A winter road trip remembered
This winter I did something I have not done in quite some time. I went to an off-Island fly fishing show.
Years ago I attended the big outdoors hunting and fishing show held annually at the Worcester Centrum. It was like reading through the pages of every hunting and fishing magazine stuck in the rack of a local barbershop. After a while I just wasn't interested.
I am not sure what inspired my change of heart. I received a press release sometime in February announcing that the World Fly Fishing Expo, New England's premier fly fishing show, would return to the Shriners Auditorium in Wilmington from March 10 to 12.
Legendary fly fisherman Lefty Kreh works his magic with a fly rod and the crowd. Photo by Nelson Sigelman
I had never thought of Wilmington, a town north of Boston surrounded by major highways and large corporate buildings, as a likely venue for anything the world had to offer, but it seemed like a good excuse to make a day trip.
It also meant I could put off by one day more one of the many projects I had put off throughout the fishing and hunting seasons just ended.
My friends Tom Robinson of Tisbury and Alley Moore of Oak Bluffs were equally bored. So we set off for the great north with one question in mind that had nothing to do with fishing: what the hell is a Shriner?
I was able to help Alley answer that question when we walked into the hall and an older fellow wearing a red fez (What the hell is a fez?) took our tickets.
"My friend wants to know what a Shriner is?" I told the ticket collector.
"Well you have to be a Mason to be a Shriner," the man in the fez told us.
"What the hell is that?" Tom asked me. I urged Alley to sign up. I was really interested in seeing him in a fez, but he was having none of it.
It is always interesting to make a trip off-Island if just to compare the rest of America with Martha's Vineyard. Not far from the auditorium we found what looked like the local Italian restaurant.
Two things caught my attention: the lack of windows and the fact that almost everyone eating in the restaurant, even the kids, outweighed us.
An innovative fluke fly tied by John Morin of Winchester. Photo by Susan Safford
The waitress pegged us for outsiders. I know we lost her respect when we each failed to finish our chicken parm sandwiches, one of which could have fed a small Somali village.
The spring striper run, the arrival of bonito and false albacore in the summer and fall, and the annual Derby attract fishermen from all over New England to the Vineyard. Because the Island is a fishermen's crossroad, once in the auditorium I quickly found familiar faces among the many visitors and exhibitors.
Jake Jakespeare, a rep for Temple Fork Outfitters, was making his way back to his booth. I had met Jake numerous times fishing and at the annual spring catch-and-release bass tournament.
Jake quickly filled me in on all the latest gadgets, doo-dads, and manufacturing innovations on display. He said the company had just developed a new line of rods and reels to take advantage of the popularity of bluewater fly fishing for tuna and other pelagic bruisers.
One interesting aspect of fly fishing is that folks of all budgets and inclinations can enjoy the sport. There are people who want to purchase the latest and most innovative tackle, and then there are folks who are perfectly happy to get by with a simple outfit and a few tufts of feather tied around a hook.
Not every innovation comes from the professionals. Walking along an aisle I spotted a small fly on a table that looked just like a small flounder or fluke. Sitting at the table was John Morin, a fisherman with homes in Winchester and Chatham.
John was told that there are a lot of flounder in the area so he decided to use a similar-looking fly. He had had great luck fishing for striped bass in the estuaries around Chatham.
It occurred to me that the same fly might be very effective in a sandy, flat-bottom area like Dogfish Bar, particularly when the fish are warily cruising the flats in the daytime.
The fly has a pair of barbell weights attached to the hook so it will sit right on the sandy bottom just like a fluke. My guess is that a few strips of the fly when a bass comes cruising up on it would draw an immediate hit.
The first step in tying this fly is to attach a pair of weights to the top of the hook, which is going to ride point up. John explained how he makes the body. He takes a piece of foam and cuts it in an oval shape and coats it with epoxy. The he lays a turkey feather over it. That is the toughest part he told me.
John and the other fellow at the table, Pete Gray, were at the show representing flyfishingforum .com.
The web site is billed as "a community of flyfishers dedicated to sharing knowledge and experience, protecting resources, and promoting friendships and fun around the world."
That sounds pretty good. I suspect that if contacted John would be more than willing to provide better tying instructions than mine.
