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In The Country

Bringing field and stream together

George Hammond
Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve

(12/2014) I am an avid hunter and fly fisherman. The season for all around small game came in last weekend. I got up on Monday morning and put my 12 gauge double barrel over and under shotgun, hunting license and safety gear in my truck, and headed over to the state game lands. The sun was just starting to peek over the horizon and there was a nip in the air. The mountain had exploded in its autumn colors. It was a perfect day for hunting small game in Pennsylvania. When I arrived at the parking lot, there was a gentleman preparing to take his spaniel out to the field. He called his bouncing dog, headed up the road, and BLAM, he had one bird in the bag. I hoped that I would be so lucky.

Shortly after passing the game lands gate, I met another gentleman who had his limit of two pheasants already. He was kind enough to offer his dogís assistance in my quest. Of course, after what I had just seen, I accepted. The dog happily bounced back and forth, up and down searching for birds in front of us. We slowly covered a 200 yard long strip of habitat, but found no birds. When we were finished, we stopped and conversed awhile about why we were out that day. His reason was working his dog. Mine was stretching my legs, exercise, and increasing my supply of fly tying material prior to the big tying season approaching with winter. As the day progressed my luck didnít change. I heard birds cackle, but they ran before they flew. Later I ran into a buddy of mine in possession of one cock bird that he didnít want. That gave me one male in my bag. I continued to hunt, walking from one side of the preserve to the other, and found nothing, so I decided to pack up. I unloaded my Stoeger, put it away, and started home. Two miles up the road, a hen pheasant flew out in front of me. I now had one of each in my bag, and no shots fired. What an awesome day.

It is essential to use as much of the game as possible, no matter what that game might be. It can be fried, baked, stewed, roasted, broiled, flambťed, or sautťed. The important thing is to use it up. When my wife got home from work, she found me pawing over pheasant skins and plucking feathers. She just gave me a kiss and asked what she could do to help. I have an awesome fly fishing wife, by the way. We started at the neck and worked our way down the body to the wings plucking from small to large and putting the feathers in labeled bags. When we were done harvesting our booty of fluff, I pulled the breasts out of their bodies and put them in the fridge for dinner the next night.

It is imperative when preparing wild game that it is fully cooked. A little over done is better than not quite done and sick with food poisoning. I set the oven for 400 degrees and the timer for 40 minutes. I pealed the breast meat from the bone and coated it with homemade shake and bake mix. I put the breasts on a foil covered cookie sheet and laid strips of bacon across them. I had sliced up some potatoes, added some season salt, and laid strips of bacon over them as well. When the oven dinged, I feasted. When dinner was finished, I used the feathers that had kept it warm and aloft just 48 hours ago, to tie wet flies that I used in Yellow Creek later in the week fly fishing with my Brother.

I am a professional fly fisherman. I tie all of my own flies and really enjoy collecting my own materials from nature. Fly fishing is a game between the caster and the fish. It is the casterís job to figure out where the fish are hiding and upon what they are feeding. Thatís the easy part. The fish and Mother Nature gives the caster lots of clues to solve that riddle. The hard part is getting the fly correct. The color and size of the bug doesnít have to be exact, however, it does have to be very close. Thatís where the expertise of the fly tier comes in. I dye and blend my own hair and fur for my flies. This practice is a very big part of the sport for me. It is impossible to tie a buck tail streamer without buck tail, or a pheasant tail nymph without the tail feathers of a pheasant. In keeping with a long tradition of conservation, the game is not just an obvious food source. One pheasant cock yields hundreds of feathers for making legs, wing cases, and wings on flies; and normally 4 or 5 good tail feathers for making bodies and tails. A henís coloration and softness of feather lends to collars on wet flies. Almost every furry, hairy, or feathered animal can be used in fly tying in one way or another. Even the family pets get plucked from time to time.

My business, Custom-Tied Flies and Guide Service, teaches fly casting and fly tying at Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve several times during the year. During these courses the participant learns about aquatic insects and conservation of the stream. They learn what to look for when they go to the stream by themselves. They learn how to match what they find in the stream to what they have in their fly box. They can also learn how to tie what they donít have in their fly box for themselves. During the course they learn how to read the stream and figure out where the fish are hiding and what they are eating. They learn how to present the fly in such a way that it is believable when it hits the water. This is a skill that takes practice once the basics are learned. This course shows the basics and is available either through Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve or www.custom-tied.com. When the winter weather allows it, I go fly fishing. I usually go to creeks that have a spring water influence in them. The spring water keeps the stream from freezing. Normally, however, I tend to spend the winter months tying bugs in preparation for the next season.

The next time I go afield in search of my illusive prey, I will do so with a spring in my step and a smile on my face. I know that I may fail to sack the game which I pursue, but I may meet new people and make new friends. I may have a unique meal, and I may add to my collection of fur and feathers. I could stock my freezer with grocery bill saving game and the handle of my fly rod may quiver again with the weight of a fat trout, which I will release to catch again someday. I wonít know until the next opportunity comes, but, I canít wait.

George Hammond is a part-time Naturalist at Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve, 1537 Mount Hope Road, Fairfield. Visit www.strawberryhill.org for more information.