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Tying and Fishing the Riffling Hitch
If you are a member of the Atlantic Salmon Federation then you surely know who Art Lee is. He is an 'Editor at Large' for the Federation's magazine, the Atlantic Salmon Journal. Thousands read his quarterly articles and he is revered as one of the sports most prolific writers. He has also inked out some articles for numerous other fishing publications to include my favorite, Gray's Sporting Journal. Others include Wild Steelhead and Salmon, Fly Fisherman, and National Geographic. Art and his wife reside in the Catskill Mountains of New York State.
What is the riffling hitch?
The 'hitch' or 'Portland hitch' as nicknamed by legend Lee Wulff was created by Portland Creek salmon anglers who threw half hitches of their tippets around the heads of their flies hoping to extend the life span of their gut eyed hooks. In the days of early salmon fishing in Newfoundland, many locals guided the English who would leave them their featherwing flies. Their efforts to extent the life of the flies has turned out to be an incredibly successful angling tool.
A fly that is tied with a hitch will plane the water's surface head first causing a trailing V behind the fly. As the fly glides across the surface it is turned sideways, depending on which side you apply the hitch, so as to expose more of the fly to the waiting salmon. The illustrations contained in the book are fantastic. Draw by Galen Mercer, if you didn't understand what a hitch was before, you surely will get it now. The illustrations are drawn with very every little detail and they leave very little, if any, questions unanswered. If the pictures leave you short, Art Lee fills in the blanks with text. They even go so far as to illustrate what they feel is the best way to tie the fly to the tippet before throwing on the hitch. That attention to detail is what makes this book not only interesting, but also re-educating. We are constantly receiving repeat training in our work places, why should our sporting life be any different?
Tying the hitch 'right', or is it 'left'?
Lee takes a pretty brave stance in this book stating that he believes Lee Wulff's approach to the hitch was tied on the wrong side. He suggests that while standing at the river's edge, you should hold the head of the fly upriver and tie the hitch around the head on the angler's side of the fly. Lee's approach to the technique was to hold the fly downstream and the throw the hitch onto the head towards the angler. Lee's contradiction of Wolff's is not only stated but backed up with words and more detailed illustrations. Personally, I have tried the 'hitch' a number of times with no success as of yet. However, I don't believe it is the hitch failing. I have had the opportunity to actually see a salmon turn, follow, and take my fly, but only once. Conditions have never seemed to present the opportunity to see the swift turn, trail, and taking of a salmon fly by an Atlantic salmon. Every salmon caught before and after this one was caught without being able to see the salmon. I was set up on a high bank and was casting across the river utilizing the 45-degree swing when I saw the 33"'er turn and take my fly. My only support of Lee's opinion of tying the fly opposite Wulff comes from this incident. I do believe if I would have had my fly hitched, the only way the salmon would have become hooked would have been Art Lee's way. Had the salmon tried to take the fly as hitched by Wulff, I believe it would have bumped the corner of his mouth at the bend rather than the point side. Lee's description of this and the pictures show exactly this, and so, I must agree. I am definitely going to continue trying both techniques, but the first hitches will be thrown on with Lee's technique. He also has a great section on upstream hitching but until I have success with the downstream approach, that technique will remain on the pages of Lee's book.
Art the storyteller
You didn't expect to find an article written by Art Lee without a story or two? He has been fishing forever with his wife following close behind with her camera to catch all the action. Lee doesn't disappoint his fans by only presenting the facts, he follows them up with actual experiences he has had with the hitch on various rivers around the world. He also includes stories of success in what most would consider less than great river and weather conditions.
What's a salmon book without patterns
A fully illustrated section of fly patterns is also presented in the book. Lee has used each of these patterns with success and was sure to include instructions on tying the flies so that they would be easily 'hitchable'. Patterns such as the Crosfield, Fox, Night Hawk, and Blue Butterfly are flies often seen on Eastern Canadian salmon rivers.
A whole book on the hitch, when's the sequel?
The above statement was sent to me by email after I wrote a very short review of this book in the Miramichi Winter Magazine. Although it was obviously used in sarcasm, it would be a mistake to believe that fishing with the hitch is as simple as throwing a few half-hitches behind you flies head and throw it across the river. There are many factors that insure the technique's success and they are all described in precise detail in this book. Overall, I feel that this book is an excellent way to learn and try something new, rather than the traditional methods we have been fishing with over the years. I have tried the hitch with little success as of yet, but after reading this book over and over, I am still a believer.