Thursday, August 4, 2016

Miramichi Salmon Camp - July, 2016

I headed up to Bullock's Lodge and their salmon camps in Boiestown, New Brunswick on Friday, July 8, 2016 - a couple days before Jamie and Pete Woods and Bill Dreyer would get into camp for our annual week of salmon fishing together.  It's a 560 mile, approximately 10-hour drive for me, and with an auction to do for the Miramichi Salmon Association (MSA) Sunday night, I like to get a couple days rest (that is, if I can duck my pal Vin Swazey and his never-ending list of chores he'd like help with - which I am never successful in doing!).

But I get just a tad ahead of myself.  I'd made two earlier trips up to the river, one in early May and another in early June to do auctions for the Woodmen's Museum and then the MSA.  Very little fishing (and no fish) during those trips (and no work!), but I want to share a few photos of each of those trips.  They're fun in that one can see the changes in the river and the land surrounding it over those Spring months.  Don't can click on the pics for a larger image.

The ice went out in early April.  On May 1, it looked like this:

And the intervale (a lowlying tract along a river) that is in front of the camps and Vin's home looked like this:

Ice was being stubborn about leaving for the year (but the river water was clear):

By early June, the river's level hadn't really changed, but my, how things had greened:

The intervale now a lush carpet:

One of my favorite wildflowers, the Lupine, was coming up on the gravel bars now showing after a winter under the ice:



I did get to watch a pretty cool phenomenon while sitting (as I so often do) watching the river go by.  My first Miramichi waterspout!

And while geese on the lawn can surely make a mess, its always fun to watch a new family forage.  Interesting that if one adult has it's head down feeding, the other's is always up and alert.

On to July!  My first morning in camp, the river was still really up there:

The river was so high that the gravel bar in the Bullock's Home Pool was in danger of going under again (Bill Tomiello and friend giving it a go anyway):

Vin's Camp Pool was pretty unfishable at this point:

Since I wasn't really scheduled to fish on Saturday, Vin pointed out that the ceiling in a room in his parent's old homestead that the family is restoring was almost ready for paint, but needed a real pro's (he should have been a used car salesman) finishing touches on the new sheetrock first.  Yup, sucker that I am, I finished the rock and painted the ceiling.  Sigh, there really wasn't much else to do, anyway.

The day passed peacefully and soberly on Sunday, since I had that pesky auction to do down in Newcastle that night.  While Vin and I were gone, Jamie, Pete and Bill got into camp and headed to the river for the evening's fishing.

Pete Woods is twenty-five years old, and works in some "you better have a thick wallet" antique store in New York City.  I've been pleased to be a part of his salmon fishing life since he was in his teens.  Yikes, can that guy cast!  Oh, and hook and land salmon:

Sadly, dear readers, I must report that the twenty-plus pounder in Pete's hands succumbed to the fly I love to hate, the dreaded (here it comes) White-tailed Green Machine.  Ugh.  I thought we had taught him better.   Notice the bend in that hook!

Bill D. hooked up as well, landing a grilse on a Shady Lady (the original style, not some spun deer-hair wannabe!):

Oh, wait, that's right.  Pete wasn't done yet.  Landed a grilse, too (guess what fly.):

I'm so glad I was an hour away doing a fundraiser instead of having to deal with slimey old atlantic salmon.  Right.

Tuesday it finally began warming up.  I mean it's July, and I had a fire in the camp woodstove Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights.  Not to mention wearing a sweater, fleece jacket and raingear all those same days!

It was a beautiful morning on the river...that Pete sure can cast:

Sadly (the author said with a wry smile), Pete lost a salmon that morning, again on that miserable green fly.

Time for lunch!  I brought along the apparatus to cook up a Low Country Boil, which I do believe was enjoyed by all:

Please note Pete's NYC hairstyle, which his father Jamie likes to describe as a Euro-trash soccer player man-bun.  LOL, it's actually pretty short compared to what mine looked like when I was his age!

We were very happy when Michele Swazey stopped by for a bit of the boil!

As for Tuesday evening, all I have to report is that Pete got a grilse on....wait for it...a buck bug of a color other than green!

