All content © Robert Williamson

All content © Robert Williamson

Saturday, August 29, 2009


When we're young, we live on passion. We think we are old. Someone told us that when we are eighteen or twenty-one we are adults. But we are young and dumb. Everything is seen in tunnel-vision. I saw only desire and it was physical. So, how do we come to know something? We jump in with both feet--we get them wet, right? Then we learn that is not the way. We learn to take our time. We think, we feel, we lift rocks and we watch.

River stones move with geologic speed. We don't have that luxury. Our time is a slap! It's quick and stings for a second then it's gone. In the speed of life, how do we live it to its fullest?

What part do we drink to quench thirst? What part do we spew from our mouths? How do we unravel a braided current? We can't keep on casting until a trout will rise. We move on.

This was a two day trip. The first day I went alone but in my mind a string provided a connection to others. The second day, my wife was my partner.

The river became moving art. I studied the painting. I wondered: where is the pallet that stores the colors? The colors melt and run over rocks and stones. Wetness creates the brilliance. Look at the grayness of the exposed rocks. It's the water that paints the picture.

Some creeks run dry. They are a waste of time. Someone once told me that to look at them can bring sadness. I agree. Rear tires slip and spin--another goose chase. It's time to head for the familiar--it's safe there like an old friend. There's a calmness in the sound of familiar water; a calmness in a friend's voice. The serenity of place is often measured by past experience there. The small subtle changes become apparent with familiarity. The big picture may not seem to change to the casual observer.
On these creeks fly lines are not often airborn in long flowing loops. There is no need. Control of the passion for length and the need for rhythm are haulted. Trees and brush stiffle the need for power. Flips, rolls, dapping, and mends shake off the end of the rod. Much of the time, the fly line is held high and out of the water as leader and tippet dance upon seams and eddies.
Rises are quick. No time to daydream. When the fly hits the water, the reaction is now! With little weight the trout is lifted from it's world. The release is just as quick and the trout darts away with much of its liveliness.
The small creeks are not hard to read. Almost every likely looking spot will hold a trout. Presentation can be difficult if you are not used to casting around trees, brush, and snags. The things they teach in casting classes or on the casting platforms at the sportsmen's shows will serve you no good here. The late Gary LaFontaine taught it right. Standing upon the casting paltform, he would stroke a line out about one-hundred feet to the cheers of the spectators. Then he would say, "let me show you how to catch a trout now." He would kneel down behind the platform and throw out a fifteen foot cast and then talk about stealth and pinpoint casting.
Familiar water feels good. After a long winter, spring, and sometimes summer, the fall season is the time to dance with the well-known. There's a small window of opportunity when it's possible to chat with nature. When things are still. The sky stays blue. Then, just at the right time the quakie leaves will shake, and whisper of cool nights and shorter days.
The colors from the river rock and trout will mix with the terrestrial landscape. It happens with a blink. This is the time to fish hard.

Common color names never do justice to what is really seen. Speckled trout eat there fill and fatten for the lethargic times of sparseness. When the leaves of Fall spin toward the water, the season ends. It's time to sleep.

Dreams of small rising trout and warm summer days permiate the night. On days of catching, reflex jerking of legs and arms to set the hook, keep awake the participants of the day.

The rewards for being in the secret spots are always more than just the catching of trout. But without the catching of trout the spots diminish. Go there to blend the colors. Throw all the hues skyward and let then land where they may. Then leave.

Friday, August 28, 2009

ASPEN MEN by Robert Williamson

Staring at water art
Peripheral vision knows they are there
I turn quick and look
White bodies with charcoal faces
Some smile, some frown
I slip on wet rock
I hear them laugh
They stand behind the willows
They move when I move
I stop, they stop
I came for solitude
Who invited the Aspen Men?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Innovative Fly Tier written by John Shewey

This piece first appeared in "Southwest Fly Fishing" January/February 2007. Written by John Shewey.

Robert Williamson's fly patterns provide a rather obvious insight into their originator's fundamental beliefs about dressing and designing flies: art matters.

