Fly Tying: Journey to Art

Clouser Style

Sooner or later most fly fishers begin tying their own flies.

There is a certain satisfaction that comes when a fish is caught using a fly of one’s own tying.

Turning feathers, fur, and synthetic materials into a fly that catches fish can be a source of pride and accomplishment.

It can also be, and frequently is at the beginning of the journey, a source of frustration as one’s efforts result in an unsightly mess that is best cast into the nearest trashcan.

The truth is that fly tying, as much else, requires time and commitment to build competence and gain confidence.

Basic techniques of attaching materials and handling tools need to be learned. Then, existing fly patterns are tied using a “recipe” – the list of materials and the order they are applied to the hook – developed by the first person to name and tie the fly.

The first mark of achievement is a fly that doesn’t fall apart and looks something like the intended fly.

The next goal is to tie a fly that is functional, i.e., one that can stand up to being cast, retrieved through the water, and withstand being hooked by a fish.

Tyers focus on the flies used in their local fishery and repeated attempts at tying these flies result in flies that are functional and aesthetic in matching the original pattern. Almost all people who begin tying end up here.

Here in Puget Sound, flies tend toward baitfish patterns meant to reflect the food of cutthroat trout and both resident and migrating salmon.

They are generally simple patterns given the fish chasing them tend to strike anything they see if they’re feeding. Functionality counts more than art.

I’m working to improve my tying of a classic Northwest pattern: the Miyawaki Popper. Named after now retired Orvis fishing manager and Northwest legend Leland Miyawaki, the Popper is a surface fly that draws fish to strike it at the surface. It’s dry fly fishing in saltwater.

It took me five attempts using the classic recipe to get a fly that is functional and fishable. I’ve already had one out and after fishing it for one hour, it looks new.

I’ve now been working on the improved version and have made three attempts to emulate Leland’s updated recipe. It’s only taken me three tries and I think I have a fly that is functional and will be fishable – once I get over my recent surgical procedure.

Miyawaki Popper

I read the local fly tying blog and know there are tyers locally that are far, far better than me. They have many, many years of tying and it’s truly inspirational to see how much more they can do.

Their flies have aesthetic qualities that qualify them as works of art. In most cases, existing patterns are redesigned or reimagined into something new.

The fish themselves seem to view flies on the basis of size, shape, and color (in that order). Aesthetics is not of a concern as many fly fishers have taken fish with miserable looking flies. So we are talking about only a human concern.

But it does seem to me that fly tying is another endeavor in which humans have the need to move beyond functionality and seek art. In an increasingly crass world, there is comfort in that.

Jay Nicholas is a well known Oregon author and fly tyer. The flies below are color variations of his Hollow Deceivers. Used for salmon, they are much larger than the Miyawaki Popper. They are works of art.

Jay Nicholas’ Hollow Deceivers

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Author: Tom

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