Monday, September 29, 2008

Fran Betters And The Ausable Haystack

I wrote this article last Spring for Backcasts, the bimonthly newsletter of the Northeast Council of the Federation of Fly Fishers ( Just reminiscing about the fishing season and thought I would share this with you.

There is no one who knows more about fly tying and fly fishing on the Ausable River than Fran Betters. My first stop, on a recent trip to the Adirondack region, was at Fran’s store where I found him, as usual, tying flies. Fran seemed quite happy to be greeting customers, answering questions, giving advice, suggesting places and patterns to fish and generally being the sage of Wilmington, New York and the Ausable River.

I asked what flies he recommended for the day and Fran told me that I needed only four flies to be successful. He handed me a small plastic cup with four little treasures waiting patiently to begin the day. And what a day it was. The sky was a mile-high, cloudless blue. The air was clear, crisp, breezy and a perfect 72 degrees. The leaves in the forest were opening up in dozens of shades of spring green. A finer day for fly fishing could not possibly exist. After gearing up I set out into the woods to walk far from the other anglers, as I wanted this day all to myself. I found a place to begin fishing, but first I sat on a mossy, cool boulder and watched and listened as the river tumbled past. A while later I opened the plastic cup and there, on top, sat the fly of the day. It was a Haystack.

The Ausable Haystack has been around since 1949 and it has been a consistent fish-producer at every turn. But why? Because it is a simple fly. Two materials are used: deer hair and muskrat fur. That’s it. About as close to nature as you can get. It is a simple fly that rides well in the water. It looks like the silhouette of an emerging mayfly as it sits in the surface film. It might also look like a spinner drifting down the river. It could be a caddis riding the flume. It is one tough customer. The fly floats through the rough water and still comes out as a fish catcher. The natural animal hair reflects light beautifully and has coloration that can’t be beaten. There are several vital qualities to a good fly. First, it should have iridescence and translucency. Look at the Haystack as light filters through the deer hair of the tail and wing and the dubbed body. Sure, the fly does not actually imitate any single insect, but it suggests so many.

What else makes a good fly? Fran Betters thinks that it also should be usable in different color tones and shades. He likes having a lighter shade and darker shade version and chooses the one that fits the circumstances. Finally, as Fran says, the fly should have good skittering ability. This will draw strikes, but will also allow you to move the fly into position in the feeding lanes.

As it turned out I only needed one perfect fly for my perfect day of fly fishing—the Haystack. The day was filled with beauty and the inner peace that comes when one is truly in harmony with the natural world.

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