The Art of Fly tying – An escape from adversity

By Jamie Pike

Where do I really begin?  I suppose I should go back to when I first tried my hand at binding feather and fur to the cold steel of a hook.  I was  a Paramedic in a small rural Newfoundland community.  I was new to the area, and knew no one there except the other medical staff that I had been introduced to.  The  drive was approximately an hour from my residence and I then would live in a small apartment within the firehall for 4 consecutive days (24hr days) then I would return home for 3 days.  Wash, rinse, repeat. One of my fellow coworkers was a fly tyer, and tied a variety of trout and salmon flies.  While I had been fly fishing for a number of years, I never did pick up the art of tying my own flies.  I suppose I never had the patience to learn either.  The long days left me wanting something to take up the down-time, and my coworker invited me over to his house one evening for a meal and to chat.  His lovely wife adorned us with a sprawl of cooked vegetables and sea ducks, drowned  in thick, rich gravy, and stuffed with a mash of savory, bread crumbs, onion and butter.  After filling ourselves to the brim, we waddled into the office where he had his vise and materials laid out.  He began tying, and I was captivated with how the material went from the hide of the animal, clipped carefully with razor sharp scissors.  Then, with a surgeon’s precision, laid on the hook and bound with small thread.   He was a fast tyer, and in no time had a stunning Blue Charm laid in front of me.  I knew right then and there that I wanted, correction…I NEEDED to learn this art.  He graciously threw together a starter kit for me consisting of an old vise, some hooks, thread, and other material needed to tie some basic patterns.  He also advised I have a sharp knife.  When I asked, “What’s the knife for?”  He replied with a chuckle “You’re going to tie some ugly flies.  Might as well reuse the hooks.”  Off I went that winter evening, unaware of what my future in the art of fly tying would bring.  The hours spent at the vise, the money spent on materials, the joy in having my daughter sit in her lap and tie her first fly, and, where we will pick up the story – how fly tying would become my safe place during the COVID19 pandemic.

 

 

Fast forward now – many years, tens of thousands of hooks, miles of thread, countless hours spent with the lamplight shining down on my hands.  I had been tying and selling the occasional order of flies in recent years, and, while I had amassed a healthy collection of materials, fly tying remained mostly a casual pastime.  I had been working in EMS now since 2004, and as you can imagine, after 15 years in that line of work – there’s been some days that are etched into my mind forever.   Enter 2019 – the COVID19 pandemic sharply grinds the world to a halt.  Businesses are shutting doors, schools are closed, global markets are collapsing, every day people are dying, and all the while, Paramedics (and other essential workers) are reporting to duty day in and day out.  The unknown is terrifying. Not knowing which patient could/does have the virus, initially not knowing how to keep yourself safe, your children safe, or your spouse safe.  Not knowing if or when it will ever be over.   Mandated overtime.  Denied annual leave requests.  Mounting stress levels.  Lockdowns.  Family members dying.  Patients dying.  ARGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH I need something to clear my mind!! 

I walked into the shared office space in our home where, one side of the room houses my wife’s sewing and quilting, and the other side of the room was my area for tying flies.  I unpacked my vise, clicked on the light, switched on some background music, and began tying.  I tied flies until the front door opened.  It was my wife (also a Paramedic)who  had returned from an overtime shift.   I looked down at the heap of flies in front of me.  There must’ve been 4 dozen or more.  I was lost, for hours, in the peace and serenity of fly tying.  I’d forgotten all about the hustle and bustle, the sickness, the stress, and the demand.  For those few hours I was absolutely free.   I’d lost myself in the moment.  There was no stress, no screaming, no sirens.  There was just me, my vise, hooks, hackles, and hair.  That day I found myself.  I really found myself.

 

In 2020 I began tying commercially and started a Facebook (The Perfect Presentation) and Instagram (theperfectpresentationnl) page and have spent more considerable amounts of time in my happy place.  2020 – 2022 I have sold over 10,000 flies all across Newfoundland, Canada, into the USA, England, Scotland, Iceland, and Russia.  I have befriended some other amazing fly dressers and I am very active in the local fly-tying scene.    Zoom meetings, limited attendance workshops, social media posts, ambassadorships from industry leading companies – all thanks to just needing something to pass the time.  Every day, I set my alarm early; long before I actually need to get out of bed and prepare for work.  I’ll spend an hour or so creating a fly, or tying something special.  I may tie for a customer order, or maybe I just tie some flies for my own kit.  Whatever the circumstance, even a short time at the vise is good for my body and my soul. 

 

So many people have felt, and continue to feel, the stress and strain of the pandemic over the last three years.   For a healthy mind, we all need a safe place to go, even if just for a little while, to escape.  Whether it’s a good book, a scenic walk, a musical instrument, wood working, scrapbooking, or for me, fly tying; we all need a release.  We all need something to refresh, to recharge, and to rejuvenate.  For me, it’s the glow of a desk lamp, the thread winding around the hook, and the solitude of fly tying. 

Find your happy place. 

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