Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Soft Hackle Safari

From our good friend and fellow Pro Staffer, Greg G:

While it is primarily the ruffed grouse that may divert the trout angler’s autumn imagination from the river to the uplands, it is the grouse’s itinerant companion, the American woodcock, that can provide a bumper crop of fly tying material. A centuries old staple of patterns rooted in traditional English North Country spiders, a woodcock contains some of the finest feathers to ever grace a silk wound soft hackle.

Upland shooting lore would have us believe that grouse and woodcock freely cohabitate, and that may be the case in some of their range. But they are very different birds with different needs for food. However, they both benefit from early successional forests, where nature is beginning to reclaim previously timbered or abandoned land. Tattered pants, frayed bootlaces, bruised shins and sometimes a fat lip often result from working those areas correctly:

Dogs? We don’t need no stinking dogs:

But we do need light, quick handling and open choked shotguns. This is my 20 gauge Franchi 48 AL, posing with a brace of timberdoodles (sorry, no catch and release here). It has a 24” barrel and while it possesses a full range of choke tubes, it is rare that I install anything tighter than cylinder for the early season uplands:

This gun was always Nick Sisley’s favorite, and if you’re a Pee Aye upland hunter with a sense of heritage, you listen when Nick speaks. A standard load of 7/8 ounce of #8’s is the right medicine, as killing shots will all be in close. Heavier loads and tighter chokes will only turn you into an inefficient lumberjack, as the mixed oak and aspen saplings disintegrate in your muzzle blasts.

One of the biggest challenges in adding woodcock to your game pouch is predicting the timing of their migratory flights. A cold northwest wind can either kick-start their migration, or clear out a productive covert literally overnight later in the season. Personally, my recent successes are a classic example of even a broken clock being right twice a day.

So be it. Just like with my trout fishing, I’ll take what I can get until I can really devote some serious time to it and get better. Besides, there’s got to be some ju-ju associated with tying a grannom pupae from a bird you harvested next to a trout stream that also has a good population of brachycentrus. Just don’t ask me to start raising my own silk worms:


Jack Gartside said...

There is beauty in simplicity and tradition. Those North Country spiders, along with this post, have both in spades.

Keep the fire burning. My work here is done.

Dame Juliana Berners said...

Yo Jack,
FYI, those soft hackle wets that Greg is talking about go back a little further than those Yorkshire/North Country Spiders that you're always hawking. Check out my Treatise on Fishing with an Angle over at Amazon.com when you get a chance.

Sylvester Nemes said...

If it wasn't for my own 1975 book on fishing soft hackles, those flies never would have got the attention they deserved. I even coined the term "soft hackle".

Nice post, Greg. Let's get together and do a little wing shootin' and soft hackle fishin' next time your out this way. I know a spot where we can get on 'em purty good up by Two Dot.

GregG said...

Julie baby!! Good to hear you really exist; some people were starting to doubt it. And if it’s not your real name, pen names are cool. Or were cool, like Robert Traver and Sparse Grey Hackle. Then they got a little overdone (watch out for that Wade Rivers guy prowling cyber space). In addition to hawking your book on Amazon, I’ll bet you could sell a pile of skin cream, being over 500 years old and everything.

Syl, good to hear from you too again. Remember me? I barged in on your lunch with Danny Shields at Long John Silvers all those years ago. I guess I should’ve picked up the tab that day...might have brought your invitation a little earlier. At least I have all your books. After shooting woodcock at 15 yards, I doubt I could hit a far flushing hun in the Montana wind anyhow.

Wade Rivers said...

It's nice to see that the old Franchi 48 AL can still nail them "fine and far off".

I had to recently switch back to a Remington 1100 because of recoil issues but I still really miss the old AL48 (engraved receiver and a vent rib 28" IC barrel) since it was so light to carry in the field. Unfortunately, I do more carrying than shooting these daze. Happiness is a warm gun.

P.S. A little bit of knowledge is dangerous in my case.

John Lennon said...

This Wade Rivers chap just stole my line from the White Album back in '68.

Nice shootin' there, Greg. I haven't seen that much fun since my lost weekend/year with Harry Nilsson.

GlenG said...

Can't ya just buy then damn woodcocks in the grocery store?

GregG said...

Yeah, but you need heavier shot and a bigger gun to bring 'em down. Frozen birds are tough.

Wade Rivers said...

I think you you might be confusing woodcock with snipe. I gave up trying to bag those suckers in the field a couple of years ago. The frozen ones are the only way to fly.

smokestack lightning said...

Woodcock fly like they're trippin' on acid...The answer for those long beaked crazies: sawed off single shot, short stock Beretta,12ga low brass crammed full of 8s. Perfect for snap shooting. If you don't get 'em on the first shot, you don't deserve them anyway.