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Grab a fly, give tying a try
You’ve seen the movies — a young Brad Pitt wading through the Blackfoot River of Montana, toting a rod and a reel and a sack filled with trout.
You’ve read the books and magazines — tales of anglers hooking fat fish with small flies, using elaborate patterns and knots to lure their blue-ribbon prizes. Perhaps you’ve witnessed it first-hand — a person clad in quick-dry khaki, swinging a long stick and peeling off line, mumbling and whispering to the tune of a rippling current.
With summer weather on its way, it’s the perfect time to learn the art of fly-tying and go to a beach, lake or stream in pursuit of the big catch.
Catching a fish on a self-tied fly makes for a nice story. It’s a pretty good feeling, too.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe I caught a fish with something I made,” said Bremerton’s Bill Siebert, whose first such catch came on the Sandy River in Oregon more than 20 years ago, when he reeled in a steelhead.
Don’t expect to perfect this craft overnight, however, because it can be tedious and requires practice and equipment, carrying costs. But beginners and experts agree , with the right materials and a little patience, anybody is capable of tying an enticing fly.
All novices must invest in a vise, the most important piece of equipment and the device on which all flies are created. Fly fishing flies begin as bare hooks, and vises — which range in cost from $40 to more than $200— hold the hook in place while the angler builds the fly.
The best vises keep hooks sturdy and stable and allow fishermen to change the position of the hook while they tie. Since hooks vary in size, it’s best to get a vise that’s compatible with all hooks. If the hook doesn’t fit in the vise, it will wiggle and shake and make tying the fly nearly impossible.
“There’s nothing more frustrating than a wiggling hook when you’re trying to tie a fly,” said Ted Teather, 73, a fly fishing instructor who has been tying flies for more than 30 years. He works at Peninsula Outfitters in Poulsbo and has fished nearly every body of water in Kitsap County.
In addition to the vise, there are a few other tools in which anglers should invest when learning to tie flies. All of them can be purchased in kits or individually, though kit-tools tend to be lower quality, Teather said.
The most important tools beyond the vise are the bobbin, which holds the thread spool; a threader, used to get line in the bobbin; scissors, good for snipping excess line or wire; hackle pliers, which can be used to tweak feathers or wrap them around the hook; a whip finisher, which finishes the head of the fly; a stacker, which evens out the wings if there are any on the fly; and a bodkin, an all-purpose tool.
The list of supplies is infinite for the most avid anglers, but all collections begin with those basic items.
“Part of what makes it fun for a lot of people is just having all this different stuff to play around with,” said Teather, whose kit includes pheasant tail and deer fur.
For some, however, the seemingly endless list of supplies — and the costs associated with them — make the task of tying flies more daunting than enjoyable.
Professional guide Pat Neal, who has spent much of his life fly fishing on the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas, prefers to buy flies or receive them as gifts. He tied some flies when he was young, but quickly found he preferred to have his line in the water rather than his hands in a vise.
“A lot of people are just interested in the clothes, the accessories,” Neal said. “You buy it all then you get in your car and drive off with everything on the roof.
“They spend all this money and they still aren’t Brad Pitt.”
Still, both Neal and Teather acknowledged that tying flies makes people better anglers because it forces them to learn the life cycles of the bugs they are trying to emulate.
Chris Taylor of Bainbridge Island, 45, enjoys the process of arriving to a body of water, surveying the scene and digging into a fly box in search of the perfect match. He called fly fishing — and fly tying — a spiritual experience that allows him to connect with nature.
“If you’re a good fly fisherman, you’re very observant,” Taylor said. “You get out there and see exactly what’s hatching, what the insects are doing.”
Taylor’s first catch on a self-tied fly came a few years ago when he landed a 19-inch Rainbow Trout on the Yakima River.
“Catching a fish with a fly you created, it’s a feeling that takes the sport to a whole new level,” Taylor said. “If I wasn’t hooked before that, I was hooked then.”
Taylor has an elaborate collection of fly materials. His wife recently gave him a special table on which to tie flies, and she allowed him to put it in the living room so he could be around the family while practicing his patterns.
There was a time, Taylor admits, when he poked fun at his wife for joining a sewing club. After enrolling in three fly fishing courses, all instructed by Teather, he began to understand why she joined such a group.
“It’s just fun, there’s a lot of camaraderie,” he said. “It’s the best hobby I’ve ever had.”