December 19th, 2005

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories . . .

When I Started...
By Tim Lunceford (MOturkE), MO

When I finally started fly-fishing after years of procrastination, I bought a Scientific Angler starter kit from Wal-Mart. The rod (an 8'6" 5/6#), reel, level line, leader, tippet, and an assortment of dry flies came with it. I'd read everything I could on casting and after a few trips to the water I was getting my line out pretty well. I caught little or nothing at all, and I knew it had to be the flies. After seeing the price our local sporting goods store wanted for them, I decided to learn to tie my own flies. I went on the lookout for an affordable fly-tying kit and the hunt lasted nearly two months.

I'm something of a cheapskate by nature and not usually given to spending extra money where I shouldn't. I could have bought one of the beginner kits from the local sporting goods, but I couldn't see forking over 50 bucks for something that might not work out. One day, I happened to stop into a local 5 & 10-cent store during their closeout sale and found a small tying kit in their craft tool section for $16.00 ($14 after close-out discount). The kit included a small vise, bodkin, scissors, a Thompson style whip-finisher, and hackle pliers (no bobbin or materials).

I had done a little reading about fly tying while looking for a tying kit so it wouldn't be a total mystery. However, I still had a very vague idea of what a good hackle was and what one looked like when compared to a regular feather. I grabbed a couple bags of the hackle type feathers one would use for decorating masks or making hatbands and thought they might serve to make or break my tying desire. In my research I learned the value of pheasant tail feathers to the tier, and peacock herl, so I got a goodly supply of them (because they were cheap enough.)

Dubbing was still a bit of a mystery too, I saw some references to animal fur as dubbing- rabbit, squirrel, etc.- but as cheap as I am I couldn't part with the cash it takes to buy a rabbit pelt or any other, even at a closeout sale. They had the cheaper faux fur, but even I was smart enough to know it wouldn't work well. The only squirrel skins I could find in this part of the city were living in the trees behind the neighbor's house.

As dubbing goes, I did have an advantage over most beginners (and cheapskates.) My mother fell in love with the spinning wheel and with the same drive that causes a fly fisherman to take up fly tying; she took up sheep farming to support her spinning needs. Mom raises some Lancaster breed sheep for ordinary, white wool and she raises Shetland sheep, which are an ancient English breed. The wool from these sheep is amazingly fine and soft. It's a fact that a knitted, Shetland wool shawl can be pulled through a woman's wedding band (we tried it.) She also adopted some Jacob sheep from the local zoo, petting pen animals that grew too large. The name Jacob comes from the biblical character and these sheep are said to descend from his flock. The interesting characteristic of these animals is the multiple horns; many times 4-6 horns on a single ram. She also took to shearing and dying the wool, too.

I gathered a supply of wool in natural and dyed colors from my mom and figured I had enough dubbing to decide whether things would work out. I also obtained a couple of books from our local library, which gave very detailed instructions on a broad range of fly patterns. I can't recall the name of the first book, but it showed each step of the tying sequence in photographs and laid the recipe along side each step. The other book was entitled, "Trout Flies." I was enthralled with all the patterns shown in this book. I could only wonder how many fish one could catch on some of the patterns there, some didn't even look like any bugs I'd ever seen. Besides, I'd never been around trout in my life.

I quickly found an easy pattern to try. I'd seen references to the Pheasant Tail Nymph all over the Internet as a basic beginners fly and I believe the first book even started with that one. My problems began when I tried to tie the fly using a spool of polyester sewing thread from a cheap, travel-style sewing kit. Remember, my tying kit didn't come with a bobbin. I didn't even know what a bobbin was at this point, most of the references I found didn't explain the tool well enough for me to realize my need for one or what purpose it served, exactly. After dropping the spool a dozen times and rewinding the several feet of thread that trailed across the floor, I began to think a smart guy could invent some kind of device to hold the spool better.

I was able to get the fly tied to the point of whip finishing. The whip finish tool I had became another problem; there were no instructions included for using it, and none were given in any of the books I'd read. The tying book did mention the use of the half-hitch tool, which, as if to bolster my cheapskate pride, I found built into the butt-end of my bodkin. I remembered reading somewhere that one could use 2-3 half-hitches to finish a fly, so that's what I did. I hadn't remembered to get glue to finish the fly, or maybe I didn't find it necessary to spend the money yet, so I called the fly finished at that point. (I never thought about nail polish.)

My wife complimented the fly and the kids ooh-ed and aah-ed over it because it really looked like a bug. It did turn out pretty good for my first fly and I thought this tying idea might work after all. From there I tied from my minds eye, things that were supposed to resemble the bugs I knew well. I only ever tied one of any pattern and still never tie more than three flies at any one sitting. I found a pattern on the Internet for a drowned mayfly that utilized brown monofilament for the legs and pheasant tail for the body and wing. It turned out to look exactly like the real thing but it still never caught a fish. I only tied the one and that was more for myself than the fish, anyway. It really is a cool fly!

