I busted through the last few feet of underbrush and into a wide open space. Now standing on dry rocks, I gazed upon the perfect, rippling flat across from me, just downstream of a prime spillout. In average flows, this river bumps up against a thick tangle of briers and a maze of bankside tree parts. But as the water recedes to low flows, the western bank becomes an exposed bed of broken limestone. And here I stood.
The faint smell of decaying crayfish and stranded caddis cases caught my attention. It signaled that the water had only recently dropped below this dry shelf. I thought about all of this and more. Then I sighed and breathed deep while stretching my arms toward the sunless sky. After being hunched over and half-crawling through fifty yards of tangled brush to get here, the contrast of open space was startling — and welcome.
I almost forgot that I wasn’t alone — until I heard Smith grumbling from behind. Lost somewhere back in the dense woods, he bellowed loud enough to reach over the far ridge.
“Where the hell is the path? Where are you, Dom?!”
I chuckled a bit. This is one time that Smith’s lumberjack size was a clear disadvantage.
“There’s no path, man. Just keep fighting through that mess.” I spoke with an average volume, without straining, and my calmness carried over to my friend.
“Alright. Yeah,” he replied.
I heard Smith from just ten yards away. Then I saw the waving tops of saplings and rustling rhododendron.
You’re not very far, are you?” he asked.
I paused for a moment to let Smith pop out of the brush before I answered.
When my friend broke out of the woods, I immediately pointed toward the prime spillout just upstream.
“. . . And this is why we came here, buddy. Look at it. There’s no other way in here without a boat. You won’t find any boot tracks or . . .”
I stopped, because Smith seemed unimpressed. Distracted by something gone wrong, he hadn’t really looked up yet.
“Dammit!” Smith cursed. “It happened again.” He pointed to his fly rod blank, about two feet up from the cork. “This morning the tag fly broke off my tippet, and this time it’s all tangled up.”
“Hey man,” I said, only slightly taunting. “You can’t expect to go through brush like that dangling a line without problems.”
“Yeah, that’s true,” Smith agreed. “I guess I could have clipped off the fly and then tied it back on but . . .”
“Nah, don’t do that,” I interrupted.
I stepped across the limestone chunks and reached for Smith’s fly rod. With two hands I popped the second and third sections loose from his four-piece Sage.
“Hold this,” I said, as I handed him the upper part. I stuck the lower section with the reel between my legs. Reaching into my vest. I quickly found a small, ¼ inch rubber band — the same ones I use to attach my favorite yarn indicators. Then I slipped the band over the ferrule and doubled it up before sliding it down to about the same point where Smith’s tag fly should be dangling. With the band in place around the rod blank, I took the upper section back from Smith and joined his rod together again, with the line still strung up and doubled back.
I looked at my friend and handed him the rod.
“I would just cut it and tie on a new tag this time.” I said. “But it shouldn’t happen again if you use that band to secure your tag fly from now on.”
“Dude, that’s genius,” Smith said, staring at the improvised and movable hook keeper.
“No it’s not,” I said. “But it works.”
“Dom, you have so many of those little system-tips that you could fill a book with them,” Smith said.
“I’m working on it,” I told my friend.
And we turned to the river.
— — — — — —
One of the more irritating trends in the fly rod market these days is the absence of a hook keeper above the cork. Plenty of us think it’s an oversight. And I’m tired of the worn out excuse that there’s a hook keeper at every guide. Rod guides aren’t the same. Give me that thin little u-shaped hook keeper just above my cork, please. Because, if I use the stripping guide for a hook keeper, my tag fly is about four feet away from me.
Yeah, it’s a rough life. These aren’t third-world problems, but efficiency is something that most good anglers appreciate.
Some guys use the rod cork to hold the point fly, but that tears up your grip pretty quickly. Others affix the fly to the reel somehow. But any time the fly is behind your hand, there’s the chance of embedding a hook into your flesh if something tugs on the line the wrong way — like when walking through brush.
I’ve also seen where guys take their tippet around the reel and then attach the fly to the stripping guide. Don’t get me started on that one. If you have a tag fly involved, you’re asking for even more trouble.
So the tiny rubber band trick makes sense. A couple of years ago, I used one as a substitute hook keeper when the manufacturer mistakenly decided that I didn’t want one. It worked really well, and later that day I decided to put another band further up the rod, like I did for Smith.
It solved a problem that I’d struggled with for years. Because a dangling tag fly does hang up and twist while walking around to relocate. It happens too often, and if you’re busting through any brush, it’s guaranteed trouble.
The position is easily adjustable, too. And that’s a great thing for the tag fly. Because the distance from tag to point is often variable. The band slides easily to wherever it’s needed to maintain tension.
I guess you could employ a variety of rubber bands for the trick. But I find the small ¼ inch orthodontic rubber bands that I carry for mounting yarn indy’s and Thingamabobbers to be perfect. Doubling them up creates enough tension to hold the hooks without sliding, but if you want more tension, you could add another turn or perhaps use a second band.
The bands add no weight to the rod, and they are small enough not to spoil the handsome look of your fly rod that cost you a week’s pay (if you actually care about that stuff).
Barbless hooks slide in and out from under the band with ease. But barbed hooks can stick a bit, so go barbless — duh.
These bands will eventually break. However, mine last a long time before I replace them. Last time I fished with Smith, the band on his rod was the same one that I’d placed there a couple months ago. And he used it all day without comment. That means he liked it.
Fish hard, friends.
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