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Fly tying ‘between a sport and an art’ for local group
Dave Rocke assembles a fly used for fly fishing with finished raccoon fur, synthetic yarn with thin rubber legs, thread, and a “stinger” hook on Friday at Family Air. Staff photos by Dustin Safranek

Daily News Staff Writer

Even when the bustle of summer fades to the quiet of winter, there are plenty of ways to keep busy in the First City.

For a small group of locals, that means gathering on select Saturday mornings to practice their fly-tying skills.

Fly tying is the practice of making an artificial fishing lure to be used in fly fishing. The lures can be made to resemble insects or other attractants.

“You’ve got a hook, and you have a contraption called a vice that holds the hook,” longtime group member Dave Rocke explained to the Daily News. “And then you’re wrapping thread on the book and then using thread to attach different materials. So you’re doing that to make them look like that, like an insect or something, or a bait fish, or maybe just something that excites the fish to bite it (the lure).”

Rocke, who also owns and operates the charter sightseeing business Family Air, has been fly tying since the 1970s.

Rocke explained that the idea of fly tying has been around for hundreds of years.

“Fly fishing started out a long time ago — I think there was a treatise on fly fishing in the 14- or 1500s,” Rocke said. “At that point, it was just a hook and feathers or fur. And now there’s all sorts of materials and synthetic materials and all sorts of other things that have been developed for it. The last bunch of years, it’s come up more and more. Fly-fishing has become more and more something that’s interested a larger group of people.”

The local group was originally started by a Ketchikan resident named Seth Conrow, who has since relocated from Ketchikan.

At the time of the group’s formation, there was also a fly shop in town, located near Sockeye Sam’s.

“It started out as — many years ago — as a fly-tying instruction group, but it’s sort of evolved into just a group of people getting together and showing each other what flies we’re making at this point, and talking about that,” Rocke said.

The group has about eight active members.

Rocke estimated that attendance might drop as low as two people per meeting, but generally hovers around six.

“They’re usually pretty enthusiastic about fishing (and) fly fishing,” Rocke said about the group’s members.

Meetings happen on Saturday mornings in the wintertime, as summer is a difficult time to find times to meet that work with each member’s schedule. Rocke said that group member Deb Anderson is usually the person who sends out notices to members about meeting times.

“It’s a very loose group, there’s no dues … the only meetings are when we do the fly tying,” Rocke said of the group. “It’s just people who are interested in fly fishing and would like to make their own flies — or have been making their own flies.”

For Rocke himself, he enjoys creating the lure.

“I just like the idea of being able to make my own lures and all, my own flies, and catching fish on them.  … That’s sort of special,” Rocke said. “And going through most of the process yourself.”

“Fly tying is one of those things … I could teach you how to catch fish in an hour, but you can spend the rest of your lifetime learning things as a fly fisherman, and keep on learning, so it’s sort of between a sport and an art,” Rocke added.

Another club member, Jim Davis, said he enjoyed “mostly just the storytelling” that comes with attending a meeting.

Davis has been involved in the club for a little over a year and noticed that outside of the group, “there’s not really a fly-tying community” in Ketchikan.

“We’d love to have people who are just interested in it (fly tying),” Rocke said. “They don’t have to be accomplished fly-tiers. We have people who have been doing it for years and years and years, like me, and people who have been doing it for a couple of years.”