Hidden Lakes press

Hidden Lakes Press

Information for Recreation in Colorado and the Rockies

FLY TYING

© Al Marlowe

Sooner or later, all trout fishermen become fly tiers.

Most do it because of the cost of hand tied flies. That's the reason I became a tier.

I took up fly-fishing shortly after settling in Colorado and learning that brookies will eagerly take a fly. Later, I even caught a couple of trout on a fly in small streams and beaver ponds.

When I took up fly-fishing, a person could buy flies for fifteen cents or less if a dozen were purchased. Back then, there were almost no fly shops catering to anglers long on cash and short on time. Within the past few years, though, the yuppie fly fisherman arrived on the scene. Fly shops quickly sprang up to take their mon-- er, to serve them. Flies, now made by professional tiers that once sold for a quarter, suddenly required a second mortgage to purchase.

Prior to an angling excursion to the Fryingpan a few years back, I stopped in the Colorado Fly Fisher to restock my fly box. Ray Snapp, owner of the establishment in Lakewood, had gone fishing so Rhonda, Ray's wife and partner, helped me pick out a few patterns that afternoon.

"How would you like to pay for these?" Rhonda asked pleasantly. Rhonda always speaks pleasantly.

I stood staring at the cash register displaying the bill for my assortment of concoctions made of pheasant tail feathers, peacock herl, deer hair, and hackles. I tried to speak but a sudden tightness in my throat and strained breathing made it difficult to talk.

Rhonda responded quickly and started to dial 911 as soon as she observed the blue color in my face.

"What are the choices?" I asked after resting a few minutes.

"Well, most of the doctors, attorneys, and insurance agents that come in here pay cash," she said, smiling and still speaking pleasantly. "Of course, we do have an easy payment plan. Just fill out these papers."

Four hours later after filling out six forms and talking with two credit bureaus to explain why the credit report was incorrect, I left the store with my five dozen flies, wondering how to explain the $98.72 monthly payment, spread out over five years, to Jean. As I considered the money I had just spent, I realized I could fund an IRA for several years with one season's fly purchases. That's when I decided to tie my own flies.

A week later I returned to the Colorado Fly Fisher. This time, Rhonda had gone fishing and Ray minded the store. Ray is friendly but he doesn't smile as pleasantly as Rhonda. He's also not as good looking.

"I've decided to take up fly tying," I said, "what do I need?"

"Great," Ray said, smiling as he mentally added the dollars I would spend.

He led me to the display of vises and other tying tools.

"Most beginners start out with this vise," Ray said, showing me a shiny model made in India. "Of course, most eventually replace this inexpensive vise with one of better workmanship and quality. In the long run, you'll save money by getting the best."

He showed me Regal, API, and DynaKing vises, all selling close to the price of a used compact car. I decided on the Regal, the lowest priced model of the expensive vises.

Ray then showed me all the other tools I would need -- tools I had no idea existed. There were thread bobbins, whip finishers, bodkins, scissors, hair stackers, hackle gauges, and a hundred other items to make tying easy. Half an hour later, the pile of tools resembled a small mountain.

I started to pull out my credit card to pay for the mound of tools when Ray stopped me. "What patterns do you plan to tie?" he asked.

That was something I hadn't considered so I mentally reviewed the contents of my fly boxes. The several containers held Pheasant Tails, Humpys, BWOs, Elk Hair Caddis, Halfbacks, Scuds, San Juan Worms, Woolly Buggers, and a hundred other patterns. Ray's eyes lit up like a slot machine at payoff when I told him what I wanted to tie. An hour later, the pile beside the register had grown in size and included hooks in all sizes and styles, Metz and Hoffman necks and saddles, deer, elk, and moose hair in a variety of natural and unnatural colors, chenille, floss, thread, foam, biots, Antron yarn, Larva Lace, Flashabou, Crystal Hair, and parts from countless birds, animals, and rodents.

