time flies in the winter for some anglers

Raincountry Flyfishers perfect the art of tying flies

Posted: Sunday, December 18, 2005

Winter days provide ample time for anglers to relive their summer glory and daydream about the bounties of spring.

For the Raincountry Flyfishers, the evenings are spent perfecting the art of tying flies and sharing their secret fishing holes.

"A lot of times we're tying flies that look good to us but not really to the fish," said Jim Ackerman, 66, who was taught to tie flies by his grandfather when he was 10 years old.

On Thursday evening, the fishing club gathered to use its fly-tying techniques to create Christmas ornaments.

"Fly fishermen will do anything to tie flies," Ron Hulstein said. "So if it's a Christmas mouse, hey, we can come up with a Christmas mouse. That's the fun of it. We can always improvise."

Like a sewing circle with a bit more testosterone, the anglers have intricate tool kits and share materials that range from fox fur to hot pink synthetic fibers, while discussing old tales and new techniques.

Hulstein, who teaches finance and fly-fishing at the University of Alaska Southeast, said fly fishermen are a special breed.

"Fly fishermen are the friendliest fishermen out there," he said. "They always will share a fly with you or tell you where to go. They have a heart for other fly fishermen."

Mark Vinsel, the president of the Raincountry Flyfishers, said fly fishermen's willingness to teach others to tie flies is an example of that friendliness.

"The patterns really aren't as important as the general shapes and forms," he said. "The color, the size and then the general shape are really the key things. The presentation of the fly, so that it mimics what the insect is doing on the water, also becomes important."

Vinsel said tying flies is an art form all of its own.

"You're taking raw materials and putting them together into something that is pleasing to your eye and also hopefully pleasing to the fish," he said.

This art keeps attracting new anglers to one of fishing's more romantic techniques. Jolene Shelton began tying flies this winter with the help of the Raincountry Flyfishers.

"I think it's really artistic and I've enjoyed looking at it for a long time," she said. "I like listening to these guys. I like listening to them talk about their secret little fishing holes."

Chris Cummins began fly-fishing in June after taking one of Hulstein's classes.

"For me, at my level, I have to concentrate so much on it that everything else goes away," he said. "I'm just so focused on fishing, and the time goes by way too fast."

"I love fly-fishing, and when I catch the fish it's almost anticlimactic after that," Cummins said. "It's kind of the challenge of getting them hooked, and then after that it's like, 'Hey, get off so I can do it again.'"

The flies don't only lure in fish, they are also known to capture the attention of anglers.

"There's as much a history to make flies beautiful to attract the fishermen, if they're for sale, as there is to make them functional to attract the fish," Vinsel said.

Hulstein said fly-fishing is not only an art form, it's also an obsession. He said that once you get into it, you really get into it.

"I think most people say the first time they catch a fish off their own fly it gives them such a different concept of fishing because then they realize how important it is to tie your flies good," Hulstein said. "It really builds up their ego a little bit. It says, hey, this works."

The Raincountry Flyfishers meet on first and third Thursdays of every month at 7 p.m. in the Mendenhall River Community School library. Annual club dues are $10.

Ackerman said the club is always looking for more anglers to join.

"Everybody should come out. We'll even teach them how to fly-fish," he said. "We'll have you fishing in a half hour."



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