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Vets are quick learners at the art of rod building

Last week was our second fly tying session at the Sheridan VA Medical Center where I’m teaching disabled vets the arts of fly fishing through Project Healing Waters.

The week before, nine veterans had just completed a six-week course where they were building their own fly rods. The rods are 9-foot, four-piece, five-weight rods. A four-piece rod, placed in a special protective case, becomes a very compact unit that’s easy to pack from place-to-place and even carry-on the airplane. The five-weight fly line designation means it’s a medium weight rod intended for most any bass or trout situation where very large flies and/or extremely long casts aren’t necessary.

The vets all ended up with rods of varying looks and colors to suit their individualized tastes. One rod, shown in the picture, I found to be extra special. The vet used four different colors of thread throughout the completed rod: yellow, green, purple and black. When I saw the young man set up his rod-building stand with these four spools of thread, I thought “Wow, this thing is going to look really gaudy!” Boy was I ever wrong, and am I ever glad I let him do his “own thing.”

You see, he actually had a unique pattern in mind for wrapping those threads on his rod. Each guide (the metal eyelet through which the fly line travels) would be actually attached with black thread. Then the ends of the black “base wraps” would be trimmed with yellow, green and purple, always alternating with those three colors in the same order.

What is really special about this is that those three colors represent the favorite colors of the vet’s three children. How cool is that?

Look again at the picture. I just zoomed in on one small section of the rod, but the pattern extends, over and over again, for the full nine feet. The finished colors all turned out to be symmetrical in nature and, frankly, one of the most gorgeous finishes I have ever seen on a custom built rod!

Our first fishing trips with the vets will be out to some private bass ponds in the local area. This year, in the fly tying classes, I’m trying to get the vets to learn as many basic techniques as possible while also trying to leave them with as many of their own flies which they can use on our trips. Thus we started out with some basic bass patterns.

Two weeks ago they tied a red/black wooley bugger which is a streamer fly designed to imitate leeches and dark colored minnows and chubs. Last week we moved to a more difficult pattern. The Hornberg is an old Wisconsin wet fly pattern. I’ve modified it a bit by adding a little flash, and then putting it on a jig-hook which helps it ride over the weeds in the bass ponds without it getting caught or dragging a bunch of weeds and moss along as the fisherman slowly “swims” it through the water.

The neat thing about the Hornberg is that it also works wonderfully well as a streamer fly for trout.

It can imitate any number of small fish that larger trout like to eat. It works very well in lakes and ponds; and rivers too, so long as you remember to fish it very, very slowly.

Take a look at the picture I’ve included of two Hornbergs.
One was tied by me and one was tied by one of the vets in my Healing Waters program.

Can you tell which one was tied by a professional with 30 years of tying experience, versus the one which is only the second fly the vet ever tied in his life? I can’t tell either!

This means that somebody is either a great teacher, or somebody else is a quick learner! I prefer to think it’s the latter.

GORDON ROSE works as a commercial fly tier and operates Sheridan WYO Healing Waters, part of a national nonprofit organization which teaches disabled military veterans fly fishing, fly tying and fly rod-building as part of their therapy.


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