Tools of the trade

A fly vice, a few tools and materials, and a little guidance are all that’s needed to begin crafting your own effective flies.

With the arrival of Indian summer, the first rifle hunting season and the shedding of leaves often comes a wistful sensation of the prime fly fishing season coming to an end.

Nothing could be further from the truth, if you understand a little about the changes at hand.

The river and her trout have begun their annual rite of contraction for the year. As flows drop and the daylight hours become shorter, every aspect of successful angling follows suit. Large portions of the river are vacated by the fish in favor of safer and more productive feeding lanes in the bigger, deeper runs and pools. Colder water temps make for less appetite/lower calorie demand.

Bugs and the flies that imitate them become smaller and are fed upon during the warmer middle of the day. No longer conditioned to look up for floating foods, the trout focus on subsurface nymphs and larva the current provides.

Two weighted flies under an indicator is the technique of choice. The only thing you can count on there to be more of are the layers of clothing needed to stay warm out there.

It will be this way for the next several months (with a few caveats, of course), until the warming days of March.

What can the enthusiastic yet trout-deprived fly fisher do to keep the flame going through the darkness?

Some choose to travel to warmer climes or hemispheres. Others will bundle up and get out when they can stay the sunny side of hypothermia. Or huddle in a tent staring into a blue hole in the ice.

For this angler, a great answer was handed to me a long time ago.

Rewind to September 1967. Emboldened by shared knowledge, a new fly rod and a little practice, I proclaimed myself the new protein provider for the Andrews clan.

I would gladly fill the freezer with succulent, fresh trout and we would dine like royalty. All that was required of my dad was a car ride up the Poudre River to begin the harvest.

The one catch was that I was broke after buying my new gear and would he loan me $20 to buy flies that would surely turn the trick.

Remarkably, he fell for it and after we’d stopped at Jax Surplus and Tackle to carefully make my selections, up the river we went.

Not so remarkably, I lost all $20 worth of flies on the willows and river rocks in about 15 minutes, never even had a take from the fish I then knew were laughing at me.

Defeated and deflated, I returned home to regroup and line up chores to help replenish my now depleted fly box.

A few days later, I came up to breakfast to find an early birthday gift at my place at the table, with a card atop the box.

Inside, was a fly tying kit. The note said, “Stuart, your mom and I love you very much, but there is no way we are going to subsidize your little project. Learn to make your own!” He was a very good dad.

Back in 2019, as the winter of the angler’s discontent approaches, my tying table and fly vice become a regular part of my weekly routine. And the hours I am not able to spend on the water or need away from the easel fly by (pun intended).

Once I get in the groove, it is possible to crank out dozens of flies. Meantime, I get to daydream of the season ahead and plan for trips on the water to come. By March, the boxes are refilled, new ideas have been crafted, and I am primed to get out in a fresh season of opportunity, eager to try new creations.

The art of fly tying is not new, of course. It has grown into a very intricate aspect of the sport, with multiple layers and rabbit holes to captivate us.

Every year, new materials are made, discovered, or just repurposed for the tier’s uses.

That can seem impossibly complex or expensive, which can often keep newbies from giving it a try and learning the rewards of making your own flies.

Like most of the rest of angling, it doesn’t have to be that complicated to work.

Here are my top reasons for learning how to tie your own:

• One of the best rewards of the sport is catching a trout on a fly you made yourself.

• Learning the basics of the craft doesn’t require a lot of time or money.

• Simpler, easy to tie patterns often work better than the complex ones.

• By making your own, you can customize your flies a tad, so they look just a little different than the other 100 the fish have seen this week.

• Tying helps expand your knowledge of the foods trout seek.

Mastering even a half dozen patterns is within easy reach of all new fly fishers.

Most fly shops will offer a fly tying class or workshop in the winter months and sell good quality beginner kits with all that’s needed to get started, organizations like Trout Unlimited often have tying groups who get together. And there is always youtube, where tutorials abound.

If you prefer to have the winters pass quickly and keep cabin fever at bay, consider tying your own as a part of the antidote.

Andrews is head guide for ArkAnglers fly fishing guide service and an internationally recognized artist.

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