Beyond the pulses of music at the Main Street Tap and Grill Tuesday, local fishermen sat hunched over fishing flies in various states of completion, carefully winding string around their soon-to-be finished lures.
When the Kenai Peninsula chapter of Trout Unlimited hosted its first fly-tying event a few years ago, the instructors quickly realized they would have to scale back their operation because the class was filled with relative rookies.
“…Instead of getting all these experienced fly-tiers that wanted to get together and tie flies together, we got a lot of beginners that wanted to learn how to tie flies,” said Mark Wackler, the group’s vice president. “It was ideal, but I think we didn’t expect it the first time.”
Now, Wackler said instructors see a wide range of talent and previous experience in the people who come to benefit from the fly-fishing workshops hosted by Trout Unlimited and Soldotna’s Sportsman’s Warehouse. They have narrowed down the best kinds of flies to tackle with those who attend the classes, identifying those that can be mastered by newcomers while keeping old hats busy and engaged.
At Tuesday night’s workshop tucked into a corner of the Main Street Tap and Grill in Kenai, an intimate group of five fishing enthusiasts got a crash course in how to tie what instructors called a smolt pattern fly.
“We get all the way from other fishing guides on the extreme end that tie flies all the time, to people that have never even put a hook in a vise,” Wackler said.
The fly-tying classes are free to participants, with materials donated by Sportsman’s Warehouse. Since the workshops began, they have grown to fill a gap in the community for people who are developing as anglers and moving through the phases of fishing, Wackler said.
“I think that fly-fishing is a growing sport for sure,” he said. “I think a lot of people are making the evolution from folks … who started fishing with a standard mechanic rod and reel and I think fly-fishing a lot of times for people is kind of the next step in their evolution of becoming a real fisherman.”
Since there are no fly shops in the immediate area to help people learn to use or make the equipment, the classes are important for those who want to learn and understand the process behind fly-fishing, Wackler said. The local chapter of Trout Unlimited uses events like the fly-tying classes as a way to entice new members and differentiate themselves from the national, more politically involved organization, he said.
“Sort of the purpose of our chapter is not to be a real political organization locally at this point in our organization’s history … more just to bring some fun, some education and events of that type to the community,” he said.
The group is concerned with conservation, but is still relatively new to the area, so its main focus is building membership with fun events and workshops, Wackler said.
Trout Unlimited has also scaled back on the number of workshops it hosts throughout the winter, holding an event every other month instead of each month, Wackler said. The workshops still see a range of participation, though. While Tuesday’s event was small and allowed for more one-on-one instruction, Wackler said the classes still sometimes draw upward of 20 participants at a time.
One of Tuesday’s avid anglers was Soldotna resident Amber Mullican, a member of the local Trout Unlimited chapter. While she has been fly-fishing for more than 25 years, she brought along her friend, LaDonna McCray of Oklahoma, who was visiting and had never tied a fly in her life.
“It’s pretty cool (and) interesting, but I never, you know, was like ‘Oh you know, let’s go tie a fly!’” McCray said. “It’s challenging because it’s my first ever but it’s also — once you get the hang of it, it’s like, ‘Ok, I can do this.’”
Mullican, who McCray joked has been fly-fishing since she was in diapers, said she prefers to make flies that incorporate beads, like the “happy meal” fly, because they get a better response from fish.
“They’re very hands-on,” Mullican said of the workshops, praising them for being good for beginners who want to get started in the sport.
Trout Unlimited’s last fly-tying course of the season will be held in April.
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.