Hailing from Utah, Williamson has gained regional--and with the release of his first book, more wide-spread--recognition for his creative, artistic approach to fly design. In Creative Flies, Innovative Tying Techniques (Frank Amato Publications, 2002), he refreshingly admits, "I make no claims that these patterns catch more fish than any other patterns. ...Some of the techniques are considered tedious and unnecessary by some fly tiers and fly fishers. To a degree, I concur with this feeling. However, if you like a well-constructed fly, with a neat appearance and durability, you will enjoy these patterns; being able to tie these flies will give you great satisfaction."

Indeed, that satisfaction and a sense of artistic accomplishment are the elements that Williamson finds most appealing about not only tying flies, but also, perhaps more significantly, in designing new and different patterns. "The need to express myself in some type of creative arena began at an early age," Williamson explains. "I have always dabbled in drawing, painting and calligraphy. Fly tying has given me a satisfaction to those artistic cravings. I feel that if you spend enough time, energy, and talent on both the fishing and the tying, they can become an expression of yourself."

His unique surface patterns borrow ideas from a wide range of other flies and tiers, but the key components of their construction are uniquely his own. For example, almost 20 years ago, Williamson devised a method of overhand knot weaving that allowed him to use this little-known tying technique to make extended bodies. His method relies on a series of hand and finger movements that are clearly described and graphically outlined in Creative Flies, and which is most spectacularly displayed on his Woven Stonefly Adult and Woven Hopper. Both patterns are dressed by weaving two different colors of polypropylene yarn over an extended underbody of corkboard trimmed to the appropriate shape. The result is not only artistic (and downright perplexing until you understand the tying techniques and materials involved), but also just about as buoyant as any large dry fly can hope to be. To further boost the buoyancy of these patterns, Williamson adds elk hair wings and bullet-style heads of deer hair. Rubber legs complement the design perfectly, and these are simply strapped in under the thread wraps used to tie down the bullet-head.

Williamson readily acknowledges his influences and appreciates the angling and tying history that has spawned many of his ideas. In Creative Flies,for example, he summarizes the history of the overhand knot weaving method, ultimately reporting, "It can be assumed that the weaving technique Hank's (Hank Roberts) wife came up with is the same one that Dan Vercelino came up with. Both are given credit for this technique."

Williamson uses this technique sans extended body--to dress stonefly nymphs patterns and his Woven Cicada. Imitating a terrestrial insect unfamiliar to many trout anglers--but certainly not those residing in the Rocky Mountain states--this fly also has an underbody of corkboard. Williamson dresses another cicada pattern using a twisted strip of black closed-cell foam for the body. Sometimes called "furling" (which usually involves polypropylene yarn or similar materials), this twisting method is very simple and widely applicable. Williamson writes that the technique "is nothing more than twisting strips of thin foam until it (the strips twisted together) doubles back on itself."

The Looped Foam Cicada displays a simple and logical construction: black twisted-foam body tied in only at the front and extending back over the hook shank, elk hair wing, red hi-vis foam formed like a bullet head over the front by simply poking the eye of the hook through the middle of the foam strip and then tying the strip down a bit back on the shank, rubber legs like a Madam X. The same basic construction, with a slight variation in materials and proportions, produces Williamson's Twisted Hopper, Twisted Stonefly Adult, Twisted Yellow Sally, and Twisted Adult Damsel.

Weaving and twisting are but two of numerous intriguing techniques put to good use by Williamson. He also ties "chain-stitched" patterns and flies featuring air-filled bodies. He says his creative urges cause him to see fly-tying potential in all kinds of materials, no matter whether those materials are intended for dressing flies. "Any material natural or synthetic is fair game for making a fly, in my opinion," he says. "I spend a lot of time experimenting with ideas and materials. Some ideas end up as fly patterns, while others end up as a pile of failed experiments in creativity."

Williamson began fly angling at age 13; his inaugural foray into fly tying occurred 13 years later when his father's favorite flies--the Franz Potts hair flies--were becoming scarce. Not willing to part with the hair flies, such as the Fizzle and Rock Worm, that he and his brother grew up fishing with, Williamson disassembled a few ti see how they were tied and thus launched his tying career. Combining his artistic bent with a fascination for the non-traditional methods of Western tiers like Potts, Norman Means, and George Grant, Williamson was soon "trying to realistically duplicate the size, shape, and color of the natural insects I was trying to imitate." Increasingly he did so, with unique methods and materials.