Wednesday began with a nice, foggy dawn:

Which cleared away into a bright morning:

It's a great time, standing on the river bank, drinking my morning coffee, and watching salmon heading up river towards where I'm going to fish that day:

We headed up to Home Pool at Bullock's Lodge for the morning's fishing.  Looked like a perfect Bomber morning.  Renate Bullock wasn't guiding that morning, but was tidying up their guest cabin, right handy to where we head down to the river.  I asked her to pick a fly for me out of my Bomber box, and she went right to the little size 8 "Locator", as she calls it.  So I tied it on, and went down to the home side of Home Pool.  I was working my way down river, watching the little bug ride high in the water, when a fish rolled about twenty yards back upriver...where I had just fished through.  Always a sucker for a showing fish, and never mindful of the phrase, "showing fish aren't taking fish", I got out of the river, got above the fish, and on the first cast...grilse on.  Dandy little's always so much fun when they take a dry!

Dan Bullock was guiding Jamie and I on Home Side; he was also fishing a Bomber.  A little while after I landed my grilse, Dan came over and asked which Bomber I was using.  Told him it was the little Locator his mom picked out for me.  He asked if I had any more...which I always do.  He wanted Jamie to try it.  Not long after that, big commotion upriver; Jamie has a good fish on...on the Locator.  Big fish, but Jamie got it in quickly:

We love our Locator!  And it always pays to listen to your guides' suggestions!  Nice job, Renate and Dan!

The river really warmed up that afternoon into the evening; we opted to enjoy the river from the comfort of the bank and with the assistance of the cooler.

The river was starting to drop by Thursday morning:

Bill got a grilse that morning on a Same Thing Murray.  I got a nice video of that (and also of Jamie's big fish).  I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Microsoft for attempting to install Windows 10 on my computer without my consent, thereby wiping out, among other things, all of my Windows Live Mail and the good old and easy to use Live Movie Maker.  My thanks to Bridget and her son Bob for the dozens of hours they spent reconstructing my emails via Outlook Express, and figuring out ways around not having the old Movie Maker.  Sadly, maybe after a few months I'll figure out what they've done for me, but for the moment, long and/or edited movies are not in the cards.  Again, my deep and abiding thanks to Microsoft.  Idiots.

I had run out of wader that morning, trying to get to a fish.  Just drying out the boxes:

Also, I was a little surprised that Canada Customs let Jamie drive his truck across the border.  I always thought you weren't supposed to bring green plants into Canada!

Thursday evening was more relaxing, not so much fishing (at least for the old men; Pete always went) with upriver neighbors:

Friday the water was still time for Jamie, Bill and Dan:

Jamie and Bill are both attorneys.  Always checking in with their offices, even up on the river.  In days gone by, it was phone calls.  Now it's this:

Pete commented that the scene reminded him of lunchtime at a middle school.  Minus the beer, of course.  And the entertainment never stops in Boiestown...we even got to watch wedding photos being taken:

The boys all had to leave Saturday.  The water was coming back up anyway, so they didn't feel too badly about it. 

I fished a bit in the morning, then just went to a couple parties with Boiestown friends that afternoon and evening.  We'd all gotten fish during the week, and had a great time all around.  You can't beat that.  Last night in camp:

That setting sun reminds me of two good men we lost this year, Lawrence Swazey and Bob Warren.

Lawrence was 87.  He was leaving a large gathering in Fredricton when he was struck and killed trying to cross a busy boulevard on May 8, 2016.  In the almost 20 years I knew him, I never once heard him utter an unkind word about anyone.  Born in Boiestown, he lived in Fredricton in adult life, but maintained a camp right handy to his brothers Vin and Jim's homes.  He loved to play his electric piano at local fundraisers; he was a joy to be around.  The Swazey's are a tight family; I know how much they miss him.

Lawrence (on left, with my pal Walt)

And at the piano at a Boiestown fundraiser:

My bud Bob Warren lost his seemingly forever battle with cancer at home on July 10th, 2016, the day he should have been returning home from the river.  He fought that fight with the grace and humor that most of us can only wonder about.  Bob landed my first atlantic salmon for me so many moons ago.  He was such an old-school outdoorsman (and I mean that in the very best way) that loved his bird dogs and his salmon...and his family...and not in that order.  He may have equals in the world of fly tying, but there are none better.  He was one of a kind.

Bob and Linda Warren

I miss them both terribly.

Monday, March 28, 2016

New Sherriff in Town...Brodie, by name.

Brodie came to our home as a birthday present to me from my ever-thoughtful Bridget.  She understood the loss I felt when Tucker passed away back in November, and this is her way of bringing back English setter life and love to our home.

I picked Brodie up on March 23, 2016 way up in the Colebrook, NH area at Deadwater Gundogs of New England ( ) .  It just so happened that they had a litter of 13 ready to go and sold, but had two last minute cancellations.  Scott from Deadwater sent us a video of the two pups left (a male and a female); the little male, with his half mask, was an instant hit with us.  One of the deciding factors was that in the video, he knocked over a broom, and it didn't phase him one bit; he went right to it to inspect.

