LADY OF THE FLIES
Words & Photography by MICHELLE JACKSON
Fly tying has always been intimidating for me. I see all of those beautiful, intricately designed flies, minnows, beetles, ants, and other strange and wonderful designs and it makes me nervous. What if I can't get these down? What if the fish don't like them? Where do I even start? These were all things that kept me from perusing my curiosity - until recently!
I have always had a special place in my heart for fishing. It started when I was very young. We lived at Lake Isabella, California where you can buy lures and bait at every establishment in town. Not only did we have a very plentiful lake on our doorstep, but we also had an incredible river that rushed through town. Here, fishing was a way of life, and if we were not out fishing, we would be diving for lost hooks, spoons, and other lures that had been left behind. I was excited by every lure I found, analysing each design, wondering how it worked and how I could make it better.
When I was seven years old, I went on my first deep sea fishing trip off the coast of San Diego, California to fish for albacore tuna. Since we were from inland, we had to rent our equipment before we boarded the boat and that's when I first laid my eyes on saltwater flies. Their beauty entranced me. Vivid colours, wild designs and blinding flashes. I begged my dad for some, but of course, we weren't there to fly fish, so we left with a rented rod and hooks. Their brilliance made a lasting impression; I wondered how they were made and how I could make them. I became obsessed with their design. I was constantly reading sports magazines and running off to the fishing aisles within the stores. I learned how to order the Cabelas catalogue online; my mom was not thrilled with these bulky magazines flooding our mailbox. I would spend hours reading each page circling all of the material and equipment I'd need to begin tying my own flies.
Starting out, in my mind I was tying like a pro, in reality I was super glueing quail and dove feathers to my dad's mustad hooks. I wanted so badly to make a successful design and spent months drawing up new ideas. I found the courage to send my designs off to a company by the name of Zebco. I loved their lures and wanted them to have my designs. I thought I'd give them my images and hoped that they would make a revolutionary lure out of them. Looking back, they were pretty bad, and I don't think I could have even caught a cold with them! About a month later Zebco sent me a large box, generously filled with an assortment of lures, a new rod and a letter thanking me for my drawings and encouraging me to 'never give up.' I didn't!
Much of my free time as a child was spent drawing lures and flies, but we never really had the money to buy the equipment I needed to make them. At this point, I lived in a little town by the name of Yerington, Nevada and as I grew older and became a teen, I became wrapped up in life and lost touch with my creativity. I kept telling myself that I'd buy a kit or a book to reignite the passion, but everything else seemed to get in the way. Now an adult with a career, a fiancée, a child and a house, I found I wasn't hunting or fishing nearly as often as I once had and that started to bother me. One day, by chance, I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a post by a local man selling a fly tying kit with material. Something urged me to get it. I contacted him that morning, and by the afternoon I had a fly tying kit in front of me. I was so excited and couldn't wait to get tying. I am a bit of a scavenger. I keep all of the feathers and fur from animals we have hunted as well as things I have found while hiking, so I was glad I had so much material to get started with.
That night I must have got less than four hours of sleep. I was up all night reading and watching videos on how to use my new tools and materials, processes to make sure flies and the differences between them. My mind was flooded with new ideas, and I had the same feeling I did as a kid, but now I could bring my designs to life. The next morning I got up and started to put my newly gained knowledge to the test. It was difficult at first, much harder than I thought. You see so many beautiful flies, and at first, they look so simple and effortless - my, how appearances can be deceptive. I had my stumbles, not getting my dubbing to stick properly and I couldn't for the life of me understand the intimidating whip finish, the list goes on. I was enjoying myself though.
After a few flies, my confidence started to build. With each fly I created, I improved so much, picking up things I hadn't noticed before or had previously struggled with. It was no longer scary; it was incredibly relaxing. I found myself letting go of the stress within me and just focusing on my craft. Taking the time to just breath, paying attention to detail, wrapping evenly, laying down my feathers just right and finding pride in those finishing touches. There is a comfortable familiarity with fly tying, almost like catching up with an old friend. I take the fly off my vice and hold something that I have created that has the potential to put food on my table. I take so much satisfaction from watching my creations at work, seeing them dance gracefully on the water's surface, or dive with precision into the water.
If you have ever been curious about fly tying, I urge you to try it. There are so many resources to utilise, helpful videos online, classic books, magazines, and even friendly fellow fly tiers that would gladly share a tip or two with someone new to tying. Who knows, you might catch a record breaker with your very own work!
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