When it comes to fly fishing, Trevor Gong hardly considers himself a purist; his two-handed rods, silk-weight monofilament and modern fishing innovations certainly set him apart from his traditionalist counterparts.
But when it comes to his fly tying, a craft he’s cultivated into an elaborate art form, he’s the very definition of the word. His patterns echo the aesthetics of more than 100 years of fly tying — the exotic feathers, the finely dyed silks, bright tinsel, hand-bent hooks and twisted silk gut eye.
“The art, as a whole, is derived from classic Atlantic salmon fly tying,” Gong said. “(These are the materials) they used, what they worked with.”
Gong’s creations are certainly classic, but with the volume turned up. Way up.
One fly, titled “Fire and Ice,” is like the first croci of spring, a bright beacon against an otherwise drab background. It consists of multiple layers of married wings — a technique where the fly tier deconstructs a feather down to the individual barbs, then reconstructs the bits into a new, multicolored creation — all tied strategically atop a gently curving traditionalist spey hook. A silver body acts like the dividing line between an inferno and frost.
Tomorrow, the public will have a chance to view Gong’s new work, a show titled “Thread,” as part of the February First Friday event beginning at 4:30 p.m. at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum. This is his second art opening at the local museum; his first was in 2008.
Of the 16 pieces selected for display, each is an original pattern — or his take on a traditional — and is matted and framed by hand.
Gong is also a woodworker, who takes pride in seeking out eye-catching woods and milling his own frames. He said he’s always been disappointed with the quality and cost of store-bought shadow boxes, for example.
While setting up for his show on Wednesday, Gong gestured to one frame holding a fly he titled “Purple Dragon.” The frame was made from purple heart wood, and echoed the pink, purple and mottled married wings of the fly.
Gong has been tying for the last 25 years, a habit that began out of necessity while working at a Seattle-based fly fishing shop.
“I did a lot of steelhead fishing,” Gong said. “Domestic fly tying kind of bores me ... I do it because I need to in order to go fishing.”
But this, he said as he motioned to a wall full of framed pieces, “this is where I have fun and find it interesting.”
“There’s not a lot of people who do this,” he said. “Mostly, because the materials are really expensive. And, it takes a lot of patience. You have to be willing to tie all the way into it, and if it’s just not right, you have to be willing to unwrap two hours worth of work — you can’t just leave it. Or, you have to get it right the first time.”
Gong estimates it takes him roughly 45 minutes to complete a hook. He said it takes six to eight hours to complete a fly. Perhaps another hour or two to complete the frame and matting, which he also cuts by hand. In all, one fly from start to finish could take days.
In comparison, a good fly tier could whip up dozens of flies in the same amount of time for everyday use.
But Gong isn’t in a hurry, when it comes to the process of creating his art. His inspiration is gleaned from little bits of everywhere — from the colors of his hand-dyed feathers, to the arc of his hooks.
“Sometimes, I just go for it. Sometimes it’s a pattern I already know. Sometimes, I don’t have a clue, until it’s done,” he said.
Sometimes, he comes up with the title first, and creates the fly to fit.
One thing he said he’s always careful to consider, is matching the curvature of the feathers to the slope of the hook.
With a large collection of feathers already amassed, Gong said he’s ready to branch out and begin experimenting with the materials of his hooks.
“My future plan is to add glass,” he said. “I’ve been teaching myself lamp-working. I want to make hooks out of glass.”
Although Gong’s flies look more like art, than a functional pattern, he said he has fished them.
“I fished one last fall, and the fishing sucked, so I didn’t catch anything on it,” he said.
As an avid and regular local fly fisher, Gong also makes regular trips north to the Naknek River, and south to the Grand Ronde.
He admitted that it’s not always the fly in the water, it’s also the fisherman who’s fishing it. And while the patterns may not lend themselves well to catching fish, Gong said he does incorporate some of the attributes of his display flies into his fishable flies.
“I like to use the ‘blind eye’ — that’s what we call it when there’s no eye to the hook — when fishing,” Gong said. “It makes the fly ‘swim’ better.”
Gong’s flies transcend functionality, and offer up a new take on old classics.
The show “Thread” will be on display until Saturday, Feb. 23.
• Contact Outdoors Editor Abby Lowell at firstname.lastname@example.org.