April 12th, 1998
She slapped the magazine
down on the coffee table. "Did you read this, Castwell?"
Not waiting for my answer, she
exploded, "That writer doesn't
know from straight up about fly-fishing! He's barely scratched the
surface, and he's calling himself an expert!"
Turning from the vise in which I had just locked a
custom-forged barbless hook, I looked fondly at the woman who
had been my partner in marriage and in lab and field since our
college days. "Yes, I read it."
"Well, what did you think?"
"No, no. I mean bird manure.
The writer missed it. The ultimate lure is bird manure!"
Her look of unbelief made me smile,
but I wasn't joking. After forty years of the most careful
scientific research into the art of fly-fishing, I had come
upon an astounding truth.
"Yes, bird manure," I repeated.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. This story actually began
many years ago when she and I, looking for property away from
the city, stood on the bank of the Echstream, a clear, unspoiled
brook about twenty feet wide, undiscovered as yet by the U.S.
Corps of Engineers. We saw the widening rings on the surface
made by foraging trout and knew we had found our home.
Fly fishing was our passion. We vowed we would know more
about trout and how to catch them than any other human beings in
the world. The true fascination of fly-fishing, you see, lies in the
orderly, step-by-step accumulation of knowledge and experience.
Living beside the Echstream she and I studied the various
insects upon which the trout fed and lived. We learned about these
insects in the minutest detail. We tied imitations of each, and took
them to the stream to test them out. In time we had exact
replicas of every insect that inhabited the brook and it's banks.
Because a few insects are born misshapen we tied some
imitations with only two tails, instead of three, five legs instead of
six, one eye instead of two, and even crossed eyes. We made
replicas of every form a bug could possibly take. We even tied a fly
to represent the unfortunate insect that rises up from the water,
gets caught under the wing of a passing bird, is squashed about
three hundred times in ten seconds, and is then dropped back to
the brook. For this we used a regular run-of-the-mill Occidentialis
Improbablis and smashed it flat with a ball-peen hammer. Worked
like a dream, after we repaired the hook. We knew our business.
As time went on she and I made copies of literally everything a
trout might wrap it's jaws around. We tied flies to represent rusty
eyelets from old sneakers, ring-pull tabs, old wader patches,
sticks, and rocks. These became commonly know as
conforma-eyelets, conforma-tabs, conforma-patches, etc.
One fascinating summer we fished with only two flies. The
better of the two was a dry fly imitation, size eight, of the cap from
a bottle of Raunchy Deluxe whiskey. (We didn't usually use flies
that large. Our gear ranged down to thirteen X leaders and size
sixty-four dry flies.) Although it cast wretchedly the Raunchy
Deluxe produced several nice trout.
Our second fly was tied to represent the cap from a bottle of
very expensive R.F. McDougall Scotch. This latter proved
disappointing in that we took only one trout, sluggish with age and
good living, which gave rise to much speculation on our part. My
wife thought the rise forms of the trout which had taken the
Raunchy Deluxe flys showed conclusively that they readily
recognized the fly for what it was, as if they had seen many
before. We wondered, therefore, if those fisherman who chose
Raunchy Deluxe were by nature more careless with their bottle
caps than others, or if there were just more of them than those
who chose the R.F. McDougall. Thoughts like these spurred us on,
Through our research we learned not only about the insects and
their habits, we learned about the habits of the trout as well. At
length we came to know how to represent and present the one to
the other. We released all of the trout we caught. We are
scientists, not gourmet cooks, and to tell the truth, we much prefer
lamb chops, but that's another story. Before releasing each trout
we tagged him for future identification when he was re-caught.
Trout 315? Sure, a stout brookie about fourteen inches long. He's
a cinch for a size twenty-two green caddis pupa with it's left
antenna broken off. Trout number 655? No trouble at all. A brown
around two and a half pounds. Give him a size twelve fly tied to
represent a gray millipede with the 213th leg from the front on the
right side turned under. Child's play.
In short, she and I devoted our entire lives to fly-fishing;
research books, articles, lectures, slide-programs, movies. Our
casting clinics drew attention world-wide. When we gave our flies
names using Latin, German, or Greek, we revolutionized the
fly-fishing world. Useless names such Adams, Royal-Coachman,
and Para-shoota-toota just would not do. Angling is a science and
as such must not be dealt with lightly. Whoever saw a
Royal-Coachman hatching? She and I strove diligently to become
"Did you say bird manure?" She repeated.
"Of course! We've been blind!"
