Introducing Jay Nicholas’s fly fishing glossary

The Fly Fishers Glossary: Snippets From the Underbelly of Fly Fishing, Fly Tying, Fish Biology, Dusty old Facts, Hallucinations, and the Plain Truth as I know it.

Jay W. Nicholas

We’re fly fishers, right? We have our own language, our history, and God knows, our quirks. We are serious about this stuff, and we know that we are a bunch of silly idiots too. How on earth could a non-fly fisher ever begin to understand us, and the language we use to communicate? Crazy stuff. Practically unintelligible. Deep.

So I decided to begin writing the Fly Fisher’s Glossary – a barely serious, mostly silly, personal collection of completely or partly made-up definitions that provide insight on what just might be going on in the twisted brains of dedicated fly anglers. Here’s a special note, a request that the reader not take seriously any smart-alecky remarks that seem to disparage any specific products. I love and need each and every one of the products that earned mention here, even the Kevlar thread. Really

This is a work in progress, folks. It just seems to grow and expand. The glossary now stands at about a hundred and fifty terms, but it grows every time I sit down to edit the damn thing. Ultimately, I hope to collect the whole list and call it good. In the meantime, I wanted to share the glossary as it evolves.

About once a week, Matt Stansberry and I will be posting parts of the glossary on the Caddis Fly Blog, offering a perspective that you know in your hearts is true, but has rarely been formally expressed. This material is rough and still needs editing. However, in the spirit of getting-on-with-it because who knows how long any of us will be able to stick around, here goes.


Alaska, Russia, Canada
Places where salmon and steelhead are actually caught more than once or twice a year. In contrast, see North Umpqua.

This is a Spey Fly line manufactured by Rio. AFS is short for Advanced Flight Spey. These are excellent fly lines best suited to casting rather small and/or light steelhead flies (i.e., no gi-mundo leeches). Also, these are best fished with a floating tip and a rather long leader, say, 1.5x rod length. These differ from Skagit Heads in that their mass and diameter is greatest near the back, tapering gradually to a relatively fine tip. These lines are yellow with an olive tip. Research has demonstrated that this line color produces superior catch rates on the Deschutes from August 17 – September 7 and on the Skeena from September 26 to October 9. See also Scandi.

Air Cell Supreme
Fly line manufactured by Scientific Anglers. Back in about 1962 or 63, I tied parachute flies for Norm Thompson’s Southwest Portland retail store. I charged them 35-cents per fly and they were tut-tutting at me because that was more than they paid for any other fly they sold at the time. I don’t remember how many dozen flies I tied, but I used every penny to purchase a Pflueger 1494 reel, a Phillipson six-foot, five weight glass rod, fifty yards of backing, a full box of a dozen green Gladding tapered 6X leaders, and a SA Ivory Air Cell Supreme fly line. I was in heaven. I went fishing on the Metolius and caught a mess of trout. Norm Thompson’s sold all the Parachutes in about fourteen seconds. Peter asked me to tie them up four-hundred dozen Parachutes so they could sell them through a catalog. I laughed and went back up to the Metolius to catch another mess of trout. I can remember those trout gliding up out of the deep blue, opening their mouths, and wondering what the hell was going on when I jerked my high-floating Parachute out of their open mouths before they could chomp it.

Device, usually composed of toxic lead, purportedly intended to hold a boat in place selected by the boatman. Anchors commonly used with drift boats may be a variety of shapes including round cannonballs, triangular pyramids, complex astronomical representations, and likenesses of primitive deities.

Practical experience has proved that anchors do not, generally, hold a drift boat in place in areas where being held in place is desirable. On the contrary, these drift boat anchors only hold said boat in place in areas where being held in place is most highly undesirable, for example, in the middle of a Class IV rapids. See also anchor release.

Drift boat anchors come in two sizes: too-light and too-heavy. These weight classifications refer only to the likelihood of causing spinal injury when attempting to retrieve anchor via an anchor release. If given the opportunity, a smart angler chooses the too-light anchor. This is because all anchors, whether too-light or too-heavy, perform in a functionally identical manner in the river; so save yourself a smushed disc or a blob of your guts popping out through your belly button hole – go with the little anchor every time.

Alternate: The anchor is a term that refers to a section of Spey line, a Spey line tip, a Spey leader, or even a little tiny fly that is stuck in the water and provides what is referred to as an anchor that is purportedly essential as a platform from which to launch a Spey cast. Lifting said anchor up from the water’s surface before the Spey cast has been launched (see also chuck) is referred to as a case of premature anchor releasification. Such premature release of one’s anchor is not a good thing.

Anchor Release
This is a trick device installed in all drift boats. The advertised function of the device is to release an anchor when the boat is positioned in a desirable location to fish, eat lunch, pee over the side of the boat, or receive a cell phone call. In practice, the anchor release never functions as advertised. Here’s what happens: The oarsman maneuvers the boat to a desirable anchor location. The oarsman grasps the anchor rope, attempting to release the anchor. The anchor does not release. The oarsman pulls harder. The boat drifts towards the crashing surf, a waterfall, or the whirlpool at the edge of the known universe. About the time the oarsman gives up and tries to row away from danger, the anchor inexplicably releases and holds the boat directly in harm’s way.

Several manufacturers’ offer fundamentally different anchor release designs and each develops enticing glossy brochures regarding their respective virtues. Don’t believe any of it. As is the case of all anchors performing similarly regardless of weight, all anchor releases only release an anchor in the worst possible places.

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