Somerset, New Jersey, November 20, 2010
All photos by Alyssa for
Shaping deer hair flies can be a traumatic experience. One mistake with the razor, one bad cut with the scissors, and the fly is done. You might be able to salvage something out of it but it won't be pretty and you'll always know that you botched the job and won't fish it with confidence.
My daughter and I were at the International Fly Tying Symposium in Somerset, New Jersey, watching some of the best tyers display and demonstrate their work. We stopped at the table of Lee Weil to watch her shape a deer hair minnow-- a three inch chartreuse and white fly with a maribou tail. She carefully used a razor blade to shape the body, turning it in her fingers as she worked from head to tail then using a pair of fine scissors to trim a hair or three that stuck out near the tail.

While Weil was finishing her fly my daughter, who doesn't know much about fly tying materials, asked about the deer hair. I told her it was from genetically modified deer that were bred at special farms in the various colors she saw scattered across the table. She gave me a sour look and slowly shook her head and I though Weil was going to slice through the head of that minnow as she suppressed her laughter.
Nearly all the best tyers from the USA were displaying their stuff. Folks like Bob Clouser, Jay "Fishy" Fullum, Charlie Meck, Tom Baltz, and Dick Talleur were there plus an international contingent featuring tyers like Theo Bakelaar from Holland, Enrico Puglisi from Sicily (but also representing the USA), Safet Nikocevic from Montenegro, Peter Joest from Germany and Andres Touceda from Spain. Of course there were more tyers in attendance, around 108 give or take a few.
As we moved through the exhibition hall my daughter took control of the camera and shot photos. An advantage of having a kid do the photography is the majority of the tyers, when seeing a youngster pushing a lens towards them, will accomodate the shooter by giving them a clean shot. Bob Clouser displayed flies for her and several others set up their creations so she could get a clean picture. Nice.
Freshwater. Saltwater. Trout. Tarpon. Tuna. Carp. If you fish for it a tyer had a pattern on display or for sale. But there were also a bunch of tyers who were creating realistic flies. These creations looked so real that you expected them to crawl off the table. We watched as Jackson Leong explained how to create a leg of a Walking Stick using thin copper wire and 13 deer hairs.
It was amazing. You would swear the finished leg was off a real insect. Naturally, due to the cost of producing these flies, you're just going to collect them and not fish them although you probably could if you wanted to. Leong told me realistics are a growing market and serious collectors will pay serious money for these flies.
There were also several merchandise vendors there and you could find boxes of hair, hackle, skins, thread and whatever else you'd need to outfit your bench at home. Nothing really new as far as fly tying hardware but just to be able to see everything in one place--all the vises, bobbins, hackle pliers and accessories made the trip worthwhile.
The little girl also did a fine job handling the photography. She blew through two SD cards and provided some good images for the report. But she also blabbed to whoever would listen that I didn't get her hooked up to any big fish during our vacation. It wasn't my fault. The tide sucked!