Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Fly-Tying Class - February 2015

For the past three weeks, a new friend from work and I have been taking a fly-tying class through the Missouri Department of Conversation out at the Busch Conservation Area. This is my first ever experience tying flies and I could not be happier with the outcome.

For the longest time, I have bought my flies either from T. Hargrove's Fly Shop here in St. Louis, or from the local fly shops on the trout streams here in Missouri. However, this past Christmas, my mom, Barb, was nice enough to stalk my Amazon wishlist and give me a fly-tying set I've had my eye on. In addition, I received a fly-tying material starter kit from my godson (well, from his mom--Mikey's only three). I now had everything I needed to start tying flies (except thread, hackle, pheasant tails, dubbing fur, any sort of knowledge base, etc. etc. etc.).

Back in November, in my fly-fishing club's monthly newsletter, I saw that a four-part class beginning in January would be available. I quickly called the Department of Conservation to register and was told (by an Australian sounding woman, oddly enough) that registration was only available a month in advance. Fast forward to a month in advance, and I was all registered to go. The class would be taught in four parts, gradually increasing in difficulty and building upon the past weeks' lessons. Like I said, the class takes place way out at the August A. Busch Conservation Area near Interstate 64 and Highway 94. It's a fantastic area with a great deal of forests, plains, an fishable ponds. However, it's nowhere near my house or my job. (Busch Conservation Area really is a jewel for the St. Louis area. I'll need to write more about it in the future.) As luck would have it, a new guy had just started working at my job, and is a fly-fisherman out from Colorado now living in western Illinois. When I told him about the fly-tying class, he was eager to sign up as well, so at least now I could carpool to the class.

The class is put on by that fly-fishing club that I mentioned earlier, the Ozark Fly Fishers (OFF). I've been a member of this club for two years now and they're a great group. Most of the time, I'm the youngest person in the meetings by about 30 years, but that's just fine with me. I joined the club to learn from those who have been fly-fishing for a long time, and they're a perfect fit. They have monthly meetings and quarterly outings, and even have an environmentalist branch and participate in water monitoring and stream clean-up activities. If you're in the St. Louis area and even have a remote interest in fly-fishing, I'd suggest joining. But anyways, this post is about fly-tying. The fly-tying class is instructed by Mike Ott, OFF's Fly-Tying Chair. Mike makes fly-tying look incredibly easy, and his step-by-step instructions make it so that I don't go completely cross-eyed trying to follow along.

The back of Mike's head, as he explains a Pheasant Tail Nymph.

The first fly we learned how to tie, after going over the basic of materials, tools, and learning to whip finish, was the San Juan Worm. We tied this worm using a piece of red chenille and a size 10 scud hook. It's not too intricate of a fly, and was a great starter fly.

San Juan Worm

In week two, the flies became more complex, and we worked with more materials. The first fly we tied was a Mohair Leech. It's a two material fly, using mohair yarn and a piece of marabou for the tail. We used a dark, rusty brown color for both the marabou and yarn. The marabou is tied first, and the yarn is wrapped up the body toward the hook head, but be sure to press the yarn's strings back as you wrap. I haven't tried using a leech when fishing yet, but I look forward to tying this guy out.

Mohair Leech
Week two ended with a classic fly, the Wooly Bugger. Like most fly-fishermen, I've had a lot of luck in the past fishing with Wooly Buggers, so I was excited to learn how to tie my own. We tied an olive colored pattern. We started off with the tail, which was a dyed olive colored piece of marabou. The body was a olive tinsel, and we wrapped the body with a piece of olive hackle. Mike spent a good deal of time explaining hackle feather variations and which type works best for which flies. I had no idea a rooster cape could cost upwards to $100. Looks like fly-tying will join comic book collecting as another expensive hobby. Sorry Emily. Luckily, the class provided all of the materials we needed, and I'm extremely happy with the way my Wooly Bugger turned out.

Olive Wooly Bugger
In week three of the class, we tied two types of nymphs, a Pheasant Tail Nymph, and a Hare's Ear Nymph. These have been my favorites so far, mostly because the material kit I got for Christmas actually included some pheasant feathers and I can practice at home. I really like the way the pheasant feather form the legs, and how the copper wire looks as the ribs/gills on the nymph. Learning to dub on fur to my thread was somewhat frustrating, but I'm starting to get the hang of it. Mike Ott swear by the Pheasant Tail Nymph, and he's been tying and fishing since the 70s, so I should probably trust him.

Pheasant Tail Nymph
Hare's Ear Nymph
So next week is the final class, and I am eagerly looking forward to it. We are supposed to learn how to tie some dry flies. The words "Elk Hair Caddis" have been whispered in hushed tones. I look forward to the challenge, and more so to using these new flies out on the stream.

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