February 8th, 1999
Why is winter so damn long?
And just how many pike flies do I really need?
By Clive Schaupmeyer
Winter is okay. Words are written. Flies are tied.
Us northerners are irrational about winter. We say we
love winter. Which we do, at least to some ex ้tent, or
else we would move. But why does winter have to be
so long? And why can't I coordinate one good-weather
day with a day I can get away from work so I could
fly-fish at the Crowsnest River? I should have been out
fishing veral times this winter. But I have not.
The last time I went fly-fishing was in early October
before going to China. This is the longest stretch that
I have not fly-fished for many years. During winter, we
aim to get to the Crowsnest River or Oldman River at
least once a month. It never quite works out that way,
but we usually manage three or four trips between
November and March. It's not much, but enough to
keep us in form. It reminds us that we have more trout
flies to tie before spring. And it's simply satisfying to
wade rivers and catch a few trout on a warm winter
day. I really do need to figure out why I am not getting out.
I have not been fly-fishing for about 117 days (but who's
counting?) and it seems clear I must be having a mid-life
crisis. But it shall come to pass. The first warm day (that
I can also book off work), and I'm out of here. It's been
so long, I may need casting lessons, eh?
To show you how desperate I am, two weeks ago I actually
went ice fishing for the first time in three years. It was a hoot.
The weather and fishing was cosmic: warm, sunny and the
pike were hungry.
Okay . . . so it's not fly-fishing. Just so you don't think
I have sold out, perhaps I should say we really did not go
ice fishing. We went on a "pike fly field testing mission." No
kidding. We dropped pike flies through the hole and watched
the action down below. We were evaluating fly action and
effectiveness. It was not the plan, but that's how it turned out.
We were in an ice hut, the water was shallow and clear and we
could see the pike cruise in and eat the flies--or not. It was pretty
We learned (or confirmed) a couple of interesting things
about pike flies and fly action. The fellow I was with is
new to fly-fishing and tying. He tends to over-dress his
flies as I did when I started tying. When tying pike flies
it is easy to keep adding neat stuff to the hooks until they
have grown into huge monstrosities. It seems like a great
idea at the time. After all, we all know pike try to eat
anything less than about half of their body size, so huge
pike flies must work better than smaller flies. Right?
Well not exactly. Here's what we saw through the two
holes in the ice hut. I was using a lightly dressed fly with
heavy dumbbell eyes. The action in the water was 'crisp.'
When I jigged the fly (just like when we strip retrieve when
fly-fishing) it would shoot up a few inches and instantly drop
back down. The fly used by the other fellow was a bit longer
and had four times as much stuff lashed to the hook. When
jigged, it would float up and down sluggishly because all of
the material acted like a parachute in the water.
Three or four times a pike came over, looked at my friend's
sluggish fly and then looked at my fast-action fly and instantly
ate it. Their selectivity could have been the result of the slight
difference in fly colors. But I really think it was the crisp action
of the lightly dress flies that got their attention.
It was a fun trip and perhaps we really did learn something
about dressing pike flies. Lighter is better. "Pike fly field test
mission" sounds way better than just ice fishing, eh?
So far in the New Year I've tied 30 lightly dressed Great
Pumpkins and green and yellow pike flies. I still have enough
colorful materials to tie at least that many again. But really. . . just
how many pike flies will I need this spring? Ten? Twenty? Certainly
The long range is for a warm spell. Warm enough to get to
a river and catch trout. There's a lot to be said about
"anticipation." Canadians spend half of their lives
anticipating. It's okay. Sort of.
~ Clive Schaupmeyer
Our Man In Canada Archives
Bio on Our Man In Canada
Clive Schaupmeyer is an outdoor writer and
photographer. He is the author of The Essential Guide to
Fly-Fishing, a 288-page book for novice and intermediate fly
anglers. His photo of a boy fishing was judged the best outdoor
picture of 1996 published by a member of the Outdoor Writers
of Canada. He fly-fishes for trout in Alberta's foothill and
mountain streams and for pike near his home in Brooks,
For information on where to find, or how to get a copy of
Clive's book, Click here!
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