Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Feathers 'n Flash

The fly fishing shows feature so many gifted fly tiers that it is hard for a relative hack like me not to walk away just shaking my head in awe of the knowledge, creativity, skill, and pure talent on display. Sure, I can sit at my vise and wrap thread around some fibers, some flash and a hook that will, on occasion, hold together long enough to actually catch a few fish. But these guys are in a whole different league. Their mastery of materials management, technique, and efficiency, and their in-depth knowledge of natural hair and feathers and how to choose the best quality of each for any application just blows me away. All are impressive. But some are more entertaining than others, and, after all, shows, by definition, are supposed to entertain. Dave Skok, beyond his obvious talent as a tier, is most certainly entertaining.

Dave is widely known in the fly fishing world as an innovative and gifted fly tier, photographer, and writer. His flies are in demand all over the country because they are the epitome of functional art, i.e., they are uniquely beautiful creations, and, they catch fish. As mentioned in the previous post, I spent a good deal of time watching Dave at the Marlboro show, and it's easy to see his talent. What was more interesting and more revealing, was listening to him talk as he tied. Mind you, this is a fellow almost a full generation younger than I am. What struck me was his self-confidence (he knows he's good at what he does) tempered by a comfort in his own skin, and, despite the notoriety and the accolades he has earned, his obvious awareness that the fly fishing/photography/writing schtick is what he does, not who he is. Also in evidence was a quirky, self-deprecating sense of humor, and, a passion for the fish that are, after all, the source of great joy (and, in Dave's case, a roof over his head and a warm place to go to the bathroom) for all of us who pursue them with fly rods.

On the fish, specifically, striped bass, I was privy to a conversation Dave was having with two colleagues as the show was about to close for the day about the state of the fishery here in the northeast. The news is not good. Anyone who has fly rodded for stripers in New England the past few years can confirm it. While I don't know the scientific units of measure these numbers represent, or even if they are entirely accurate, if true, they illustrate the dramatic decline of the striper population. The last decent striped bass year class index numbers were from 2003 and measured in the 25 to 30 range. By contrast, back in the abundant striper years of the early to mid 1990's, these same numbers were typically in the vicinity of 100! From 2003 to now, the number has averaged around 6! Striped bass are not reproducing at rates that can sustain the fishery. That's scary. The reasons for this are complex but no doubt include the over harvesting of baitfish, particularly, menhaden, the commercial harvest of wild striped bass, pollution and the resultant degradation of habitat in the Chesapeake Bay area, fungal disease, and the lack of consistent and coordinated science-based management of the fishery throughout the range of stripers from the Carolinas to the Canadian maritimes. All who love to fish for stripers need to tune into this issue. Mother Nature is incredibly resilient, but not necessarily in the short term, i.e. within the span of our fishing lives. We humans have got to be smarter than we have been heretofore when it comes to safeguarding this incredible resource. A lot of money, a lot of livelihoods, and, most importantly, a source of immeasurable passion and joy, may otherwise be lost.


  1. Hello, I found your blog today through OBN. I like it and will "follow" along. =)

    The Average Joe Fisherman

  2. Thanks Ryan. I returned the favor. Your blog is really well done, and from what I read, you and I seem to be on the same page in terms of outlook and philosophy. Welcome aboard!