Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Steelheader's candy and a review on Hareline's rhea...

I took a much needed break from the fly tying table last night to take part in what has become an annual ritual for my wife and I. Being surrounded by farm-country is one of the great joys that comes with residing in eastern Washington. Our waterfowling is top-notch, wine-tasting is always a ball, and this time of year- our asparagus is dirt cheap!

I didn't grow up in a farm family and my parents didn't do all that much canning. Mom cans a mean batch of salsa every summer, but that's pretty much it. My wife and I started pickling asparagus last year after visiting a nearby fruit-stand on our way back from wine-tasting. They had it listed for $1.50 a pound so we started filling a giant bag. The owner noticed us grabbing massive handfuls and casually walked over to let us know he'd give it to us for 75 cents a pound if we bought 20 lbs or more. We couldn't resist the price, so the McDonoughs went a bit overboard and bought 40 lbs.

McDonough's Spicy Asparagus
This year's batch wasn't quite that big. Getting ready for a season in Alaska and working multiple jobs has us pretty busy right now. Needless to say, we managed to set aside a couple hours to get 'er done and canned just under 20 lbs last night. 

Nothing is better than pickled asparagus on the river. Back in my younger days, our weekly supply of river food involved nothing more than a Costco bag of Hoody's salted peanuts and a flat of V8 cans. We were obsessed steelhead junkies focused on chasing chromers, and somehow there just wasn't enough time in the day to sit down and take a lunch-break back then. Chewing a can of Copenhagen snuff a day also helped with the hunger pains. We're still obsessed steelhead junkies, but we've thrown a jar of pickled asparagus into the mix when we get the rare day-off to fish on our own.

Steelheader's Candy
It's always a big hit with my guests as well, but I only break it out for special groups... otherwise I couldn't keep up with demand. I would compare my pickled asparagus to the "like" button on Facebook. It's a way of giving a thumbs-up to some of my favorite clients!

This morning I attempted to finish putting away all my guide gear from the winter's steelhead season. Like always, my A.D.D. got the best of me and I found myself looking through fly boxes and admiring old, retired flies from last season. The distraction prevented me from finishing the task at hand, but it inspired me to write a review.

Steelhead Candy
I'm just as obsessed with steelhead flies as I am with the act of steelheading. I tie a lot-several hours a day at least 4-5 days a week. Like many of you, I first learned of rhea after The Fly Shop in Redding publicized Paul Miller's steelhead selection. I always admired these bugs in the catalogs, though I still haven't seen one up close. I had done a bit of snooping around on the internet in an attempt to gain some knowledge on this new feather. The consensus became obvious: hard to find, very expensive, difficult to tie with, etc. Needless to say, I gave up on rhea.

Fast forward about five years. I was looking through the 2012 catalog from Hareline Dubbin after returning from Alaska last fall and was shocked to see rhea offered. A quick phone call and I was sold, though still a bit skeptical. How good could it be coming from a giant supplier of materials like Hareline?

A few days later my order showed up. As I opened the box, I was shaking with anticipation like a kid on Christmas. Over a feather, I know- pretty sad. At first glance, Hareline's rhea was a bit different than I thought it would be. 

I ordered several packs in a few different colors: black, purple, orange, and peacock. The dyes are great and the colors are stunning. Rhea seems to hold it's color very well with very little fading occurring over the course of our three month season, even after fishing several flies off and on for multiple days at a time. 

I would compare it to ostrich in terms of feather size. Strangely, the feathers are much softer than what I expected after reading reviews online several years ago. Many complained about having to split and soak the quills in order to be able to palmer it onto the tube or shank. This is not the case at all with Hareline's rhea. In fact, this stuff is soft enough to wrap the top third of the entire feather. The webby fibers average 3"-7" in length and are perfect for intruder-style flies. They're just stiff enough to hold a great profile and not collapse in heavy current, but supple at the tip of the fiber for awesome movement.

That first night I sat down for a long session at the tying table and cranked out several intruders using a few different methods to incorporate rhea into each fly. I wrapped and palmered the feather, spun individual fibers into a dubbing loop, and simply tied the fibers into place with thread wraps. After tying and fishing it all season long, I'll be the first to admit they all look the same in the water... but the latter method is the quickest, so that is what I prefer. If you're going to spin it in a loop, you'll need some good wax to keep the fibers in place much like spinning amherst. 

A very chewed-up intruder from this season...still fishable!
I consider rhea to be the perfect feather. Bulk it up in back with some fox or finnish coon and it's stiff enough to not collapse in the heaviest of current. The movement of each individual fiber is absolutely incredible. It's not bulky like maribou or bunny. I tie a few versions of rhea intruder, but they're all tied in two sizes. The smaller is about 3 1/2" long from shank-eye to the tips of the rear fibers. The larger is about 6" long from shank-eye to the tips of the rear fibers. They're both super-easy to throw with a standard Skagit setup and 12+ feet of T-14+. I tie them sparse because this provides the best movement and profile. You can bomb them a country mile if need-be, and most importantly- they stay down and dirty in the zone.

Rhea is also very durable, which means it makes great guide-bugs. After replacing trailer hooks a few times, I fished some of the same flies off and on all season long tying them onto  "dude-rods" several dozen times.

Thank you, rhea.
All in all, like most products from Hareline- I was super impressed with their rhea. If you are a skeptic like I was, I encourage you to buy a few feathers and mess around with it for yourself. When you're converted, make sure you leave some for me! Due to the cost and availability, I seriously doubt my rhea intruders will ever make it into an Idylwilde catalog, but I will continue to tie and fish the heck out of it for many many years to come!

1 comment:

  1. hey nate, just came across your new blog. so far so good, food and steelhead. keep the post coming