It was last winter, during all this, when I found Fly Anglers Online. I was looking for more patterns and instructions. I knew I'd hit the jackpot! I found the fly archives and I read through Al Campbell's articles for beginners, following his instructions with the modest materials I had available. I would browse through the archives looking at every single pattern absolutely hypnotized by them. I was definitely hooked. There was no turning back now and after finding the instructions for my whip finish tool (which I still never use) and finding great information about the elusive bobbin, it was time to do some serious shopping. I figured I was ready to fork out some real cash for this deal, maybe as much as thirty bucks!

I heard from a friend there was a fly shop nearby. They've been there over 14 years, but I never knew it, neither did the other guy that walked in after me, and we've both lived in this area our entire lives. I bought a Griffith Peewee, ceramic bobbin from the shop for $14 and ordered a better vise from the Hook & Hackle Company for $21, after reading about them on FAOL. I also bought some tying thread from the local fly shop for a buck and a half. I was over budget at this point, so this fly tying thing was really going to have to work.

If I didn't catch any fish on my own flies how would I ever recoup my expenses? Maybe I could sell the stuff to my friend who also spoke of fly tying. To add fuel to the fire, I eventually gave in and bought some real hackle. When I discovered the woolly worm pattern, I bought some furnace hackle and palmered it over blue wool on a size 8, gold, Eagle Claw hook. I used black thread, which pathetically ribbed the body. This was my own selection of materials and it was only a "training" fly, after all. I wanted to be sure I could palmer hackle with my hackle pliers. I still only tied one of them. When I eagerly went out to fish with my own flies, a grand total of 3, it was late April. I started with the Pheasant Tail Nymph and didn't get anything because it never sank then switched to the mayfly for a couple of casts even though it was too early in the year for them. Then I switched to the woolly worm and I had never caught so many green sunfish in my life. I believe my numbers that day would be over 20, all caught and released in a few hours on a single, cheap, clumsy fly. My investment was justified! I think the fly was hung in a tree the next time out forcing me to tie another one.

Some guys get it in their heads to turn fly tying into a job to make a little cash, but I never did. I have had many varied interests in the past- banjo and guitar playing, poetry and song writing, watercolor painting, woodcarving, stone and clay sculpture, web design, computer graphics - maybe others but I don't recall them. All of these hobbies were self-taught for money's sake, except for watercolor painting, which I did in a high school art class. In my mind I may have thought I could turn some of those into moneymakers. In all honesty, I have two real faults working against me. First, as I stated before, I'm a cheapskate. And second, I lack the required devotion to serious, hard work. So, the thought of "making a go" of them was only ever in my mind. I knew there was no real money in tying flies after looking through the ones at the local fly shop. There were so many patterns and so many of each one; I could never buy that much material or work that hard. No, tying flies for cash is most definitely for the rich and motivated.

Well, there it is, that's how I started out. All this transpired over the shortness of the past year. My starter rod and reel has been replaced by a sweet, 7'6", Garcia, graphite, 4/5# rod and a Berkley reel given to me by my aunt who doesn't fish anymore. Her third husband was an avid fly fisher and they could travel on his income. When they divorced her rod went in the closet and sat unused for nearly 20 years. The reel still had the old, level-floating line and hand tied leader on it. The rod is slow action, easy to cast and accurate, and has landed me at least one of every fish I have fished for; trout at Roaring River in June, green sunfish, bluegill, assorted types and sizes of bass, and one crappie.

I've avoided the expense of casting lessons and fly tying lessons, which may trouble some folks. But, I have done my research and I give due respect to advice I pick up on FAOL and certain casting videos from the library. My fly tying space consists of a small filing cabinet in the corner of my room, an aluminum box I made to carry the tools to the lake, and a plastic, accordion-style, file folder for my materials - cheap and compact. I still only tie one or two flies at a time, except the one time I joined a fly swap and tied eight of my blue and red woolly worms for bluegills.

I think I have a pretty good grasp on my fly-fishing addiction and I look forward to many years enjoying it. I just hope it never gets really expensive or requires serious, hard work. I'd hate to think I'd wasted all that money. ~ Tim Lunceford (MOturkE)

About Tim Lunceford:

Tim spent 9 years in the U.S. Air Force, with 3 years working on the F-117 A Stealth Fighter, and is a veteran of Desert Storm. He lives and fishes near Kansas City, Missouri. He's a recovering bait fisherman having taken up fly-fishing last summer and fly tying shortly thereafter. He's been married 22 years and is the father of 4 kids - 3 have Fragile-X syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes retardation and autism. He now works as a Heat and Frost Insulator for Local Union #27 in K.C. Tim also enjoys web design, graphics and digital image manipulation, watercolor painting, playing guitar, and writes contemporary Christian songs - none of which have been recorded...yet.

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