The flies that bind: St. Paul Fly Tiers and Fishermen's Club

  • Article by: TORI J. MCCORMICK , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 9, 2014 - 5:51 PM

In St. Paul, a diverse lot of fly-anglers meets weekly to swap stories and craft hand-spun flies.

view larger photos

  

It’s a deep breath shy of 7:35 p.m. on a Thursday at Schroeder’s Bar & Grill in St. Paul, and Andy Fiskness has already settled in behind his fly-tying vise in the establishment’s dimly lit upstairs banquet room.

He takes a sip from his amber-colored beer, wipes his lips and stares intently at the tiny, naked hook that rests snugly in the vise’s jaw and that’s illuminated by a standing square-shaped light.

“On a typical night, I’ll tie six flies and drink two beers,” said a smiling Fiskness, 39, of Maplewood, president of the St. Paul Fly Tiers and Fishermen’s Club, as he wraps the hook’s shank with some red vinyl material that’s on a spool and looks like thread. “It all depends on the night. Sometimes we get sidetracked in ‘deep’ conversation — about politics, sports, you name it. At our core, however, we’re a social club that revolves around tying and fly-fishing. But sometimes we try to solve the ills of Western civilization. You just never know.”

One of the oldest groups of its kind in the Midwest, the St. Paul Fly Tiers and Fishermen’s Club was established in 1952 by a fellow named Ben Egger, who taught fly-tying classes at Harding High School. By the late 1960s, the group boasted more than 100 members, in an era in which fly-tying materials and methodology were sparse.

Today, fly-tying is inextricably linked to fly-fishing, and both pastimes have become increasingly popular. Fly tiers are as likely today to purchase their raw materials from local fly shops as they are from craft stores like Jo-Ann Fabrics and Michaels. How-to videos and books, as well as websites devoted to the craft, abound.

Diversifying the ranks

Even during the winter, the St. Paul Fly Tiers meet every Thursday night at Schroeder’s.

“Right now we have about 50 paying members, and that’s been pretty consistent over the last several years,” Fiskness said. “That said, our mission really hasn’t changed much since the group began. We’re here to promote fly-fishing, and for many of us, tying our own flies is an extraordinarily important part of the fabric and culture of the sport. If you want to learn, we’re here to help; we’re another resource, and class is always in session. We don’t discriminate.”

A minute later, 3 other members, all carrying wooden briefcase-like boxes of fly-tying materials and assorted tools and equipment, trickle in and sit down at two white circular tables as Fiskness lashes some badger fur onto the small hook. He’s tying one of his favorite trout imitations: a midge “pattern” called the Bloody Badger.

“It’s a killer fly for early and late in the season when the water’s cold,” Fiskness said.

In some quarters, fly-fishing and, by extension, fly-tying are stereotyped as exclusionary pastimes for society’s upper crust. But Fiskness and other members say times have changed.

“It used to be that way for some, but that elitism tag has largely faded as the sport has broadened out from the guy wearing all L.L. Bean attire and fishing exclusively for trout with dry flies,” Fiskness said. “We have members from all walks of life. They’re doctors and factory workers and teachers, and they tie flies as much for carp and smallmouth bass as for trout.

“When you’re tying, class distinctions are meaningless,” added Vice President Bob Feiker, 47, of Roseville, one of the club’s most ardent anglers and tiers. “Fly-tying is a lot like golf. It takes a little work, but after a while you get into it and get better and better. Then, slowly but surely, it starts to consume you. It’s about the effort you put into it. For some, tying is therapy. For others, it turns into an addiction.”

While the vast majority begins tying flies after they’ve learned to fly-fish, Feiker is an exception to the rule. He tied his first fly as an 8-year-old after attending a tying seminar at the old Burger Brothers in Minnetonka. “The guy who was giving the presentation gave me a salmon fly and that really caused me to want to tie, so I did,” he said. “I didn’t start to fly-fish until years later, but I used my flies with spinning gear at a creek near my house. It made quite an impression on me.”

Carefully crafted flies

On this frosty night, a dozen members are tying flies, and most are replenishing their fly boxes for the upcoming season.

Each fly has its own unique look and purpose. Most are made with colorful synthetic materials and/or fur and feathers from critters trapped or hunted.

“Tying flies is every bit as much an art form as painting,” Feiker said. “You start with a blank canvas and create something. But there’s also a practical reason for tying. You want to catch fish. Guys will literally come to a meeting from the stream and bring insects with them. Then they’ll try to replicate them.”

And the better you can “match the hatch,” the more likely you’ll catch fish, club members say.

“There is something very satisfying about catching a fish — any fish — with a fly you painstakingly created,” Fiskness said. “It goes to our hunter-gather instincts, I guess. It goes to fooling something in the wild. It’s hard to explain, but it’s very, very rewarding.”

By 9 p.m., most members are packed up and ready to leave. Some muse about winter trout fishing in the coming days, while others have saltwater destinations in mind. Fiskness’ first beer is nearly empty and he’s ready for his second, his self-imposed limit.

“It’s time for our debrief,” he said, pointing downstairs to the bar.

 

Tori J. McCormick is a freelance writer living in Prior Lake. Contact him at torimccormick33@gmail.com.