Excited as a child with a new toy, I waved her to
a chair and began to explain the most important discovery
of our career. As all fly fishermen know, when the insects
are hatching and flying over a stream the birds soar and
swoop. Nearly all species of birds have, when feeding, one
thing in common. This is a kind of linkage, so to speak, from
one end of the bird to the other. When the bird's beak opens,
so does something else. A direct hook-up. This is
called the finch connection.
"Bird shit," she repeated, this time,
however, with awe in her voice. A whole new field had
opened up before us!
Eagerly we threw ourselves into the
harness of laboratory research. We would have to know
what food the birds had been eating before they flew over
the stream. The flight speed of the various birds. We would
have to know at which angle the bird was flying when he made
his contribution. Wind speed, gravity, dram weight, distance
of fall, rate of fall, force of splash-down, all were of prime importance.
Well, she and I spent three seasons in
the lab and on the creek bank and sitting at our vises. Finally
we had the straight poop!
Perhaps I should mention here that
a slight modification of the wearing apparel of the trout
fisherman was established as a direct
result of our in-depth research. Wide-brimed, cowboy-type hats
became standard in our wardrobe, as did a light-weight, washable
jacket to be worn over the regular fly-fishing vest.
The age old question as to whether or
not a fish can distinguish color cropped up. We had
previously observed brook trout at the redds, or breeding
grounds, and noted that the flashy males in their fall mating
colors always paired off with the dull-hued
females. I felt sure that trout could indeed distinguish color. My
wife reported seeing two of the gay-colored trout together once,
but that seemed queer to me.
Accordingly we created copies of
our offering using every possible color combination we
could imagine. This was no mean task. Visualize, if you
will, trying to match exactly the color of a
recently deposited - well, never mind. The important thing is, we
did it; contenting ourselves at last with a slightly off-brindle plaid,
Due to the rather unique shape of our fly we found we had to
look far beyond the style of all standard flies. Beyond the barbless
hook, beyond those flies tied with no tail, or no wings, or those flies
tied with complete disregard to a trout's vision and intelligence. We
settled for, after much experimentation, a hook with no bend in it
at all. It was just a short piece of wire with an eye on one end. The
eye of the hook was designed so as to ensnare a trout by one of
it's eye teeth.
I cannot reveal the body material we used
at this time due to a patent problem with a bubble-gum company.
The fly worked as well as you would expect, except when
we encountered the occasional trout that had been caught
on a Wednesday. A fair number of which had been captured by a
"He's-not-in-the-office-today" dentist. Dentists, some of them, the
ones who do 'catch and release,' tag their trout by deftly removing
With the problems of size, color, and form solved, she and I
were satisfied. We presented our ultimate creation with a perfect
cast, allowed it to be taken deep into the trout's throat, and
swallowed! Then, and only then, was a delicate attempt made to
land the fish. In keeping with our policy of using scientific
nomenclature we named our fantastic fly 'Der Schwallow.' Since
landing a large trout on these proved to be a bit ticklish, we
developed a new and revolutionary fly rod combining the best of
two worlds. The rod has an exterior of bamboo and a core of
graphite. She and I are proud to have left our mark on the rod
building profession as this revolutionary new tool is now being
mass produced in several weights and lengths by the American
So, after forty short years we stood at the absolute pinnacle of
success. The very substance that had put us at the top now
threatened the quality of our existence. Bird shit!
Bird manure was ruining our beautiful Echstream! We began to
see evidence of pollution! As you know, every single pinch of bird
manure that lands on the water adds just that much more nitrogen
to the stream. Nitrogen makes the weeds proliferate, this slows
down the speed of the water and robs it of oxygen. Our trout
would die! We perceived a vicious cycle. Water weeds are the
habitat of insects, birds are drawn to the areas of insect
infestations, and birds soaring and swooping over a stream drop
ever increasing amounts of you know what!
The solution was simple. To eliminate nitrogen contamination
we must wipe out the birds. Naturally we faced some opposition
from well meaning but uninformed conservation groups, however
common sense prevailed. My wife and I applied for and received
the full co-operation of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The bird
kill was a total triumph.
While she and I were digging the holes to bury the bodies of
the gulls, starlings, bald eagles, jays, sparrows, spotted owls,
bluebirds, and all of the other nuisance birds, we made a most
interesting discovery. Living in the earth are some fascinating little
creatures about three inches long, rather like miniature snakes,
and covered with a peculiar sticky slime.
"I've a notion to impale one of these on a naked fish hook and
see if a trout would look at one," I exclaimed to my wife. ~JC
Till next week, remember ...