Minnesota fly anglers can always go to the liquor warehouse, buy a six-pack of domestic, and go to the big-box outdoor store and buy a blister pack of mass-produced flies. And sometimes we do. Sometimes that hits the spot. But on some rare special dark winter nights in the Twin Cities—cold, clear nights with blazing white stars and blazing white steam pouring from brick boiler stacks—we can do both, and build some community at the same time.
Much to the delight of cabin-fever-prone Twin Cities fly anglers, open fly-tying nights have popped up in Twin Cities–area taprooms this winter, hosted by local fly fishing groups and fly shops.
“Hops and Hoppers” is hosted every first and third Tuesday by Bob Mitchell’s Fly Shop at Lake Monster Brewing Company in St. Paul, where tonight a few dozen anglers are hunched over their vises in the back of the taproom. Boxes of tools and materials crowd the tables and tinsel trimmings and hot-colored feathers drift in the brewery air. Some settle onto the head of half-finished pints, to nobody’s annoyance.
“It’s cool that there still is not a machine that exists that can tie a fly,” says Robert Hawkins, owner of Bob Mitchell’s Fly Shop, as he cinches down a thread wrap that flares some bucktail fibers out wildly on what will become a massive musky fly. “They all must be done by hand.”
Around the table, fly tiers of all skill levels are tying flies of varying styles. Some are in production mode, wrapping up tiny but simple nymph flies by the dozen, refilling fly boxes for the upcoming season. Others are in teaching or learning mode, sharing fly patterns, techniques, and tips with those who were, until recently, complete strangers. There’s also usually a few folks just there for the beer and the socializing, and a few more non-drinkers, just there for the tying and the socializing.
“I enjoy buying a cold beverage for my fishy friends,” local angler Bret Oeltjenbruns says. “It’s a great way to meet new folks in the fly fishing community.”
Periodically a regular Tuesday-night taproom patron wanders back just to see what’s going on, and the fly tiers will happily demonstrate a technique or explain a design.
“It’s awesome to tie flies in public places,” says Hawkins. “People are so curious about what we are doing and always have a story about their grandpa who used to tie flies.”
The difference is that those grandpas probably tied most of their flies in a musty basement under a dim lamp. Today, with social media so integrated into daily life, fly tiers can become a community and take over a brewery.
“It’s like a bunch of D&D nerds sitting around playing with their magic cards,” say Rhea Hawkins, Robert’s wife, looking down the table at a bearded and tattooed tier who is pointing out the details of a sparkly hot pink and purple streamer pattern. “Only cooler,” she quickly adds.
Later, at another tying night hosted by the St. Paul Fly Tiers and Summit Brewing at their Beer Hall, Andy Selvig unclamps a freshly finished intruder pattern from his vise. It’s fragile-looking, ornate, and and precisely tied with bright colors and exotic materials. He drops it into a small beer-tasting glass filled with water.
“It achieves depth while having bulk,” he says. He takes a sip of a just-released black IPA. “Intruder flies are an undeniably compelling visual.” The fly lives and breathes in the tasting glass before us, as if the wind isn’t howling ice and the Mississippi just down the hill isn’t frozen over.
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Fly tying // Photos by Tom Hazelton
If you’d like to check it out, there’s still plenty of winter left. Plug into the community on social media and show up ready to tie. Or watch. Or learn. Or drink beer.
- Hops & Hoppers – Hosted by Bob Mitchell’s Fly Shop at Lake Monster Brewing Company in St. Paul, first and third Tuesday of each month through spring. Watch Bob Mitchell’s social media for details.
- An Evening of Fly Tying – Hosted by St. Paul Fly Tyers at Summit Beer Hall in St. Paul. Watch the St. Paul Fly Tyers blog and Summit Brewing social media for upcoming events
- Trout on Tap – Rotating, but often hosted by Mend Provisions and Able Seedhouse + Brewery in Northeast Minneapolis. Follow Trout on Tap on Facebook to get updates.
- Bugs & Suds Open Fly Tying Night – Hosted by Lund’s Fly Shop and the Swinging Bridge Brewing Company in River Falls, Wisconsin. Follow Lund’s Fly Shop on Facebook to get updates.