“So, what kind of fish are you going to catch?” Charlie asks as he looks across the table at me.
“Um,” I stammer. “I’m not.”
He shrugs, gives me a look that says, “I don’t know why you’re here and I’m not really interested,” then goes back to his own fly-tying project.
Charlie has been fly-tying for more than 50 years—probably as long as he’s been fishing—and here I am, a beginner who isn’t even going to use what I am taking so much time to make.
The truth is, I don’t know why I’m taking a beginner fly-tying class. I sure as hell won’t be fly-fishing this summer. I’ve done that. I caught my one fish—after having hooked dozens of beer cans—watched the poor thing flop around and vowed never to catch another. That fish confirmed something deep inside my 10-year-old self: Despite my badass, sports-playing façade, I’m a girly-girl.
Actually, that’s what got me interested in fly-tying. I’ve got mad skills on a sewing machine and I can knit myself a hat or a scarf—or a hot pink uterus—the way some people whip up morning cookies. I even taught myself to crochet via YouTube videos. It was time to take crafting to a new level, to explore the least-trendy version of DIY out there: fly-tying.
In my fantasy I was going to walk into a room of middle-aged, recently divorced men who would talk about all kinds of manly things—beer, sports, fishing—while making intricate flies that would eventually hook some cute, innocent fish. These guys, of course, would be excited to gut those fish. I was hoping for a dirty joke or two. I wanted to hang out with the kind of dudes for whom comparing flies is an unavoidable masculine competition, guys who bump chests when they get angry and settle arguments the old-fashioned way: outside. I wanted them to make snide comments about how I wasn’t going to find Brad Pitt out on the river. It would be like a Stitch ’n’ Bitch, but with muscles, not giggles.
Instead, the four beginners and one advanced student (Charlie) in my class were sweet, cordial and totally gentlemanly—and damnit, it wasn’t because I was there; that’s just how they are. We didn’t talk much as we stumbled along together, setting our hooks in the vices, wrapping thread around the bodies, getting tangled up in our whip finishes. The terms and techniques were new to us, but I had an advantage—securing a knot onto a fishing hook is a lot like casting stitches onto a knitting needle. Not that I announced this to the class; I was too fascinated by what I had, in my mind, termed “man-
Creating the base of a fly is simple, but it takes a sharp eye and nimble fingers to wrap the thin thread tightly around the hook. Compared to my San Juan worm, baby booties seem huge. The fully constructed worm isn’t much to look at—red thread for the base, red chenille for the body and a bit of glue—but the first one took a good 20 minutes to complete. The second took about half the time, but this isn’t about mass-production. It’s about building each fly with care and a firm construction that will keep it in use even after it’s hooked multiple fish.
I knew hand-tied flies were beautiful little pieces of art, but I hadn’t realized that the materials used to make them would be so familiar: yarn and acrylic thread—some of it is even sparkly. The biggest difference is that I buy 200-plus-yard skeins of yarn from the craft store, while these guys only use a few inches at a time and theirs come in tiny plastic bags. However, like the overflowing peach crate filled with patterns, yarn and fabric in my bedroom, an avid tyer can amass a lot of gear.
With the basic worm out of the way, it’s time to move on to an egg pattern. Our instructor, Tad Tucker, gathers the class around his vice and demonstrates how to turn a hook and three hunks of DayGlo-pink yarn into a sneaky faux-salmon egg—it’s fish food without the slime. This is more my style. I break my yarn, follow the instructions and end up with something that looks nothing like what the final product is supposed to look like. But after a few clips of the scissors, I have a fish egg.
After spending the day with these guys, I realize that it really is the common interest that ties people together. It didn’t matter that I didn’t want to catch anything; the fact that I worked so hard on my fly-tying made me part of the group. Like much of the craft work I do, the end result—be it mittens or a dress—is important, but so is getting there.
So while Charlie and the other members of my class will take their flies into the Jemez Mountains this summer and, with any luck, catch and release a beautiful pike or trout, I’ll use my new skills to make an adornment for a much more urban project. I’m thinking those eggs would look great hanging off the end of a scarf and, just maybe, I can fashion some cute little flies to attach to a vase full of fake flowers.
High Desert Angler offers fly-tying classes all year long. Call or stop in to sign up.
453 Cerrillos Road, 505-988-7688