Brodie's mother is Deadwater Zee, a hard-working dog in Deadwater's guiding string.  His father is 4X Champion Long Gone Buckwheat, winner of the National Amateur Woodcock Championship and the Grand National Grouse Championship.  Lots of horse dog power between those two.  And yes, I have a lot to handle on my hands!  Brodie is a beautiful tricolor, my favorite of the setter color schemes.

Anyway, here's Brodie during his first visit to his new backyard:

Brodie's schedule has pretty much worked out to an hour as a blur, then an hour of this:

I love the wavy hair of a setter's ears.  A little secret:  I've also always loved the smell of a setter's ears:

Tucker left behind an almost astounding collection of stuffed toys for the next guy in line.  Brodie particularly likes mauling the polar bear:

It didn't take him long to pick out his own easy chair (we have absolutely no problem with that; Bridget even piled up a couple pillows to help him figure out how to get up there:

After almost a week here, I figured it was time to get Brodie acquainted with the Cave (after a semi-massive clean-up of feathers and fur - thank heavens for that big closet!)

I believe he's found the Cave to his liking:

So that's our Brodie.  I look forward to sharing the journey from puppy to gundog over the years.  Brodie is only the sixth setter I've trained, but they all turned out to be great bird dogs and friends.  I hope you'll enjoy the ups and downs of it all as the years pass.


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Updated Size 10 salmon hook comparison chart

Well, with nothing better to do (not) on a beautiful early Spring morning here in southern Vermont, I decided to update my size 10 hook comparison chart.  There's a couple new hooks in the stable, a result of my searches to replace the lamented loss of the Tiemco 7999 (stupid Tiemco), which I thought I'd bring to your tying bench.

This go 'round, I've included prices, either from where I bought the hooks, or from quick Google searches.  My winner (by just the slim margin of a finer return eye) to replace the 7999 is the Akita AK305.  I prefer a heavy size 10; I've just had too much good luck with it not to stick with it.  An example of its staying power is the Celtic Beauty tied on it with which Bridget hooked 7 salmon a couple Septembers ago:

I've broken down the price per hook.  It's eye opening.  Good thing I like the Akita and Maruto more than any of the Partridges (which I suppose are OK if you're on the Partridge Pro Staff and get them for free or at a discount) because they are priced WAY above my paygrade (Prices are U.S. dollars; foreign shipping for some of the hooks increases the cost per hook somewhat dramatically - not taken into consideration here):

 Akita A305:                           29 cents/hook
Maruto M30:                          19   "          "
Tiemco 7999:                          good luck
Partridge M2:                         80 cents/hook
Partridge single Wilson:         51   "         "
Partridge Bartleet Supreme:   70   "         "
Mustad  SL53 UBL                28   "         "
Daiichi 2421                           38   "         "
Partridge CS42 Bomber         28   "         "

Missing from the chart this time (where'd they go?) is the Gaelic Supreme hook.  Sixty cents a pop.

Where can you buy the Akita and Maruto hooks?  Not telling.  But easy enough Google.

So...the chart.  Hope it's helpful. (click on it to make it bigger)


Friday, March 11, 2016

Another Famous Grouse Fly

The similarity I noticed in my last blog post between Bob Warren's Glenlivet salmon fly and a Glenlivet bottle got me to thinking that I should make another stab at a Famous Grouse fly, this time more modeled on that scotch's logo bird than my last effort and more "spey style":

Several years ago, a "forum acquaintance" from a U.K.-based atlantic salmon fishing forum (  sent me some samples of claret seal fur dubbing.  One of the packages came from Frankie McPhillips Traditional Irish dubbing.  It was lovely dubbing.  Fast forward to this project.  The package of McPhillips' dubbing I had looked perfect for the project, but not the right shade.  I wanted the body of the fly to go from darker at the butt to lighter towards the head, like the logo bird.  A quick google and I was at Frankie's website
(  Great color photos of all his dubbing; I was able to order the two I wanted and received them promptly.

Here's where it gets "it's a small world" cool.  My partner Bridget's parents came over from Northern Ireland many moons ago.  She is the first of her family born here.  I thought she'd get a kick out something I'd bought from Ireland.  She read the package and burst out laughing.  "Enniskillen, that's where the family farm is...I've been there twice!"  And that's where McPhillips' Irish dubbing is made.  Some one on the U.K. salmon forum told me that Frankie has a nice fly shop there.  We need to go.

