When the water's this cold, trout are sluggish, but they'd take a fly if anglers could get one through the ice and slush, if rod guides didn't freeze solid, and if a slip and a fall didn't lead to rapid loss of muscle control and hypothermia.
Anglers are indoors waiting for ice-out -- no wonder they call it cabin fever.
Fortunately for Pittsburghers, fly tying classes and related activities are everywhere this time of year, hosted by shops or fishing clubs and instructed by some of the best tyers in the region.
Instructors report that a growing number of women and kids are taking tying classes. For beginners, hands-on instruction helps to make sense of techniques and pattern recipes, but even veteran fly tyers can learn new tricks by dropping in to watch a free tying demo.
"People generally do the same things wrong," said Bob Heil Jr. of Sewickley, who volunteers with Allegheny Fly Tyers, a group loosely linked to Penn's Woods West Trout Unlimited. "They tie too fast -- always in a hurry to try to finish the fly. They miss the essence of what they should be paying attention to. That's a mistake I see a lot of students making in every class, even the intermediate and advanced classes."
Bob Phillips, general manager of International Angler, said beginners tend to struggle with proportions.
"They always want to crowd the head. They don't leave enough room to finish the fly" he said. "With veterans, getting into the more advanced techniques, we show them a couple of tricks to get the material placed correctly."
Phillips said fly material companies are still struggling to overcome supply-line problems related to the feather trend in the fashion industry. The same plumage that cascades across catwalks in Louis Vuitton cuffs and fuschia pink feathered capes is wrapped around hooks to lure fish.
"They can only raise so many chickens, and when that happened with the [fly fishing] industry not prepared for it; they didn't have enough stock," said Phillips. "It's not as bad as it was, but I still have trouble getting all the hackles I need."
Classic Slate Drake Catskill
Tied by Bruce Cox of Springdale (International Angler, Tri-County Trout Club).
Hook: Dry Fly XL No. 12, Tiemco 5212 or equivalent.
Thread: Brown, 70 denier (60).
Tail: Medium dun dry fly hackle fibers.
Wing: Medium dun dry fly hackle tips.
Abdomen: Claret Beaver or synthetic Fine and Dry dubbing.
Hackle: Medium to dark dun dry fly hackle.
Tied by Bob Heil of Sewickley (Allegheny Fly Tyers).
Hook: TMC (Tiemco) 9395 streamer hook in sizes No. 4, 6, 8, 10 or 12.
0 in black, olive, chartreuse and brown.
Tail: Marabou in black, olive, chartreuse and brown.
Body: Chenille in black, olive, chartreuse and brown and in dimensions to match hook size.
Hackle: Saddle hackle in black, olive, chartreuse and brown.