Voices from the river

Voices from the River: Boxes to fill

By Chris Hunt

It’s December. How did that happen?

Why, just last week, it seemed, I was casting fat Chernobyls to willing cutthroats on Bear Creek under the warmest of summer suns.

But today, as I step outside to grab the mail, my nostrils freeze tight and the vapor from my breath circles my face, blocking, temporarily, my view of the fresh snow covering my dormant lawn.

I’m not ready for this.

Sure, once or twice, when things warm up a bit and I don’t have to fight frozen guides, I’ll hit the Henry’s Fork for a day of throwing size 22 midges at surprisingly active winter trout. But the words, “I’m too old for this sh**,” tend to leave my lips more often these days. Fighting the biting wind and breaking the ice out of the beard is a younger man’s game anymore. To them, I leave the river and its frosty banks, save for a couple of dutiful visits to the water so I can keep calling myself a fly fisherman.

My winter respite? What keeps me sane? Connected? Interested?

I’ve got boxes to fill. Lots and lots of boxes.

I started with dry flies back when the weather first started going to pot—attractors, tied “renegade” style. Adams. Coachmans. Stimulators. Wulffs. Caddis. These are the staple flies for backcountry fly fishing come summer. Hoppers will fill a box, too, but I still need to make a trip or two to the fly shop for foam and rubber legs before I can start in earnest.

For now, I’m tying streamers. Buggers and Clousers mostly, in preparation for a couple of trips south this winter. I like tying streamers. They’re bigger and easier for clumsy hands. I’ve got a pike trip penciled in for mid-June, too, and that’ll require even more streamers. Black. Chartreuse. Red. Red and white. Those are fun flies to tie, and my imagination is tickled every time I think of a monster northern chewing up the bucktail and marabou I so carefully tie to the size 2 hook.

I’ll need nymphs, too, for spring on the Henry’s Fork and next fall on the South Fork. Girdle bugs and big stonefly patterns will ride one side of the box, while the other holds smaller hare’s ears, Copper Johns and the usual fare that can drag behind a bigger bug and really get deep.

Tying’s not fly fishing, but it’s an extension of the craft. It’s a fishing act. It’s potential energy for fly fishing. And there’s a substantive reward in neatly filling a box and setting it aside for the coming season. There’s validation. There’s a “this is what I did over my Christmas break” sense of accomplishment.

But, no, it’s not fly fishing. And fly fishing is central to my existence. It’s the axis upon which the world spins. Tying is one of the orbiters around that axis and provides the fuel to the passion when the rod finally comes out of the tube and the bug is tied to the tippet. Without the fly, there is no fly fishing.

So, it’s important. It’s necessary.

And I’ve got boxes to fill.

Chris Hunt is the national digital director for Trout Media. He lives and works in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

By Chris Hunt.