Written by Leland Stoe in 2013
It could serve as a dungeon if not for the bright, 8-foot, high-output ballast fluorescent
lamp I installed overhead, virtually eliminating shadows. It’s the place I retreat to when
life smacks me between the eyes. This place is my fly-tying shop, located two half-flights
down from my front door. The room smells of old feathers and hair, bees wax and head
cement, and slightly stale backpacks. The homemade 6-foot L-shaped bench sits directly
under the lights. For about $60, I created a sort of Shangri La in my home. Well, $60 for
the bench, that is...
Over the past 10 years, I have slowly amassed a huge assortment of supplies
amounting to hundreds of dollars. To me it seems impressive. After all, it would be
impossible to replicate it all at once. A partial list of supplies include: twenty-five different
kinds of hooks, 40 spools of thread, 12 unique dubbing types, deer and elk hair, moose
mane, peacock herl, assorted neck-hackle, Flashabou tinsel, gold wire, silver wire, lead
wire, feathers galore, hourglass eyes, paint, foam, chenille and an array of tools-including
the “Turbo Dubber,
” which has a higher cool factor than utility. My Gore-Tex chest waders
and rubber float tube hang within arms reach to my left, reminding me of the waters where
my works of art will someday get wet. The shop is a peaceful place where I am left to my
own thoughts and am rarely bothered. I can sort out life’s struggles here.
There are no rules, deadlines or commitments put upon me while I putter away in this
haven. It is a place where my soul re-energizes itself. Though I am an extrovert most of the
time, I thrive when I achieve balance between my needs and the needs of others. My fly
shop affords this to me. It is a simple place with unfinished walls and ceiling. The sight of
camping equipment stored on nearby shelves calms me. This is a quiet place, and I couldno doubt hear a pin drop on the cement floor, though my chair rests on a small carpet
remnant. I love this place.
I am not very artistic; however, I really enjoy nurturing this side of myself within the
privacy of my fly-tying shop. If my latest creation doesn’t quite look like the picture in The
Art of Fly Tying, the Orvis Guide to Beginning Fly Tying or the Fly Encyclopedia, it can
just as easily be secretly tossed into the trash located under the inside corner of the “L”
between my legs, never again to be seen by humans. Conversely, if I estimate that I have
created something special, I can head upstairs and show it off to my wife or either of my
two boys. At least one of them is usually impressed, though the ultimate judge will be the
fish, be it a sunny, trout, pike, smallie, carp or muskie. In this place, I allow myself to be
imperfect, a gift to myself. I catch more fish than I do fisherman with the flies I tie.
Living in Minnesota means long and sometimes frigid winters, but the weather in my
shop is always perfect for fly tying. I can remove any lingering chill in the air by making a
quick adjustment to the hot air duct, located overhead, five or so feet to my right. Tying
flies during the winter is like taking a virtual trip to the water when that is simply not
I feel a deep sense of pride in what I “accomplish” in my fly shop. I come out feeling
refreshed and better able to face the world. I feel success in knowing I have passed this
hobby on to both my boys. However, when the three of us tie together, the quality of the
flies is of little significance. What really matters is that we are making memories together.
Reminders of past fishing trips are pasted in the form of bumper stickers to the steel
storage cabinet just behind the peg-board walls rising from the bench itself. A quick glance
to my right reminds me that I boated a 17-inch brown from a metal drift boat on a fine mid-June day on the Madison River in Montana, using Bob Jacklin’s guide service. Captain
Eric Glass’ sign reminds of how a worthy redfish would not give up, forcing my forearm
into sheer agony and numbness near South Padre Island in the Laguna Madre. On the shelf
below, the book Deschutes stares back at me, remembering how the boys and I landed
classic 14-inch “red-sides” on the ancient Deschutes River in Oregon. On the same shelf,
Fly Fishing Yosemite competes for my attention and paints a picture in my head, of
rainbows caught at 7000 feet, fooled by ants made of artificial dubbing and thread. A
nearby photo shows my biggest catch on a fly rod, a 35-inch pike that ate my fly made of
spun deer hair. My fly shop has truly taken on an identity of its own.
I spend anywhere from 1 minute to 1 hour to tie a tempting morsel for the upcoming
season, not that the time matters one iota. Time spent tying does not count against my life.
As I add each thread-wrap tightly, my body relaxes exponentially. My fly-tying shop is
one of my favorite places on earth. It adds richness to my life while allowing me to be
myself. It gives me a place to explore the “other” side of me, my artistic side. It is cozy,
quiet and comes without expectations or rules. In my fly shop, there is no off-season. What
more could I ask for?
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.