Back to the Fly.  I selected Fiery Brown dubbing for the rear third of the body, and Ballinderry Brown for the front two thirds.  I wanted to use feathers from the red grouse skin I have for hackling but they are all too brown to match the logo bird.  I went with ringneck pheasant rump dyed orange for the body hackle, and mallard for the throat hackle.  Tag and ribbing are gold oval Lagartun's tinsel.  I did manage to use a tail feather from the red grouse for the wing and of course Jungle cock for the eye.

I still have a bit of a tremor in my hands, so the head isn't the best, but it'll pass.  Here ya go (click on the pic for a larger version):

I think we'll give it a swim this fall on the Miramichi.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Will the REAL Glenlivet please stand up?!

I apologize.  I totally screwed up in my blog post Dyeing Mohair and Tying the Glenlivet Salmon Fly.  I misinterpreted/misunderstood Bob Warren's comments to me about the fly prior to writing that post and want to set the record straight.  Here are the facts and the real Glenlivet (not my best tie; problems with trembling hands):  Bob designed the fly for his wife, Linda, soon after she took up salmon fishing.  She was doing well with his Cutty Sark, but he felt she should have her own fly, named, like the Cutty is after his favorite scotch, the Glenlivet, her favorite scotch.  The real Glenlivet:

Tag:       Oval Copper Tinsel
Butt:      Chartreuse Gordon Griffiths floss
Tail:      Red Golden Pheasant Breast feather
Body:    Mohair dyed emerald green
Rib:       Oval Copper tinsel
Throat:  Black hen
Wing:    Wood duck flank feather (tented)
Head:     Red

A bottle of Glenlivet bears a striking resemblance, eh?
 So what of the fly in the last post?

Well, we know its not a Glenlivet.  I described it to Bob over the phone and all he could figure was that it is some simplified Balmoral that he was experimenting with.  The body would certainly lead one to think so.  It's such a pretty fly that I tied a batch of them before my hands went south (saw neurologist the other day; it's Essential Tremor.  He gave me a drug for it. Hope it works)

Anyway, just wanted to set the record straight.  The history of flies is murky enough without me muddying things up further.  Now, I better go and re-work that other blog post.


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Dyeing Mohair and tying a simplified Balmoral salmon fly

A couple weeks ago I was trying to tidy up my tying bench a bit (an endeavor doomed to an epic fail) and found a pair of flies tied by my good friends and salmon camp pals Bob and Linda Warren.  I think I could tell a Bob Warren-tied fly from across a room: neat, tidy, sparse, perfect small head.  And a tented wing like no one else I know can create.  Bob's simplified Balmoral, on a double (shows how long ago he tied it; hasn't tied doubles in years):

And Linda's fly, tied on a single (this low water version has been fished, if I recall correctly):


Looking at the fly under the microscope, so to speak, I couldn't identify the body material.  Not floss, not yarn.  Hmmmm.  Call Bob.  Turns out its Mohair, from the Angora goat:

I, er, borrowed that photo from this website, where, for the curious-natured among readers, you can find out more about these interesting creatures:

It also turns out that Bob has a BIG stash of washed angora mohair, and that he'd be happy to send me a batch to dye up and split with him in the right colors for the Glenlivet.  Good deal!  A few days later, it arrived.  Since it had been commercially washed, I would have to spend far less time washing it.  Mohair contains a lot of Lanolin, which, if not removed,  prevents the hair from taking the dye effectively.  Part of the lot he sent me:

You can "tease out" single locks of the stuff:

Here's the process I used to dye the mohair.  It is essentially the same process I use for all the feathers and hair I dye.  I should mention that I did google "dyeing mohair".  Interestingly, most of the sites with instructions of one type or another are "doll hair" sites.  That was a neat surprise!

My first step, even though this was pre-washed material, was to wash it again with Synthrapol:

I'm fortunate to have a stainless steel sink in my shop; I do all my dyeing there.  I am lucky to have that shop, from both a convenience and a self-preservation perspective.  Trust me on this:  DO NOT do your dyeing in the kitchen...unless you have: A. a death wish or B. like paying alimony.  The sink with mohair being washed:

Over time, I've developed a collection of the dyes I use most commonly, uncharacteristically neatly stored in a drawer of the old medical cabinet I use as my dyeing platform:

Looking through my collection of dyed materials, I found two pieces of "white bear" that match the body sections of the Glenlivet perfectly.  The two dyes:

It's important to use acid dyes in a stainless steel vessel, over a controllable heat source, with a thermometer that tells you the temperature of the dye bath.  Here's my set-up, all obtained pretty cheaply via ebay (check out the stains on the formica countertop...think those would boost your popularity in the kitchen??):

I like to pre-dissolve the dye in small pan prior to adding it to the bath:

For the three inches or so of water I had in the large vessel, I figured a heaping teaspoon of dye would be plenty:

Here are two VERY important things to have on hand when using acid dyes:

You cannot "fix" an acid dye to the material at hand without white vinegar.  And you'll be sorry (but very colorful) if you don't wear some brand of rubber gloves.

