Posted by Michael McFarland on May 01, 2016
Why did I get into tying my own flies? When I look around my tying area at all of the materials I have collected, the tools I have acquired, and the time I have dedicated to staring at my vise, this question is often contemplated. After all, there are tons of websites, local stores and friends I could hit up to acquire these items with less effort and substantially less money. So again, why?
To answer that question, I first have to tell you a story. It all started with my first year of fly fishing. I did what most have done. I walked into Bass Pro Shop and grabbed the first sales person in the fly fishing area I could find. I asked tons of questions, got help determining the gear I needed to buy and promptly handed my wallet over to that person in a desperate attempt to become the overnight success I had dreamed I would be on the water. After nearly $800 and a few weeks later, I found myself at the river’s edge, fly rod in hand and fish on the take. It is one of my fondest memories today. It was the perfect combination of experiencing the outdoors, communing with nature and being a true sportsman. I knew at that moment I had discovered a new found respect for fly fishing, but more notably, a passion that would be part of who I was as a person moving forward from that day.
So what about the flies? Well, it seemed every fish that I managed to land destroyed the flies I was using. As I changed from fly to fly, I could see dollar signs making an already expensive hobby downright lavish. There had to be a solution. After all, who could afford or intended to buy $50 worth of flies every time they wanted to go fishing?
The next week, I walked into my local fly shop just a few minutes from my house. It was a strange place. Interestingly enough, it looked a lot more like a craft store than what I had envisioned a fly shop to be. There were rows of thread, animal skins, hooks, bags of what looked like “fuzz”, and feathers. Okay, maybe this was a craft store. I quickly gravitated toward the materials to create what was at the time, my favorite fly, the Elk Hair Caddis. With a few of these items in hand, one of the shop guys came up to me to assist in some of my final selections. I started explaining my disappointment in the flies that I had been using and thought I could do better; I might even enjoy the process of creating them. He nodded his head, agreed with my assessment of the typical store fly, but thought my approach was all wrong. He wanted me to start with the basics! He walked away briefly, but quickly returned with a book entitled “Charlie Craven’s Basic Fly Tying”. He then recommended purchasing the materials for the first few chapters to make sure that I enjoyed the hobby before any real investment. I did.
After working my way through the pages and making several trips back to the shop to pick up the materials needed for each new chapter, I finished the book. There was the small picture and a biography about the author in the back of the book I had not noticed until now. It was then that I realized, the guy that had never really introduced himself to me in the shop was also the guy who wrote the damn book. I had been getting help every week from Charlie himself. As funny as that was to me at the time, I also appreciated that he let my experiences with him and the book speak for itself. In fact, he is one of the reasons that I am the tier I am today. From there, I also took classes with Charlie to polish what I had learned from his book, and spent hundreds of hours in front of my vise, the only real way to become proficient at tying good flies.
Today, I enjoy presenting my patterns to the public at various shows like the Denver Fly Fishing Show, Trout Unlimited events, and the International Sportsman’s Expo. I feel that demonstrating various techniques and teaching those interested in tying flies is one of the best methods to improve my own skills overall. At these events, I like to share in everyone’s experiences about that “big one” that got away. I love to hear about that 15-inch trout that always seems to grow each time the story is told; we have all hooked that fish before. I love the secrets that everyone knows, and the pictures that we all take of the same smile on the same river. Tying is what brought me closer to the true nature of the sport. It changed my perspective from this just being another hobby I participate in; to something I can feel a part of. It made me love fly fishing.