The evolution of a fly fisherman and the process of learning how to lure a fish invariably seems to include fly tying. For some, that process leads to teaching others how to manipulate colored bits of yarn, thread, feathers, and fur into irresistible enticements for fickle fish. In Kenai, a group of fly fishermen, guides and conservationists from the Kenai Peninsula’s chapter of Trout Unlimited are in their second season of offering free fly-tying classes, along with the option of grabbing a beer and dinner, to novice and expert fishermen interested in learning more about the art behind creating lures.
On a recent Tuesday about 20 people gathered in the back corner of the Main Street Tap and Grill to watch instructors Mark Wackler and Lee Kuepper take turns teaching the art of making egg-patterned Glo Bugs and flesh-patterned flies under the neon lights of the bar’s advertisements.
So far, the classes have been mixed with longtime anglers and fly tiers, alongside people whose novice fishing experience has yet to include making their own flies.
Shayne Pond, who fell in the former category, sat with his 3-year-old daughter Zaydri Pond, as he guided her hand to carefully clip a tuft of pink yarn close to the shank of a hook. The pattern was two pieces of yarn trimmed to form a circle, which looks like an egg.
“I think she helped tie her first fly when she was probably 18 months old,” he said, without looking up from their creation. The yarn unraveled from the hook and Zaydri Pond frowned, “Aw. It fell off.”
“I guess we’ll try it again,” he said as he grinned down at her.
Pond said he alternated between bringing his daughter and his 6-year-old son to the events — both have been tying flies with him for years.
“A lot of the stuff we tie here is really basic, but it’s nice to see these guys talk and pick their brains,” he said.
The Glo Bug the two made is a simple fly that’s good for targeting rainbow trout, steelhead, Dolly Varden or grayling — all prolific on the Kenai Peninsula.
“We’re trying to give people patterns that they can actually use to go out and catch fish on,” Kuepper said.
The specialized fly tying clamps and materials were donated from Soldotna-based Sportsman’s Warehouse, and both Wackler and Kuepper are Kenai River fishing guides with extensive experience teaching both fly fishing and tying. Though, that experience has not been without its drawbacks.
Both said that the inaugural class in 2013 had been complicated for many who attended. About a minute into his presentation, Kuepper said he realized that many of the people in the audience didn’t have any experience.
“I was teaching a sculpin pattern that involved a dubbing loop and … just more advanced techniques in developing a fly,” Kuepper said with a laugh. “The glassy eyes was the best thing.”
Wackler said that because the audience has ended up being mostly beginners with a few fishing gurus in the mix, the two are working on skill-building during the monthly classes.
“We’re trying to incorporate lessons in techniques, in how to tie, because it’s all about technique. It’s easier if you know the technique. So we’re progressing through these lessons, people are learning how to control the thread better, how to maintain a proper body. They just get more skilled as we go along, so we’re going to increase the complexity of the flies as we go,” Kuepper said.
The classes are a departure from some of Trout Unlimited’s other outreach events which are typically targeted toward conservation and education in area fisheries.
“We’re trying to do things that may be more fun, more social and … in the long run, hopefully that will draw more interest to our organization,” Wackler said.