Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Jan 05, 2015

It was a small shop in Lacey Washington called the Fly Fisher. Having driven past it a hundred times over the past 6 months impulse finally got the best of me on a spring day in 1989 as I pulled into the small shopping plaza and parked in front. It was a fairly non-descript shop. A basic storefront with a small logo above the door, small enough that you could easily drive past and never know a fly shop existed there. One of those places nobody knows about unless you fly fish. Walking in I found the place to be small but inviting. At first glance an experienced person would know immediately that no space was wasted on superfluous or unnecessary gear. The largest item in the shop was the large tying desk that sat in the middle, where a gentleman was tying with his back to me on entry. He spun around in the chair with a grin and a handshake, welcoming me and introducing himself as George.

We hit it off immediately finding out he was a retired Army officer from Fort Lewis where I was currently stationed as well. He was a genuinely nice guy, and a wealth of information. Two hours later I was walking out the door with a handful of flies, and information on a half-dozen locations in and around Fort Lewis to fly fish. He also informed me of a fly tying class that would be starting the following Wednesday with an offer to attend. The class was three hours long and would be four consecutive Wednesday nights. Having never tied prior to that I was thinking that it would give me something to do pertaining to fishing while I was away on deployments.

The next Wednesday night I walked back through his door with my $100 fee in hand. It was there that I met his son Bjorn who was a very helpful young man, with a flair for some unbelievable Atlantic Salmon Fly patterns and a talented tyer in his own right. We began with material management and terminology, and concluded with patterns learned ranging from Serendipities and basic dubbed nymphs, to mohair leeches and the Chuck caddis. I left that last Wednesday, with a bag of materials, a Regal INEX vise and most of the same tools that still reside on my tying bench today. And what had begun as a curiosity took over as a major part of my life for the better part of the past 25 years. I left that shop with solid basic skills and a small bag of a few materials aimed at repeating the flies I had just learned. However, in short order I was a fixture in the shop to the point where I think George probably wished I would go away. Yet the knowledge was there to be absorbed, and soaking it up was my world at the moment. Thank God for his patience and willingness to share. The tying soon filled a tackle box for the kitchen table. Not long after that it became an entity that required its own desk. Today, it requires its own "space" and has shaped much of my life even outside of fly fishing. The wave rolled on to the point where I was tying everything that was available, and then slowly began to migrate to patterns that myself and close friends used. What began as a Tupperware bin to hold a few hackles, now involves a couple of drawers that I believe causes Mr. Whiting to smile at tax time and my wife to cringe. Where once flies were simply a tool required to fish, I now hit the water thinking about patterns tied, and leave the water with additional patterns "to" tie. And while my tying has shrunk down to what I primarily use these days, what I "use" has expanded ten-fold. 

I've since upgraded my vise to a Regal Medallion, but my INEX has remained in service by my son and is going strong. Residing on my desk is that same whip finish tool; Sheppard's hook and hackle pliers that I purchased at the Fly Fisher. Last night, while tying a feather-wing streamer of my own design, I sat looking at my whip finish tool. It's a Materelli and has proven its worth on more flies than I could possibly count. The advice received when buying it was obviously sound since it is the only whip finish tool I have ever owned. I sat looking at it and remembered the guidance I received on the very first night of tying classes in the Fly Fisher. I was struggling with the concept of the tool and Bjorn had sat down next to me to talk me through it, while George stood behind me and quipped that a Special Forces soldier should be able to conquer such a simple tool. We laughed together about that and he rolled his eyes jokingly at me when I finally "got it". Little did I know the impact his entrance into my life would have, and what the path was that I was walking when I walked out of his shop on that last Wednesday night.

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