I grew up in Sturgis, South Dakota, a small town near the Black Hills, which has hosted the notorious motorcycle rally since 1940. As a small boy, I was active in Scouting and attended many outings which included fishing at now famous places such as Sand Creek, Wyoming, and Sylvan Lake (closing scene of hit movie National Treasure near Mount Rushmore).
My high school band teacher (and driver’s education instructor) Art Daniels gave me some flies that he tied and showed me where to fish in Spearfish Canyon. He explained that in order to catch big fish you needed to use very small flies. He was the first person to significantly influence my interest in fly fishing and fly tying. My father took me fishing a few times every year and introduced me to many other types of fishing. He had a fly rod and automatic retrieving reel that we played with as kids, but my father never showed us how to use it. On a family vacation to Yellowstone, he and I watched experienced fly fishermen land numerous 24-inch fat Yellowstone trout during a prolific afternoon hatch. From then on, I knew that when I grew up I’d learn how to use this type of gear and partake in the challenging sport of fly fishing.
In the early 90’s, my brother and I joined the Overlake Fly Fishers Club in Issaquah, WA. At the first meeting, Andy Anderson was demonstrating fly tying techniques during happy hour. I was immediately taken by the members of the club and their willingness to share (i.e. Larry Graham’s fly tying roundtable – his flies were amazing!).
I purchased my first vise in 1993, and went to Salmon Bay Fly Shop (which no longer exists) in Seattle looking for tying material. There I met Trevor Gong. Mounted on the wall was an exquisite 9/0 full dress Atlantic Salmon Fly. I spent 20 minutes just looking at it. Trevor came over and asked if I was interested in learning how to tie Atlantic Salmon Flies. He explained that there was a club of guys (a guild) which met regularly on the Eastside who were all interested in Atlantic Salmon Flies.
I worked very hard at tying a Salmon Fly as best I could and took it to the next guild meeting to share. When I arrived it was like a casting call for A River Runs Through It. There was Andy Anderson once again demonstrating tying techniques, Trevor Gong and Larry Graham were watching (after seeing his exquisite trout flies I could only imagine how beautiful his steelhead and Atlantic Salmon Flies must be). I really wanted to be a better fly tyer and knew that I had come to the right place. Mike McCoy and I sat together. I was about to show him my fly, when he showed me his 7/0 masterpiece with 6 Golden Pheasant Crests cascading in the wing. It was beautiful and very inspirational. Later in the meeting, John Olschewsky graciously gave me tips and suggestions for improving my fly (this type of wonderful first impression I got from this first meeting has kept me coming for over 15 years – the members continue to generously share with each other).
At the next club meeting, members brought stuff to trade. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a clue what was a going on, but at the end of the meeting, John Olschewsky gave me 2 medium bustard feathers and a large variety of dyed turkey tails. Armed with these new feathers, I bought my first Atlantic Salmon Fly book, Classic Salmon Flies – History & Patterns by Mikael Frodin and my interest in tying Atlantic Salmon Flies and my library have continued to grow.
In 1997, the FFF Conclave was held at Idaho Falls. This year, the conclave had a complete day dedicated to Atlantic Salmon Flies. I was fortunate to spend time watching Charlie Chute tying and learned much about his techniques including his method of setting Salmon Fly Wings (which included a lead weight and piano wire). I’ve tried this technique a few times, but my success has been very limited. Alec Jackson, who lives in the Seattle area and is a member of our guild, taught a class (which I attended) on trout and I also watched him tie his style of steelhead flies. The beauty, simplicity, and proportion of his tying methods continue to weave their way into many of the flies in my fly box and also my Atlantic Salmon Flies.
Harry Lemire has been an outstanding consistent contributor to our guild meetings and continues to teach all of the club members his techniques. I have enjoyed his friendship and mentoring immensely. He has taught me so many techniques that I can’t begin to list them. We have had entire meetings dedicated to learning to tie flies “in the hand” as Harry does. We all feel a special relationship to fly tyers of hundreds of years ago when we tie in the hand and when we simply watch Harry tie. He makes fly tying look like so much fun – which in the end is really what we all want.
My favorite fly is the Green Highlander (per Kelson). This fly is beautiful to look at and even more beautiful when you see it swim. I prefer this fly on a gold hook fished with a cane rod. When people who are unfamiliar with fly tying see this fly and how beautiful it is, they can’t believe that I would actually “fish” it.