Thoughts on Fly Tying... I'm Getting Dizzy by Mark Usyk

I could grab a rod that’s strung up and ready to go, the water after all is within eye sight of the wall on which the rods are hung or leaned against waiting in their rod tubes to be called upon. But somedays, as diehard of a fisherman as I claim to be, I’m content to look out the window in the knowledge that I could be out there, not that I am. Maybe it’s too close to home, too familiar, taken for granted and I long to be on waters farther away and less familiar. Maybe it’s the spray paint graffiti on the concrete wall at the opposite side of the creek that I wish to distance myself from, or the empty worm containers and beer cans I know I’ll find when I get down there that seem to take more of the specialness away from having fishable water right in my back yard, but somedays I’m just not feeling it. Instead of walking down to the creek, I sit at the tying bench.

I find it peculiar and comical at the same time that I sit down to tie flies and streamers, many of which I’ll never cast to water, for reasons as simple as I’ve tied more than I’ll ever need or as complicated as I feel they’re not good enough even though I know if I tied a piece of flannel shirt to a hook I’d have just as much luck on some waters as something that took me a half hour to put together. Still I shuffle packs of hooks through my hands like a deck of cards, searching for that one card like the magician about to pull out the very card you thought of in your head, until for no reason these hooks, this pack in particular, this is the hook that will decide the next mishmash of feathers and fur.

Tying does for me the same thing that fly fishing does somehow. Maybe it’s because I know it leads to fly fishing, maybe it’s just because I’m taking ideas in my head and making them real with my hands, I’ve never questioned it. It could just be the concentration it takes to tie the “perfect” fly. I find myself sitting in silence at the bench in the corner, the vice illuminated by an LED desk lamp, materials scattered and piled with no order covering every inch of the bench top, chaos somehow putting my mind at rest. There is a radio in the room, it’s on the floor underneath my tying materials storage cabinet. I don’t think it’s ever been plugged in. I don’t need music in this room. In the opposite corner sits a 55 gallon fish aquarium with one very large and very old fish. The sound of the water running through the filters and cascading into the tank at my back while I wrap thread around hooks is the only music the room has ever needed.

Tying takes on a life of it’s own parallel to the fly fishing it leads to, yet ironically contradicting with the very principles and ethics we catch and release anglers attempt to adhere to. While it’s all about the proper handling of the fish, the ethics behind letting them go so that others may enjoy them, about admiring their beauty without destroying it, about helping to restore wild fish in waters once damaged by pollution or simply fished to death, the very things we hope to catch these fish on are fabricated and pieced together with bits of dead birds and animals of which we have no idea, and seemingly don’t care to know how the animal came to give up such beautiful materials for another animal that will be released back to live another day. How many times I’ve seen the arguments on social media pages about how horrible it is that someone killed a fish or held it improperly in a picture, yet I’ve never seen a single argument for the ethical treatment of the Grey Junglefowl, where some of the most sought after and expensive capes, the “Jungle Cock” capes come from, let alone where the hard to get and high dollar 6” barred saddle hackles come from that are being thrown at everything from Brown Trout to Pike and Musky and everything in between. All to be released safely and as humanely as possible, while a bird carcass rots away in some far off place. But it’s not about birds…it’s a bout fish, so I continue to tie.

If I’m in a bad mood, say, I’m just coming home from work, the kids have been driving me especially crazy, or I just spilled my last beer, I find myself headed out to the tying room and rifling through the drawers selecting materials that may be at random or may be part of an actual plan. But by the time I’m making my first thread wrap down the hook shrank, whatever it is that put me in the foul mood is either on it’s way out or at the very least being pushed to the back of my mind to be dealt with later. Either way, the tying, just like the fishing, is about to repair something inside my head that nothing else is going to touch.

And there’s something to be said about catching a fish on a fly you tied yourself. I don’t remember the last fly I bought at a store. I’ll go in to Bass Pro, back to the fly section (the closest thing we have to a fly shop around here) and I’ll pick up flies out of the bins and study them and sometimes even take pictures of them with my phone, but they always get returned to the bin, and I’ll go home and try to duplicate them myself. I have plastic Plano boxes full of streamers and dry flies, buggers, and poppers. I’ve got no less than 36 drawers of organized materials. Feathers, furs, synthetics, foams, beads, hooks, threads, and more miscellaneous stuff, and then there’s the stuff that I don’t have room for in the drawers, bags hanging on hooks in obscure places full of more fur waiting to find a use and a space. I tie jigs for my friends that don’t fly fish and tie flies for myself, and from the outside it might look quite maddening and a bit of a mess.

I believe the idea in the beginning was that “I’ll save money by tying my own flies.” That may have proved true if I had bought one pack of hooks, one bag of marabou, one spool of thread, and tied one type of fly only as I needed them. At this point, with all the tools, the materials, the hooks, and the flies tied and put away that I’ll probably never fish I think that theory is pretty much shot to hell. The more I think about it, it kind of aggravates me that I could be caught in such a trap, that I could miss the big picture so easily that the fact that I’ve caught fish on bare hooks in the past seems null and void when I scan the online sales and the shelves at the store for more materials I’ve got to have to catch the next fish. Yep, I’m getting pretty aggravated sitting here thinking about it…I better sit down and tie something at the bench and calm down a bit.