By Joseph Robertia
Winter can be a long, long time for cold-averse anglers, but while the lengthy season of dry lines could drive some to drink, the Kenai Peninsula Chapter of Trout Unlimited is inviting people to meet at local watering holes to tie one on in a different way.
“In a nutshell, the purpose of the event is to have some food and a beer and learn to tie flies,” said Brendyn Shiflea, one of the organizers of the fly-tying demonstration last week at Main Street Tap and Grill in Kenai.
Trout Unlimited is a national organization with more than 400 chapters across the U.S. made up of roughly 150,000 members. Its goal is to conserve, protect and restore North America’s cold-water fisheries and watersheds, to ensure that future generations can enjoy them.
The “Tie One On” event was designed with these same goals in mind, Shiflea said.
“It’s a way to promote fly-fishing and angler education in the area, grow membership and understanding of Trout Unlimited, and just to have fun in the winter,” he said.
The event series started in 2013, the idea spawned at a Trout Unlimited board meeting.
“It was an idea from board member and local fishing guide Lee Keupper. Lee, myself and Mark Wackler have spearheaded the event, and typically will lead the group by instructing the first part of the evening,” Shiflea said.
The fly-tying sessions are open for all ages, and there were several kids in attendance working with parents or next to others who sat at tables with fly-tying kits — provided by Sportsman’s Warehouse — made up of vises, pliers and various other tying tools.
“I wanted to learn to tie them,” said Tammy Farrell, of Sterling, there with her daughter, Karmen. “A friend of mine got me into fly-fishing about a year ago and I wanted to learn this aspect of it, too.”
The event was held near the stage, where Wackler was set up. His fly-tying station was the focus of a small, zoomed-in camera connected to a large flat-screen television, so that everyone in attendance could clearly see each step as Wackler walked them through it.
Farrell said that she has tied a few flies before but was hoping to develop that skill to diversify the types of flies she ties.
“It’s more about trying to get the art down to go out and use it. Some people do it as an art form and will use parakeet feathers and things. I don’t want to go to that extreme. I just want to tie some to fish with,” she said.
The event features a different fly each month. This month’s was the wooly bugger. Wackler said this fly was in the spotlight for two reasons.
“First, it catches fish and lots of different kinds of them. And second, it also incorporates lots of fly-tying techniques, so it’s a good first fly to learn before going on to others,” he said. “You can make them in so many colors and sizes, from tying them on No. 12 hooks for grayling up to a big No. 2 hook for kings and silver salmon.”
“It’s an interesting fly because the pattern can mimic a lot of different prey or bait in the water, depending on how one fishes it — dead drifting, slow retrieve, fast retrieve, etc.,” Shiflea added. “It can also be fished at all different levels of the water column — down deep, mid or shallow. Depending on how you tie and fish it, it could mimic a leech, a baitfish, minnow or a nymph/bug.”
Kenai’s Julian Hendricks came for exactly that type of information.
“I’ve done a lot of spin casting and fishing in the salt, but I’m new to fly-fishing so wanted to check it out,” he said. “There’s something neat about the idea of making your own fly and getting a fish to take it. It makes it a more personal experience.”
Cole McCrary, from Amarillo, Texas, attending Kenai Peninsula College in Soldotna, said his grandfather taught him how to tie flies when he was 9. He’s done about 100 over the years, he said, but came to see how others did it.
“He did a few things differently, but it’s basically the same,” he said.
His friend, Jim Walker, of Soldotna, was tying for his second time. He said he was shown how to tie a fly years ago, but it didn’t take then. This time his interest was piqued more.
“I think I’d like to get a kit and start tying them. I’m a single guy, so time is on my side,” he said.
After everyone got a chance to perfect their first wooly bugger, Wackler encouraged participants to tie their own version of the fly, but with different colors and attributes. Hendricks, while he stumbled at first, finished with two professional-looking flies, including one with the egg-sucking leech pattern that is a favorite of local fishermen.
“Looks good,” he said. “I’d bite it if I were a fish.”
The Kenai Peninsula Chapter of Trout Unlimited will be hosting a “Flies, Film and Foam” event at 6 p.m. Friday at Main Street Tap and Grill, with films that are provided by the fly-fishing film experts at The Fly Fishing Film Tour. It’s free and open to the public.