Somerset, New Jersey, November 18, 2012
Anyone who fly fishes long enough will wind up tying their own flies. I don’t know why--after adding everything up you come out cheaper if you just buy the damn things and you won’t have to listen to your significant other screaming in terror if a dried squirrel or bird carcass falls out of a desk drawer. And you will also avoid explaining to your child why you’re clipping hair off the Easter Bunny’s face and tying it onto a hook. I guess it comes down to pride and the fact that when you finally catch your first fish on a fly you tied, it’s a feeling few anglers forget. Your fly was good enough to fool that fish! The fact that the fish probably has a brain about the size of a pin head doesn’t register at that moment. I’ve been fishing for a while and tie the majority of my flies, which I think they are passable for the insect they’re supposed to represent, but they are in no way close in exquisite quality and detail to those I saw the experts churning out at the International Fly Tying Symposium.
There were 118 tyers from the USA, Canada and a handful of European countries demonstrating their skills during the two-day show. There was something there for every interest, from tiny size 32 midges for those Eastern hatches all they way up to 8/0 Marlin teasers that looked like they just slapped a whole chicken onto the hook and called it a day. I watched folks tie Czech nymphs, caddis and delicate emergers. I watched a demonstration on how to tie foam hoppers and another on using Clear Cure Goo to coat the heads of baitfish flies, a product which is way easier to use than epoxy with the advantage of less mess and instant gratification. There were also people tying patterns that look so realistic that the only evidence it was to be used for fishing instead of swatted with a rolled up magazine was the curved shank protruding below the fly.
I also spent a lot of time watching the deer hair fly people. I think these flies look great and it seems a shame that their ultimate fate is to wind up chewed to pieces. There were a few patterns that could be used to catch trout, but the majority of the flies were for bass, pike, muskie or saltwater applications. I watched carefully as the experts spun and packed deer hair on the hook shank, explaining which type of hair is best for this pattern or that pattern and how to properly stack and pack so you wind up with a uniform ball of hair. But one of the most important things to remember, if you want a really nice deer hair body, is to use a very sharp razor blade. And never use the blade more than twice. All the tiers warned folks to work slowly--take a little hair off at a time because you can always take more hair off but it’s pretty tough to add more back if you cut too deep.
I poked through boxes, packages and several hanging displays of hackle. I grabbed a fox tail for SteveL, some new flash material I’ve never seen before and a small bin of other stuff that I don’t really need right now but I think I might need in the future. At one of the booths, as the cashier was ringing up and item I found in a discount bin, the vendor saw what I was buying and told me “I scored big time” on that item. He marked it low because he ordered a large lot for the shop but couldn’t move it fast enough and needed to make room for next year’s product. Lots of people looked at it but passed, not knowing what to do with it. But I knew what it was so for $5 I got a bag of 100 small metal fish head-style weights for saltwater patterns. Toss in a couple sheets of molded fish eyes (about 400) for $4 and it was a deal.
There was also a lot of hardware that was not tying-related. A new addition to the show was a bamboo fly rod section that was beautiful to look at but beyond my wallet’s capacity. Custom rod makers were also there as well as a Tenkara rod dealer. There were also vendors selling reels, lines, bags, books and boots.
I stuck around for a couple seminars and took another slow walk through the exhibition hall just to make sure I saw everything before hitting I-95 for the drive home.

Directions: Garden State Exhibit Center, 50 Atrium Drive, Somerset, N.J. The exhibition center is off I-287 at Exit 10. I-287 can be accessed from Exit 10 of the NJ Turnpike, and Exit 127 of the Parkway.