Oregon feather-philes bond over fly tying

EAGLE POINT, Ore. (AP) — Carol Corbridge wanted to learn how to tie a tiny blue-winged olive fly "Catskill style," and the best place in Oregon to do that is in a small garage in the middle of a flooded Eagle Point field.

The garage's resident fly-tyer, Dave Roberts, holds court over a cadre of fellow feather-philes who were more than happy to show Corbridge how to manipulate tiny feathers and thread to make the fly's divided wing and add the Catskill's signature full hackle up front, ala Catskill.

"Everything I know about tying flies I've learned from these guys," says Corbridge, 62, a retired landscaper who splits fishing time between Oregon and Montana. "I'm happy they let me hang around. But they're a pain to hang out with sometimes."

This is the world of the Senior Staff Fly Dressers' Guild, a collection of a dozen fly-fishers who spend Tuesday mornings together tying flies and spinning yarns in Roberts' garage like a bunch of kids hanging out in a tree fort while creating some of the finest concoctions to garner little hooks.

They are among the top teaching tyers in Southern Oregon, and none are under age 62. Bifocals and hearing aids are as common as the special handmade materials boxes and old vises they fasten to rows of folding tables stretched across the concrete floor.

They drink plenty of coffee and munch on sweet treats their doctors and wives forbid.

The guild soon will even have its own cloth patch that members will wear on their tying shirts during tying conclaves.

"It's a walker with wading boots on the bottom and a tying vise on top," laughs Roberts.

Their self-deprecation is matched only by their camaraderie, their vast caches of primo tying materials and collective experience in the nuances of their art.

"It's a lot of fun for us to get together," says Roberts, 64, who ties professionally. "If you want to learn a new pattern or are struggling with one, someone in here has done it and can help you figure it out."

The group started three years ago as an offshoot of the Southern Oregon Fly Dressers', which met monthly in Gold Hill. About 30 or so tyers would come to those gatherings, yet the same subset of them would spend most of their time helping others instead of cranking out steelhead and trout flies themselves.

"Meeting once a month wasn't enough for sickos like us," says Dan Kellogg of Medford. "Besides, we were always just helping. We really needed something where we can learn."

The gaggle migrated to Roberts' heated garage and its benches, materials cases and a library of nearly 600 books on fly-fishing and fly-tying.

Tyers flow through the door with their own tying cases and pick an open seat. Most tie whatever patterns they want; occasionally, they'll have a theme day and all tie the same damsels, midges or caddis.

When a rare, guest Atlantic salmon fly-tyer comes in, Roberts will use a video camera to show the intricate and precise manipulations of feathers and thread on a television mounted on the wall for all to see.

Lee Wedberg, 79, sits in front of his self-made, wooden, shelved materials box — he got tired of the boys making fun of his old plastic bucket motif — with a humpy in the vise and a story behind it.

The humpy is a versatile and popular small dry fly tied with deer or elk hair. It looks buggy but doesn't necessarily imitate anything in particular. Wedberg has a friend on the Deschutes River who hosts a week of fly-fishing for a small group, and the friend insists on cooking all the meals with zero help from his guests.

"Don't you think he deserves a half-dozen humpies a year?" Wedberg says.

They don't just tie these classic patterns. They tie in the subtleties that make particular patterns work better on specific waters than conventional over-the-counter flies.

Most stores generally don't sell area-specific flies anymore, so you have to make your own — or order a few dozen from tyers like Roberts.

Roberts rises at 3 a.m. and hits his tying bench, knocking out an order of four-dozen blue-winged olives in the infinitesimal-sized 20 before the guild filed into the garage during Tuesday's rainstorm. He's tied enough tiny blue-winged olives in his lifetime to create his own hatch.

"I've been tying since 1953, and you do the math," Roberts says. "It never gets old. I do it every day, if I'm not fishing."

By 11:30 a.m., Roberts is up making coffee and sneaking bites of an over-frosted coffee cake. He has two tying stations set up, a main one on his large desk full of materials and a satellite station next to Wedberg one chair-spin away.

Half a blue-winged olive sits in his vise, with Roberts' thread bobbin dangling from the tiny hook.

It's been a full morning with the guild, but not necessarily a productive one.

"I'm still on my first fly," Roberts says. "I've been BS-ing too much."

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The original story can be found on the Mail Tribune's website: http://bit.ly/12nETrN

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.