As I sat at my desk trying to figure out what fly to tie using a package of olive Cactus Chenille, my three-year-old daughter Sophia came into my office and asked what I was doing. If anyone else had asked me that same question with that exact tone of voice, I may have been forced to reflect on more than just a package of faux fur.
What am I doing? I thought. She’s right. What am I doing? More importantly, why am I doing it?
But she’s only three, and I’ve learned that you ignore the tone of voice and take what most three-year-olds say at face value. “I’m tying flies,” I said.
“Tying fwy fwies?” she said.
“Yep,” I said. “Fwy fwies.”
After that it was like an Abbott and Costello routine. She’d pick up a package of pink dubbing, “Ooh, I love it,” and I’d take it from her and set it out of reach. She’d pick up an expensive dry fly neck hackle, “I love this, too,” and I’d take it and set it aside. And so on and so forth with chenille, thread, beads, hooks, and whatever was within arm’s reach. Finally, everything that had been scattered all over my desk was now neatly stacked on the side against the window.
I started tying flies when I was 15 or so. The first fly I ever tied was a Catskill-style Light Hendrickson because that also happened to be the first dry fly hatch I ever fished over a year earlier when I first started fly fishing. After that, I spent hours in my room, whipping up Woolly Buggers, Hare’s Ears, and Prince Nymphs. My first attempts looked awful, but I got better. Eventually I started stocking flies in two stores that sold them on a commission basis. I earned $1.00 for every fly they sold, and I made enough money to keep myself in hooks and feathers all through high school.
And then, for whatever reason, I stopped tying flies. Life happened, I guess, and I just didn’t have time. When money was short, I tied the occasional Woolly Bugger so I didn’t have to buy them. Other than that, though, I seldom opened the plastic tote where all of my tying stuff was stored.
Twenty years passed.
Back in January, my wife found a very unique, old desk online cheap. The guy selling it had bought it at a real estate auction along with a bunch of other furniture. After looking at the pictures, I thought it would be the ultimate fly tying desk. Not even sure why I thought that – I hadn’t tied a fly in years.
Anyway, when you have a desk like that, you have to use it. I stocked the shelves with fly tying supplies, filled the small drawers with various boxes of hooks and beads, and clamped my vice on the foldout shelf. I was back in business.
Fly tying has turned out to be a very good stress reliever, and it’s definitely helped pass the time during all of this coronavirus stuff. I’ve found that I’m much happier sitting at my desk tying flies than sitting on the couch watching the news and how even a pandemic could become a political talking point.
Besides, I’ve found that I really enjoy sifting through the packages of brightly-colored furs and hackles trying to figure out what to tie next. I’m not as good as I used to be, but I’m getting there. In many ways, fly tying is all about muscle memory, getting your fingers to do what they need to do without actually thinking about it. Sort of like fly fishing. The only way to get better is through repetition.
“Daddy?” Sophia asked. “Will you tie me some fwy fwies?”
“Of course! What color would you like your fwy fwies to be?”
She pointed to the pink dubbing material. And the green dubbing, and the purple dubbing, and so on and so forth. I tied up a nice big flashy Woolly Bugger with olive Cactus Chenille and handed it to her telling her to be careful of the hook.
She held the fly in front of her face, inspecting it with wide-eyed wonder. “It’s beautiful!” she said. “I love it!”
“I’m glad,” I said. “But you’ll have to leave it in here on my desk so your brother doesn’t eat it.” Her brother Jude just turned 1 in March.
She accepted that fact and stuck around as I tied a few more. She intently watched as I wrapped the chenille and hackle around the hook, and every time I showed her something new, she said how much she loved how it looked.
A short while later, my wife asked what I was doing in my office. Sophia got that furrow between her brows when she’s trying to be serious. “Daddy’s tying me fwy fwies,” she said, as if I was doing the most important thing in the world. And in that moment, I do believe it was.