Last week I had the privilege to spend six days in the town of West Yellowstone attending the annual Fishing Fair hosted by the International Federation of Fly Fishermen.
The Federation “is a 46–year–old international non-profit organization dedicated to the betterment of the sport of fly fishing through Conservation, Restoration and Education.” Every year they hold a week-long “fair” which includes demonstrations by more than 80 fly tiers from across the country, fly casting demonstrations, equipment exhibitors and workshops for visitors to improve their skills in fly casting, fishing and fly tying.
From the Sheridan area I was joined by Frank Johnson who demonstrated fly tying techniques and conducted a special workshop on tying with CDC feathers. Sheridan’s Bob Krumm conducted a half-day nymph fishing clinic on the Madison River. Roger Barrett exhibited the exquisite bamboo fly rods he builds from his home in Dayton. I spent two afternoons demonstrating tying woven bodied nymphs, participating in the “mystery materials” fly tying contest, and helping Frank Johnson with his tying workshop.
Special recognition should be given to Frank Johnson for his 40 years of active participation in the Federation. As a young boy, Frank was mentored in fly fishing by Sheridan’s Sam Mavrakis from the Ritz Sporting Goods Store. Twenty some years later, Frank did the same for Sam’s son, Sam Paul Mavrakis. Frank is currently on the Federation’s Board of Directors, a Trustee of the Federation’s Foundation, a member of the Executive Committee, and serves as First Vice President.
Frank is a recipient of the Buz Buszek Memorial Fly Tying Award (1984), the Dick Nelson Fly Tying Teaching Award (2011), and 2011 winner of the annual “Mystery Material” fly tying contest.
The annual fair is always held in a location near some kind of water with good fishing opportunities. In a place like West Yellowstone, I just had to take an afternoon to try and catch a few fish!
I decided to go fish the Madison River between Hebgen and Quake Lakes. I’d heard that some large Brown Trout were starting to move from Quake Lake into the River on their annual spawning run. I fished on a cold day which delivered lots of alternating rain and snow squalls. The fish don’t mind the weather though, and I caught a half dozen Rainbows ranging from 16–20 inches in length. The Rainbows were probably preparing to follow the Browns upriver to feed on their eggs. I actually lost another four fish which appeared to be even bigger. I fished right at the mouth of the river’s entry into Quake Lake, and each fish I hooked tried to run back into the lake.
While working as a fishing guide for Jacklin’s Fly Shop in the late 70s and early 80s, I’d probably fished the Madison River nearly 150 times. I have to view last week’s fishing as the best afternoon I’d ever had on one of my favorite rivers.
At the beginning of the Fair, all of the invited fly tiers were offered entry into the “Mystery Materials Contest” where the tiers are given a package of odd materials from which they can create a fly. The finished patterns are then judged by how much of the mystery material was used, along with tying skills demonstrated in the appearance of the final product.
I had earned myself first place prize in the 2012 contest, and I was determined once again to get into the top three for 2013. To my surprise, I ended up winning this year’s contest as well! Next year I think I’d better step back and offer instead to serve as a contest judge. As the first two-time winner, a third win in 2014 might make folks wonder if I’m not rigging the contest somehow.
During the Fair itself, I had great fun meeting and visiting with lots of fly fishermen from across the country during my afternoon fly tying demonstrations. Even though I’ve spent twenty years as a professional guide, and over thirty years as a commercial fly tier, I always pick up some new tidbits of helpful information about fishing and tying from the Fly Fishing Fair.
That’s what the International Fly Fishing Fair is all about: meeting other sportsmen, exchanging information, learning new things, and preserving our sport’s heritage for the youngsters moving in to take our place. You too should try to attend next year’s Fair in Livingston, Mont. You’ll make new friends, learn more about the sport, and bring home a lifetime of special memories.
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.