 

  • related content

  • Photo gallery: Art of tying the fly

    Thursday January 9, 2014

    In St. Paul a diverse lot of fly-anglers meets weekly to swap stories and craft hand-spun flies.

  • Makeup of South Dakota pheasant advisory board criticized

    Thursday January 9, 2014

    Governor names 13 to board to make habitat recommendations

  • Skijoring at Theodore Wirth Park

    Sunday January 12, 2014

    A hardworking pup bounds with joyful energy. A seasoned cross-country skier strives to keep up. A skijoring tradition is born.

  • Cabin Country: Escape from technology

    Thursday January 9, 2014

    Here’s our southeast Minnesota cabin retreat. It’s an Amish-built log cabin that our entire family enjoys, and it’s quite an...

  • At Schroeder's Bar & Grill in St. Paul, Tony Stifter, who has been flyfishing since he was 12, ties a bass fly that includes the use of chicken feathers and deer hair.]richard tsong-taatarii/rtsong-taatarii@startribune.com

  • At Schroeder's Bar & Grill in St. Paul, Joe Schreifels ties a steelhead fly with precision.

  • Members of the St. Paul Fly Tiers and Fishermen’s Club meet weekly at Schroeder’s Bar & Grill in St. Paul. From left, Adam Pavek, Tony Stifter and Bob Anderson admired one of Stifter’s newly completed bass flies. This particular fly was designed to mimic a minnow while moving through water.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Arrieta 2 FINAL
Cincinnati - WP: D. Axelrod 7
NY Yankees - LP: S. Kelley 2 FINAL
Detroit - WP: P. Coke 3
Colorado - LP: J. Lyles 1 FINAL
San Francisco - WP: Y. Petit 4
Tampa Bay - LP: K. Yates 4 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: A. Miller 5
Atlanta - WP: M. Minor 6 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: J. Niese 1
Cleveland - WP: C. Carrasco 3 FINAL
Chicago WSox - LP: J. Danks 2
Minnesota - WP: A. Swarzak 11 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: B. Chen 5
Texas - LP: R. Mendez 2 FINAL
Houston - WP: C. McHugh 4
Oakland - LP: R. Cook 3 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: F. Salas 4
Atlanta 24 FINAL
Jacksonville 14
Detroit 23 FINAL
Buffalo 0
Indianapolis 7 FINAL
Cincinnati 35
Kansas City 14 FINAL
Green Bay 34
NY Jets 7 FINAL
Philadelphia 37
St. Louis 13 FINAL
Miami 14
Carolina 10 FINAL
Pittsburgh 0
New England 13 FINAL
NY Giants 16
Washington 24 FINAL
Tampa Bay 10
Baltimore 22 FINAL
New Orleans 13
Chicago 13 FINAL
Cleveland 33
Denver 27 FINAL
Dallas 3
Minnesota 19 FINAL
Tennessee 3
San Francisco 40 FINAL
Houston 13
Arizona 9 FINAL
San Diego 12
Seattle 31 FINAL
Oakland 41
(21) Texas A&M 52 FINAL
(9) So Carolina 28
Wake Forest 10 FINAL
ULM 17
Boise State 13 FINAL
(18) Ole Miss 35
Tulane 31 FINAL
Tulsa 38
Rutgers 41 FINAL
Washington St 38
Weber State 14 FINAL
(19) Arizona State 45
Temple 37 FINAL
Vanderbilt 7
BYU 6:00 PM
Connecticut
(6) Jacksonville St 6:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Bowling Green 6:30 PM
Western Ky
TX-San Antonio 8:00 PM
Houston
Colorado State 8:00 PM
Colorado
UNLV 9:30 PM
Arizona
Penn State 8/30/14 7:30 AM
UCF
Troy 8/30/14 11:00 AM
UAB
(7) UCLA 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Virginia
Western Mich 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
(5) Ohio State 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Navy
Appalachian St 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Michigan
Ga Southern 8/30/14 11:30 AM
NC State
Boston College 8/30/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
West Virginia 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(2) Alabama
Rice 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
(10) South Dakota St 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(24) Missouri
Fla Atlantic 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(22) Nebraska
California 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Marshall 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
UC Davis 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(11) Stanford
Arkansas 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(6) Auburn
(16) Clemson 8/30/14 4:30 PM
(12) Georgia
Liberty 8/30/14 5:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Ohio U 8/30/14 5:00 PM
Kent State
Louisiana Tech 8/30/14 6:00 PM
(4) Oklahoma
Idaho 8/30/14 6:00 PM
Florida
Stephen F Austin 8/30/14 6:10 PM
(20) Kansas State
Fresno State 8/30/14 6:30 PM
(15) USC
Southern Miss 8/30/14 6:30 PM
Miss State
Texas-El Paso 8/30/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
North Texas 8/30/14 7:00 PM
Texas
(1) Florida State 8/30/14 7:00 PM
Oklahoma State
(14) Wisconsin 8/30/14 8:00 PM
(13) LSU
South Dakota 8/30/14 9:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(25) Washington 8/30/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
Tennessee
SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Louisville
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Ottawa 6:30 PM
Montreal
Winnipeg 8/31/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 9/5/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 9/6/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Hamilton 9/7/14 12:00 PM
Montreal
Saskatchewan 9/7/14 3:00 PM
Winnipeg
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close