On the fly - Club teaches students to tie their own

Posted: Friday, March 16, 2001

Fifth-grader Justin Smith's "monster" fly might not be added to the catalogue of Alaska fly patterns any time soon, but the Nikiski Elementary School fifth-grader's creation has opened the world of fly fishing to a new generation of anglers.

Members of the Nikiski El Fly Tying Club, headed up by teacher Wally Hufford, spent four weeks recently unlocking the mysteries of attracting the different species of fish that thrive in the waters of the Kenai Peninsula.

"When I was a kid, there was a kind of magic to it," Hufford said of his fascination with fly tying. "I couldn't figure out how they could get this stuff on a hook."

Hufford said he finally got the hang of things when he moved to Alaska about 15 years ago. He's been sharing the magic with elementary school students for the past 10 years.

"Once they learn the basics, it's something they can keep learning," Hufford said. "It always gets more complicated, so they can go on and on with it."

This year, the club tied eight flies -- the coho fly, the woolly bugger, the egg-sucking leech, the polar shrimp, the puff, the skykomish sunrise, the bunny fly and the purple angel -- all excellent patterns for fishing salmon and trout on the peninsula.

"Some of these flies that they've tied are exquisite," Hufford said.

In fact, Hufford said that past club members with an entrepreneurial bent have made some money with their tying skills, selling the finished product to local guides and tackle shops.

After sticking to some proven patterns for the first eight flies, Hufford let his fly tyers design their own fly -- leading to Smith's monster, which might not attract a fish but did incorporate every piece of material Smith could get his hands on. The experimentation led to fifth-grader Anthony Brower's alien pattern and sixth-grader Corey Smith's caterpillar.

Corey Smith has already hooked a fish with a fly he tied -- a good-sized lake trout he caught ice fishing recently with his woolly bugger.

"It's different using a fly in the summer," Smith said. "In the winter it's hard. I was jiggling it around, moving it up and down like a jig."

Fifth-grader Leora Olsen said she was thrilled to be the only girl in the club. She said she plans to wait until after the ice is off ponds to try out her handiwork.

"I just put them in the house until summer," Olsen said.

Other members of the Nikiski El Fly Tying Club include sixth-grader Nick Whitaker, who managed to tie some picture-perfect flies despite a splint on his finger, and fourth-grader Evan Holloway, also a competent fly tyer in his own right.

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