Bomber therapy

Paul Smith
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I feel pressure to tie salmon bombers. Winter is the time of year that I manage to find time to sit at my fly tying desk, and this winter is slipping by rather quickly. There’s a fair chunk gone already.

Some bombers ready for action. — Photo by Paul Smith/Special to The Telegram

Now with the Sochi Olympics on TV and the CBC app on my phone, it’s a tad more difficult than is normal to get myself downstairs and into my fly fishing cave. That’s the room in the basement where I tie flies and store all my rods, reels, lines, guns and other outdoor odds and ends. I’m going to have to figure out a way to watch the Olympic highlights at the tying bench, or I’ll be short of bombers come July and salmon season.

That biathlon competition is amazing. The Norwegians are wicked at shooting rifles on skis — got their first gold medal on the first day of competition. The

40-year-old Olympic legend Ole Einar Bjoerndalen sprinted 10 kilometres and missed only one target. He’d have no trouble hunting moose in winter.

By the way, congrats to Marystown’s Kaetlyn Osmond for a fine opening day skate, only 18 years old, what a bright future for a young girl. She has an Olympic silver medal.

Back to fly tying: in years gone by, I tied flies at the dining room table, that’s until Goldie found a caribou hair in her Corn Flakes. That was the end of that. I had to set up a room downstairs to ply my craft.

Tying your own flies adds a uniquely creative and satisfying element to the angling game. There’s fantastic satisfaction to be realized by catching a trout or salmon on an offering of fur, tinsel and feather that you fashioned with your own nimble fingers.

The tying itself is a powerful relaxation drug; time flies, and it’s near impossible to worry and dub or spin simultaneously. In a quiet room, surrounded by implements of the art, photos from past adventures, animal hides, boxes of hooks, and feathers of all imaginable sorts, how could one better wile away a cold winter night or raging blizzard?

It is my escape from the demands and trials of daily life. Fly tying is the next step, past casting and wading, in the natural order of things angling.

Program for vets

Talk of therapeutic hobby gets me thinking about a super program that’s available to veterans of military service. Newfoundland soldiers and veterans suffering from operational stress injuries are being introduced or reintroduced to the art of fly angling.

An innovative program, which begun in the Washington D.C. area, landed on The Rock a couple of years ago. Clarence Button of St. John’s is a Salmonid Association of Eastern Newfoundland (SAEN) director, and a Federation of Fly Fishers certified casting instructor.

After being contacted by a friend from Western Canada about starting a chapter of Project Healing Waters in Newfoundland, he convinced SAEN to jump on board. Now, at the local chapter of the Healing Waters Program in St. John’s, soldiers are supplied with equipment and mentored in all aspects of the fly fishing world.

Ian Gall, also a SAEN director, Button and other SAEN members are teaching participants to cast, tie salmon flies, and tease salmon to the surface. Check out and for more information.

A while back I visited SAEN headquarters to photograph a Project Healing Waters fly-tying session. There were four soldiers in the program at the time with anticipation for more joining before next fishing season.  I chatted with a few of them. The common thread is that learning to fish is getting them out of the house and socializing with others, both former comrades and new friends. Fishing has a way of bringing people together.

Ryan Edwards of St. John’s told me that the Healing Waters Program has been therapy better than any doctor could prescribe for him. He is recovering from back surgery and his mobility is somewhat limited. Fly fishing and fly tying has really lifted his spirits and has provided a focus for his energy. He says he is hooked for life.

Burton the angler

While on the topic of veterans, I was chatting with Jim Burton the other day, that’s the same Jim that’s thrown his hat in the ring for Liberal nomination in St. John’s South-Mount Pearl federal riding.

If you read the CBC blurb on this, they refer to Jim as a real-estate broker and businessman. All true, but I know Jim because of our common addiction to fly fishing and all things angling.

Jim and his Dad are pioneers in the Newfoundland sport fishing scene. Jim owns and runs two fly fishing lodges in Labrador, one on Flowers River and the other on Igloo Lake. Flowers is a Salmon camp and Igloo is a trophy brook trout operation.

Anyway, Jim is offering a 50 per cent discount to veterans, retired soldiers and current members of military forces.  Right on, Jim. I hope you get a few takers on that offer.

Back to my bombers: I try to tie a couple of dozen of these tantalizing offerings each winter.

Each bomber takes me a half hour to tie and produces quite a mess of caribou hair all over my clothes and around my room.

When I’m finished, I have to vacuum myself and the floor. If not, Goldie might still find foreign matter in her cereal and that would be trouble.

So lately, while the evenings are dark, cold and long, I’ve been trying to get my quota tied up. I love tying flies, but bombers are a bit of a chore. I’d rather be tying a few Blue Charms, Silver Doctors or tantalizing Mayflies — way more creative and less mess.

Bombers are routine and assembly-line like, for me anyway. Tie in the tail and wing of white calf-tail; spin a tight body of caribou hair, and palmer through a brown hackle.

I’ve kind of got it down after tying many hundreds of them over three decades. I suppose I’m good at it, with so much practice — at least the salmon seem to think so. I’ve experimented a bit with both material and style but the tried and true traditional brown bomber works brilliantly and best.

We could buy bombers for a few bucks each, but my buddies will hear none of such nonsense. They have grown comfortable and confident with the way I tie them, devil in the details sort of thing. Or they could be just too cheap to buy them and filling me full of bull.

Maybe they should try consoling an angry spouse that just finished flossing with caribou hair.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,

fishes and wanders the outdoors at every

opportunity. He can be contacted at

Organizations: CBC, Salmonid Association of Eastern Newfoundland, Federation of Fly Fishers

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Marystown, Washington D.C. Western Canada Flowers River Igloo Lake

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