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A Day in the Life of Jay

This is my current version of the Rainbow Clouser tied with very sparse bucktail on a #6 saltwater hook. I tied my first Clouser in September 2003, using Fishhair in a color variation of the fly that I’d never seen before the day I tied it. Picture this please. Day one: I tied the Rainbow Clouser. Day two: I caught a Chinook on my new fly. Day two, five minutes after landing my salmon: A man named Bill from California quizzed me persistently about the nature of the fly that he’d seen me use to catch my fish. Day three: Bill called a friend in California and quite blatantly lied about having invented the pattern I described to him barely 18 hours ago, using exactly the same words to describe the fly as I had shared with him. I overheard him talking on a 2003 cell phone standing on the gravel bar a hundred feet across the river from where I was anchored. Not kidding.

“Hey there, are you that Jay guy?” 
 
I had already drifted fifty yards past the couple fishing Christmas Tree Hole on the Sixes River, so the question he hurled at me came as a surprise.  

The Sixes River drains the southern Oregon coast range, tumbles downhill through

parcels of private lands managed for forestry and agriculture, then spills across a tidal plain barely two or three miles from the Pacific. The Christmas Tree Hole lies below a sharp right-hand corner and marks the border between mostly private lands to a public-lands wildlife refugee extending along the south bank, all the way to the ocean.  
 

Have you ever wondered what approximately two-hundred steelhead tube flies look like? Yup, here they are, in all of their glorious colors to suit the moods of the fish and the endless water conditions we encounter.
Spring Chinook. Clouser. Magic.
High tide swelled into the marsh grass, making for a perfect place to admire this salmon for a moment.
Each salmon I catch, small and large, bright and dusky, blesses me with the same thrill as when I was a child with a hand line catching fish that fit in the palm of my small hand.

It was a little past mid-afternoon when I rounded the corner, and I was a little disappointed to see a man and woman casting spinners into the pool I’d expected to fish. This is a close-friends-only pool, so I drifted past with a wave and a hello. I had already drifted fifty yards past the pair, so the question the man hurled at me came as a surprise. 

This all transpired on a balmy November afternoon; rose-tinted clouds piled high to the west, and the not-so-distant roar of surf carried upriver on a stout breeze. The wader-clad pair were knee-deep in the Sixes River, twenty-feet apart; spinning rods hung at their sides.  

South Coast Chinook from a secret, hidden pool.

I could see the man gesturing at me, but the possibility of anything but shouted conversation was waning by the second while my drift continued, so I rowed ashore and walked upstream to meet them. We shifted our weight from one foot to the other on flattened, golf-ball-sized stones as we began our conversation. Extending my right hand in greeting, I said “Yes. I’m Jay, do I know you?”  
 

Their story spilled out so fast I could barely follow. Speaking in turns, I learned that they were long-time fans of my tying videos, followed my blog, and were both hoping to catch a chinook salmon on a fly. I gestured at their spinning rods, raised my left eyebrow, and spread my hands wide. “Really?”  
 

Forget the fancy flies we tie for the FFF EXXPO in Albany, Oregon, every year. Forget the flies stuffed in boat bags ready to fish. This is the Clouser in all of its regal glory, straight from the jaw of a twenty pounder in November.

My keen powers of observation gave us all a good laugh and set our heads nodding up and down. 
  
How about I loan you a fly-outfit that you can fish tomorrow,” I asked? “You’d do that,” the man asked?” “Yep, near as I can see, you’ll never catch a chinook on a fly if you’re only fishing that spinner.”  

With the day growing shorter and one more pool I wanted to fish, I handed over all the gear they’d need, swung one leg into my boat, and pushed-off downriver. To put a nice point on the story, the lady caught her first fly-rod chinook the next morning. 
 

“I’ve found that I’m recognized by people just about everywhere I fish- in fly shops around Oregon and Washington, and even while dining at a few cafes on the Oregon coast.”

