Fly tying: A portal to the spiritual experience of fly-fishing

Nate Howard, Enterprise Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 30, 2018
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Photo courtesy Katie Richardson

Katie Richardson took a picture of her first fish caught in her lifetime. Richardson caught the brown trout on the Yellowstone River, with her own tied fly being one of two on the line.

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Enterprise photo by Nate Howard
Gathered at the fly-tying table at Sweetwater Fly Shop last Tuesday are from left, clockwise, Alex Emery a local fishing guide, Katie Richardson, a student to fly tying, and fly shop hands Sam Cassidy and James Mugele.

“If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap.
If you want happiness for a day, go fishing…
If you want happiness for a lifetime, help someone.”
- Chinese proverb

The fly in fly-fishing is the conduit in repairing one’s instinctive desire to fool mother nature and respectfully find our equality with her. To dominate seems a bit harsh.

Fly-fishing is unique that the fly is made to imitate the wildness of the river and the critters that reside there. The fly tier brings the art of the chase into their hands enhancing the intimacy of the hunt, as if the bond with nature is expanded.

On a recent Tuesday evening at Sweetwater Fly Shop south of Livingston, on the bank of the Yellowstone River, shop hands Sam Cassidy and James Mugele and local fishing guide Alex Emery gather at a table with Katie Richardson, a pupa in the fly fishing world. This will be her first fly tied.

Richardson and her friends took a fly-fishing class at the shop and have since pursued fishing on a weekly routine. However, Richardson has yet to catch a fish.

“Center yourself,” says Mugele, not spiritually but in position with the vice.

A bare hook is the foundation for a mix of materials scattered about the table including elk hide, deer hide, rabbit hide and feathers, along with inorganic materials such as beads and metallic ribbons.

At her side is Emery, the fishing guide, who talks her through each step while across the table Cassidy is creating the same fly, a streamer called a wooly bugger, demonstrating the construction of the fly as well as options, the creative freedom in the making.

Mugele loaned his bobbin, a tool used to hold and wrap thread, to Richardson but continues to make a fly with only his vice and offers steady positive comments on her progress.

Richardson explains her frustration in not catching a fish.

“I don’t like being wrong,” she says.

And she assumes she is doing something wrong with her fishing technique or knowhow. Like any angler, getting “skunked” is frustrating but occurs to even the most experienced.

Mugele proposes she approach fishing without the pessimism that has come over her. The other guides concur and add to the notion.

Positive thinking is a “manifestation” of a fish in hand, says Cassidy.

“Sometimes it’s like… 3-2-1, boom,” he says, in the prediction of a striking trout.

The supernatural intuition felt when the physical and metaphysical forces unite are real — and in the moment, if not dominance, a synchronicity of angler and nature is realized. A beautiful slice of the wild is on the line and hopefully in the net.

“But you can’t abuse the power”, says Emery, adding that staying humble to the river is a precursor to finding the magic or harmony.

Further the experience, as the proverb suggests, to help someone for more happiness.

“It’s about the amount the sport does for us, personally” says Emery.

He says he finds joy in fishing and more joy in sharing his knowledge, including in fly tying.

Encouraging words flow like a church choir and Richardson emerges from the table like a stone fly, rising upward to the surface of the water, shedding it’s exoskeleton, where its wings dry and the insect takes flight.

With a wooly bugger and a zonker made by her own hands, she will fish Friday with more than just fishing tips.



On Friday, James Mugele assisted Katie Richardson on the Yellowstone River.

She caught nothing but learned more casting technique including a roll cast. Perhaps most importantly, she kept her spirit, her drive and went fishing alone the next day. One of the two flies on the line was a fly she tied herself.

And when the large brown trout finally bit it was on the other fly, however, Richardson said she was proud that her fly did not deter the trout.

Richardson said she will be framing a picture of the trout and making a replica of the fly she tied to be included in the frame, along with her receipts.

She said she inherited most of the fishing equipment from family and friends and what she did spend “is worth every penny”.

“Just to be able to be in Montana, and spend this much time outdoors, in the fall, is totally worth it,” Richardson said.