I typically bring the dye bath up to 175-185 (F) degrees to dye most of the feathers and hair I dye.  Reading those doll sites I mentioned before, most of them said to dye mohair around 150 (F) degrees, so that's what I was shooting for (by the way, that is a long-stemmed candy thermometer that goes all the way to the bottom of the dye pot):

Mohair washed and ready for the bath:

And into the bath.  This batch spent about 30 minutes in the bath before I felt it to be the right color.  During its time in the bath, I poured a generous amount of vinegar into the bath.  My experience tells me if I can smell the vinegar coming off the bath, I probably have enough in it.  I always move the material to the side of the bath so I can add the vinegar to it without pouring it directly onto the material.

Once I've achieved the color I'm looking for, I remove it from the bath and place it directly into a warm water bath with a bit of Synthrapol in it:

I swish it around quite a bit in the Synthrapol bath, then hold it under the faucet, rinsing and wringing it until the water I'm wringing out runs clear, which means that what I'm holding in my hands is all material with fixed dye in it; nothing to run out later when a fly tied with it hits the water.  The finished Kelly Green and Sapphire Blue batches ready to dry:

When I can't blow dry a material (like a piece of fur or an entire chicken cape) I use an old pillow case and our dryer.  I just place the batch in the pillow, tie a not in the open end and chuck it in the dryer, medium heat for as long as it takes to dry. Worked very well in this instance, as well as when I've dyed up a batch of individual feathers (and no one is the wiser that I've been using the dryer for illicit purposes!):

After the two batches dried, I teased out a lock of each to tie a simplified Balmoral from:

Time to try tying the fly.  It usually takes me 3 or 4 tries at a new fly before I'm happy with it.  In the case of this fly, it's not a particularly good looking end product, and I know there are other ways to tie the same fly, but I wanted to bring a good, effective fly (and far prettier than most!) to a broader audience than it has heretofore been exposed.

This fly, like Bob's Cutty Sark, has a peach floss butt, which is a blend of flosses.  Bob uses, as do I, the now essentially unavailable Gordon Griffith's floss.  The blend is 4 parts orange floss, two parts yellow, and one part green.  If you tried to blend pieces of this floss right off the spool, you'd have a rope on your hands.  Fortunately, GG floss divides easily into two pieces:

Here are the split strands ready for blending:

I use a soft toothbrush to stroke the strands together, blending them slowly, starting with two strands and then adding the next strand when the previous strands are blended together:

The finished peach floss:

And then I split that piece into three finer pieces for a less bulky butt (that sounds funny.)

Okay, NOW we can tie the fly:

1.  I wrap the hook with white thread to give other materials something to hang on to:

2.  Tie in the small, oval copper tinsel for the tag and rib:

3.  I use 4 wraps of tinsel to build the first part of the tag:

4.  Use the thread to move the tinsel forward to make room for second part of the tag,the peach floss:

5.  Tie in the floss:

6.  Wrap floss to complete the tag and tie in Golden Pheasant Crest tail (Note:  I'm going to wish I had wrapped the materials to this point in a little closer to the head, smoother and more tapered at the head):

7.  Time for the butt.  Dub a tiny amount of black beaver dubbing onto your thread:

7.  Wrap the butt:

8.  Oops, forgot to show tying in the green mohair and wrapping it, but here's the blue:

9.  Body finished (now you can see why I mentioned that I wish I had taken the "under materials" farther forward, and should have paid a little more attention to lumps under the body.  But hey, I was tired from all that dyeing!!):

10.  Wrap the ribbing:


11.  Tie in a black hen hackle for the collar:

12.  Wrap the collar (I made 4 wraps, shoulda used 3):

13.  Tie in the wood duck flank feather for the tented wing (I like to put the feather shaft through the hook's eye; helps me keep things centered).  Keep the feather folded as best you can as you draw it to its final length (even with the end of the tail):

14.  Tie wing off, finish the head, start layering on the Cellire varnish, and you're good to go:

Is this a fly worth tying?  Ask Linda Warren!