Creek; he won’t say which ones, of course, but insists it doesn’t matter.
“You can mouse anywhere of Silver Creek,” he says, stroking the rabbit fur with a toothbrush.
Michael Eveleth of Twin Falls came prepared to brag about the Whelen tent — a lean-to style that can cozy up to a campfire — he sewed on his wife’s machine. The photo printout on his table is his conversational opener.
But he wasn’t expecting to be on the spot as a first-time demonstrator of fly tying, he confides. He brought the vise, the lamp and the briefcase of supplies just expecting to hang out and tie with the guys.
“But I love challenges, so that’s OK,” he says. Later the Lytle Signs employee adds: “I like intricate jobs. I like things that make you think.”
Eveleth is tying yellow and olive feathers for a jointed fly that imitates a perch minnow for walleye. As he wraps, he deprecates his technique.
“Every time I try to follow the rules, it messes up,” he says. “So I make my own rules.”
Eveleth dips a finished “minnow” into his clear-plastic cup to show me how it flattens and puffs up with underwater movement.
He’s pulling a length of something shiny from his supplies when Twin Falls angler Rocky Adamson wanders over, takes up position over Eveleth’s shoulder and remarks that some fly-tying materials are more about catching fishermen than fish.
So I ask: Do they stick to commercial supplies or improvise with other stuff?
Both men come alive.
Cat hair, squirrels and yarn, Eveleth says, and of course you look for roadkill. Shiny magpie feathers and bags of feathers from bird hunters, Adamson says. And hair brushed from his Labrador retriever before she died.
Eveleth pulls out a card wrapped with blue ribbons — embroidery embellishments, perhaps — that he found at a yard sale.
“I don’t have any idea how I’m going to use them yet,” he says.
Another yard sale find: Adamson’s sister brought him a stuffed duck — a poor example of taxidermy but a rich source of fly materials.
“You can’t buy that many feathers for 50 cents,” Adamson crows.
By now I’m seriously impressed. What’s not to admire about thrifty, creative reuse? But Adamson’s next remark topples my sand castle.
“I’ve got $8,000 worth of fly-tying stuff,” he says. “Trust me, I’ll never tie that many flies.”
What? I protest: $8,000?
Eveleth counters that his wife spends big on scrapbooking. Adamson’s wife quilts, and he switched to a toy hauler with a generator so she can sew while he fishes.
“She spends $350 on material, then gives the quilt away,” Adamson says, his eyes widening on those last four words.
I decide not to mention catch-and-release fishing.