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.

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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.
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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.

Scientific Anglers


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