Pretty Fly


(Photo by Conor Barry)

(Photo by Conor Barry)
(Photo by Conor Barry)

Chairing the Physical Therapy Department at the U is no easy task, but Scott Ward doesn’t seem like the type who does things because they are easy.
Ward, when not working, spends his time hand-crafting flies to fish on Utah’s lakes and rivers. An avid lifetime fly fisherman, Ward got into fly tying a few years back, describing it as “a fun, practical art form.”
While you can easily buy flies commercially, Ward finds merit in the hobby beyond the incentives of saving money on fly fishing equipment or selling his creations.
With the sharp end of a tying hook in his hand, Ward walks through the process of tying a simple wet fly, also known as a “nymph.” The pattern is one he often uses for trout fishing in Utah rivers. Wet flies imitate flies, larvae or other kinds of bait that are underwater, while dry flies are used by fly fishermen to mimic bait that is post-larval stage and lands on the surface of the water. Ward said he vastly prefers the thrill of catching fish with his dry fly creations.
“That’s really the ultimate experience,” he says.
Ward said the fly creation process is a mix of art and science. The science element is crucial: Fly fishing is an angling method that relies on mimicking the visual aspects of the fish’s prey. A hobbyist like Scott is not only concerned with casting techniques but also with accurately replicating the visual appearance of the prey.
At least an amateur interest in entomology is required for the craft. Ward pays attention to what insects are hatching in a river at a given time, what larval growth stage they are in and how they fit into the target predator fish’s diet pattern when creating and choosing a fly.
“The phrase that people use a lot is ‘match the hatch,’ ” he says. “You want to try to match whatever bug is in the river.”
Ward uses feathers and animal hair to dress some dry flies, while beads are used to imitate the heads and weigh down nymphs. He wraps wire around the thread body of the wet fly — he’s trying to give it a segmented look. Copper wire is chosen for a little extra flash to catch a fish’s attention.
“The fish don’t take a lot of time to inspect flies, [so] you don’t want them to look odd,” Ward says.
He gets his material and ideas from experience and sometimes the Internet. Ward also talks with local fly tying guru Matt Drahos, the floor manager at Western Rivers Flyfisher. Drahos creates custom orders for the full-service fly fishing shop, which already stocks an extensive amount of high-end, fair-trade flies and provides fly tying instructional courses.
“I usually tie for the entertaining special occasion,” Drahos says. “[Fly tying] is a craft — it’s something you do because you enjoy it.”
Known for throwing large streamer flies that can be cast efficiently, Drahos’ creations have been used in far-off locations, such as the Amazon River and Russia.
“My flies have been more places than I have,” he says.
Materials and equipment aren’t incredibly expensive, but Drahos doesn’t see many people getting into tying as a cost-saving measure.
“There’s this geek tier of fishermen that want to relate more closely to their sport,” Drahos says.
While often associated with trout fishing, tied flies are used to catch other fish like bass and are even used in saltwater fishing. Drahos said saltwater fly fishing has been around since at least the early 1900s, but gained more popularity during the ‘60s.
“Flies” don’t always imitate insects either, but can be used to replicate fish, amphibians or even other non-amphibious creatures that might end up in a body of water after falling in.
Ward said the best feedback on the success of his hand-tied flies comes from the fish, although most of his creations are unique in the sense that hand-tied flies are never exact matches of each other.
“I don’t tie flies that I don’t think will work,” he says. “There are certain ubiquitous patterns that I use a lot because I know they will be successful.”
Learning the seemingly endless amount of information involved in fly tying provides Ward with a perpetual challenge.
“It’s like everything else, it’s like fishing itself,” he says. “Every time I think I’m good at [tying flies], I find that there’s a new technique to learn.”
[email protected]