I started fishing at a young age with worms and bobbers when my father would take me to a local lake. We caught various panfish and bass and had a great time. When I got a little older, I was able to tag along with my dad and his brothers and fish for stocked Trout on local streams. At that time the only way to get rubber hip waders to fit me was by wearing sneakers inside them. It didn’t matter to me as long as I was able to go fishing.
Before I hit my teens, my father gave me my first fly rod which was actually his at one point. It was an old Cortland rod with an automatic fly reel. I liked it, but I could catch more with a spinning rod during early spring, so the fly rod didn’t hit the water until the few and far between hatches would start. When Dad was catching more than me, it was time to switch tactics.
At about 9 years old, I started tying flies since I thought it was cool to catch something on a fly my Dad tied, so I had to try and tie my own. I still remember the first time I tried to tie a fly, using the Knoll fly tying book with paintings of various flies. I showed my father that night, he went through his materials and gave me furs, feathers, some synthetics, hooks, along with other odds and ends such as tools. All of which fit nicely in and old cardboard ski boot box. A TV dinner tray was my fly tying station for quite a few years.
During that period my fly tying consisted of mostly trout flies with a few flies tied for fishing in local ponds and lakes. I’d look at flies in my father’s fly boxes, his book collection, purchased flies, or find one in a catalog and try to re-create it for my use. When I had some finished I would show Dad and he would tell me what looked good and what I needed to improve upon. As most of you know, proportions were the toughest part, along with using too much material and too many thread wraps.
Spring fishing trips to Pine Creek (Slate Run, PA) were what I lived for when I didn’t have a soccer game on the weekend. The local streams were nice, but they weren’t as big as Pine Creek and they sure didn’t have the hatches either. Hendrickson’s, Blue Quills, March Browns, Grey Foxes, Isonychia’s, Green and Brown Drakes, and many others allowed me to explore fly patterns which represented the different stages of their lives. It was also fun to try out different materials on various hook shapes and styles.
Over the years fly tying became easier, less frustrating, not as much constructive criticism from Dad, and I was catching more Trout on the fly. One major thing that I did learn during those years, and it didn’t have to do with fly tying, was that if the Trout didn’t know I was present, I had a much better chance of success with less than perfect flies. I still believe that to be true today and tell that to all new fly tyers.
In November 1992 myself, my father and a few buddies, headed to Maxwell Creek located in New York. My father and his buddies had been fishing the Salmon River (NY) and other Lake Ontario tributaries for quite a few years, but this would be my first trip targeting lake run Brown Trout, Steelhead, and Coho Salmon. We hooked plenty of Brown Trout and Coho Salmon, but only two Steelhead. Luckily I happened to be one of the guys who landed one. It wasn’t huge but it was my first one and I still remember it smashing the egg sucking leech like it was yesterday.