, Corbin, KY


June 7, 2010

Fun on the Fly

Fly tying’s easy, give it a try

CORBIN — June 5, 2010 Neighbors.pdf

By KEVIN WHEATLEY / The State Journal

FRANKFORT (AP) — Todd Weeks, a 50-year-old fly fisherman, sits at small mobile worktable, clamps a fishing hook into a vice and winds its shank with dark-green thread.

For the tail, he ties black marabou — the soft, fluffy part of feathers found on turkeys — to the shank. He then adds olive-colored yarn for the body and a rooster feather for hackle.

Todd finishes the fly and briefly inspects it.

“Simple,” he says, holding the fly in his palm. It’s a woolly bugger, sort of a utility fly, which he says will “fish all day” at the Salato Wildlife Education Center’s two lakes.

Tying flies may prove daunting for newcomers to fly fishing.

Today, however, Todd says anyone can do it.

All it takes is a little patience and the ability to follow directions.

“You have to be able to read a book, and that’s it,” Todd said. “I mean, I can give you this vice and some basic tools and hand you this book, and within a half hour’s time, you can tie a fly in no time.”

The book is “The Benchside Introduction to Fly Tying” by Leeson Schollmeyer. Todd recommends it for novices and veterans alike

After more than 40 years of tying, Todd still keeps a copy nearby.

He’s a journeyman tool and dye maker of 20 years and began tying flies when he was 8 growing up in Buffalo, N.Y.

“At the time, they came with this kit, and you could order them through a actually, we had an order shop in the town I grew up in, so I walked up to the order shop and got this kit,” Todd recalled recently in an interview at the Salato Center.

“I think at the time it was $10 or $12, and it gave you enough to do one of each of the flies that it had in that kit.

“It came with an inexpensive vice and the basic tools you need to do your fly-tying. So I started doing it that way.”

His first fly was a woolly bugger — which resembles a leech or worm in water. The marabou tail provides fluttering action fish find irresistible.

A small creek ran behind Todd’s home in Buffalo where he caught his first fish — a bass — using one of his handmade flies.

“Back in the 60s you could just walk out your backdoor and spend all day down there,” Todd says.

“No one worried about you unless you didn’t come to eat.”

Over the years and through travels, Todd has accumulated a small stockpile of fly tying materials.

He has a tackle box full of various styles and sizes of hooks, spools of colored thread and a blue plastic bin filled with bags of animal fur and feathers from deer, turkey, peacocks and roosters.

“There are a hundred different types.”

He has more exotic tying material at home, including porcupine fur. There are even a few synthetic materials — which some fly tiers shun.

“Some people are traditionalists and purists, and they’re only going to tie with fur, feather, that kind of thing. I don’t really follow that route. I kind of enjoy doing different things, like if I’m going up to Erie Pennsylvania, let’s say, and I’m going after the steelhead trout. I’ve got yarn that’s just bright orange, or chartreuse even, in color that I don’t mind using.

“You’re not going to find anything chartreuse in the wild that’s going to help you tie that fly and catch that fish.”

Todd teaches kids to tie flies in his spare time. He can keep their attention and says they’re some of his best students.

“When I do 4-H groups, you know, they’re from 8 all the way up to 14 or 16. Last time I did it, all 12 kids walked out with an ant imitation and a woolly bugger.”

“So it takes a little bit of patience. I think that is needed more than anything, because you get into some of these threads, some of these thinner threads, and if you pull too hard they’ll break. Then you have to redo it and inevitably what will happen is you’re going to have these big bulky flies.”

Todd says beginners will always have problems with tying flies at first. That’s one reason he started the Frankfort Fly Fishing Club two years ago.

“It’s a friendly group of guys who will offer advice and show you how to tie flies.

“It’s also a way to meet people to fish with.”

Todd says the group is different than others because there are no club dues or board of directors.

“What I set up here in Frankfort is more of a neighborhood club,” Todd said. “We don’t have dues, we don’t have a board of directors and we don’t collect money, so we don’t argue about that.

“So, if you want to come to a meeting, you’re already a member, there you go.”

The club meets about once a month, but has no set meeting place.

It tried meeting at Shoney’s once, but Saturday mornings are hectic there.

The club also met at the Paul Sawyier Public Library on Wapping Street, but could only reserve the room so many times, he said.

Todd stresses proportions which he says is the most important dimension of imitating insects when tying.

“Proportions mean more than anything,” he says.

“The wings have to be about what the insect represents. So the silhouette of a fly, because obviously the fish is always looking at it from the bottom up, they want to see the same proportions of a fly.

“And most people who put their own little twinges on them at first, that’s fine. You can vary color, you can vary feathers, anything you want, but if you can stay with the proportion of a fly, you’re going to be more successful when fly fishing.”

Some newcomers don’t heed his advice.

“I see a lot of people get carried away, and it really makes me chuckle every time it happens. Someone will say, Look what I made,’ and, hey, it’ s a nice fly, but they neglected to remember the fact that proportions mean more than anything when tying flies.”

Tying flies also helped Todd’s fishing prowess.

“The more you do this, the more the different aspects come into it,” Todd said. “Understanding how creeks run, understanding about lakes and ponds, and you want to understand a little about the insects you’re trying to imitate.”

One thing he’s learned over the years is the sleeping habits of grasshoppers. They sleep on their backs, and the sun warms their stomachs before they wake up.

“You know it’d be pointless to use a grasshopper at 6 in the morning if they get up around 9, depending on when the sun warms them up.”

Todd practices catch-and-release when fishing. Although he’ll keep a fish or two while camping, he mostly fishes for the fun of it.

Even catching a bluegill — about the size of a person’s palm — gives Todd a thrill.

“Every time you get one, it feels like a whopper,” Todd says. “It’s a riot.”

Over the years, Todd has taken in the beauty of the environment while fishing. Sometimes fishing takes a backseat to Mother Nature.

“When I first started to do this, I was like everyone else. I wanted to catch as many fish as I could possibly catch as fast as I could catch them,” Todd says. “When you’re a kid, I think that’s respectable. You just want to do the best you can and get out there and fish.

“Well, as I got older, I started to look around a little more and started to enjoy the environment while I was out there fishing and pay more attention to the birds and entomology around me.”

Todd’s 16-year-old son, Wyatt, is starting to fish more now. He enjoys watching Wyatt fish and seeing the excitement in his son’s eyes he had at his age.

“I enjoy seeing him enjoy it as I used to enjoy it, and knowing he’s going to follow the same road eventually.

“He’s going to look around more rather than just concentrating on fish, and it’s been a nice cycle that way. That takes you from just basic fishing and enjoying everything about it.”

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