With the holidays in our rearview and mud season looming on the horizon (you don’t want to know about that…) many of us turn our attention to pursuits that help us stay connected to fishing while we wait for warmer temps.
One of the most common winter activities for Montana anglers is fly-tying. Reviewing our gear and assessing the status of our fly boxes is a regular activity in garages and gear rooms all over the region. Our bamboo rod builder, Ric Plante, has for many years been part of a fly-tying group aptly named the Liars and Tyers Guild. We were invited to be a part of a recent event, provided we didn’t share any secrets and we brought our own drinks.
They meet on Tuesdays, although the sign on the door says Wednesday, a bit of well humored misdirection I suspect. I entered through the garage (whiskey bottle in hand), opened the door in the back and descended a short flight of stairs into the club tying room. I was overwhelmed by the amount of fly tying materials on the wall, and the shared materials on each table. There’s a coffee can for contributions to the beer kitty and another for the materials used in the night’s pattern. Much like a book club or knitting circle, they rotate who chooses the week’s fly recipe and lean on each other as they replicate fly after fly bathed in the warmth provided by a woodstove in the corner. There are plenty of magnifiers and readers, and a sure sign of their collective wisdom and experience.
This winter they’ll tie with a special objective in mind, the group is going to Mexico for some inshore saltwater fly fishing in March and their choices in flies reflect the destination. With names such as Gotcha, McCrab, Merkin, Bone and Tarpon Toad the flies tend to be garish in nature and large in size. No PMDs or Midges for next week’s event! The large colorful patterns chosen for upcoming events has my mind wandering back to sand beaches and sunshine, biting flies and warmish Corona beer with lime. It’s a welcome day dream to be sure and I can feel my spirit warming. Tonight, we are tying a small pheasant tail variant. It’s a killer fly here in Montana. They gather around and watch the titular leader of the group, Rollie, demonstrates the pattern. Ignoring the comments from the peanut gallery, he completed a quick tutorial and then it was back to the tables and wide ranging conversation. We called an absent member on speaker phone, turns out he was busy preparing for a colonoscopy, funny he didn’t seem interested in staying on the phone.
Conversation soon turned to the upcoming Mexico trip. The group was particularly interested in which flies they should tie as well as the conditions they could expect. Those of us that had some experience with the salt game shared what we could; the exhilaration of stalking visible fish and the sage advice to practice casting as much as possible. I’ve been to that area of Mexico a few times and I was glad to share what I knew. Rollie pulled out some fly boxes and we reviewed the patterns. The best flies were sparsely dressed tan or pink colored flies with lightweight bead chain eye or no eyes/weight at all. The shallow water sandy bottom topography of Ascension Bay dictate a delicate approach with light flies in colors that match the ocean bottom.
Mostly, throughout the evening there is a warm and familiar banter. Some members are new, some have been coming for more than 30 years. Their history makes the gathering feel authentic in a way that I haven’t seen in the rapidly changing Bozeman area (often referred too as Boz-Angeles). Like much of the West, it seems everyone is a new transplant from California and drives a Range Rover. The Liars and Tyers guild is a nice reminder that fly fishing, at its best, unites people. It would seem fly tying can do the same.