Home Grown

Jack Porter harvests feathers for bass and cod flies

All my life I’ve been woken up by the sound of roosters calling in the new day. Growing up with a father whose pride was Minorca fowls, and his passion showing them and developing the breed to the best of his ability, feathers were in my blood from the beginning. I spent my childhood following him to chook shows and eventually took to breeding myself; Old English Game fowl were my favourite then as they still are today. They are an incredible bird, still harbouring the unwavering and dauntless courage of their pit fowl ancestors. Some of the truest blood in the poultry world pulses through their veins, the fire in their eyes is unmistakable and unlike any other animal I’ve met. I have always loved doing things with my hands. Building and creating, taking something from a passing thought and crafting it into something tangible to be used or admired. Wherever something can be done by hand I try to take the opportunity. It fills a kind of primal void, being able to rely on one’s self in a time of need, in some small way anyway. Fishing, however, was a slow burn for me (read: raging wild fire now). Family holidays to the sleepy little town of Brooms Head on the NSW North Coast were my only opportunity to indulge in soaking yabbies for the plentiful whiting. Fast forward to finishing school and getting a driver’s licence, it’s amazing the prospects a part time job and university timetable afford to a budding young angler! By my early twenties I had become a proficient lure caster, then one day on Lake Borumba chasing the prehistoric wonder that is saratoga, all that changed. My good mate Tom had brought along his 7-weight to try to land a toga after learning the dark art of fly-casting whilst chasing bonefish on Christmas Island. We were working our way along a lily pad edge adorned with bottlebrush trees, and I already had a nice toga to hand. I was chirping to Tom about that wand he was waving, followed by a line of questioning about the lack of fish he’d put in the boat. Then it happened: a nice cast to the edge of a bottlebrush, three strips then a pause, and his little white foam popper disappeared in a slash of white water. That 9-foot noodle in his hand bent to the reel seat as I watched on seemingly in awe. The fight was over pretty quickly and the net was slid under not the toga we had hoped but a feisty little Australian bass. The bend it put in that rod, the bouncing of the tip from its desperate lunges towards its timbered home, and the hand-to-hand combat. I had to have a go! By the end of that trip I had put some significant knots in Tom’s fly line in my flailing attempts to cast, and within the week I had purchased my first fly rod, reel and line. For a boy who loved to make stuff, fly tying was the natural progression, and that leads us to here, the point of this article. THE GOAL Now in a full-time job and my old man no longer with us, the chooks I left behind in my teens are now a bigger part of my life than I could ever have imagined. I am keeping Dad’s Minorca line alive to the best of my ability, along with my Old English Game, and fly fishing is as big a part of my life as all the rest. In a quest for decent barred hackle for tying saltwater and native patterns I have recently acquired and bred a number of Plymouth Rock bantams. This has made getting the hackle I want as easy as a quick walk to the chook shed. Combine this abundant supply of black and white barred feathers with the stunning colours of the Old English, I now had the opportunity to do what few others can do. Tie my own flies, with feathers from my yard to catch my favourite fish. HOME-GROWN FLIES Having a serious affinity for freshwater natives, it was a simple decision that Murray cod and Australian bass would be my choice of target, on flies tied as much as realistically possible with home grown feathers. Given the nature of both these species as snag dwellers and opportunistic feeders, it allowed me some freedom in fly design to achieve this task. In order to add a little challenge (because there is never enough already) the decision was made to target bass on a surface fly, and the cod on a streamer style pattern. The brain-storming and sketching began, and numerous ideas were thrown out due to their lack of enough home grown feather to be authentic for the task. Through the planning stages and a few early discards, I noticed pretty quickly that with feathers alone it is very difficult to build a fly with any great shape or apparent bulk. Both of these were a necessity in the flies I was to tie, especially for Murray cod, which are notorious for their desire of oversized meals. So much so, that one morning a fish interrupted my platypus viewing on a quiet New England creek with an almighty shower of foam and water. I still haven’t seen another platypus in that hole. But I digress; to build a fly with the necessary size and profile for cod, I made the decision to add bucktail to my tying to ensure this was a