Although many of my flies catch fish, they are functional but hardly beautiful. Will an Elvis painting cover a hole in the wall? Sure. But wouldn't you rather have a painting by Andrew Moore? Of course.
Not surprisingly, a fly fishing show is a very good place to see some of the most talented fly tiers in our area demonstrating their skills. The best flies reflect a combination of form and function that elevates a fly to a work of art that will also catch a fish (try catching dinner with a velvet Elvis).
Dave Skok (dwskok.com) and Joe Cordeiro (silverlakeflies.com) are frequent visitors to the Vineyard and professional fly tiers. Both men create flies that are beautiful and effective.
Under the "what ever happened to what's-his-name?" category, I found Bob Milne sitting at a booth promoting guided fly-fishing trips. Bob, who now lives and guides out of Manchester, N.H., lived on the Vineyard about ten years ago.
Bob was one of those fishermen who seemed to do nothing but fish during the annual Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. His name was regularly found at the top of the various fly rod categories.
At the casting pool, Lefty Kreh was preparing to demonstrate his fly fishing skills and talk about the basics of a sport he has helped to introduce to people all over the world in numerous books, magazine articles, and tapes. I was one of those people.
I first picked up a copy of Lefty's classic book, "Fly Fishing in Saltwater," more than 20 years ago. It was the mid-eighties, and I was just learning to fly fish.
My first introduction to Lefty was at the Worcester outdoor show, where Lefty was giving a demonstration and inviting folks to come up on the platform for a few pointers and some gentle ribbing.
I was more than willing to risk embarrassment in order to get some personal instruction from a man who made casting an entire fly line look effortless. Then as now I was struck by his genuine courtesy and good humor.
"This is not work," Lefty told the crowd that had gathered as he rhythmically cast the line. "I'm 81 years old and this aint no work."
Lefty continued to talk as he cast, his voice reflecting a hint of his native Baltimore and the south.
"Never call the end of the cast the power stroke. If you're workin', you aint doin' it right."
The end of the line draped over the curtain erected as a barrier at the end of the pool.
Lefty went through the basics of the fly cast and the principles he said would make everyone a better caster (... keep your elbow on the shelf ....got to get the line movin') and told the women and older folks in the crowd that there was nothing to it.
Although I had not seen him in decades, his show patter and skills appeared not to have changed. When the time came to bring members of the audience up on stage Lefty kidded the men and encouraged the women by telling them that women learn easier then men.
"I tell ya, it takes a man four times longer to do something."
A woman named Donna came up on the stage. After a few pointers, she made a respectable cast.
"Now can you see why I'd rather teach a woman than a man?" Lefty asked the crowd, drawing a laugh.
When the demonstration concluded, I walked over and introduced myself. I told him how much I had enjoyed first meeting him so many years ago.
Ever gracious, Lefty invited me to walk along with him. He stopped our conversation long enough to sign a book for one of his many fans.
The growth of fly fishing over the years has spawned a legion of experts, many vying for endorsement deals or just looking to stroke their egos. Lefty comes across as the next-door-neighbor who just happens to be a very good fisherman.
"I think the most important thing about being a writer or teacher, and I've written 28 books and still do regular columns for several magazines inside and outside the country," said Lefty, "is that you never display your knowledge, you share it. And if you can add a little humor to that, everybody likes it."
"I think that humor that is directed at the student that is done in a kindly way relaxes the student and the rest of the students, and I think they then feel like you are a friend trying to help them, rather then somebody displaying how good they are."
Lefty said that teaching students helped him to become better at what he does. He explained, "What they do, is they ask you questions that you don't have any answers for, so you go looking for an answer."
At 81 years of age he still keeps up a busy schedule of fly fishing shows and casting clinics. I told him that after so many years he appeared not to have lost any of his enthusiasm. I wondered how he did it.
With his trademark chuckle he said, "Well, I like people and I think if you like people, people like you."
Prospects look good
The Memorial Day weekend should provide some excellent fishing, particularly for bluefish on Chappaquiddick. Fishermen without four-wheel drive can get in on the action from the Trustees parking lot at Dike Bridge or Wasque.
The bass fishing is also productive. For up to date information check in with the folks at one of the Island's local tackle shops.