Fly Tying Kit Becomes the Gift That Keeps on Giving

January 31, 2009 by  

By Nick Simonson

I couldn’t even cast a fly rod last year at this time. In fact, my only experience with longrodding was a lame attempt a few summers ago on an Idaho stock pond near a hotel we stayed at while my dad attended a conference.

After awkwardly whipping the rod through the air for about 10 minutes, I gave up. I put some corn on the treble of a Worden’s Roostertail and proceeded to catch 12-inch rainbow and brown trout in the crystal waters of the small impoundment.

Thanks to last spring’s crash course instruction in fly casting by my Norwegian mentor, Einar, I am regretting not trying the sport sooner. However, I am trying to absorb every aspect of it, from the equipment and situational factors which are so different from conventional fishing, to the tiny flies tied to the tippet at the end of the florescent orange line.

Now I sit about a year later, hovering over nearly three dozen flies. Most of them are made with pheasant tail fibers and look like tiny crustaceans. A quartet of olive wooly buggers wiggle their tails in the updraft of the heat register in my room. And four LeTort hoppers lay frozen on their sides, like grasshoppers caught in a January chill.

But I didn’t receive these flies, which hopefully one day will catch trout on the Turtle River, as a typical Christmas gift. In fact, I made them myself as the result of a gift, and a little time online. My list to Santa this year had only one thing on it, “a fly tying kit.” Ok, it had two things on it, the kit request and the precise weblink where that kit could be found; even Santa needs a little help sometimes.

Yes, I have entered the world of fly tying. The mystical realm where art and angling meet entomology and the three are combined on a vise to form what will hopefully look like food to a hungry fish.

When I worked briefly one spring as part-time help (gruntwork) for a landscaper in Grand Forks, I was always proud after I laid a yard full of sod, or rocked and planted the edge of a house with young junipers and colorful plants. I could think back to the day or two before, when our crew would first arrive at the residence or business, and there before us was a canvas of dirt. What I saw when the job was done was artwork, a green lawn, reddish-purple shrubs, and golden mulch around silver-trunked ash trees. It always made me proud to be part of that creation of something, when there once was nothing.

So it is with fly tying. When I first tied the 6/0 black thread to that size eight streamer hook and began my first wooly bugger, the hook was bare, lifeless, an empty canvas ready to be painted with furs, feathers and string.

As my fingers tentatively wound a wrapping of wire to help weight the bugger’s body, I could see it sinking in front of a bass in the Sheyenne. When I made the first few tiedowns on the black marabou feathers in the tail area of the fly, I saw them trembling in front of a crappie or two in the small pool under Buck’s Mill, testing the resolve of those picky papermouths

As I wound the olive chenille around the body section of the fly that was taking shape, I recalled advice from the friendly folks on the forums, “you can catch ANY trout in North Dakota on an olive wooly bugger.”

Finally, as I palmered the grizzly saddle hackle in-between the twists of chenille, creating legs, gills, or whatever it was to represent, I thought of only the blank canvas I had brought to life. The plain hook now had a body, a tail and even a head of black string making it the most lifelike lure I had ever created. Well, alright, it was the first lure I had ever created.

As I struggled my way through my first whip-finish and added a drop of cement I paused to admire my first fly…for about three seconds.

Another hook was up on the vise and the string was already being wound about the shank of it. The steps came easier and easier. I engulfed the hook in a twister of chenille and hackle, and only slowed down to struggle through a second whip finish. Once I got the whip finish down, things started to go faster.

By this time, I didn’t need the book anymore. I closed the Orvis instruction manual and began repeating the same steps. This time four strands of crystal-flash went in with the marabou. The next bugger had a bright shiny bead head for extra weight and flash.

I was primed. It was the same excitement of catching fish, except these were fish to come, on my creations, on my canvas brought to life.

The day after Christmas I logged on and downloaded some nymph patterns. Part of me wished I had skinned and plucked all of the feathers off of each of the pheasants I shot this year. All of those colors, yet I only had a few tail feathers with which to work. I started the new projects with great zeal.

I  set to work on EZ pheasant nymphs and bead-head pheasant tail nymphs (referred to in the fly-fishing world simply as PTNs). I tied most of the morning and the next day. Soon the supply of nymph hooks that came with the kit was down to three. It was at that point I realized I was completely consumed.

The passion play that occurred on that little black vise was overwhelming, always a little tweaking, adjusting and creating made every fly different. I felt like I wanted to tie every one ever made.

It reminded me of a game a neighbor taught me as a child. Like the maneuvering of the black and white chips on an Othello board, fly tying was something that took only a short time to learn, but I know will take a lifetime to master. Though my patterns are still a bit rough, I feel that five days of creation have moved me far in a short time during the lifetime of lessons fly tying will teach. With the multitude of materials available for this new obsession, I knew that there was no limit to the combinations I could create in the days that lay ahead.

And no matter how many days the REAL creator has set out for me, I am sure that fly tying will be part of many of them as I plan out and duplicate His tiny creations in hopes of fooling the discriminating tastes of bass, bluegills and trout found in…our outdoors.


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