A rebuilt fly box for a trip to Alaska.
When the old fly box just won’t cut it anymore
When I booked a place to stay in Southeast Alaska for this coming week, I still had eastern Idaho carp on the brain. Like a lot of anglers, I have a running “fishing calendar” — a dependable timeline for what’s happening on local rivers and, generally speaking, where I might be at any given time over the course of a year.
The Alaska trip is here — I and two of my best fishing buddies are headed to the Tongass National Forest for a week. I planned this week to (hopefully) coincide with the coho salmon run, while also ensuring guaranteed shots at pink salmon, Dolly Varden and even some coastal rainbows and some sea-run cutthroats. But I made the plans in May (carp season for me), and never even stopped to think about where my “Alaska box” might be — a near-fatal error after a move last fall.
I did eventually find the box — and by box, I mean fly box — but when I cracked it open, it was an absolute mess. Remembering the last time I used it (almost exactly five years ago), I shouldn’t have been surprised. Rather than an orderly collection of streamers, Gurglers and Egg-sucking Leaches, it looked, as I explained to my friends on a group chat as we planned out the week ahead, like the dog had coughed up a flamingo.
“I’m starting over,” I typed in the chat bar on my computer, staring down at the mess of pink, purple and orange all tangled in a bacchanal orgy or marabou and rabbit fur. One day, I’ll sort out the box and pluck the survivors from it, but it wasn’t going to be this day.
So start over I did. I began last week by collecting and hand-painting some pearlized beads to use as salmon egg imitations. Then I dove into about a half-dozen dependable Dolly Varden streamers. Next, I tied up some articulated streamer patterns for silvers and then I grabbed what was left of my craft foam and tied up a new batch of Gurglers (yes, salmon, both pink and coho, will grab a top-water fly, particularly when they’re just entering the fresh water from the sea). I have more to tie, and one of my buddies is bringing a vise so we can tie as we go, if necessary, but I’m on a plane in about 24 hours, so time is short.
I am not accomplished at the vise. It’s always been a dutiful exercise. But tying flies for salmon and char is one aspect of the discipline I’ve always enjoyed. The flies are big and colorful and easy to tie, even for clumsy, fat fingers and the ever-changing eyesight that comes with creeping into my 50s with less grace and ease than I would like.
It’s also a way to kind of extend the experience a bit … to make a week actually spent fishing feel longer and more complete. For years, I’ve contemplated a move to the rainforest, that unbelievable beautiful corner of the planet that does so much more than harbor salmon, bears, whales and some of the last wild country that functions almost as it always has. But the stars haven’t aligned … it may not be in the cards.
So I’ll tie a few more flies today and spend the next week in one of my favorite places. And, when I get home, I’ll miss it, like I always do. I’ll go back, of course, but I’ll probably have to start over on a new fly box when I do.