possibility. This left me with the use of bucktail in my cod flies, foam to float my bass dry flies and of course, as many feathered elements as possible in each fly, completed with home grown feathers. The simplicity of so few materials and the earthy tones of the feathers and bucktail made for a very enjoyable time at the vice. The finished flies were aesthetically pleasing, in a very natural way, and as I had hoped, they had that fish-catching aura about them. An asset made mandatory if a fly is to be fished with confidence. COD THING With my flies tied and waiting patiently in their foam slots, I was itching to hit the water. Having settled on a T-bone style fly and a ‘Thing’ for cod, I knew I had the tools to get the job done, however, living in South East QLD meant accessible Murray cod are at least a few hours’ drive. The little tan and rust coloured Thing had me chomping at the bit to go and swing it — it just looked so fishy. I figured I’d hit an old bass haunt where they feed heavily on 80–100 mm mullet — my cod Thing would be as good a fly as any! Now to say this session went as planned would be an understatement; it went well beyond that. My hunch that these bass would eat a reasonably big fly was correct and I landed a lovely 46 cm fish within the hour, but it was what followed that has put this story here. As I finished watching the bass slip away and disappear back to his rocky ledge, I cast my gaze upstream, and through the milky brown water I saw a tail waving just under the surface. I hadn’t seen carp in here before so I was reasonably sure it wasn’t. The cast was made, about a metre past the fish, right in front of where its head should be. A few seconds sink time, then I commenced a nice slow twitch-and-pause strip back to the tube, and back it came unscathed. Maybe it was a carp, I pondered, as the tail had by now sunk back to the depths. Anyway, a second cast identical to the first was made just to be sure. Before I had even finished letting the fly sink, my line snapped tight and I knew this was the fish I had seen, the tell-tale lunges of a freshwater cod are hard to mistake. Heart now racing I kicked my tube to a nearby sandbank, somehow removed my fins and set about landing this fish. A beautifully marked Mary River cod, with marbling almost as sparse as that of a trout cod, lay half-submerged before me with my 4/0 home grown Thing wedged firmly in the corner of its jaw. As my legs shook I did my best to click off some photos so I could send this endangered gem back on her way in good time. Content with my morning I didn’t make a lot more casts, instead floating back up river to the car at a leisurely pace, enjoying the sounds of the river, just soaking up what had just happened. Sight casting a well-conditioned 62-cm Mary River cod on a home grown fly was pretty special. The Murray Cod is a work in progress, but for now I think I’ve gone one better than that, so I consider this goal achieved. BASS ON TOP After the session above, I could be forgiven for calling it mission complete. A bass and a cod had been taken on a fly tied with my own fowl’s feathers. However, my original goal was cod on a streamer and bass on top, so I still had some work to do. Now I’d love to say the bass came in the same style as the cod, but as we know, fishing is rarely a fairy tale. I had my heart set on completing this goal on one of my favourite Clarence River tributaries on Australia Day, just to add effect. Turns out the bass didn’t get the memo, the river was picture perfect, the cicadas were humming away, not a breath of wind, and not a single swirl. Back to the drawing board. I have never subscribed to the ideology that everything happens for a reason, but perhaps there is a reason I blanked on the Clarence. It seems fitting I suppose to tick the final box at the place where it all began… Tom and I were back at Borumba, chasing saratoga, and given the angling pressure the lake received over the Christmas break I figured a subtle approach on surface would be the go. On went my little Gurgler adorned with duckwing and ginger Old English hackle feathers. I promptly hooked and dropped a middle-sized toga after casting wide to a swirl — good start I thought! But that was that as far as our toga encounters went for the day. I hadn’t caught a bass on surface from Borumba for many years. As luck would have it, my only other enquiry on top on this morning was a slashing take halfway back off a lily pad edge. A take that belonged, to my surprise, to a chunky bass. It was not till the photos had been taken and we were back casting that I realised I had completed my mission. Now a cod had been taken on a streamer, and a bass on a surface fly. I will get that Murray Cod on a home grown fly, hopefully on the big T-bone, because a fish on a fly that takes so long to tie just seems more satisfying. But for now, I’m happy with my home grown success.

Current FlyLife Subscribers can login to read the full article.
To access this article, back issues & more Subscribe to FlyLife today.