In addition to compiling many of his innovative patterns and techniques in Creative Flies, Williamson has also written for Utah Fishing, Utah Outdoors, Fly Fishing, and Fly fishing and Tying Journal. And though he admits that he originally wrote his book to seek some recognition for his innovative methods, he has since decided that such motivations are "quite selfish." That self-assessment, however, is too harsh because not only did writing the book provide yet another venue for Williamson to "quench creative urges," but doing so also resulted in a very useful guide for like-minded creative tiers who relish learning and advancing intriquing techniques.

In addition to bespeaking its author's insistence that art matters as much as function in fly patterns, Creative Flies also reveals Williamson's deep respect for the ability of the sport of fly angling to add meaning and mystery to life. He scatters short angling tales throughout the book, and "The Crossing" demonstrates his love of small, unheralded waters and wild trout. In fact, Williamson's favorite fisheries are pristine Utah streams populated by native Bonneville cutthroats.

"For me," he reflects, "the places where these natives are found are like the fountain of youth. They give me a sense that amid all the changes in life and in the world, some things can remain the same. I feel a sense of connection with the past and a hope that it can be passed down to those I love. In a way, I guess I am a romantic when it comes to fly fishing, I am very idealistic. Fly fishing and fly tying are passions that stretch my imagination and my emotions."

John Shewy is the managing editor of Northwest Fly Fishing, Southwest Fly Fishing and Eastern Fly Fishing magazines.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Hoppertunity One Day Event

Let's make this a one day event. Saturday the 19th of September. Details to come in the next couple of weeks. Limit to eight people would work nice. Wait---Scott, brought up a good point on his blog---I may not have that many readers or friends. Hmmmm. I guess if we only get four folks, it would still work. :)

Saturday, August 15, 2009


I am inviting a few fly fishers to participate in an unique hoppertunity. Here's how it will work:

I have the 18th or 19th of September to spend fly fishing. I think it would be fun to get 6 or 8 people together in the Logan area and divide up into sets of two (twosomes). We will assign each twosome a specific section of river and they will fish a Twisted Hopper pattern exclusively ( provided by yours truly). The twosomes will have a notebook, a pencil or pen, and a way to quickly measure the fish. Catches will be documented (numbers, types of fish, and sizes), and then after a certain time period we meet at a designated place to compare notes and stories. A nice stream side dinner would be nice to top the outing off. We could assign people to bring items. Kick this around and post a comment on this site if you want to participate or have any other ideas that would make this fun. If one of those days do not work, throw some others out and we can narrow it down. Thank you great fly fishers of wisdom and trout.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