Since that day, I’ve found that I’m recognized by people just about everywhere I fish, in fly shops around Oregon and Washington, and even while dining at a few cafes on the Oregon coast. These chance meetings are always different, always the same. “Are you that Jay guy?” The phrase is as predictable as my answer, worked out after chance-meetings too numerous to count. “Uh-huh,” I reply. “Do I know you?” 

The next part of these conversations always varies a little in precise detail, but usually goes something like this.  “No, but I read your blog, watch your videos. I love it, man, love it all. The cats, the anguish, the flies, everything. All of a sudden, I’m engaged with people who may be teenagers or older than my 71 years.  
 

This another of my favorite images, recorded by my friend Rob Perkin anchored near me in the Boat Hole on the Nestucca estuary. I’ve got a salmon pulling on my string up-tide while backing the motor away from six boats of fly anglers anchored barely out of the camera’s frame. Naturally, everyone was impressed with my style.

“I can’t predict who will flag me down. Some are fly tyers. Some are fly anglers who haven’t yet begun to tie. Some are gear anglers who have never tied a fly or swung a fly rod.” 

I was fishing for Chinook, in a tidewater reach of a Tillamook Bay tributary. This is an urban river; after nearly six decades fishing here, I’ve come to appreciate the stinging scent of cow manure as part of my homewater’s local charm. This was a spectacularly dark, windless afternoon; an unforgiving drizzle penetrated every possible opening in my rain gear: up the sleeves, down the chest, and puddled in pockets. With left hand on the tiller, my right still holding my fly rod at the ready, I slowed as I approached an anchored Smoker Craft, not wanting to interrupt the man’s fishing.

Clad in green Helly Hansen raingear, he was seated on the stern seat, hunched-over against the drizzle, watching a banana-sized bobber intently. His demeanor was dour, best as I could tell, entirely consistent with what I’ve learned to expect from another salmon angler. Generally, they are hoping to avoid sharing a favorite pool with me, or with anyone, and especially a fly guy. I put on an exaggerated smile, as I always do, waved, and said hello in passing. I was about to add a few RPMs and skedaddle to the next fishing hole when I heard him call out. “Are you that Jay guy?” Cutting my motor and lowering anchor, I replied. “Yeah. I am. Do I know you?”  

A finer box of North Coast Boss flies you will never find on any Oregon Gravel bar. From the Flame Boss, the over-size Chartreuse Comet, the Tiny Red Man, the Baby Boss, to the Ramon Salmon Killer… this box has it all.

“No, you don’t know me but I know you. My name is Bob, and I watched you tie a Clouser on YouTube last night. I recognized your voice when you said hello. I’m thinking about trying that myself: fly tying and fly fishing, that is. I’ve been fishing here all my life, and I’m amazed that these Chinook actually eat such little flies.” 
 

Most of my iconic friends in the fly fishing community have carefully built their brand as professional fly tyer, guide, tackle rep., lodge owner, international travel host, photographer, author, and other high-profile ventures. Meanwhile, I’ve been “flying” under the radar, with no intention of building a brand or a business. 

“Every encounter leaves me a little surprised, thankful, and eager to answer the inevitable succession of questions that follow. ”

I don’t have an Instagram account, barely use Facebook, don’t count likes, and never encourage followers. After sixty years as an angler-fly tyer, forty years as a fish biologist, and a little over a decade posting amateur-grade fly tying videos on the OregonFlyFishingBlog.com, I seem to have acquired a small, wonderfully kind, and gracious following of anglers and fly tyers. 

Every encounter leaves me a little surprised, thankful, and eager to answer the inevitable succession of questions that follow.  

Todd called recently, and asked if I would like to share a few fly photos with his readers. I jumped at the opportunity. “But Todd,” I pleaded, “I don’t have any “show” flies to photograph, and I’ve haven’t had a decent camera for two years. I paused.

