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'An Obsession' well worth it

Dennis Eberly had been a worm fisherman most of his life until 1972, when a friend finally coaxed him out onto the Santiam River to try fly casting.

A base layer of thread is laid down along the shank of the hook with a "bobbin" tool; elk hair is tied on and splayed out to resemble wings; a tail section is added and trimmed to size: seal fur is "dubbed" onto the thread with wax and wrapped to create a body; some minor trimming and a whip finish knot completes the fly. This "Sparkle Dun" was created by Jim Snyder.

A base layer of thread is laid down along the shank of the hook with a "bobbin" tool; elk hair is tied on and splayed out to resemble wings; a tail section is added and trimmed to size: seal fur is "dubbed" onto the thread with wax and wrapped to create a body; some minor trimming and a whip finish knot completes the fly. This "Sparkle Dun" was created by Jim Snyder.

March 06, 2012

Dennis Eberly had been a worm fisherman most of his life until 1972, when a friend finally coaxed him out onto the Santiam River to try fly casting.

"I caught a bunch of Douglas fir limbs and weeds, but no fish for a while," Eberly said. "But when I finally did, that was it."

Back in those days, it might cost you 45 cents for a fly, and a lot more for a good one, Eberly said.

"So I started to think, `I can tie these.'"

"I like the artistry that happens, when you start from nothing," said Eberly, who's been tying flies ever since.

The late Al Campbell, a well-known fly angler and outdoor columnist from South Dakota, wrote in a primer to fly tying that the fly fishers undergo "an evolution after taking up the sport."

"Some take up fly tying to cut the costs of all the flies they seem to leave in bushes and trees everywhere they go," Campbell wrote. "Others want to try it to increase their involvement in the finer details of the sport."

But there's something about the exact and precise practice of tying the fanciful lures that becomes an "obsession" all its own, said Ron Caligure, another Monmouth fly fisherman who ties flies at fishing expos.

Ron Caligure

Photo by Pete Strong

Ron Caligure's collection of colored thread and tools could make most seamstresses jealous.

"I consider it an art form," Caligure said. "I like to sit down and see what I can create."

His office is evidence of that. Alongside sports memorabilia sit numerous framed displays of Atlantic salmon flies, spey flies, realistic-looking nymphs and shrimp. Some he's purchased from master tyers. Others he's made.

Caligure recently finished a set of 12 salmon flies bearing the colors of each school in the NCAA's Pac-12 Conference. Another resembles a sword fish, using a peacock plume.

"Sometimes I tie these, and I'll say to myself, `I can't fish this, it looks too good,'" he said with a laugh.

Generally speaking, artificial flies come in imitation and attractor patterns. The former mimics critters fish might eat; the latter seeks to arouse a response.

Meanwhile, there's a long list of the types of flies -- dry, wet, streamer, terrestrial, salt water, and others -- used in specific settings and for certain fish. And there's those borne from an angler's imagination.

"It's multipurpose," said Eberly, who used to sell flies and do fly tying demonstrations for kids and adults alike. "You want to bring home something for breakfast, you want it to look good."

Jim Snyder, another longtime fly fisherman from Monmouth, periodically teaches classes on tying lures. He's also a collector of fly-making materials, "an addiction" in and of itself, he said.

His office is filled with boxes containing hackles and feathers of chickens, ducks, pheasants and other birds. There's a variety of furs, including dyed polar bear. A large rolltop desk is lined with jars, dozens of spools of thread, and tools that look as though they belong in a surgeon's office.

Jim Snyder of Monmouth searches for a particular feather while tying a Green Butt Skunk, a common steelhead fly.

Photo by Pete Strong

Jim Snyder of Monmouth searches for a particular feather while tying a Green Butt Skunk, a common steelhead fly.

"It's one of the more fun parts of fly tying," Snyder said. "You get to play with all this neat stuff."

Snyder sets a small hook in a vise, and winds a base of green thread around it to start a "Green Butt Skunk" -- a must-have steelhead pattern.

"Good light is important," he said, hunched over the desk, a lamp near his face. "Being nearsighted doesn't hurt either."

Snyder ties down a pinch of red bantam hackle, silver tinsel, seal and polar bear fur that's pulled along the length of the hook to flare out. It's tied off with a whip finish.

"The first one of a series always looks like crap," Snyder said. "But by the fourth or fifth, they'll look pretty good."

Eberly said this part of the Willamette Valley isn't known for fly fishing, though there are plenty of talented local fly tyers in the county.

Jim Snyder

Photo by Pete Strong

Jim Snyder's bookshelf has a common theme; he owns dozens of books on fly tying, as well as fish behavior and feeding, insect hatches and guides broren down by by region, lake and river.

Deke Meyer of Monmouth, for example, has authored several guides and magazine articles on the art of fly tying. Richard Bunse of Independence ties flies and has illustrated fly fishing books.

Snyder said fly tying isn't an everyday habit for him, unless the season beckons.

"I can go a month at a stretch without tying," he said. "But then you get bitten by the bug and you go like crazy."

Learn More

* Interested in learning how to tie flies or seeing artistic and realistic fly patterns? The Northwest Fly Tying & Fly Fishing Expo will take place on Friday and Saturday at the Linn County Expo Center in Albany.

The event, billed as the "largest fly tying event west of the Mississippi," will feature demonstrations from 187 fly tyers -- including some from Polk County.

General admission is $5. Veterans and kids under 18 can get in for free.

For more information: www.nwexpo.com.

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