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What we can learn from Borax, Jell-O, and a size 22 Adams

What we can learn from Borax, Jell-O, and a size 22 Adams

May 06, 2020



Jay Nicholas


Our beloved dry fly, the eternal Adams.

At first glance, there wouldn’t seem to be much in common between Borax, Jell-O, and a size 22 Adams dry fly.

Borax is usually considered a laundry aid, a cleaning product. That is, unless you live west of the Cascade Range, anywhere from central California northward into Alaska. A quick survey of the laundry soap aisle of any grocery store in this geographic region will provide positive proof of one thing: whether it’s salmon season or not.  If you browse the aisle and find only an empty space on the shelf where the borax should be, that is sure sign that it is salmon season. 

Now if you’re a salmon, steelhead or trout angler, you’ll immediately know the “why” to this puzzle. If you fish for bass, crappie, snook, tarpon, or dorado, to name but a few, the correlation between borax and salmon might not be quite so clear. Simply put, borax can be used to cure salmon eggs for use as bait, ensuring that the eggs do not spoil and toughening them up so that they will stay on the hook. 

Ok, now let’s figure out what Jell-O has to do with this story. Jell-O, and the strawberry or raspberry flavor especially, makes a very sweet desert, but what else? A secret recipe that mixes borax with strawberry Jell-O produces a cured salmon bait-egg that looks good, smells good, entices salmonid species to eat it, and coincidentally, tastes great if you happen to as well. You’ll be in the habit of licking your fingers after baiting a hook.

Well now, the stage is set to understand the role of borax and Jell-O. Individually, one is a cleaner, one is a food (OK, dessert), and in combination, they make a very good bait-egg preservative.

Oh, I get it. Borax + Jell-O + salmon eggs equals a “thing” that we use to catch fish.

Salmon eggs, ready to be prepared for bait.

The size 22 Adams is easier to describe. Most “trouty” people will rather quickly realize that – for the sake of the exercise we’re playing – the Adams is also a “thing” that we use to catch fish.

Here’s where our understanding of ourselves, as anglers, can evolve a little.

Many of the anglers I encounter divide themselves into distinct camps. In one camp, we have bait-soakers; in the other camp, we’ve got the fly flickers. Bait soakers and fly flickers don’t regularly mix socially, and they don’t share the same boat on regular occasion, either.

And why should they, after all, the bait soaker and the fly flicker are like, from different planets, so how much could they possibly have in common anyway? Bait soakers are obsessed with the recipe they use to cure baits. They worry about chemical reactions, precise formulas, temperatures, and color hues. 

All these things, the bait soaker knows, make the difference between a bait that will catch fish and a bait that will not.

Ok, now let’s look at the fly flicker’s #22 Adams, such a tiny little dry fly the size of a kitchen match head. The fly flicker is obsessed with every conceivable aspect of his lure’s composition. How long is the tail? Is the body genuine? Muskrat fur or a synthetic? Are the hackle point wings rounded or sharp? Does the hook have an up, down, or ring eye? And so on.

Sadly, far too many bait-soakers have little appreciation for the obsessive attention paid to the Adams, and far too many fly flickers have little appreciation for the obsessive attention paid to the bait cure. Everyone gathers in their own camps -- defined by the thing they will tie on the end of their line – comfortable in knowledge that they are diligent, devoted, passionate anglers, preparing to fish and have fun.

How’s that for a missed opportunity of huge magnitude?

If any non-angler sat back and analyzed the bait-soakers and the fly flickers, without knowing the history of competition, stereotyping, ego conflict, elitism, reverse elitism, jealousy, and misunderstanding – the only thing they would see is brothers and sisters who love to fish. They would see people who care so deeply about fishing that they carefully prepare, all of them eager for their next outing.

The outside observer – the non-angler – sees us as a community of people who love to fish.

Why can’t we do the same?

I think we can.

We certainly ought to, for goodness sake.


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