Izaak Walton penned The Compleat Angler in 1653, a book which formed the basis for all fly-fishing that came after. In his book, he wrote this description with a quill dipped in an inkwell:
“Then his wings stand high, and clos’d exact upon his back, like the Butterfly, and his motion in flying is the same. His body is in some of a paler, in others of a darker yellow (for they are not all exactly of a colour) rib’d with rows of green, long, slender, and growing sharp towards the tail, at the end of which he has three long small whisks of a very dark colour, almost black, and his tail turns up toward his back like a Mallard, from whence questionless he has his name of the green-Drake.”
Today any angler could go to the stream and find and identify such an insect and know it as the mayfly Izaak Walton knew. We in Central Oregon find them on the Metolius River in about the same time frame Walton found them on the chalk streams of England—in the month of June. “From the first to the four and twentieth.”
It was the two and twentieth of June when Merrilee and I checked in at Lake Creek Lodge in Camp Sherman. Making our reservation a month earlier, I’d hoped for Cabin 1 and got it, a short stroll from the dining room, at the other end of the bridge over Lake Creek. We set down our bags in the front room and went back outside to the porch where Merrilee sat with a book in the Adirondack chair and I sat at a table to tie tippets to leaders and clinch dry flies to tippets. That accomplished, I sat back and opened The Compleat Angler, a book I hadn’t read in more than three decades.
The pages fell open to a discussion of the “quick Flie” and the “artificial Flie” and when they are both best employed. In Walton’s day, anglers were apt to impale a real insect upon the hook to dap it over the surface of the water.
Soon the bell rang across the creek and we passed over the stone bridge to dine beneath the evening sky. Dinner was prime rib, mashed potatoes and asparagus. Dessert, chocolate cake with cream. We were steps away from Lake Creek, a few hundred yards from the Metolius or a short walk to Lake Creek’s pond, which is stocked annually with rainbow trout. It was there we would go first, when the sun was off the water.
Midges danced atop the water and the trout (their swirls gave them away) fed on something below the surface. As I tried to divine what had captured their attention, we were joined by family friends who happened to have chosen Lake Creek Lodge for their weekend getaway as well. I spent the evening in the close company of 13-year-old Payton and his 11-year-old sister Jillian, instructing them in fly-fishing.
In the morning I awoke at dawn and went to the river and worked up and down the bank with a wet fly, the verses of the ancient text in my head. When the sun was well up and when no green drakes were in evidence, I made my way back to the quiet pond in the tall pines where I tied on a dry fly and watched for rise rings. Walton gave me hope. “It is now nine of the Clock, and Fish will begin to rise, if they will rise to day.”
Instead of a green drake, this mayfly was smaller and yellow. Walton might have prescribed its imitation thus: “A very little one, and of as bright a yellow as can be seen; which is made of a bright yellow Camlet, and the wings of a white grey feather died yellow.”
From my box of dries, I picked a fly I tied from a porcupine quill with wings from a wood duck. The hollow body keeps it afloat and its twin tails keep it aright. I made a long cast to a rise ring and a minute later, a trout struck. It was a fine fish, dappled with spots and lit with rainbow along its flanks. Unhooked, it rested for a moment then kicked away into the dark water.
“And to fish fine, and far off is the first and principal Rule for Trout Angling.”