It feels good when the sun starts to warm your back after three long hours of stillness at a deer stand. A deep relaxation starts to settle in now that the early morning adrenalin has worn off and you think "well here's another year without a deer to set my sights on". Your eyes begin to close-and then you hear it! FOOTSTEPS! They're behind you and from it's lethargy your brain catapults you into an adrenalin-charged state that you have to fight against with all your might because you know that any rapid movement will spook your deer. Your head moves in advance of your body and the strain hurts. Then you see it! First the tail. Now the back. ANTLERS! Three heartbeats pass and you slowly begin to come down as the antlers become branches, the tail becomes leaves and the back ... clear Wisconsin air.
How is it possible? You look again, trying to recreate the vision but it won't return. Why? Because we see what we want to see just as we sometimes hear what we want to hear. We've all heard strange tales of what deer hunters shoot but what in the world does that have to do with salmon flies?
I recently enjoyed a delightful evening with Albert Cohen and strangely enough the conversation got around to tying, technique, likes, dislikes and then, more pointedly, The Question. How is it possible for us to complete a fly, look at it and begin to notice things that we don't like? "I tied this damned thing... look at that gap! Look at that cheek sticking out at an angle! GOD... the wing is too long for the tail! The answer is... we see what we want to see.
Now, I have the distinct feeling that most of you reading this (my attempt at becoming a participant in this magazine because some of you - and you know who you are! - have beat me about the head and shoulders for years to do so) are much better tiers than this poor soul and may never have experienced this phenomenon. If what we see in our vise is less than perfect (at least relative to our individual capacities), then how does the result of our labor get by the expert eye of an Al Cohen or the less than perfect but committed eye of, well, me. Maybe even you!
Sometimes I will not notice an error or shortcoming until I start to preen the fly. Sometimes I first notice it in a photograph. There have been times when another tier has shown me his work and has begun a conversation with what he feels is "not quite right" about the fly. It is apparent that those of us who have this problem are not assessing each component as it goes into the fly while asking ourselves "pass/fail?" about that component. My suspicion is that the final reward of a completed fly is too long in coming and that often we have a "vision" of what we know to be "right" when, in fact, we are short-changing our talents and accepting less than what we are capable of.
I suppose the answer to the above is that each component of a fly affects the whole and, in this regard, should be treated as if it were the most important part of the fly at the time it is tied in. What seems to help me is to take the time to get each component "right" and then forcing myself to sit back and scrutinize that component with a critical eye to be sure it is correctly tied in. I then mentally place myself in someone else's shoes to try and imagine what they might think.
One example I might pass along is another way to work toward a smaller head. Now, I don't believe in tying "tiny" heads just for the sake of smallness with no thought to its proportional relationship to the rest of the fly. My attempt at keeping the head from becoming too large is to avoid using pre-twisted gut. Before the word "heretic" gets tattooed on my forehead, let me assure you that my gut eye is twisted but is done so after it is tied onto the iron!
I take a strand of gut, cut off three small sections about an inch and a quarter each, and soak them. When the gut is flexible I lay the three strands parallel to one another on the far side of the iron on the lower quadrant. After they are tied in with five or six wraps forward, I secure the free ends in "mighty" hackle pliers and twist the gut. I then form this twisted gut into the size eye I want for the fly and then tie it in with about four snug wraps toward the bend. At this point I untwist the gut, push it to the near side lower quadrant with my thumb nail, take a few more wraps toward the bend and I am left with only one or two wraps of twisted gut at the point on the iron where the head will be. Once everthing is in place, I shave the strands of gut that project rearward with a razor blade or scalpel to permit a smooth taper in the body of the fly. This "shaving" is best done while the gut is still well soaked as is the subsequent thread wrapping rearward to achieve the smoothest possible result.
Try it sometime... it works!