Who says it takes a lot of years to master the craft of fly tying? Dan Thomas is an inspiration to new tiers hoping to get on the fast track to making fish-catching patterns.
[by Dave Klausemeyer]
I am embarrassed to say how long I’ve been tying flies. (Men were still stepping on the moon.) Even after many years of tying, my skill level is only slightly above the beginner’s stage but barely in the intermediate class. (I have a foot in both worlds.) I am always eager to try new tying techniques. (But doing simple things like making married wet fly wings still puzzles me.) As much as I practice tying, sometimes I feel like I am all thumbs.
Hook: Tiemco TMC101, size 14.
Bead: Small gold bead.
Thread: Brown Uni-Thread 8/0.
Tail: Centipede Legs.
Abdomen: Brown D-Rib.
Gills: Light olive Uni-Stretch.
Rib: Monofilament thread.
Thorax: Light olive SLF squirrel dubbing.
Wing case: Brown Rainy’s Stretch Flex.
Legs: Centipede Legs.
Okay, enough about me. Now let’s talk about a good tier, someone who in only a few years (and who was born after men stopped hopping around the moon) has mastered the art of making high-quality flies that catch fish.
Dan Thomas, of Carbondale, Pennsylvania, is going to set the fly tying world on fire. He is young and talented, and he ties flies for real-world fishing situations. Dan will be an inspiration to experienced tiers looking for new patterns and techniques, and he will inspire novice tiers hoping to acquire the skills necessary to simply create nice flies.
Boy, Was I Surprised
I caught up with Dan one evening after the end of a long workday; a long day for him, that is. He was on the road, holed up in a motel waiting for a delivery of Chinese food.
“I work for the Canadian Pacific railroad as a machine operator,” he said at the beginning of our interview. “Right now I’m working as a trackman, which means we do track maintenance. We do whatever is required to keep the tracks in good shape to keep the trains moving. I spend a lot of time on the road.”
His answer surprised me. I knew Dan was young and assumed he had a real job—but then, maybe I wasn’t so sure. Most of the tiers I interview are retired or trying to make a living at fly fishing. I thought for a moment about the people who regularly appear in this magazine— Bob Popovics owns a restaurant, Aaron Jasper is a schoolteacher, Sharon Wright is an entertainer, Henry Cowen is a salesman, Morgan Lyle is a newspaperman. Dan fits in this group of working stiff/fly tiers, or, working stiffs who also tie flies. I like him.
Hook: Dai-Riki 270, size 8.
Thread: Brown Uni-Thread 8/0.
Abdomen: Twisted Swiss straw.
Rib: Root beer Krystal Flash.
Legs: Knotted pheasant tail fibers.
Wings: Grizzly hackle tips. Hackle: Cree.
I asked Dan how long he has been tying flies, and he surprised me again. Despite his obvious expertise at the vise, he has been fly fishing and tying only a few years.
“I’ve been fly fishing just a little less than ten years. I remember the first fly I held in my hand; I was actually spin fishing at the time. My dad gave me a tackle box that contained an old cardboard box full of dry flies. We were fishing and I was getting skunked, so I tied on one of those flies with a small fl oat for weight so I could cast it, and I started catching crappies. I bought my first fly rod a few days later.”
How long have you been tying? “I started tying almost immediately. I had no intention of tying my own flies; I was buying my flies at the local Orvis store. My dad was cleaning out his basement and found an old fly tying kit he got when he was a Boy Scout. I thought I’d try it. I didn’t have any videos and hadn’t taken a class; I was trying to learn from these black-and-white, handwritten instructions that came with the kit. They were pretty bad, and I got frustrated. I went to my Orvis store and started buying materials and other things, and getting information about tying. I started with an old wing nut vise and now have more stuff than I need.”
On the Fast Track
Dan learned to tie the usual standard flies in a remarkably short period of time. He was soon developing his own patterns. “Ever since I started learning how to tie, I got bored tying other people’s patterns.
WEB (WOVEN EXTENDED BODY) PUPA
Hook: Dai-Riki 135, size 14.
Thread: Brown Uni-Thread 8/0 .
Extended body: Woven chartreuse Vinyl Rib.
Thorax: Chartreuse Ice Dubbing .
Thorax cover: Brown Scud Bac.
Legs: Bronze mallard fibers.
Wing: Brown Medallion Sheeting.
Antennae: Two pheasant tail fibers .
I mean, if you’re a musician, you can learn to play someone else’s song and become a good cover band, but no one is going to give a crap. For me, creating my own flies is the best part of tying. It’s funny, but I was just messing around with some new flies. I carry materials with me on the road, but I forgot my dubbing, so I was playing around and putting some stuff together.”
