Uni Products Fly Tiers Corner
Pursuing An Art Form
Gene Barrington now makes his home in Cumming, Georgia, a few miles north of Atlanta. But he grew up in Garner, North Carolina, just east of Raleigh and on the edge of the Old North State’s Piedmont Region. That’s an area that is not particularly associated with fly fishing.
So how did the 14-year-old Barrington discover the long rod sport? “My dad subscribed to Field and Stream and Sports Afield,” Gene explained. “I read them cover to cover. I still recall reading an article by Joe Brooks on fly fishing in Patagonia. He described casting to a rainbow that cleared the water over his fly with a brown hot on its tail.
“That article lit the fly-fishing fire in me,” he continued. “I had a part time job at the time I saved my money to buy a True Temper, solid fiberglass fly rod and a Cortland 333 reel. The line weights back then were letters – I believe it was a D or E weight. I still have that rod and reel.”
While fly fishing was new to him, the overall sport was ingrained earlier. “I was all on my own with fly fishing,” Barrington noted. “My dad and uncles all fished. I fished with my friends and family. I was the only one fly fishing. We fished local ponds and lakes, mostly for bream and bass.”
Blue-Winged Olive Parachute
Those early adventures were actually a bit of “hybrid” angling. “I made a ‘leader’ with a hook and small sinker on which I could impale a worm or cricket for bream,” Gene recounted. “I also used that same leader rig with bits of shrimp to fish the inlets along the North Carolina coast when we vacationed at the beach. Once I walked past a pier on the sound side of the island to reach the inlet. I remember a few laughs about the kid with a fly rod. The laughs stopped after about 30 minutes. I was bringing in a ‘skip jack’ bluefish on almost every cast.”
About that same time, Barrington discovered tying as well. “The minimum wage was $1.25 from my part time job, before taxes,” he said. “A bream popping bug cost 40 cents and a bass bug was 90 cents. When the pain chipped off or a feather came loose, I had so much invested, I learned how to repair it.
“The local fishing store had a Hank Roberts Fly Tying Kit for $19.95. Think about that $1.25 an hour! I had to save for weeks to buy it. The vise was stamped metal with a butterfly nut to tighten onto the hook. The thread was from a sewing shop. The feathers were all brightly colored and the smallest hook was probably a 4. That was my first tying outfit. I wish I still had it,” he added.
The whole process of learning to tie was a solo journey. “No one I knew tied,” Gene said. “I thought they all came from overseas. There was a small booklet in the Hank Roberts kit and sometimes the magazines had article on tying.”
When it comes to patterns, Gene does have his favorites. “Given a choice,” he said, “I like traditional dry flies and emergers. Parachutes are especially effective.” On the other hand, he is a realist. “I do carry LSEs and will fish them if necessary.” For Barrington a LSE is a low self -esteem pattern, such as Wooly Buggers, Y2Ks or worm patterns.
“Like so many tiers, I started tying to save money,” Barrington mused. “Anyone who has tied for a while know the fallacy in that.”
Gene also is a realist with regard to materials used for his flies. “I collect materials when I travel,” he offered. “Fly shops carry materials for their local tyers that we don’t often see in the South. Modern hackles are so much better than they were years ago.” On the other hand, he has done some scavenging for fur and feathers, too. “I tried gathering my own for a .while. An experience skinning and drying a mink pelt was a great learning moment. My hands smelled of musk for months. I’ll still keep feathers from a quail or pheasant hunt. I look for molted goose feathers around local ponds and lakes. I have friends that duck hunt. They save me drake flank feathers and wings.”
With regard to flies that he ties, you might say he is a traditionalist. “I have patterns that I’ve developed and patterns I’ve modified to suit me and where I fish,” Gene said. “I’ve found that biot bodies work very well for both mayflies and caddis. I mainly use biots from the trailing edge of goose and turkey wing feathers.”
For Barrington, fly tying is more than a craft or hobby. “Personally, I believe tying is an art form and too subjective for competitions,” he explained. That’s why he has never entered any such events.
As for commercial tying, it also is not something in which he is interested. “No, then it would be work,” he quipped.
“I’ll gladly teach anyone how to tie them,” he said regarding his patterns. “If a local fly shop wants to have a tying/teaching day, give me a call. I’d love to participate. I teach tying to veterans with Project Healing Waters – Atlanta. I’ve taught more than a few other classes as well.”
As for advice to aspiring fly tiers, Gene Barrington has some. “It not that hard. A tying teacher can save a new tier years of learning on their own and a lot of frustration in the beginning,” he offered, then cautioned. “Be careful of YouTube videos. Just because someone has a webcam and knows how to make a video does not mean they know how to teach you to tie.
Baetis Emerging Nymph
“For videos on tying and patterns, visit the Fly Fishers International website. Go to the Fly Tying Group and look at that video library. Those have been vetted by the FTG Board of Governors. Join a local fly-fishing club; join FFI; join Trout Unlimited. You’ll meet other fly fishers and fly tiers in your area,” Barrington concluded.
For Gene Barrington’s contact information, go to the FFI, Fly Tying Group webpage. Then set the search options to United States and Georgia.