GLIDE, Ore. -- Nobody really knows why a fish bites at a fly. If it were understood, there might not be events like the North Umpqua Fly Tying Festival, or even the sport of fly-fishing in general.
“(A fish) would bite at a piece of sock tied to a hook,” admitted Jeff Lucas, behind his tying vise and lamp and displays of his colorful designer creations, some framed behind glass and bearing his autograph. Fly plates like these can go for hundreds, even thousands, of dollars.
“I tie for the art of tying,” said Lucas, who’s also a serious angler.Lucas’ resplendent works fit right in among the others at a recent gathering held in the Glide Community Center.
The building is near the spot where 30 free-flowing, fly-fishing-only miles of the North Umpqua River begin at Swiftwater Park.
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This is the sixth year the festival has been organized by the Umpqua Valley Fly Fishers. The group was founded in the home of Mike Marchando, an accomplished Glide fly-tier who died in 2011.
The story goes that Marchando gained notoriety in the fly-fishing world after he fashioned an articulated leech that snagged a world record Dolly Varden trout in South America.
“This is a pretty elite group of people, and it’s pretty exciting to have them all here in Glide,” said Tresa White, head of this year’s festival committee.
Twenty-eight anglers took part, five more than last year. Federation of Fly Fishers President Philip Greenlee gave a keynote speech.
Past and current Oregon Fly Tyers of the Year were there, along with vendors and appraisers of antique gear. Without hard numbers, White said attendance seemed up slightly.
“We’re a fairly small festival, but this is really for the tyers,” she said. “It gives them an opportunity to come together and swap stories. Fly-fishing is a pretty small world. They all know each other.”
“Flies” in the fly-fishing sense are imitations of real flies, made with a combination of feathers and other materials. Some are lifelike, others are works of psychedelic art, like those of Roseburg’s Jeff Lucas.
It’s all to get the fish’s attention. But you won’t catch much without a supple wrist. The other aspect of fly-fishing that inspires monomania is casting. Outside the community center were a casting pond and six-hole course. Steamboat Inn proprietor and nonagenarian Frank Moore was instructing at the pond, while fellow North Umpqua fishing guide Mike McCoy took participants through the course.
In warm weather, a steelhead will move between 8 and 10 feet for a fly, McCoy said. In cold weather, it’ll only move a couple of feet. So, if you can hit a pin from 30 feet on dry land, you have a chance.
McCoy explained that the steelhead only come this far upriver to spawn, so food is of secondary interest to them. But they once ate flies as young smolts, so the impulse to go after insects on the surface is still there. It just has to be triggered, he said.
To find steelhead, McCoy looks for water that might hold them — for instance, deep tailouts before rapids and steep rock cuts from the bank. If he can’t see steelhead, he guesses where they might be.
And in choosing a fly to fish with, he relies on instinct as well.
“Who knows why it likes a fly.” he said.