"How do you want to pay for this?" Ray asked.

I stood staring at the cash register displaying the bill for my mountain of tools and materials. I tried to speak but a sudden tightness in my throat and strained breathing made it difficult to talk.

Ray responded quickly and started to dial 911 as soon as he observed the blue color in my face.

"What are the choices?" I asked after resting a few minutes.

"Well, most of the doctors, attorneys, and insurance agents that come in here pay cash," Ray said. "Of course, we do have an easy payment plan. Just fill out these papers."

Four hours later after filling out six forms and talking with two credit bureaus to explain why the credit report was still incorrect, I left the store with my fly tying stuff, wondering how to explain the $224.17 monthly payment, spread out over five years, to Jean. At least, I thought, now I can tie flies for twenty-five cents each.

At home, I unloaded the pickup and set my new purchase beside the kitchen table. I clamped the vise to the table, placed a hook in the jaws and started to tie my first fly. It can't be too hard, I thought. I've watched Randy do this many times. Somehow, I managed to attach the materials for a Woolly Bugger to the hook, then began searching for the brown saddle I purchased to tie them. That's when I realized the dogs no longer lay on the floor beside me.

Sunny and Spirit, our two golden retrievers had gone outside to play. Spirit had a brown object in his mouth. Sunny had grabbed the other end of the brown object. They really enjoy playing tug, I thought as I watched. I called the dogs. Spirit brought the remains of a fifty dollar brown saddle to me. I decided to finish the fly with grizzly hackle.

A week later, I had succeeded in tying a total of five Woolly Buggers. I wanted to show Ray the results of my twenty-two hours at the vise.

"Not bad," Ray said, trying to not discourage me. "This something you thought up?"

"Woolly Buggers."

"Oh," Ray said.

He carefully examined the flies for several minutes.

"Who taught you to tie?" he asked.

Ray was very careful to conceal his amusement. "Have you thought of taking lessons?" he asked tactfully. "We have a beginner's class starting in a couple of weeks."

"Couldn't I learn from a book?" I asked.

Half an hour later, I walked out of the store with a new brown saddle and two fly tying books. This time, I spent just over a hundred dollars.

What the books didn't say is that it isn't possible to learn fly tying from a book. If they had said that, they wouldn’t have been published and I wouldn't have purchased them. After buying three more books, I had succeeded in tying another five Woolly Buggers. I returned to the shop to show Ray the results.

"Not bad," Ray said, trying to not discourage me, "this your design?"

"Woolly Buggers."

"Oh," Ray said.

He thoroughly examined the flies for several minutes.

Ray was very careful to conceal his amusement. "You really should consider taking lessons," he said, "we still have space in the beginner's class next week."

Jim Beaux taught the class. "You bought a Regal?" he asked, somewhat surprised. "Most people start out with an inexpensive Indian-made vise."

"Ray said I'd save money in the long run," I explained.

"Oh," Jim said without smirking.

Six weeks later, I completed the beginner class. Jim encouraged me to take the next class so I could learn some advanced patterns. By the end of the fishing season, I had taken three more classes. I learned to tie using synthetic materials, how to work with deer and elk hair, how to make woven bodies, and everything else the professional tiers do.

A week later, I had tied several complicated patterns. The amortized cost of the flies was only thirty-five dollars seventy-two cents. Each. I decided to show Ray the results.

"Not bad," he said, trying to not discourage me, "Woolly Buggers?"

"Humpys."

"Oh," Ray said.

The following spring, I returned to the Colorado Fly Fisher. I needed materials to tie flies for a trip to the Fryingpan. Ray sat at the vise, showing a customer how to tie a Royal Goofy Bug. When the customer was satisfied that he could duplicate the pattern, had purchased forty dollars worth of materials and hooks to tie a half-dozen of them, he left.

I told Ray that he must tie many flies to fill his own box.

"Hell no," Ray said, "too much work. I just take 'em out of stock."