Saturday, January 7, 2012


When I do things, I like to do them well.  I also have the need to soak in as much information as I possibly can about a topic before jumping in.  So a few years ago when I decided that fly fishing was to be one of my major hobbies, I began devouring information about the sport.  I hoarded library books on streamside entomology and knots.  I watched Internet video after Internet video on casting and reading the water.  Most importantly, I began weaseling my way onto fishing trips with seasoned experts.  At times I felt like a pesky little sister refusing to leave her older brothers alone.  Many thanks to Al, Tom, Eric, Tim, Joe, Bryan, and Matt for their patience with a beginner and their willingness to help a beginner stand on her own neoprene-clad feet.  (My husband continually wonders why I don't find a couple female fly fishers to tag along with, but lucky for me he's a pretty understanding guy:)

So when it came time to tackle fly tying, I once again devoured information on the topic and found a group of seasoned experts to learn from.  These experts were found in a free tying class offered through my local TU chapter last winter.  The class met every Wednesday night from January to March, and there was nothing I looked forward to more during those ten weeks.  I was immediately taken under the wings of two gentlemen who, though they may deny it, were both old enough to be my grandfather.  Each class consisted of Barry introducing a new tying technique followed by his demonstration of a new fly pattern or two.  The students would then have time to practice the new patterns under the supervision of the instructors and volunteers.  Bob, a volunteer in his eighties, always sat close to me in order to critique my tying and provide pointers while I worked.  There were two other women in my class, and every week Bob and Barry would have little gifts for us.  One week Bob brought packets of fly patterns he recommended, which he printed off his home computer.  Another week he handed out new fly boxes.  Barry passed out extra books on fly tying that he no longer used.  Most coveted of all, they often brought extra materials, which were always neatly packed and labeled in small zip lock bags.  Some girls get excited about new shoes, but I get excited over new hooks, thread, hackle, dubbing, and beads.  Between each tying class, I studiously practiced tying the assigned patterns at home.  As the next class neared, I would be giddy as a schoolgirl to show Barry and Bob my finished flies.  Witnessing their excitement and pride over my work was truly priceless.

I've always been a pretty crafty girl, so fly tying has come relatively easy to me.  Given a fly pattern, I can follow it fairly well and even improvise if needed.  My resulting fly will look like it should, and most importantly, it will catch trout.  But being a left-brained person, I will not be designing my own patterns any time soon.  I am entirely happy using other people's patterns and will leave the creative side of fly tying to the right-brained thinkers out there.

I think the most important things I learned in last year's tying class were: 
  1. During most situations on the water, a variety of flies will catch fish, assuming there's good presentation. 
  2. When tying flies, old men are extremely good at substituting household items for the expensive store-bought materials.
When I began learning to tie, I was at a point in my fly fishing journey where I was overwhelmed by the huge variety of different fly patterns regularly used for trout.  How could I possibly carry enough fly boxes to cover all my bases?   Acquiring a supply of flies that matched all possible hatches throughout a season in the Driftless, not to mention streamers and terrestrials, seemed quite daunting.  It was through my tying class that I realized trout may not be as picky as I once believed.

My tying mentors also revealed the wonders of material substitutions. 
  • So, you don't have the ParaPost material for a BWO parachute on hand?  Why not use the grey fibers of seat belts cut from a 1980 Buick found at the junkyard? 
  • So, you don't have sheets of the new wing materials sold in all the fancy fly tying catalogs?  Why not use cuttings from candy wrappers? 
  • So, you don't have any scud backing left to tie your favorite super scud?  Just cut out the clear rubber straps now commonly used for hanging women's shirts.  

I've tied a lot of flies since last year's class ended, and I've caught many trout on my own creations.  This year's class is just weeks away, and I'm very much looking forward to it.  Though Barry and Bob will not be instructing my class this time around, they deserve all the thanks I can possibly give them for their generosity and time.  They gave me the instruction I needed and showed me that fly tying doesn't have to be as serious as some people make it out to be.

Instead of meeting my girlfriends for drinks on Thursday nights this winter like some young women, I'll be faithfully meeting up with a bunch of old men for two hours of lying and tying.  What could be better than that?

1 comment:

  1. Awesome. There's nothing like catching fish on your own fly. And these upcoming Thursday nights? There's nothing that can beat the knowledge gained (and fun!!!) of tying and talking with old timers. Nothing can be better in my book! Enjoy! And listen closely...