nFly Tying in 1963:
I was reading a very good online piece today, pondering the motives of modern fly designers, when I started seeing a movie playing in my head about the days when I was learning to tie flies back in the 1960s. Some of our readers have heard a few of my stories before, but I decided to share a few of my remembrances for the entertainment and perhaps education of our younger reader/tyers.
The number of us old-timers is declining by the week it seems, and people of all ages who are starting the process of learning how to fly fish and tie flies usually have little or no comprehension of the world as we knew it. So here goes. It is the proper time to remember when dinosaurs still roamed free, I was a teenager, my family drove a Rambler American station wagon, and gas was 30 cents a gallon.
Here are a few of the realities in my world of tying flies in the 1960s. If I’m able, I will follow up with more posts in the future describing more about the tackle I/we fished, and what it was like to fish around some of the places we still fish here in Oregon.
Let’s get started.
How did I learn to tie?
No YouTube. No Internet. No fly tying blogs. Very few books of relevance to Oregon fly tyers. At least that is what I thought at the time, right or wrong, I was a kid with no particular mentor or circle of fly tyers to learn from. If there were fly tying clubs I didn’t know anything about them.I read on the internet that the Flyfishers’ Club of Oregon was founded in 1961. I must presume that the club founders had no outreach that could have found an eager teen like myself in the first few years of the club’s existence. I did have a Professional Fly Tying and Tackle Making by George Leonard Herter.
While this grey, black and white soft cover manual described a few fundamentals of tying traditional quil-wing wet and dry flies, it had nothing to say about tying a bucktail caddis, so I was at a disadvantage from the get-go. I eventually found Poly Rosborough’s book and a few others, but I think that was in the 1970s. T
Compared to the resources available to the average 1960s beginning tyer, the 2020 world of learning opportuinities are a marvel. It was common for tyers to learn alone, I felt lucky to find Auety Joy tying flies at the Meir and Freank Department store in downtown portland, and watched her tie whenever my mom took me downtown to shop.
Mustad, my best and most expensive fly hooks.
The best hooks I could afford in the mid-1960s were manufactured by Mustad. These were purchased in boxes of a hundred hooks, each hundred wrapped in wax paper, and placed neatly in a paper box. As a very small commercial tyer, I was able to purchase a lot of ten boxes, a thousand hooks, all the same size, in a long paper box.
Partridge fly hooks.
I heard about partridge hooks but never could afford to tie commercially on these. So, I had no experience with this hook. I think more experienced, more skilled tyers like Dave McNeese might have been tying on Partridge on a regular basis when I struggled to afford the Mustads.
My high-priced steelhead hooks.
The Mustad 36890 was my hook of choice when tying a more expensive grade of steelhead flies, and this hook featured what we called a Japan Black finish. As highly as it was regarded by tyers and anglers, the Mustad 36890 is not nearly the same quality as the TMC 7999 or the Alec Jackson hooks we have available today.
Eagle Claw trout hooks.
I also tied dry flies on Eagle Claw fly hooks, and these were received by anglers nearly as readily as the Mustard hooks, even though the Eagle Claw hooks didn’t have the same quality bronzing finish, and were not quite as sharp as the more expensive Mustad. It is odd, a little spooky even, that I’m writing on an Apple Computer in 2020, and I can still see the Eagle Claw hooks that I tied dry flies on. I can see them as clearly as if they were in the palm of my hand. I can’t quite remember the hook design number though. Was it a No. 50? No. 59? Oh well, I tied a ton of Adams and Mosquito flies on those hooks.
Eagle Claw Steelhead Hooks.
The Eagle Claw 1197-B was actually my favorite hook for steelhead flies. This hook was the bronze version, and the 1197 was also offered in nickel silver (1197-S), and gold finish 1197-G. I tied steelhead, shad, and salmon flies on the 1197 in sizes including 1/0, 2, 4, 6, and 8. My favorite hook sizes were the #4 and #6. Something happened to this hook when the transition occurred from size 6 to size 8. This is a phenomenon that is not unique to Eagle Claw. The best way I can describe it is this: the hook designer changed proportions somehow between size 6 and size 8, such that the size 8 was a little too long and the gape a little too narrow. The end result is that a wet fly tied on the 1197-B #6 was far more appealing, in my opinion than the same fly tied on a size 8.
Favorite Tying Thread.
My favorite fly tying thread in the 1960s was a sewing thread on wooden spools called Nymo. This thread was as close as I could describe as a 3/0 monocord, and was offered in a wide variety of colors that covered all the bases required by a tyer in Oregon, including greys, greens, reds, yellows, oranges, and of course black. Nearly all of my steelhead flies were tied with black Nymo. The exception to this rule was the golden Demon as shown me by Wayne Doughton, of Doughton Hardware in Salem Oregon. Wayne’s Golden Demon pattern called for bright yellow Nymo, red squirrel tail wing, and a hot orange collar or throat hackle. This fly was his favorite Deschutes fall steelhead pattern in a size 4 and 6.
Favorite bobbin in 1963-1971.
The best bobbin I had in the 1960s was a wooden clothespin. I waxed my Nymo by pulling it through a piece of paraffin wax and held tension as I wound the thread around the hook shank by palming the clothespin in my right hand. This a technique I learned from Audrey Joy when I watched her tying in the fishing tackle department of Meier and Frank in downtown Portland Oregon.
Favorite bobbin in 1975-80.
Sometime in the mid-1970s, I graduated to a Matarelli bobbin. The Matarelli was constructed of brass and steel and was, in my estimation, an absolutely reliable fly thing tool. I bet I’ve tied on these bobbins alongside more advanced bobbins for at least 30 years and I might be able to find one or two laying around still today.
Favorite fly tying scissors.
I tied with Thompson scissors, the kind with the red rubber finger holes. The scissor size was perfect and they cut year after year after year.
How often did I replace fly tying scissors and bobbins?
I never ever considered changing bobbins from one season to the next. Never.
What other fly thing tools did I use?
Nearly none. A needle stuck in a wine cork as a bobbin. I tried to use hackle guards but never got the knack, and I managed to hold hackles out of the way with my fingers. Whip finish tool? Never. Audrey taught me how to use my hand to finish my flies. Cement. Yes. Applied with my crude bobbin. Hackle pliers. Yes, I forgot these. Not many of our feathers were long enough to hold by finger pressure alone, so my hackle piers were a necessity. Hair stacker? Forgot these too. Never bought one though. My stacker was an aluminum cigar tube cut open on the side so that the hair could be removed. Parachute gallows? Nope. Profile plate? Nope. Various fancy scissors? Nope. Dubbing twirlers? Never twisted dubbing to make a composite loop so I never missed this tool. Half hitch tool? Nope, though it would have been nice on the very small #22s I tied for special customers. Cauthery tools, razor blade holders, … never thought about them and these were not tools of the trade for the simple trout and steelhead flies I normally tied anyway.
I think I’m memoried-out for the moment. But I promise to return with more stories about tying and fly fishing in Oregon in the days of my fresh, under-educated, unappreciative, and innocent youth.
Jay Nicholas, September 2020.
Where did the last six decades go?