UNI Products Fly Tiers Corner
Fly Tying in Southwest Georgia
Article and photos by Tom Seegmueller
When I learned a group was gathering weekly at a local brewery attempting to do an even better job of “tying one on” than they did the previous week, I had to join them in their endeavor. When first hearing of their goal, the uninitiated might have concerns about the appropriateness of their actions. However, as is often the case, facts can be deceiving.
For more than eight years Mack Bryson and Eric Belusko have hosted “Tie Down Wednesday” at Pretoria Fields Brewing in Albany, Georgia. With a cold beer from the taproom flanking portable tying vises and canvas cases filled with a wide variety of tying material, masters and novices turn bare hooks into wonders of piscatorial deception. Fish tales are swapped as well as technical advice, and sarcasm.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that fly tying and beer had changed a great deal since my first exposure to both as a Boy Scout over 50 years ago. In those bygone days those choosing to fly fish in Southwest Georgia were generally limited to a small selection of yellow and green popping bugs in two sizes and black or white sponge spiders. If you were sporty, you might have a mail order fly box with a dozen traditional pattern trout flies from somewhere up north. Beer was generally Schlitz, PBR, or Budweiser if you were trying to impress.
The materials being tied Wednesday were also a long way from the duck feathers, squirrel tails, and pet hair we whipped to bream hooks. Although some natural materials were evident, synthetic materials of all color and textures were being used to fashion flies that run the spectrum between traditional patterns and lifelike lures. At Lee Carters vise the hook became a Mylar minnow, seemingly coming to life as eyes were glued then cured with UV lights.
The flies taking shape in the vises were not being created solely for deceiving black bass and bream. Shoal bass, redfish, stripers, and other fresh and saltwater species were being targeted. Bryson, who ties commercially for Southeastern Flyworks, was cranking out his Monk’s Mop Dragon, he named after his daughter, and Bug’s Redfish Ticklers. Belusko turned out a variety of Clouser Minnows. If you have never tried your hand at tying, those gathered at the table will set you up on a vise and teach you the basics.
When I asked Belusko and Bryson about the differences in the flies they tie commercially and the ones they tie for personal use. They responded in tandem, “The screwups go in my box.” Bryson said, “The commercial fly has to be pretty. At that point you are tying to catch fishermen, not fish.”
The beers at Pretoria and those of my youth are just equally superior and diverse. Belusko explained how the beers there were crafted by Eric Kirchner using ingredients from the cooperatives own fields and other regional ingredients. The names of the core selection are equally relevant, including Rye Charles, Skywater, and Shoalie. “Shoalie is special to me, and we are proud that two percent of its sales go to support the efforts of The Flint Riverkeepers.” The town of Albany sits on the shores of the Flint River, which is a top location for catching the iconic shoal bass.
Belusko shared one of the more humorous and ironic stories of the evening. “My wife and I were visiting her parents in Cocoa Beach, and I had a case of cabin fever due to prolonged rain. I decided since I couldn’t fish, I’d find a fly shop and see what the locals were tying.”
A quick Google search showed the nearest shop was only a few blocks away. So, he jumped in his car and put in the GPS location for Clouser’s Fly Shop. Nearing the targeted address, he became concerned that he was still in a residential area. Spotting an elderly lady walking her dog he rolled down the window to inquire if a business did indeed exist in the neighborhood. After clarifying to her that he was not looking for flies he was looking for a fly-fishing establishment, she informed him she didn’t know of any businesses in the neighborhood, but the man living in the next house did fish.
Belusko pulled into the home’s driveway behind a young lady exiting her car. When he asked if the address was the site of a fly-fishing shop, she asked him to follow her into the house. Opening the door, she proceeded to cry out, “Bob do you have any material here to sell this guy?” He had inadvertently stumbled into the Florida home of Bob Clouser, creator of the famed Clouser Minnow. Not a bad way to spend some time on a rainy day!
Ironically, Bryson met Clouser at a flyfishing show and had the opportunity to sit and tie with him. He has both the Clouser Minnow he tied and the one that Clouser himself tied. Needless to say, he is partial to this pattern. “A Clouser just has to be wet to catch a fish!”