Tie in to winter fun — Fly tying a relaxing way to while away the time until fishing season

By Mark Conway, for the Redoubt Reporter

Above is a completed double segmented articulated fly. Below is the same fly in progress. At bottom is Rocky the rooster, which provides feathers for Mark Conway’s fliers. For fishermen driven indoors by the weather, tying flies can be a relaxing way to gear up for spring.

When the mercury dips down below zero, there’s only one thing for an old fly fisherman to do — stay warm. It’s the sensible thing for me to do, anyway.

When I get all the important things done around the lodge and honey-dos out of the way, I can look forward to photography — one of my favorite hobbies — baking, or some serious fly tying.

Fly tying requires some very important steps to success.

  • First, find a place that is out of the way to do your work. Small feathers flying around will get you out of the house and into the doghouse, which is no fun when it’s really cold outside, so have a corner where you can leave everything or be able to close it all up, like a fly-tying desk, so all your things are always together.
  • Second, organize your fly-tying materials and store them in zip-top bags, plastic totes or bins to keep little animals and insects out of the feathers and hides. Bugs and mice don’t like plastic. Make sure your dog and cat know to stay away, too.
  • Third, plan your fly tying when there is nothing else that needs to be done around the house. You need to keep the other people in the house happy before you go off and attempt to tie flies. Avoid becoming a “hermit” fly tier and isolating yourself from the rest of the family. And never tie for more than an hour at a time — your eyes will thank you for it.
  • Fourth, have plenty of cookies, hot chocolate, coffee or milk at hand. The best fly patterns come when you are content with your surroundings and your mind is cleared for takeoff.
  • Fifth, if you’re tying with a buddy, have some fishing stories ready. I love the sharing of a fish fight, fish being landed and especially those big ones that get away. I can’t think of anything better than fly tying while sharing fish stories, other than the real thing itself.

I like to look up new patterns that I think will work in different situations I find myself in throughout the fishing season. Like when the water clarity changes from increased rain, in situations where my “go-to” flies are just not working. Everyone has a favorite pattern that works (almost) no matter what. If you don’t, you will discover one sooner or later.

Photos courtesy of Mark Conway

The first ingredient for a go-to fly is to find a fishing buddy to bounce ideas off of who also likes to tie flies. It’s hard to discover great ideas by yourself. You can, but then who cares but you?

I like fly-tying clubs, if you can find one. You can be in for some interesting stories, ideas of new places to fish and hear different fishing strategies that you might not be used to.

A fly-tying class is a great opportunity for people of all ages to mix and learn how to tie flies for fishing locally. You end up meeting great people you may never have met otherwise and learning useful patterns from your instructor and other students.

I teach a Soldotna Community Schools fly-tying class, with materials provided, Tuesday nights for two hours at Soldotna Middle School. Anyone interested can call Carmen Triana at 262-3151, ext. 24, or keep an eye out for the Soldotna Community Schools flyer, which should be in mailboxes soon.

Fly-tying materials are available at several shops locally. You can use most of the feathers from ducks, if you hunt, or moose and caribou hair from your hides. I use some hairs from my old yellow Lab, Kookeedo, for tails of some of my nymphs and dry fly patterns. They make great mayfly or mosquito tails. To save money, I also buy some of my materials at a fabric store.

I’ve got my own chickens, so I have no shortage of feathers and my tying buddy does a lot of bird hunting, so between the two of us we have quite a selection of feathers with which we tie. We like to fish for the same species, so we are tying for salmon, trout and pike.

I like to think of everything I do as having some element of fun in it. As an old saying goes, if it’s not fun, it’s work, and who wants to just work? Fly tying is an activity that can be fun for men, women and kids. I had a 5-year-old kid in a class in Seward a few years back who was awesome at fly tying.

It’s a creative expression, if not just for the art of it. It improves hand-to-eye coordination and keeps your mind active and alert. And I think anytime we sit down to a low-key activity we relax and reduce stress, making fly tying perfect for mellow winter evenings.

I’m always open to positive new ways to while away the long winter months, so if anyone has suggestions, send me an e-mail.

And remember, if it’s not fun, it’s work, so make something in your work seem fun.

Mark Conway is the owner of Alaska Fly Fishing Adventures and Outfitting Guide Service and Fly Fishing School in Sterling. He can be contacted at alaskaflyfishingadventures @msn.com or online at http://www.AlaskaFlyFishingAdventures.net.


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