To Tie or To Buy?
"The grossest and most substantial of our equipment exists solely to serve the slightest; a thousand dollars' worth of gear is given meaning by a quarter's worth of chicken feather and wire." Ted Leeson
A couple of years into my fly fishing journey, I embarked on the noble task of fly tying. Knowing nothing of how these little insect replicas were created, I signed myself up for weekly fly tying classes. My ambition and dedication were grossly apparent as the class was a four hour round trip from my home each Thursday night. Thus began my exceedingly short-lived enthusiasm for fly tying. To be a proper trout bum or legitimate fly fishing guide, life certainly must consist of: sunset evenings tying stream side to match a hatch, spending winter months at the vise thoughtfully restocking boxes, and of course the ability to recite the polysyllabic latin names of each imitation tied. I was one of two students in the fly tying class. Great! This would allow for some serious one on one instruction I thought. The other participant was a sweet older gentleman who it turned out was, for all practical purposes including fly tying, blind. The first pattern we learned was a chenille San Juan worm, a far cry from the colorful Warden's Worry or intricate size 20 Blue Winged Olive that I was hoping for. It was also the only pattern we learned. Week after week the gentleman had to be helped to place the hook right side up in his Renzetti vise, choose a compatible thread color from his box of supplies and finally, to whip finish his creation. Once the worm had been whip finished, he promptly trimmed what was almost looking worm-like back to the bend of the hook to something that now resembled a smashed bit of pimento wrapped on a size 12 hook. Week after week, I would return home to my husband asking what pattern I had learned. Week after week, my reply was the same. The San Juan worm.
I never became much of a fly tier. My tying desk has drawers full of feathers that frustrate and confound me with their fuzzy irregularity. My favorite patterns to tie involve little more than thread, a bead and some wire. Don't get me wrong, I've tried to get creative over the years. One winter I tried to replace standard dubbing with my dog's fur and later went through a phase covering every nymph I tied with Loon UV resin. I can tie a mean size 22 zebra midge, or a Walt's Worm, occasionally even a sculpin. It pretty much stops there, as does my interest. I'm going to let someone with more talent tie the para-Adams, the klinkhammer or the bead head soft hackle hare's ear and I'm not ashamed to say it.
Does that diminish me as an angler? As a guide? Sure it's gratifying when I can tell my client, "yea, I tied that egg pattern you've been slaying on all day." But honestly, it's not worth my sanity to ever get much more complex than tying "guide flies" a handful at a time. I'd much rather be fishing all winter or chatting up my favorite fly tier and fly shop owner, Pops. Plus, he will tie custom flies for me that actually look like what they're supposed to and will catch fish.
The truth is, I enjoy shopping for flies. Pouring over the streamer bins full of fluff and tinsel I can imagine a big buck brown attacking it, ripping line from the reel. Looking through the dusty lower drawers with the forgotten patterns, I can visualize a spotted rainbow slowly rising to the surface to sip that dry fly during a summer evening hatch. I figure that a good part of my job as a guide is not only figuring out what a trout wants to eat; but these days, also figuring out what it hasn't seen a million times drifted by its face by countless other anglers.
I live in a land where we typically have 320 days of sunshine. Even in the winter, there are sun shiny days on tail waters. Each season here has it's own hatches and underwater mysteries to solve. Who has time to sit at a desk wrapping marabou on a hook, fighting with hackle pliers and stubborn head cement caps, or stacking elk hair? There are seemingly endless permutations of fly patterns to be tied and I would rather be tying the finished fly on my tippet with the smell of sagebrush in the air, the cackle of a kingfisher in the trees and an eagle soaring overhead.
Fly fishing by name and definition is about the fly. Not the rod. Not the reel. The trout only cares about one aspect of our gear and it doesn't care if I tied it or bought it. The fly represents an angler's hope and optimism as much as it represents a bite of food, a stage in the life of an insect and a skill that I don't possess.
I'll see you on the river, or in the fly shop....