Dave McKenna


Guide Flies

January 2020

Dave McKenna proves you don’t have to live in the southern clime in order to create and tie flies that are deadly on the fish found here. This native of Hackettstown in northwest New Jersey grew up fishing both the salt and fresh water of that region in the early 1980s.

Whether it was trout and bass, or bluefish and striped bass on the Jersey shore, McKenna chased them with both conventional and fly gear. Dave’s first fly rod was a hand-me-down Diawa that he used to catch sunfish and bluegill. From there he progressed to wading for trout.

Gradually, his dad’s devotion to the long rod drew the younger McKenna to serious fly fishing. By the time he reached high school, he was casting flies in the brine. “My dad made sure we fished every opportunity we got when the stripers were running.

“Growing up my dad, grandfather and their friends were my mentors when it came to saltwater fishing,” Dave offered. “We spent a lot of vacations visiting family in Florida when I was younger, so I got exposed to a lot of different species from an early age.

“We’d fish snook and redfish in the Hillsborough River around Tampa and larger species like tarpon and jacks at Johns Pass,” he explained. “We took some trips down to the Keys when I was in middle school. That’s when I really got really hooked on flats fishing.”

At quite a young age McKenna also discovered fly tying. “I had the most fun when I could catch a bluegill on one of my creations that were usually a piece of cut-up shammy cloth, some rabbit fur dubbing and a craft bead.

“For me fly tying and fly fishing went hand in hand. I was always running around in the woods and creeks behind our house catching bugs and crayfish. The fly tying was a cool way for me to make my own bugs.”

Not all of McKenna’s fly tying was self-taught. “I’ve always had mentors in fly tying,” he noted. “Lenny Rugia was the guy who started teaching my dad and me to tie basic caddis and scud patterns when I was a little kid. He’s still the head guide at Shannon’s Fly Shop in Califon, New Jersey.

“I was also lucky to have the International Fly Tying Symposium close by my house every fall,” Dave continued. “There I’d get to meet a lot of the authors of books I had collected, like Joe Humphrey and Dave Whitlock.

“The first saltwater flies I started tying were standard Clouser Minnows and Deceiver patterns,” he said. The Clouser is a genius fly that works everywhere. There are endless variations to the pattern and it works in the surf, as a bonefish fly, as a streamer, you name it. Everything eats it.”

That background led to the launch of his company Guide Flies in 2018. “Most of the flies we offer in the Guide Flies catalog are custom designs and only available from use,” McKenna said. “On the flats side of things, I really focused on making better crab and shrimp flies. The last two seasons we’ve had tremendous success with the Psycho Mantis and Crusher Buster flies.” The McKenna Crusher Buster is a crab pattern, while the Dave’s Psycho Mantis imitates a mantis shrimp.

Most of the flies now are produced at the Guide Flies headquarters at Fly Fish Guanaja in Honduras. McKenna makes regular trips down there to work with their tiers on fundamentals and new patterns. As time permits, he gets out to fly shops, hosts fly-tying classes or works with people on getting custom flies made.

So, what advise does he have for would be fly tiers? “My first piece of advice is to get really consistent with one of two fundamental patterns,” he emphasized. “Focus on getting the proportions right and not using too much thread.

“When you first get into tying, it can be tempting to buy materials for 10 different patterns, or every new video that comes out,” McKenna added. “Just be patient.

“The second thing is to invest in the best tools you can afford. Skimping on the vise and tying tools ends in frustration and wasted money. You don’t need to spend $500 on a rotary vise, but a Regal or Renzetti will last a lifetime.”

He then concluded with a third and final bit of wisdom. “There are a lot of great fly tiers on YouTube and some are not so good one,” he pointed out. “I’d say pay attention to Tim Flagler’s videos and the Orvis Fly Tying videos in their Learning Center. They have some great videos that focus on tying fundamentals and help explain complex topics like thread and hook selection.”

For more information on Dave McKenna and Guide Flies, visit guideflies.com.