Fly-fishing is considered the most intellectual branch of the sport. It has to do with the delicacy and artistry of tying the flies (handmade lures that exactly resemble specific types of bait), the stalking of remote holes, and the hard-won skill involved in “weightless” casting. All these factors unite to give fly-fishing an air of ruminative soulfulness.
The ancient endeavor may never go totally mainstream, but ever since it was celebrated in a certain classic movie starring Brad Pitt (1992’s A River Runs Through It), it has enjoyed copious respect in popular culture. Last month, writing for The Daily Beast, journalist James Joiner suggested that fly-fishing might even hold the key to world peace: “It’s currently undergoing a renaissance,” he reports. “Nowadays the sport has developed a broad[er] base: enthusiasts from all walks of life are flailing at the water … this popularity brings about all manner of disgruntled localism, but also has the benefit, as fly-fishing always has, of bringing environmental issues such as clean water and fish conservation to the cultural foreground.”
The sport has, Joiner continues, “drawn a heavy following amongst the intelligentsia, [who are attracted] to the obsessive focus and mental exercise required to put oneself inside the mind of an insect.”
For diehards, immersing their bodies in often frigid mountain waters to coax famously elusive wild trout — rainbow, brown, and brook — into their creels is definitely a solo endeavor. (Select streams of the East and North Forks of the French Broad, the Davidson, the Toe, the Green, and the Tuckasegee rivers are favored regional spots.)
But that doesn’t mean the sport is only for loners.Throughout the winter, Chris Franzen — a fly-fishing guide and manager of Headwaters Outfitters River and Fly Shop in Rosman — helps lead a Tuesday Night Fly Tying session, held at Brevard Brewery. The casual “class” is open to all skill levels and ages — in fact, Franzen reports participants ranging in age from 14 to 60.
“There are tiers of all skill levels, novice to expert,” he says. “One thing I thoroughly enjoy is that no one is intimidated by our group. People coming into the brewery feel comfortable coming to us and asking what we’re doing. The majority of those inquirers end up sitting down and learning to tie a fly. Whether they fish or not, it doesn’t matter … it’s a fun, creative outlet.”
David Forkner is a local fly-fishing enthusiast who’s been involved in the sport about five years. “It’s typically a solitary hobby,” he notes, “so this offers a unique social setting.”
Headwaters Outfitters hosts the indoor tying class in winter not because fishing isn’t good then — “as a matter of fact, it’s great,” says Franzen. However, he adds, winter weather “isn’t as agreeable to standing waist-deep in a cold river as other months of the year. People fish during the winter months, but with less light and freezing temperatures, most people spend time behind their vise spinning up bugs and anticipating the warm weather.”
The Tuesday-night event is a freestyle-tie class, which means most members bring their own materials. But Headwaters staff also come equipped with materials to tie flies, from “very basic patterns to more intricate ‘streamers’ [a type of fly],” says Franzen. That way, he explains, “if we have a newcomer show up, we can walk them through a very basic tie, and teach them the fundamentals of tying.”
A simple fly, he explains, “tends to have fewer materials and fewer techniques needed to achieve an effective finished product.” Examples are the “zebra midge,” the “woolly bugger,” and the “San Juan worm.”
More difficult patterns, says Franzen, “use more advanced techniques and multiple materials. In a sense you’re almost engineering these flies. Sometimes I’ll draw a fly and label what materials go where before I tie it.”
More experienced tiers at the Tuesday-night class can learn new patterns or techniques from the outfitters’ employees.
But its reputation as a prohibitively tricky hobby is undeserved, according to Franzen. “It’s easy to turn something that should be fun into something frustrating,” he notes. That doesn’t happen with this group: “We try to be as laidback as possible.”
“The class is very welcoming to beginners,” confirms Forkner. “I arrived to the first class never having tied a single fly before. Chris took me step by step through the process. I have friends who also tied their first flies at the class, and have since become proficient tiers.
The fly-tying class runs Tuesdays through February 23, 7pm-“until,” at Brevard Brewery (63 E. Main St.). 828-877-3106. email@example.com.