My interest in fishing started as a very young boy of five or six. I grew up in a midsized community in southeastern Pennsylvania, USA that was surrounded by gently-rolling Amish farm country, and a strong work ethic was constantly instilled in me as I grew. My father worked in a foundry as a molder and spent hard days in intense heat perfecting his craft, but he still found time to share his love of the outdoors with me. He loved fishing, and when we were not along the stream or the lake, I can remember looking forward to the rain showers that would come because of the puddles they would create at the end of our driveway. I would find a stick and some fishing line and cast into that pool of water, imagining I was doing the real thing. The garden hose was a wonderful tool for me to use as well because I would hook it up to the outside faucet, lay it out on the lawn, turn the water on and create a stream underneath the maple tree where I could create the perfect current complete with eddies and structures that I was absolutely sure concealed imaginary fish.
It wasn't until I became a teenager of 13 years old that I had read about fly fishing in one of the outdoor magazines that was always in the magazine rack next to my father's easy chair. This new facet of the sport intrigued me and I immediately learned all I could about it - especially the tying. I remember stealing thread from my mother’s sewing kit and using the instructions in one of those magazines to tie my first fly in hand.
I continued tying in hand until I graduated to placing a hook in an old iron vise that was bolted to my father’s workbench. I purchased my first actual fly tying vise at the local sportsman's store around the age of 16 - a Thompson for about $16 - and tied with it for the next 15 years, sending away for replacement parts as they wore out. Early on, materials came from pheasants bagged during small-game hunting seasons, and I learned quickly that getting paid three dollars for mowing my grandmother’s lawn would give me enough money to purchase two boxes of Mustad hooks and maybe have enough left over to pick up some tying thread so my mother would not miss those spools out of her sewing kit.
Soon, I began purchasing materials from catalogs and experimenting with all the various materials that could be found in them. I never had a mentor or a teacher, so I learned how to flatten the rachis of a feather so that it ties on the hook without a twist and to collapse a carefully married wing with the absolute correct thread tension by trial and error. I simply wasn’t aware of anyone in my community who tied, although I guess I’ve always been one who needs to learn on his own anyway.
It wasn't until I was in my early forties that I began to learn the tying methods surrounding the classic Atlantic salmon fly. Still not having a mentor that I could rely on to guide me, I turned to books and the Internet. Along the way, there were materials that were wasted, especially when a tie involved the married wing. I learned to build the wings but it took some time to learn the set. I tried everything, but eventually learned the correct thread tension to use, how to hold the wings in my fingers with the correct pressure and, after much trial and error, I was able to set a pair of wings with acceptable results.
Using what I have learned, I have had the extreme honor and privilege to present my framed ties to various organizations such as the American Cancer Society, the Action Against Hunger organization, Casting For Recovery, Project Healing Waters, the National Wild Turkey Federation, as well as the families and service men and women of several members of the American military Although each and every one of the ties that I have donated holds a special place in my heart, it is the presentations that I make to the families and veterans who have served our country that truly hold special meaning to me. They willingly leave the peaceful surroundings of their homes to protect our freedom, at times with great cost. When I was young, my father told me that 'If we have a gift that we can utilize to soften and ease the memory of a difficult time someone may be experiencing, why would we not use our gift towards that purpose?' That comment is something I have not forgotten.
I feel the very act of tying generates creativity. The path that one can travel while at the vice is endless and whether you follow a tying pattern that has been established through generations or you create something totally unique and different, I feel that it truly is up to you, the individual. Tying is no different from the artist who paints or the sculptor who molds clay. It is a craft that is learned and refined through trial and error, which with time, produces a result that the tier can be proud of.