Neither of our parents have every been on a fishing trip. They are writers, and oddly enough it is unlikely that we would have ever found out about fly tying if they were not. Our father writes freelance for various magazines, and about 6 years ago was asked to write an article for Discover magazine on what was referred to as “The Physics of Fly Casting.”
Naturally he knew nothing, either about casting physics, or even obvious details such as what a fly rod looked like. Since that won’t really get you too far in a article, the answer is to research the topic, and that he did. Perhaps too much. By the time he had sent in his story, we had literal heaps of fly literature, stacks of casting and tying videos, and several intriguing film canisters full of tiny flies.
All of these accoutrements were ignored as we constantly stumbled over them, until one day we actually watched a video. We might have either been bored, or had run out of movies (we didn’t have cable TV), but I am unsure of the exact force that got us watching. The very first video was a tying video geared toward kids, which even as children we could tell was deathly dull. The interesting part, indeed the whole point of the video, was seeing the flies come to shape–seeing some guy wrapping thread and what appeared at the time to be glorified dust bunnies around a hook and magically making a spider, a dragonfly, or some other favorite family insect. What really amazed us was palmering hackle, once we witnessed that awe inspiring staple of all tying there is truly no escape. Within a week we were clamping hooks in a 12″ bench vise and tying on everything imaginable with sowing thread. Seriously, Mardi Gras bead necklaces were not uncommon, and I believe one fly actually had an aluminum foil body. We didn’t stop, and seeing a lasting interest our parents quickly turned our previous “stuff” into legitimate tying materials, albeit cheap, but real nonetheless.
After several months of tying halfway decent wooly buggers and abysmal foam bodied dragonflies, we began to look into lessons at our local Orvis shop. At the time, it was owned by Don Travers, a soft, kindhearted 75 year old who enshrouded himself in a gruff, no-nonsense aura. His first response to having a 7 and 11 year old in his shop: “Awh, no! They’re just gonna run around all over tha store!”. Our parents managed to persuaded him, and once we had proved ourselves capable of sitting still, he warmed up immensely. With the onset of these lessons we met who we would end up considering our most influential teacher, a man named George Hooper.
George is a retired Princeton biology professor, has an obsession with insects, and practically lives to fish. Even more so than the average fly-fisher. He approached tying exactly like you might expect of a biologist–surgical instruments, head mounted dissection magnifiers, microscope, Latin fish species list without common names, and what must have been about 10,000 colors of dubbing were all in place. Under his obsessive guidance we learned quickly, and soon began to enter tying competitions.
One of these competitions was at the World Fly Tying Expo in Wilmington Mass., where we first discovered Salmon Flies. While milling around waiting for the judges to decide the winner, we ran across a salmon fly booth manned by Edward “muzzy” Muzeroll, and practically went crazy looking at all of the amazing flies he had on display. Anton had heard of him and seen some of the flies in Fly Tyer magazine, and at the time had even tried tying a few salmon flies (looking back now they are not salmon flies by any means), but seeing the color and size of a real salmon fly for the first time was a very special moment. This was it; you might say we were “hooked” on salmon flies. We subsequently made a trip up to Maine to learn how to tie salmon flies with Muzzy, and learned all of the basics. From then on it was mostly experimentation and going to shows to see what other tyers were up to. It was truly remarkable the first time we tied at a show; to be among some of the most skilled tyers and to be accepted as legitimate and not a couple of dabbling tots is the greatest honor, and to maintain that current skill level is our biggest motivation to progress.
We took another lesson, this time with Paul Ptalis, and went to a creative tying weekend with Paul Rossman, both of which gave us a necessary boost in tying quality, color selection, and creating a fly with its own life. Now fly tying is not merely a hobby, it is an obsession we seem to devote a substantial part of our time to. Not merely tying, but examining feather structure, designing flies, and coming up with new techniques for getting exactly what we want out of a fly. So far, it seems to be working pretty well, but there is always room to improve, and our greatest hope is that we will continue to do so.
Edwin & Anton