There’s an old saying that fly fishing takes you to the most beautiful places. Now, for a growing number of fly fishing groups, tying your own flies takes you to the local brewery.
Since March 2016, Summit Brewing Co.’s riverside Beer Hall in St. Paul has been a regular gathering place for members and friends of St. Paul Fly Tiers, an active club since 1952. Across town at Lake Monster Brewing Co., “Hops and Hoppers” is an open fly-tying night held twice a month.
West of the Mississippi River, Able Seedhouse + Brewing has hosted “Trout on Tap” fly-tying events while Laughing Trout Fly Fishing Group meets regularly at a Wayzata bar to talk trout and tie flies.
“It kind of goes together,” said Bob Trevis, a Minnesota fly fisherman and author. “The beer and the tying and a little bit of lying.”
On a recent January night at Summit, about 25 enthusiasts unpacked their portable lamps, shop vises, chicken feathers, hooks, beads, flash blends, wire, bucktails and head cement. They went to work faithfully, energized by table talk and freshly poured ale. Summit’s familiar copper brew kettles steamed in the background, and the room was filled with a friendly din.
Joel Ebbers, 35, is one of the youngest members of the St. Paul Fly Tiers. Employed at Summit as a maintenance mechanic, he believed that moving the club’s fly-tying night from a Maplewood bar and restaurant to the more open, public space of the brewery would be a refreshing change.
“Fly fishing is kind of a fancier type of fishing and fancy fishing goes with fancy beer,” Ebbers cracked. “So, why not?”
Bob Feiker, a longtime member of the Fly Tiers, said the shift to Summit has attracted newcomers to the club. When two long tables in the Beer Hall are overflowing with pints of beer, fluffy materials, shiny tools, laughter and men wearing LED headlamps, curiosity seekers float by.
“Right away they see we’re not some stuffy trout guys,” Feiker said. “This brings us out of our element and exposes the hobby.”
The merger of trout and taprooms goes beyond Minnesota. In Washington, D.C., the Tidal Potomac Fly Rodders bring their kits of a mallard feathers and tinsel to a regular meeting called Beer Tie. And every Tuesday throughout winter in North Carolina, Headwaters Oufitters and Flymen Fishing Co. host a tying night at Brevard Brewing Co. Their slogan? “Drink Beer. Tie Flies. Socialize.”
That is the essence at Summit, especially in winter when stream anglers are more apt to gather indoors. The fly-tying nights go on regardless of season, but attendance flourishes when there are snow and ice.
Chris “Critter” Sprau, who sat next to Feiker, shared the secret of a proprietary fly he designed under a name that rhymes with Lucifer. It’s made from the fur of Lucy, his yellow Labrador. “I call it, ‘Lucyfur,’ ” he quipped.
Sprau said fly tiers are typically more productive at home in their own space. In two hours at the Beer Hall, he finished six flies. At home, he’d double his productivity, but there’d be no one to laugh at his jokes.
“I’m drinking. I’m happy. I’m not at work!” Sprau said.
Trevis, author of “Fly Fishing For Trout in Southeast Minnesota: A Troutchaser’s Guide,” borrowed a piece of pheasant crest from Sprau. There was a young passerby in the Beer Hall who wanted to try his hand at fly-tying. Trevis kept it simple and coached him through a basic pattern to create a buglike panfish lure.
“You’ll catch a sunnie with this, I guarantee you,” Trevis said.
Then he reminded no one in particular of an old fly-tying rule to make at least three of a kind before moving onto the next design. Given the surroundings, the saying could have doubled as a toast:
“One for the rocks, one for the trees and one for the fish,” he said.