The television weather report the evening before our planned fishing day was discouraging: thirty mile an hour winds, sixty percent chance of rain, dropping temperatures of over twenty degrees, possible hail, and lightning! I can handle all of it except the wind and lightning. Casting a fly in wind is not something I have on my favorites list.
So, we changed to plan B. We already had a plan B figured out because we (my bro-in-law, nephew and me) are seasoned outdoors men. Plan B was to bag the two hour drive into Wyoming and hit the closer waters around Logan, Utah. Plan B found me sitting on a half submerged rock on the edge of the Logan River. I'm waiting for Jer (bro-in-law) and his son Matt (my nephew) to work their way upstream to my position. I move up river quick. I hit every spot that is likely to hold a trout and after a few drifts, I move on. It's part of my nature. I read the water like it's a children's book, it's a fast read most of the time, unless, of course, there is a good hatch going, and trout working the surface, then I move slower.
I placed my fly rod on my lap and bowed my head and closed my eyes. The water here is riffles and pockets. I can hear it as it bumps, turns and swirls around the uneven bottom and boulders. It's a nice sound; it's sound I have been around most of my life. It's a nice day. I'm glad to be here. It's good to be out. The sun has cleared the eastern peaks. I take off my cap and let the sun hit my head and face. It feels good.
I glance upstream and see Jer. He moves down to where I'm sitting. I stand and move toward him like two old friends who are meeting again after years of separation. It's only been a half-hour since we parted upstream. Smiles are exchanged and fishing reports shared. It hasn't been the best of mornings for catching. Matt soon arrives and we decide to drive into Logan for lunch and then drive over the border into Idaho to hit a stream.
After stopping to pick up an Idaho fishing license, we drive up Cub River canyon. The lower stretches of the Cub contain Bonneville Cutthroat and is similar looking water to the upper reaches of the Logan only smaller in size and volume of water. We decide to pass the lower stretches and see what trout we would find in the upper stretches near Willow Flat. It is a beautiful area bracketed by high mountain peaks and backdrops of thick forested slopes of shadow-hidden pines. The stream meanders through the flat and its flow interrupted by several beaver dams. It is clear with deep undercuts at every turn. Small jewels of brook trout are caught. The orange-rust bellies brilliant giving way to the crimson spots outlined in blue halos. The backs mottled with worm-like patterns of olive and brown. The tips and leading edge of the fins are outlined in pure white. They are handsome fish. They are small and wild; their only shortcoming is that they are not native to the area. Still, they are welcomed.
From Willow Flat over to highway 89 in Logan Canyon is about 16 miles of dirt road. We decide our course is to drive the dirt road, stop for one last fishing spot in Franklin Basin and then drive back to Bear Lake on 89. Jer is at the wheel. He starts the climb out of the flat and before we know it, we were on long straight run of dirt road heading toward the basin. Jer hits the gas and we are flying along at about 55 miles per hour. I've ridden dirt roads with Jer before, some with white knuckles and the fear of death in my soul, but I have to admit, he has mellowed with age just a bit.
Franklin Basin fishes well for us. Small cutthroat in the eight to ten inch range are plentiful with an occasional twelve or thirteen inch fish caught. I'm able to turn one that looked to be a spawn hold-over that might have gone sixteen inches. It is a fun area and Matt and me play a little game of fly fishing baseball. The rules are simple: first fisher casts into a likely spot. If he hooks up with a trout and brings it to hand, it's a home run and the next fisher is up. If you cast and miss a fish, it's a strike. If you get three strikes, you are out and it's the other person's turn. Matt wins the ballgame with more home runs and the biggest fish.
We finally meet up with Jer and end our fishing day. I have not had the opportunity to spend a whole day with Jer and Matt for some time. It was a real pleasure fly fishing with them and just hanging out. I'm blessed to have them in my life. I love them and would do anything for them.

Small, beautiful brook and cutthroat trout, the beauty of sparkle-clear water, stream bottom rocks, wild flowers, vistas, sun (especially with reports that it wouldn't be sunny) and the quiet sound of serenity found in the woods are the jewels of the trip. Spending time with those I love the treasures.

You would think all the fly fishing is the highlight of the day. But I learned a very good lesson on this trip. I have to learn to put things in perspective. That is hard for me. I am driven by passion for certain things and I have to sometimes slow down, take a step away, look at the situation, and then see the whole picture.
It's funny how the highlight of my weekend fly fishing trip turned out to be something other than catching a bunch of beautiful trout in an amazing setting. The most significant event happened somewhat unexpectedly. It is something I will remember. As we were getting ready to leave for home, I was able to take my sister in a full embrace (something I have never done) and tell her happy birthday. I then told her, "I love you." I fought back the tears that were welling---hers flowed a little more freely. I wonder if she was aware I noticed. What an awesome moment. The beautiful trout, the streams, the mountains are the small jewels. The relationships and expressions of love are the unexpected treasures. I sit here now wondering what is happening to my heart?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Whisper in the Wind

Dog days are here! Hot, stale air sitting on the valley floor. Rivers and streams down to lower flows. Trout skittish. Drips of sweat roll down the back. Drops like shower water run off the face and chin. Salt-eyes burn. You can taste the savor when you lick your lips or just open your mouth to breath. Colored line in tight loops cannot move enough air to create wind. At high noon there is no one else on the water. Others wait until the cool of evening and approach the water with the bats. They have learned that the largest trout hide in bright sun.

Walking through the tall grasses, hoppers leap like flushed game birds. You watch as some hoppers land in the water. Quick swirls and audible splashes and they disappear. Concentric rings migrate to nothing as a witness that water holds life. You wait and watch. You remember. It doesn't seem that long ago that you were young and you would run to the water. Now, you walk. You've learned to sneak.

You feel the breeze hit the wetness of your neck. Eighty degree chill brings bumps to the skin. You listen. What does the wind whisper when only a slight breeze? That is the secret. Not everyone gets to hear the secret. You have to earn what the soft wind can teach. No matter how old you get, you are always a student at the river's edge.