Popular bi-monthly gathering combines fly-tying, camaraderie and beer
ST. PAUL — “This fly is a Bob Mitchell guide exclusive,” guide Evan Griggs said as wound materials around the shank of the #16 nymph hook locked in his vise. “There’s not much to it, but on many winter days it’s the only fly you need to catch trout.”
Griggs, of Fridley, recently began his ninth year as a guide, but has been fly fishing for 18 years and tying flies for 12. “I guided on the Bighorn River in Montana straight out of high school,” Griggs said, “but missed the spring creeks and warm-water rivers of my home state.”
Griggs and a few dozen other tiers had taken over the back of the Lake Monster Brewing taproom in St. Paul for “Hops and Hoppers,” an open fly-tying night that combines “fly tying, camaraderie and beer.” During the past three years, that’s proven to be a winning combination.
Hops and Hoppers is organized by Bob Mitchell’s Fly Shop, which is conveniently located about 30 steps from the back door of the brewery. “We get together on the first and third Tuesday of each month from October through April,” Griggs said.
Before 2008, Griggs said there were many more fly shops and more fly-fishing clubs in and around the Twin Cities. The recession forced several shops to close and many of the clubs disbanded. “We’re trying to bring people together again,” he added.
A perfect place to tie
Aaron DeRusha, of Roseville, is a veteran tier and angler who attended almost every tying session when Hops and Hoppers began three years ago. “But I don’t think I came to any of the tying sessions last year,” DeRusha said, “and this is my first time this season. I’ve missed it.
“I don’t tie much at home anymore,” he added. “I like to keep things tidy, and it’s too easy to make a big mess of materials then let it sit around. At a get-together like this, I can tie some flies then clean up and leave. Plus, I usually end up with a good handle on current fishing conditions.”
DeRusha is also an avid upland bird hunter and enjoys using the feathers he harvests to tie many of his fly patterns. On this night, he brought a beautiful assortment of Hungarian partridge, sharptail grouse and ruffed grouse skins.
“Just don’t think you’re going to save money by hunting for your own materials,” DeRusha said. “By the time I factor in my travel costs, hunting expenses and license fees, each one of these birds probably costs me $200. But it’s more fun than buying feathers.”
Like many of the tiers, DeRusha doesn’t show up with a specific plan of what he’s going to tie. “I usually dig a few materials out of my bag and see where inspiration takes me,” he added.
Mark Houle, of Woodbury, made his first visit to Hops and Hoppers on Jan. 15. He attended an introductory fly-tying class when he was in high school, but didn’t stick with it. During the past two years, though, he caught the fly-fishing bug and wanted to explore tying more deeply.
After watching Griggs tie several copies of the same fly, Houle began to ask questions. Before long, Griggs had Houle sitting at his vise while he offered hard-earned tips for improving the appearance and durability of each fly Houle tied.
The fly pattern might have been spartan, but it also used a few tricky materials: a slotted bead, counter-wrapped wire, delicate pheasant tail fibers and slippery synthetic dubbing. It would not be considered a beginner’s pattern. By the end of his first tying session, though, Houle was turning out purple nurples with tight wraps and consistent proportions.
“These will fish,” Griggs said approvingly as he inspected the small pile of flies Houle had crafted.
The family that ties together
Paul Gangl, of Roseville, began tying flies while he was still in high school. He said that early in his fly-fishing career he targeted any species that would bite, but became more serious about trout fishing after graduating college.
Twin daughters Marce and Rose often fished with Paul for bass and panfish with conventional tackle. But they never expressed much interest in fly fishing or fly tying.
That changed three years ago when Paul saw the first flier for Hops and Hoppers. He invited Marce and Rose to tag along and they eagerly accepted. They tied their first flies — the venerable woolly bugger, as they remember it — at that meeting.
They still pick a new fly to tie during each event, and the patterns have grown increasingly complex as they gain more experience. “Sometimes we’ll look through one of Dad’s fly-tying books to find a fly pattern that looks interesting,” Marce said. “Or we’ll look through the bins at the fly shop before we begin tying.”
The family also ties together outside of the bi-monthly meet-up. “We setup our vises in the basement, tie flies and drink Lake Monster beer,” Rose said.
Trout in the Classroom
Griggs displayed a donation basket for Trout in the Classroom, an educational program designed to introduce fifth to 12th grade students to trout biology, fly fishing and fly tying. The curriculum was created by the Minnesota chapter of Trout Unlimited and is currently operating in 32 Minnesota schools from Bemidji to Red Wing.
“The program begins in the fall by sampling invertebrates so students can see what trout eat,” said Griggs, a volunteer instructor. “We also provide each school with an aquarium stocked with fertilized rainbow trout eggs. Students raise the trout until they reach fingerling size in the spring then stock the fish in local streams.”
The program also addresses basic fly-fishing skills, but fly tying remains one of the most popular subjects. “It’s amazing to watch what students come up with when they’re not bound by established fly patterns,” Griggs said. “Their imaginations run wild.”