McKenzie Guide Secret
Green Rockworm
Muddler
Silver Hilton
Langtry Stone
Female Coachman
Macks Canyon
Steelie Blue
Egg Sac Adams
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McKenzie Guide Secret
McKenzie Guide Secret
McKenzie Guide Special. This is a fly pattern revealed to me cautiously, by a trusted friend, with the admonition to not tell anyone about the pattern. Within the next three years, I found the same fly tied on the leaders of a half dozen anglers I encountered on the McKenzie, so I figured that the urgency of concealing the recipe was rather diminished. This fly I’ve tied here has a very narrow rooster cape feather, but the original pattern that I had seen was tied with a wide webby brown hackle, that had been trimmed with scissors to the width of the hook gape.
Green Rockworm
Green Rockworm
Green Rockworm. My version of this fly’s origin is true, no matter who else might claim ownership of the pattern. Bob Hooton and refined this fly for use in the central and western Oregon in 1980, after Bob drifted the Deschutes with Rick Hafele. Long-story-short, I listened to Bob’s description of bugs Rick pumped from trout stomachs, read-up on Poly Rosbrough’s Green Rockworm, and crafted a home-run for the Deschutes. Aside from debates over who did or didn’t, this fly was pure magic fished in June from Warm Springs to Maupin. My Green Rockworm of 1980 included a lead under-wrap, no bead, and a coffee-blender green dubbing that combined different colors of green floss, rabbit hair, and Antron yarn.
Muddler
Muddler
Muddler Man. I was fishing the Deschutes below Whitehorse Rapids in 1979, I met Muddler Man. I watched this fellow fishing from a respectable distance, trying to figure out what fly he was fishing. I, of course, was fishing a big orange Sofa Pillow, chucked up or downstream wherever I found a tree overhanging the river. This fellow was fishing eddys and riffles, casting out and stripping in. After gathering my courage to approach and get nosy about his fly, I learned that he was fishing a muddler. His fly was not good workmanship, I reckoned. He showed me his two fly boxes: Muddlers. All Muddlers. Short and long muddlers, but his flies were all skinny and scraggly and most likely were tied with the same patch of deer hair. Some were #14s and some were #2s. Of course, I asked him why he didn’t fish other flies. He said that he always found the Muddler effective so why bother with fishing anything else. Wow.
Silver Hilton
Silver Hilton
The Silver Hilton is a wet steelhead fly that has been out of favor for a few decades at least. Fooey on that. I will swim this fly for summer steelhead anytime, but especially if it is July or August and the sun hasn't quite slipped down the canyon to kiss the river yet. This fly is tied on a trout hook and is also wonderful to swim in lakes.
Langtry Stone
Langtry Stone
This is the Langrty stone (as I tied in the mid-1980s. My version of the oral history regarding the origins of this fly is passed down from Wayne Doughton. Wayne told me that this golden stonefly was developed by Judge Virgil Langtry when he lived in Maupin, Oregon. I remember Wayne giving me a patch of deer hide roughly 6 inches by 8 inches: that patch of deer hide was by far the very best hair for tying this fly that I’ve ever worked with. Wayne wanted me to tie this fly with baby yellow Antron yarn, twisted tightly to prevent absorbing water. He also added a deer hair tail to imitate the egg-sac; I omit this stage because the fly ties faster and fishes as effectively as the fly with the tail.
Female Coachman
Female Coachman
Sea-run cutthroat. Wayne Doughton. Doughton Hardware store in Salem, Oregon. If you remember any of these you are an old-timer. I get tears in my mind thinking of Wayne and the oiled wood floor in the store. Those days are long gone, and we are none the better for the changes.
Macks Canyon
Macks Canyon
The Macks Canyon has been effective on the Deschutes for decades, and this is my scaled-down version with a WoodDuck wing. The orange Molhon yarn used to tie the butt of this fly was purchased from Kaufmann's In Tigard Oregon sometime in the late 1970s.
Steelie Blue
Steelie Blue
Egg Sac Adams
Egg Sac Adams
