Tom Dempsey

UNI Products Fly Tiers Corner

UNI Products

Mobile, Alabama

September 2021

“I’ve always liked to make things,” Tom Dempsey notes. “When you start losing saltwater flies that coast $4.00 apiece, you learn quickly how to tie your own flies.”

That is how Dempsey launched into tying saltwater flies. In the real world, Dempsey is an orthopedic surgeon. But his obsession has been chasing his fly-fishing passion for almost two decades.

Dempsey and a young pupil at the vise.

Since being introduced to the sport on a frigid stream in Alaska, Dempsey as chased fish from the Gaspe Region of Quebec to the Amazon, from British Columbia to Patagonia, always returning to his Gulf Coast home waters.

A casting instructor certified by Fly Fishers International and expert fly tier, Dempsey joined with Dino Frangos and Dwight Yoder to form the Gulf Coast Fly Fishing School, dedicated to teaching and promoting the sport of fly fishing.

Dempsey lives in Mobile, but grew up in southeastern North Carolina casting in the surf and off of piers along the Atlantic coast. He was blessed with a father and grandfather who both loved to fish. He was introduced to fly fishing on a medical-implant sponsored trip to Alaska, and has not used conventional tackle since.

“I am a mostly self-taught tier,” Dempsey explained. “The first fly I ever tied was a Wooly Bugger a kid in a local fly shop showed me how to tie. This instilled a certain inquisitive challenge that has resulted in producing many boxes of flies for as many species. What’s better than tying a fly and catching a fish with your creation? Experimenting with different patterns gives you a certain personal satisfaction.

Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

“Living on the Gulf Coast led me to tying the majority of my flies for my favorite fish,” Dempsey expounded. “My passion is sight casting , and my favorite fish on a fly is a redfish, followed closely by speckled trout. The Terminator is my go-to creation for reds. They say redfish like any color as long as it’s gold. I somewhat believe that statement, so the Terminator is loaded with bling. For the speckled trout, I tie a knock-off Whistler that is a white bait pattern – a pimped-up Clouser Minnow with a collar.

Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

“Use the best hooks for your species. To me, this means a 4/0, slightly off-set, with needle point for reds. A 4/0 big hook gets big fish around their jaw bone. Off-set hooks are necessary so you don’t gut hook these fish. I’m 99 percent catch and release. Needle points penetrate cleanly and do not have sharp sides that can wallow a hole and result in the fish coming unbuttoned. Wide-gapped steelhead wire hooks work great for the seatrout mouth that has a fragile membrane between the jaw and the cheek.

“If I am fishing saltwater, which is about 90 percent of the time, I fish my Terminator, the Whistler, a standard Clouser, and a Double-Barrel Popper. These patterns have served me well for years, so why switch?”  said Dempsey, whose fly box often is a zip lock bag.

Dempsey believes it is impossible to beat a Clouser in chartreuse when you need a good exploratory fly. He rates a traditional black Wooly Bugger as an all-round choice in fresh and saltwater and said that poppers are too often forgotten, but not my him.

“Articulated flies are perfect for saltwater fish,” Dempsey said. “Articulated patterns accurately mimic baitfish and can be tied any size and cast easily when using the new synthetic fibers. Always remember though, fly-fishing success is more about presentation than it is imitation.”

Dempsey’s tying desk holds a smorgasbord of tried-and-true materials, but he noted too that he likes to dabble in what’s new in tying materials. He also gathers tying materials. He has a dedicated freezer for road kills. Dempsey has been known to stop traffic upon spotting a prime specimen. “There’s a pair of snippers in my truck’s tool box at the ready,” he said

“Don’t forget the local craft shop for glitter, feathers, stick on eyes and foam sheets, ” the tier added.

Tom Dempsey’s advice to would-be fly tiers is to take a class for the fundamentals. Then get with it. Practice and don’t be afraid to try new patterns and techniques. Go to conclaves and, by all means, use the Internet.

The Gulf Coast Fly Fishing School also offers classes in fly tying. Visit their website for more information.