Show and Tell

It’s no secret that I love the CFFA Show. Saturday reminded me why it’s the best little fly fishing show around.

The Baranowski boys, Tommy and Matt (two very talented tyers and anglers) were seated to my left on tyer’s row. After watching me painstakingly create a dubbing loop of squirrel fur, Matt asked if I’d ever used a rotodubber. No, so I borrowed his. Ka-ching! Never mind that crap about old dogs and new tricks. I now own one. So thanks, dude. I also left with some ringtail, a few beads, and Robert Smith’s book The North Country Fly. Many thanks to the CFFA for inviting me to tie (and thanks, Dick, for the flies and the feathers, and Alton for the cigar).

Most of all, thanks to everyone who took the time to stop by and chat and ask questions. I appreciate your loyalty and your readership.

Matty at the vise. That’s steelheader extraordinaire Stan Otlowski in the background.

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So much depends upon a gold and silver rotodubbing tool…

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Sunday was my tying class, “Farmington River Favorites,” at UpCountry Sportfishing in New Hartford. A very enthusiastic group came armed with good questions and nimble fingers. We covered a broad range of patterns and techniques, and I want to thank the class for making my job as an instructor easy.

The sign could say, “Men and Women Working.” Thanks to Torrey Collins for the photo.

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Coming up this week:

“The West Branch of the Farmington River,” Wednesday, February 8, at East Jersey TU, Rochelle Park, NJ. Have Farmington River enthusiasm, will travel. For more information, visit the EJTU website.

“Farmington River Favorites” Tying Demo, Saturday, February 11, 10am-2pm at The Compleat Angler, Darien, CT.  At this demo, I’ll be tying some of my favorite patterns for the Farmington River. There will be a little bit of everything: wets, dries, nymphs, and streamers, from traditional classics to new designs. These are all high-confidence, proven patterns, and I’ll also discuss how and when I like to fish them. For directions and stuff, visit the CA website.

Robert Smith on tying North Country spiders

Since we’re in fly-tying mode, I wanted to share this. It’s written by Robert Smith, a new friend and fellow aficionado of the soft-hackled fly.

“As some of you will may know, I am a descendant of a famous North Country angler/author. And this simple quirk of fate has in many respects dictated my views in regards to tying the patterns. (Best not mention number of hackle wraps!)

But for the most part, it is the beauty of the materials we use in dressing spiders that has always driven me. I revel in using hackles from antique and obscure sources from the likes of Fieldfare, Owl and Wren. Each hackle has its own individual quality, both from a tying point of view and an aesthetic point of view. As you change individual hackles, the individual barb count changes, and as a result your tying technique changes to compliment these barb counts. (One of the reason why I don’t prescribe to the two turns of hackle mantra!) On some of the denser hackles I strip on side off, on others I wrap with a full hackle. Stripping one side of the hackle allows me more control of the barb count and also produces a neater fly, providing you strip the leading edge of course!

The subtle colouration and shading found in many of the birds we use in dressing spiders is to me at times breath-taking. Simple things such as a Magpie tail or Starling skin, shimmer and radiate an amazing spectrum of colours. Others such as the brown speckle of a Partridge hackle, just seems born to compliment orange silk and bright gold wire! Last year, a friend sent me a Lapwing that he picked up from the field. I was stunned at the beauty of the plumage when I opened the Tupperware box, so much so, that even now utilising its hackles within a simple fly has become a reverential act. The bird and plumage was beautiful, and to my mind, it is only right that the fly I fashion matches this. For me, there is something spiritual about using a fly constructed in some part, from materials obtained from the very landscape that surrounds me.

Though dubbings are often rather overlooked when discussing spiders, I love using old standards such as Fox ear and yes Water-rat. Though modern synthetics have their place, and we have to give Davy Wotton a big thank you in regards to the quality of modern synthetic dubbings. Nothing beats natural dubbings. Years ago after buying a collection of tying materials, I came across an old dried small tin of Crawshaw’s Red Spinner dye, the same used in the dressing of Edmonds & Lee’s March Brown. I’m not afraid to admit that I had tears rolling down my face, as mixed up enough to dye a rabbit skin so I could follow the original tying recipe. And even more so when the fly landed a 12” brownie from the same pool illustrated in their book.

Though the techniques involved in dressing spiders is somewhat simple compared to the complexity of other fly types. They are nevertheless, in many ways harder to master. Simply put, when dressing spiders, you have nowhere to hide! Each wrap of silk has to be deliberate and precise, because a poorly placed wrap of silk has a habit of becoming obvious on a finished fly. The hackle fibres that slant backwards because the first binding wrap of silk is crouching in and collapsing the desired umbrella spread. Peacock herl heads that show tying silk in front. All these things are easy to avoid, but surprisingly often go un-noticed until we hold up the finished fly.

Unlike other fly types, tradition dictates that I can’t even hide my deficiencies under a bulky fur coat of dubbing. Because I’ve taken the words of Pritt, Edmonds & Lee, Leisenring and Hidy to heart, and cover my silks with only a sparse misting of dubbing.
To sum up, there is a quiet confidence exhibited in a well tied spider or soft-hackled fly. They don’t need to scream out with the use of modern materials or convoluted tying techniques. They simply need to be dressed neatly and proportionally, and with a sympathetic understanding of the materials involved.”

One of Robert’s lovely ties, the Black Snipe, No. 62 from Pritt’s book.

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