Al Campbell, Field Editor

August 18th, 2003

Basic Skills
By Al Campbell

Have you ever heard the term "my way or the highway"? The idea is either you do it my way or get lost. That attitude doesn't allow for much diversity or freedom of thought. Sometimes the idea of tight controls is good, but most of the time it isn't. Humans usually do much better if they are given the idea and tools to do the job, and then allowed to work it out within loose guidelines.

Flyfishers are a rather independent breed. We like to experiment and expand within what we have learned, and we like to be creative while we learn. Fly tiers may be a bit more creative by nature than others; but we all like to have some choice in what we do something, and how we do it. I call it human nature.

When I first started tying my own flies, I produced some awful looking things I loosely called flies. I was learning, and many of my improvements in tying were gained by copying somebody else's pattern. I had to learn the skills before I could use them creatively in my own creations. As I learned, I could adapt that learning to creations of my own, but I first had to have the basic skills of the craft.

The same is true with casting a fly line. Some of the casting I do is pretty creative. If I work on my form, I can reduce some of that creativity, but I still seem to launch out on my own at times. Joking aside though, I had to learn the basics before I could learn to double haul or roll cast or tuck cast. From the core of basic skills, I was able to expand and learn more, but without those basic skills, I would have been unable to learn.

To play a musical instrument, you have to learn the notes and the basic chords before you can expand into real music. Those notes and chords are the foundations of the music we want to hear and play. Without that foundation, we're merely making noise, not music. Everything has a starting point that we build on to create what we want to create. Without that starting point, we can achieve nothing.

Bear with me folks, I'm getting to my point soon.

Not too long ago I got an e-mail from a guy who said he wanted to learn to tie bass bugs, especially divers and poppers made of colored deer hair. I sent the guy back a link to my fly tying series here on FAOL, and suggested that he start at the beginning and learn the skills as they are shown.

A few days later, the guy e-mailed me and said he found the bass patterns he wanted to tie, but he needed to know how to start the thread on the hook. Once again, I suggested that he start at the beginning and learn the skills as they were shown so he wouldn't miss anything he might need.

A few days later he wrote me back and said he didn't want to learn how to tie trout flies, so the rest of the series was useless to him. And, could I please explain how to select, prepare and attach feathers to the hook. I told him that the fly tying series was written to show skills in a certain order and he needed to go back and learn what I had shown and he had skipped.

A few days later I got an e-mail from the guy asking me how to get the hair to puff up like that. By then I wasn't a real happy camper, so I just sent him a link to the first pattern that showed spinning deer hair and nothing more. He wrote me back and said he didn't want to learn how to tie a hopper, but really needed to know how to make the deer hair puff up like that. I didn't reply.

A few days later the guy wrote me and said he could tell I had a "my way or the highway" attitude and he would find his information elsewhere. And, did I know of any fly shops in his area that taught bass fly tying classes. Darn, I really don't know of any classes like that, so I haven't replied to his last e-mail.

My point here is something called a foundation. I don't really believe I'm the "pompous ass" he says I am in his e-mail; but I do think you need a foundation of basic fly tying skills before you can realistically expect to create something as complex as a spun hair bass bug. Basic skills like starting the thread and finishing the head are important skills you need to know if you're going to tie your own flies. Without that foundation, your learning will be difficult at best.

I'm sure casting instructors occasionally get the same sort of request. "I just want to learn how to double haul at least 100 feet, but I don't want to learn any of that other stuff used in trout fishing." It's an instant world with expectations for instant success, but people don't want to lay a foundation for the success they seek. If they fail, it's because somebody else didn't want to show them how to do it right. All they wanted you to do was show them the complex stuff.

I hope that guy is reading this. I want him to know that he'll never get to where he wants to go if he isn't willing to travel the road to his destination. There are no magic potions for instant success. The fastest route to success is paved on the foundation of basic skills. It's that way in everything we do, including fly tying. You must learn to walk before you can run, and walking is the foundation to everything we do on our feet. The same concept applies to fly tying.

Do you suppose he'll ever go back and learn, or at least read the basic fly tying instructions? I hope so. The creativity he seeks, and we all want to enjoy requires a certain set of basic skills we all must learn before we can be creative and successful in what we do. Until then though, I'll remain the "pompous ass" who wasn't willing to help him learn.

Learn the basics, and the future is yours. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts around the basics. ~ AC

Previous Al Campell Columns

If you would like to comment on this or any other article please feel free to post your views on the FAOL Bulletin Board!

[ HOME ]

[ Search ] [ Contact FAOL ] [ Media Kit ] © Notice