The lure of the flies
Tying your own flies can be considered an art or a utilitarian craft to catch just about any kind of fish.
Three local fly-tyers — Justin Aldrich and Jacob Brewster of Habersham County, and Scott Low of Rabun County — shared what they love about the art.
Aldrich got into tying flies, he said, “just to catch trout,” and now he ties flies for a living.
“I used to be a traditional fisherman, with a regular spinning reel, not a fly reel,” he said. “But when I came up here (to Northeast Georgia), there were trout. I quickly learned that trout eat a lot of different kinds of food. I couldn't use the different types of food they eat with traditional gear. I started fly tying before I started fly fishing.”
Brewster is a fishing guide at River’s Edge on the Soque River. While he’s been guiding for about four years, he’s been tying flies “for as long as I can remember,” he said.
“Growing up in north Georgia, you’re surrounded by some amazing trout waters,” he said. “Fly fishing and fly tying came at a very young age for me and many others in the area. It’s a great thing to learn and have fun with.”
Low, who owns Hatch Camp in Rabun County, said his camp offers all of his favorite things, including being able to use the flies he ties on his private stretch of Warwoman Creek.
"It's a campground, but it's built around fly fishing, music and art," Low said. "I'm a fly-fishing guide by day, and a musician by night. We have concerts a couple times a month, fly fishing and fly tying lessons and guided fishing trips on our private stretch of water."
The purpose of a fly is to imitate what the fish are eating at the moment, so those who tie the small fishing lures need to stay up on what’s hatching in the water.
"There's a term in fly fishing, called 'match the hatch' where you're matching what's hatching in the water, whether it be bugs, fish, caterpillars or whatever," Low said.
"The season and location have a lot to do with what I'm going to choose to fish with, or choose to tie," he said. "If I'm going out tomorrow, I'm going to tie flies for tomorrow's trip. I know what's hatching right now, and I know what's under the water right now for certain locations."
While fly fishing used to be primarily for trout or salmon, the sport has “branched out into about every species of fish you could think of, including large saltwater fish such as tarpon or billfish,” Brewster said. “These larger, more predatory fish eat smaller fish in most cases; in saltwater they also eat shrimp and various other type of shellfish. These ‘baitfish” can be tied using synthetic materials to mimic their profiles.”
"Every single game fish that swims out there is fished for on the fly,” Aldrich said. “Even shark. Salt water fish, from tarpon to sea trout to snook...all of those can be caught on the fly."
While trout are what Low primarily uses his flies for, he agrees almost any fish can be caught.
"Bass, bluegill, panfish and everything will eat a fly," he said. "Sometimes with bass and crappie, we tie more like top-water poppers, similar to what the spinner-bait guys throw, that makes a lot of commotion on the water.”
"For trout flies that sit on top of the water, we use a feather spun around the shaft of the hook that flays out and stands up," Low added. "For bass poppers, you use a barrel-shaped cork ... there's all kinds of things like Styrofoam, stuff that won't sink."
Brewster said fly tying is “a great thing to try out,” both for the fun and craft of tying, as well as saving money and getting a “closer representation of the aquatic insects of the water you’ll be fishing.”
He said beginning fly-tyers can purchase kits that have everything they need to get started. This includes “various feathers, furs, threads, synthetic materials, hooks, tools such as a vice to hold the hook, etc.” The kits usually include a book or DVD with step-by-step instructions on how to tie the flies.
Tying very small flies, called midges, requires a special vise to hold the hook.
"They're very, very small," Aldrich said. "A lot of those flies don't consist of anything but thread and maybe a feather fiber. A lot of vises come with midge jaws, which are sharper and pointier. Magnifying glasses and LED white lights are also used."
Aldrich stressed that there really are no rules to fly tying, though he said, beginners frequently think there are strict rules.
"If somebody says you have to use this pheasant tail to make (a fly), they (beginners) think this bug can't be completed without that material," he said. "But there's a lot of substitutions you can use."
There is a lot of room for creativity in fly tying.
“Sometimes fly tyers get creative, and will come up with attractor patterns,” Brewster said. These are variations of common fly patterns with “added colors or flash, to try to get the attention of picky fish.”
"My fly-tying desk looks like a craft store exploded with feathers and fur," Low said. "Fly tyers get specific with different types of feathers from a pheasant or a chicken, elk hair, deer hair, different parts of a rabbit have different consistencies of fur."
Low and Aldrich said fly tying can be "an art form,” and each one is unique, because fur, feathers and other natural materials vary. Some fishermen collect especially colorful flies to display in shadow box cases.
“It is an art," Aldrich said. "A lot of the art flies are salmon flies. Those are the bigger, brighter feathers, with contrasting colors. They're very beautiful. But there are flies out there made for trout that are very artsy."
"The variety of salmon flies, the feathers, the colors and the possibilities, is really endless," Low said. "That's kind of why fly fishing is such an amazing sport. You never stop learning."
For more information about tying flies, Justin Aldrich can be reached at email@example.com; Jacob Brewster can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; Scott Low’s Hatch Camp can be found on Facebook; and Unicoi Outfitters, 706-878-3083, offers fly-tying classes.