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Anglers learn the art of fly tying

March 28, 2004|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - When Sterling Buzzell was growing up in a small town in Maine, he had no instructions or books on fly tying.

So at age 12, Buzzell took one of his father's flies apart and, in a feat of reverse engineering, took notes on how to create one. He gave the resulting fly to his father, who caught a trout with it the next time they went fishing.

On Saturday, Buzzell, who now lives in Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., shared with others the intricacies of fly tying at a three-hour workshop sponsored by Renfrew Institute in partnership with Antietam Fly Anglers, of which Buzzell is president.


"Fly tying is an art," Buzzell said. "The least important thing about fly fishing is catching a fish, not when you can tie something like this," displaying multicolored flies in a plastic box.

Four tables, each with an instructor and two or three students, were set around the visitors center at Renfrew.

Fly tying involves covering a fishhook with various materials to create something that looks like whatever bug is in season for fish to eat.

The craft requires small, specialized tools and a variety of materials such as chenille yarn, chicken feathers, marabou from local domestic turkeys, which may be dyed various colors, and grizzly feathers. "That's a color, not a bear," Buzzell said.

The hook is held in a tabletop vise, which can cost between $35 and $600.

The various materials are wrapped and looped around the hook to create realistic bugs, some the size of small ants, and others quite large.

"If you threw an ant in the water, it would float and a fish would eat it," Buzzell said.

The work is exacting; at one point, Buzzell had his students wrapping strips of feathers between wraps of chenille.

Tom Scally of Bennington, W.Va., instructed two students.

"We try to imitate what fish like to eat," he said, noting that "it's cheaper to buy them than to tie your own."

So why does he do it?

"It's therapeutic," Scally said. "I have a 35-minute commute on the interstate, and before supper, I sit down and tie a few flies and relax."

Eric Leaper of Waynesboro said his 13-year-old son ties better flies than he does.

"I'm trying to catch up with him," he said.

"It's a family thing," Scally said. "I guess it's an art form. I've seen people pay a lot for a fly. I just tie simple flies to catch fish."

Scally says he enjoys fishing for salmon in New York, and fishes locally in the Susquehanna River, Falling Spring, Antietam Creek, the Casselman River, and the north branch of the Potomac.

Marjorie Cartwright of Hagerstown is taking a class on fly fishing at Hagerstown Community College, and was making her first attempt at tying her own flies under Scally's tutelage.

Margaret Freesland of Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., had made a Green Weenie and was working on a Woolly Bugger.

"Green Weenies are used this time of year for bass, trout and sunfish," she said.

Freesland said she made a few flies last summer, then received a fly rod for Christmas and has been practicing casting. She attended the workshop with her fiance, Chris Webb, and her daughter, Ali Freesland.

"To me, fly tying is about a lifestyle," Margaret Freesland said. "You don't make flies fast, and you don't go fishing if you want to live fast. You can sit by a creek and fish, and no one criticizes you. It's a sanctioned form of relaxation. Fly fishing is an art to me."

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