One of the perks of writing this column is the opportunity it provides to spend time with experts, people who know their fields in great depth and can demonstrate and explain them to outsiders like me. This was perfectly exemplified on an afternoon I spent recently with Terry Belke and Rick Kustich.
Belke is a cinematographer. Currently he shares his time as cameraman for Channel 2 with his development of his “2 the Outdoors” programs. Given the high quality of his work, I predict that he’ll soon have his own syndicated television program.
Kustich is a fly fisherman. When he’s not out fishing local streams, he is an economist for the UB Foundation. But angling is more than an avocation for him. Kustich has published five books on fishing, the latest his “Advanced Fly Fishing for Great Lakes Steelhead.” Among his other books, I consider his “Reflections on the Water” a classic; it carries meaning even for uninformed readers. He also brings his 40-year angling experience to guiding fishing groups, writing for outdoor journals, seminar speaking and producing a fly-tying video.
On that lovely May afternoon, I was along as a kibitzer with Belke and Kustich as they prepared a video about his fly-tying and fishing. We drove first to an area along Wiscoy Creek near Pike in southern Wyoming County and, when that proved unproductive, we moved a few miles to East Coy Creek. These are beautiful streams, generally shallow with clear water flowing steadily over a rock-strewn bottom. They were a bit too narrow and debris-strewn to serve as kayaking or canoeing routes.
Each creek was readily accessible from the nearby highway. Despite that, as soon as we got down to stream level, I had a pleasant feeling of country isolation. The stresses of my responsibilities and deadlines drifted away with the current.
While Belke and Kustich were arranging perspectives, I listened to nearby birds. A Baltimore oriole sang lustily from a maple treetop accompanied by a warbling vireo. Farther off, a rose-breasted grosbeak sang, his tune like a robin’s but more musical. A least flycatcher offered its simple “chebek” call. A kingfisher rattled. A goldfinch flew over, singing its “percheckaree” with each flight loop. And two warblers, yellow and redstart, compared similar notes.
By now Kustich had opened his toolbox and taken out the instruments he would use to tie a fly appropriate to today’s fishing.
“I need to match the current insect bloom,” he explained. “This is the time when March brown mayflies are hatching and I’ll match their pattern on a fishhook.” Mayflies are insects that spend only a day or two as adults, just enough time to mate and produce eggs for next year’s generation.
They are the ones you see at this time of year in large swarms along the Niagara River and occasionally at Bisons games. They look like large mosquitoes.
By the time he had all his tools laid out, the rock on which Kustich would be working looked like a surgeon’s instrument tray. I almost expected him to ask me to pass a number seven extractor from the autoclave.
His primary tool looks a bit like an old-fashioned pencil-sharpener with the case off. It allowed him to place his bare fishhook on the end and turn the handle to wind thread around it. With great care he cut feathery material that would serve as the fly’s body and wings, wound the pieces onto the hook and trimmed them. The result was a mayfly clone.
Belke filmed this elaborate but intriguing process. We then had a demonstration. You’ve probably seen films of fly fishermen carefully working 40 or 50 feet of line to place a hook in an exact spot. Just so, Kustich did this, with each cast settling his fly within inches of a log. Within a quarter hour he had hooked, displayed for Belke and then released a half dozen brown trout.