If fly-fishing is a pointless activity, fly-tying is possibly an even bigger waste of time. Unless you are particularly nimble fingered, it’s going to be a slow process. I could buy thousands of flies in the thirty seconds it takes me press assuredly on my Ipad. Instead, thirty minutes of nervous fumbling will get me two flies. It’s an entirely false economy. My kit, my beads, my feathers and my hooks probably make each fly I tie fly worth about £5. On an average fishing trip I expect to lose one or two flies, I probably lose three or four. I might as well be lobbing bottles of Pouilly Fume into the river.
Then again, that’s price. Fly tying is value. I think I can tie a more ethical fly. I can ensure that all my hooks are barbless, I avoid exotic materials. I do wish the welfare of the chickens by suppliers of my saddle feathers were better. It is hypocritical of me to buy free range eggs and buy factory farm feathers. So I’ve stopped buying any new saddles until I can find a better source. More importantly, I know who has tied it. My working conditions are great. This is my shed/office space.
I am pretty sure that many cheap flies are tied by underpaid people in horrible conditions.
The real value though is in the enjoyment. It’s a truly mindless activity, which makes it mindful. Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in thepresent moment, with compassion, and open-hearted curiosity.
As I concentrate on the feel of thread and feather on my fingers, or even a sharp prick from careless hook handling, I am taken away from my daily woes, or lingering problems. This sort of activity is meant to be good for you. The true joy of fly-tying is found through a warm embrace of the ridiculous. Trying to create something beautiful with precision from the detritus of dead things is silly. Surely no sane person should buy a filing cabinet to house nothing else but a motley collection of squirrel tails and dried up rabbit faces? Crazier still, I’m really proud of my neat system for carcass storage.
I had great fun this week trying to imitate Gwilym Hughes’s famous Cul de Canon. It requires cobbler’s wax to add colour and sheen to yellow thread. This is difficult to source and it really is a needless expense at a time when I am trying to buy windows, carpets and kitchens. Therefore, I did a mad thing and decided to make my own. I sacrificed a block of fly tying wax given to me by the magisterial Michael Pattinson of Leeds Fly Dresser’s Guild with much kindness and, perhaps a little disdain, that I wasn’t properly equipped. I couldn’t bear to melt my lovely block of pure beeswax made by Sally Pointer and her own bees.
Against all sound advice, I melted it in the microwave. My saucepans are far too posh to get covered in wax. It worked and a stirred in a tiny amounts of brown shoe polish using a satay stick. A cleaned up Nespresso Capsule served as a mould. I then had to wait patiently for the wax to set before it could be cut free from its metal shell.
The result was pleasingly disappointing in appearance. For my efforts, I made a small turd that smells of coffee.
It’s a great tying wax though. The shoe polish has made it very tacky, which will be useful for sticking fur to it. I’m really pleased with the bodies of my first Cul de Canon efforts. The bodies are dull and shiny, a good imitation of a hatching olive. Two hours of mindfully wasted time. Brilliant.