While the balmy days of summer are coming to an end, my husband and I are eager for autumn fishing to begin – those cool days spent on the water. He’s been fly fishing for years – it’s his happy place where he can zone out the noise of daily urban life and focus inward. This year, we want to tackle the art of tying our own flies. So I reached out to professional angler April Vokey for some tips. Vokey has been fly fishing since her teens and, in addition to being a Patagonia ambassador, she founded Fly Gal, a fly-fishing guide operation in British Columbia.
How long have you been fly fishing and what do you love most about it?
I turned to fly fishing during my late teens after spending years pursuing fish in the northwest using terminal tackle (spinners, lures, baits, etc.). The reason I became so enamored with fly fishing is that it presented me a constant challenge with room for improvement. Fishing gives me alone time to clear my head and an adventure.
Where did you learn to tie your own flies?
When I was a teenager, my first fishing buddy was a man who was 50 years my senior. While he didn’t fly fish, he was a passionate and knowledgeable angler and supported my newfound interest in fly fishing. For my 18th birthday, he bought me a box of tying materials, a vise and a stack of old VHS tapes about fly-tying. The progression took place from there…
What’s the benefit of tying your own vs. buying?
While I would like to honestly stand behind the assumption that it saves me money, the truth is that I find tying flies therapeutic and it’s my way of staying in touch with the water, even when I’m not on it. I usually put on a good movie, pour a glass of wine and get lost in the relaxation of it all. Not to mention the enormous satisfaction I have upon catching a fish on one of my own creations.
Which materials do you use?
This truly depends on the species I am tying for. Florida Tarpon are going to eat different flies than Colorado Trout. The majority of my fishing is in British Columbia, and i tend to use a lot of materials that move with ease in the river’s current – rhea, ostrich, marabou, rabbit and flash all make regular appearances in my fly box.
What are the essential tools you need to start with when tying your own flies?
Start by investing in a reliable vise, a pair of nail clippers, scissors and a bobbin and thread. Hooks and materials are necessary, but it helps to have a pattern to tie first. A great start is a decent book with popular patterns for fish in your area ( or your species of choice). Joan Wulff’s New Fly-Casting Techniques and John Shewey’s Spey Flies & Dee Flies are two must-reads.
Do you have any secret tips of the trade?
Keep it fun. As soon as it feels like work you should revisit your reason for wanting to tie. Remember that practice makes perfect – as cliche as this sounds – and it takes time to appreciate proper proportions and efficient materials. Every year, you look back at one of your flies and blush a little at your creation. This is normal and should encourage you to realize that there is always room to grow. More often than not, it’s the tier who notices his/her faults, not the fish.
What are some unique creations you’ve come up with?
I have a fascination with tube flies and their versatility within various fisheries around the world. There are few patterns today that are new – most stem from creations by others long before us. I only wish I could have the opportunity to thank them for what they left behind!
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