I fished this Egg -Sac Adams on the Metolius in 1967 and found that it was spectacularly effective. I remember the trout rising up from the bottom in water so clear it seemed that they were gliding through the air. More often than not, I pulled the fly away before they could close their mouth on it.
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Hollow flies (Hollow Fleyes) –  Bob Popovics is widely attributed as the originator of this fly and the style of using bucktail to create large profile, light casting flies. I have fallen in love with hollow flies, but I will tell you that I’m permanently frustrated by the hunt to find bucktails that are suitable for the pattern. It is maddening to see expert tyers on YouTube crafting these beauties with bucktails that have 8 to 10” inch hair, when the best bucktails I can find has hair not much longer than 3-inches long. I have tied Hollow Fleyes for East Coast anglers chasing stripers, I’m intoxicated stripping 8-inch-long hollow flies for silvers, Chinook, and albacore.
I call these flies my Albacore Candy and Coho Candy: my version of bucktail patterns we fish from dory boats launched off the beach at Pacific City. I tie them at exactly 4 inches. Why? Because they are so easily mistaken as any of numerous baitfish in our local ocean waters.  Do the large eyes  help draw the predators to take? Yes. Positively.
Wicker Creel
Male Chinook
Chum Salmon
Adams Dry Fly
The Automatic Fly Reel
Spruce Fly
Hen Chinook
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Wicker Creel
My generation grew up with a creel slung over one shoulder We fished with the intent of filling our creel with trout, after lining it with fresh fern fronds and dipping it in the creek to keep our catch cool on summer afternoons. Such behavior would tut-tutted at these days, but we didn’t know better when we were kids splashing about the rivers.
Male Chinook
My sketches don’t come close to the beauty of these salmon, but still, I try.
Chum Salmon
These salmon were once so abundant around Tillamook Bay and the lower Columbia and that they were considered a nuisance. Now we wrestle with pitiful actions under the ESA and hope to restore hundreds in places where their runs exceeded hundreds of thousands.
Adams Dry Fly
The Adams was a fly you could find stocked in several sizes somewhere in a 21-compaertment plastic box in any hardware store from Montana to the Pacific in the 1960s. As many Adams flies there were around the country, they were spectacularly diverse, because they were tied by school kids, shop teachers, retirees, and professionals in every town. Some were great, some were awful, but they all caught trout, and they represented part of the creative spirit of fly tying as a craft. That all ended when commercial fly tying got shipped overseas. Within fifteen years, every Adams in America looked exactly alike: perfect, and spiritless. My opinion only. It was the end of something and the beginning of something else.
The Automatic Fly Reel
My first fly reel was purchased by my father in the late 1930s; it was a Perrine like this one. I lost his reel ages ago, but found one in serviceable condition on eBay one weekend when I was feeling nostalgic. I still fish a few times each year, and it pleases me to imagine trout fishing in Oregon in the 1940s.
Spruce Fly
This is one of my standard sea-run cutthroat patterns, but they require spectacular feathers to tie the wings properly. I haven’t seen a good badger cape for sale in the last twenty years.
Hen Chinook
She examines Comet. I hold my breath.
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“Hold on now,” said. “I ‘ve got my working fly boxes, stuffed in corners of tackle bags. I’ll call my friend Garren Wood, and ask if he can help out.” “Sounds great Jay, ” Todd said. I think Todd was hanging up when I heard him whisper, “Oh, I forgot to tell you,  how about a caption for each fly?” 

Here you go. Todd.

Contributed By

Jay Nicholas


Here’s what you need to know about Jay. Freelance writer who can’t spell. Self-published author. Amateur fly tyer, videographer, photographer, artist, and storyteller. Retired fish biologist. Passionate about wild fish, family, cats and dogs. Jay hopes to meet you somewhere on the Oregon coast one of these days.

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