Dan sent a nice selection of patterns, including some nice dry flies. “I prefer fishing dry flies,” he said. “With regards to tying them, they are a lot more challenging to engineer. A dry fly has to turn over properly when you cast. And with an emerger, if you tie the entire fly using buoyant materials, it might lie fl at on its side. You have to consider these sorts of things when you design a dry fly; these factors aren’t as important when you tie a subsurface pattern.”
Like all tiers, Dan has had a few folks help him along the way. Ralph Graves, who is well known in Catskill fly fishing circles, was instrumental in helping Dan get started in fly tying.
“There’s a funny story behind my Emerald Drake pattern,” he said. “That was one of the first flies I tied in front of people. I was at the Catskill Fly Fishing Museum. The staff warned me that a tier name d Ralph Graves would be com – ing to watch, and that he was brutally honest and critical about ever y tier that comes through t he door. They said it’s sort o f a right o f passage and not to take it too seriously. Well, I was tying some Little Sister Sedge patterns, and Ralph said he couldn’t see what I was doing and that I should tie something larger. So, I switched to tying a large drake.
“Ralph asked what I was going to use for the tail, and I said I would use pecarry. He said, ‘No, that’s too stiff and the fish will feel it,’ So, I used moose mane.
“Ralph was trying to trip me up along t he way. He asked what I was going to use for the wings, and I said mallard flank. I said I would tie a fan wing. When I tied the fan wings, Ralph said, ‘That’s the old Dette way to do it. Did you know Walt Dette? Did he teach you to do this?’ I said that I had never met the Dettes, and that I had been tying for only a couple of years. Ralph about fell out of his chair when I said that. I finished the fly, and Ralph was very complimentary. I’ve gotten to know him, and he was very helpful. ”
CALAMUS EMERGENT PUPA
Hook: Dai-Riki 135, size 16.
Thread: Olive Sheer 14/0.
Abdomen: The calamus (hollow shaft) from a mallard flank feather dyed caddis green.
Sheath: Tan cul de canard puff.
Hackle: Hungarian partridge.
Next, we talked about his nymph imitations, including a pattern he calls the Mugsy. This fly has wonder fully realistic gills.
“I’ve always like gills on a nymph. After trying a lot o f different materials, I found that Uni-Stretch works great for that. ”
How did you come up with the name? “I always thought it would be a great name for a dog, but instead I used it for a fly.”
The WEB Pupa is another of Dan’s subsurface patterns. This caddisfly imitation features a lovely extended abdomen.
“WEB stands for woven extended body. I’m sure it’s been done be fore , but I never saw it done this way on this type of fly. I tie the extended body on a needle using Stretch Tubing and mono filament thread. It makes a nice translucent extended body.”
I could hear a knock on the door, so I knew Dan’s meal had arrived. I asked if he could take just one more minute to explain the fly he calls the Ichabod Crane.
“I was on a William Blades kick when I tied the Ichabod Crane. Blades was an old-time fly fishing writer, and my fly was inspired by one of his patterns. I thought I tied his crane fly to a T, but the pictures aren’t so great in his book. He really doesn’t explain how he made the body on his fly, but it looked like he first used twisted raffia and then wrapped forward with flat raffia; doing further research, I realized that’s not how he did it. I came up with my own method. I wrap root beer Krystal Flash on the hook, and then wrap twisted Swiss straw over t hat as sort of a rib.”
It was late and I knew Dan was hungry. It was time to let him go. He was looking forward to another day o f work, and another evening of tying .
David Klausmeyer is the editor of this magazine. In 2006, he received the Golden Hook Award from the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum for his extensive contributions to educating the public about fly fishing and tying
Hook: Dai-Riki 125, size 14.
Thread: Brown Uni-Thread 8/0.
Tail: Pheasant tail fibers.
Abdomen: Light dun snowshoe dubbing with a strip of pheasant tail over the top.
Rib: Blue Flashabou.
Thorax: Light dun snowshoe dubbing.
Wing case: Blue dun cul de canard puff.
Legs: Pheasant tail fibers.
MCFLY SULFUR EMERGER
Hook: Dai-Riki 125 , size 16.
Thread: Pale yellow Uni-Thread 8/0.
Trailing shuck: Light yellow McFly Foam.
Abdomen: Hackle stem dyed yellow.
Thorax: Pale yellow Super Fine Dubbing.
Wing post: Orange polypropylene yarn.
Hackle: Pale yellow cul de canard in a dubbing loop
TC CADDIS PUPA
Hook: Dai-Riki 135 , size 14.
Thread: Oliv e Uni-Thread 8/0.
Abdomen: The calamus (hollow shaft) from a turkey flat feather dyed olive.
Thorax: Peacock herl.
Hackle: Hen pheasant
DAN’S DIAMOND MATUKA
Hook: Dai-Riki 270, size 6.
Thread: Medium monofilament thread.
Body: Flat pearl Diamond Braid and red Loon UV Fly Paint.
Rib: Medium monofilament thread.
Eyes: Red/ gold Jurassic Eyes .