I started tying flies before I ever fly-fished. When I was a kid I found a book and got a kit and tied up a few crude, ugly looking patterns…but I never used them. I knew Shyster spinners, nightcrawlers and soft-shell crawdads worked much better on the Ohio smallmouths I was after.
When I started fly fishing in California, Oregon, Colorado, Connecticut and Montana I figured I’d better learn how to tie for real…everybody else was!
One day in my travels I wandered into the Anglers Roost in NYC run by a scroungy looking guy, Jim Deren. His place was a mess…a chaotic shambles with stacks and stacks of fly tying materials piled everywhere you looked. We took up a chat and I walked out with a lifetime supply!
Dan Bailey’s in Livingston, Mt. was next (I got around quite a bit in those days :o)…a quick stroll around the shop and into the tying room and I had myself another bundle of fly stuff…I was ready.
When I moved to Montana I met some really good tiers…Glenn West, Rene’ Harrop, Glenn Law, Elwood Combs, Dick McGuire, Bill O’Connell, Al Troth, Chuck Kneib…I picked up a few tips: use good hooks, never take more than three turns of thread in one step, high grade your materials, always have sharp scissors, etc.
A few of these guys tied commercially as well as for fun. The massive volume of flies they could crank out was astounding. We are talking HUNDREDS OF DOZENS of flies a year…and not in Bangla Desh, Nepal, Sri Lanka or a cave in Tibet! I watched Chuck Kneib churn out a dozen size 14 elk hair caddis in 45 minutes…and he stacked the hair! The pile of elk hair flies just kept growing in between long pulls from the plastic liter of high-test Coca-Cola he always kept handy. Talk about wired! He sold ’em to Ed Curnow for money…traded ’em to Russ Chatham for artwork…swapped ’em with Jack Cole for gourmet dinners. Glenn West turned his flies into artwork…Rene’ Harrop made a name for himself…Dick McGuire took his “FDR” flies over to the Missouri and caught wallhangers.
Dick McGuire and Randy Brown on the Madison…1973
One of my favorite spots was the Melrose Bar on the Big Hole River. Over in the corner you could buy Bunyan Bugs, Sandy Mites, Mossbacks or some of the legendary George Grant woven body patterns. I always thought having a fly shop in a bar was a great idea!
Tying flies is fun as long as you don’t have to tie too many. Then it gets to be like watching paint dry or grass grow. About two or three dozen and I’m ready for a break. These guys that crank out hundreds of dozens of flies have to be ready for the Funny Farm or at least some counseling.
Take it slow and always keep your scissors sharp. Good luck!