Thinking outside the box can come naturally to anyone. You have to allow yourself to come up with many ridiculous notions to let the scintillating schemes come forward. The trick is to recognize the ridiculous from the possible.
One fall day, many moons ago, I brushed by some milkweed plants ripe-n-ready to dispense seed on the trail to my favorite section of wild brook trout waters in the White Mountains of NH, the Wildcat River. I was so eager to see those fiery bellies of the males in full spawning colors that I only half paid attention to the path I was traveling on through the meadow. After bumping into a healthy patch of milkweed plants, I paused to watch the “floss” parachute take flight and decorate the sky. I got sucked out of whatever mind bent I was in, and instantly transported to the now and watched the beauty that unfolded before me. Isn’t nature just amazing? All the engineering and evolution milkweed has had to do to perfect it’s ability to dispense seed and ensure future generations. I often wonder if humans put as much energy into future generations as plants did, would we have a more symbiotic relationship with nature.
These kinds of moments are where fly fishing is so special to me, it’s where I feel I’m 100% free by being in this moment and no where else. Kinda like when you were a kid adventuring, kids always live in the moment. The only thing that matters is right now and as adults we forget how to be “in the moment.” I feel fly fishing forces us to be a kid again.
After watching the floss dance to its destination in the meadow, I carried on to the river. Took to a log streamside and sat down for a moment to watch the water and see if I could pick up on a hatch or any other kind of info that would be handy to help catch some river gems. At this point I already have a fly on and I was considering switching it out or sticking with it. That day I stuck with the Adams parachute as it was performing so well the day before. I saw a riser feed several times and decided to make my move. My grass rod lured in a nice plump fall brookie. With a swift release I washed off my fly from fish slime so she would float again. In this process I touched the sides of my shirt to dry my fingers. After drying I came back to my fly with a wad of milkweed floss stuck to my hand. Once you touch it with damp hands its nearly impossible to get it off. So I rinsed again and dried again only to still have some floss remain on my fingers. This time I rubbed my hands down the shoulder side of my shirt and when I came to inspect my fingers I had perfect cream colored dubbed dreadlocks dangling from my hand. Like a loud clap in my head it struck me- I yelled out loud FREE DUBBING!!! After getting over the excitement I noticed the milkweed went translucent when wet, the words “Super Buggy” came to mind.
On my way back from fishing I of course harvested some free fly tying material to play with at the vise. My first fly featuring milkweed was the Milkweed Midge. It’s a typical guide fly, ultra simple yet deadly effective. This was made to mimic the rather large emerging midges in the slower trout waters during early spring and late fall. It also works really well for lakes or ponds. In still water, I tend to strip in very slowly in the top 3 inches during the time when trout are dimpling for midges.
Next would be streamer style. I called this fly Hortus. The shank is palmered with birch bark and a wing of full length milkweed fibers.
The floss is very silky and if you gently place a rubber band around a pod that has already cracked open you will prevent the pod from shattering after harvesting, and have nice long fibers to work with. Once the pod has shattered it’s only good for dubbing at that point. You will want to harvest only the lightly cracked pods, if they are not cracked yet the milkweed is underdeveloped. The long fibers are also good to pair with steelhead eggs to make fertilizing eggs. Milkweed has lots of soft movement under the water much like it does in the wind.
I’ve even spun milkweed. It spins well and makes for a super cone head much like arctic fox would. The possibilities are endless with plant fibers and a number of times they behave better than the synthetics we use today.
Milkweed responds well to plant dyes and is actually quite versatile. It’s a worthy material for any fly tier, and it’s free! After discovering milkweed as fly tying material I wondered how many other plant materials we are overlooking as we tend to only think about feathers & fur. Today I make a point to frequent my local fiber shop and I have been introduced to bamboo, hemp, palm and an array of other rugged plants. Fun new materials to play with that are easily renewable. I can see it now, the fly tiers garden - a hole new trend!
Keep an open curious mind and let the crazy ideas fly, they just might not be crazy!