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Tying flies, telling lies

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EAGLE POINT — Chuck Huntington of Shady Cove takes his seat in Dave Roberts’ garage for Tuesday’s weekly meeting of the Senior Staff Fly Dressers Guild chipping in on two of the guild’s guiding tenets.

Huntington is tying a bright yellow streamer that he uses to imitate bait fish when tackling big trout or bass in Southern Oregon lakes, and he’s more than willing to share his pattern with the other tyers on tables around him.

But find him while fishing the Rogue River? Not so much.

“I’m really not particularly a sharer when it comes to what I’m fishing with,” Huntington says. “I have a show-me box in my boat. If somebody asks me what I’m using I just show them this colorful box of stuff that I never fish. But we’ve all got foibles, and I got more than my share.”

Tying flies and telling lies are the backbone of the guild, which meets each week in this garage outside of Eagle Point.

And with the Rogue at near flood stage and area reservoirs rising high, pulling up a seat at the guild is about the closest anyone can get to fly-fishing this day in Rogue country.

There are about a dozen members ranging from very good to expert in the field. Some tie flies for art, others for fishing and others, like Roberts, tie for profit.

Regardless, they do it all together while sipping coffee and eating pastries their spouses have otherwise banned.

They start showing up as early as 6 a.m., strolling through the garage door and into a room filled with vises and vices, including the bottle of whiskey under Roberts’ bench. The last trickle in around 9:30 a.m.

Dozens of clear plastic containers are shelved on one wall, all full of tying materials they pitch in to buy.

“It’s camaraderie, it’s fun,” says Roberts, an expert Catskills-style dry-fly tyer. “We swap patterns, we swap materials, and there’s a wealth of knowledge here. Somebody tweaks a fly and then shows everyone else. We keep learning new recipes.”

From full-dress Atlantic salmon flies to tiny No. 20 midges, a lot of fur, feathers and thread come together by deft hands, none of which may be younger than 62.

“When I first came here, it really hurt my feelings he didn’t check my ID,” says Phil Henning, of Medford.

Henning had been there an hour and still hadn’t unpacked his gear to tie, but he’s been plenty busy on other guild fronts.

“That’s part of the charm,” Henning says. “We’re here to tie flies, tell lies and insult one another. When I get home my wife wants to know what did we do today, and I can rarely tell. You usually can’t repeat those kinds of things. What happens at Dave’s, stays at Dave’s.”

Most of the guild members tie traditional flies with traditional materials. This day, Huntington is tying streamers with some of the myriad synthetic materials that now dominate the market.

“Dave gives me a hard time about it,” Huntington says. “These guys are real artists. I’m not. I’m tying just to catch fish.”

The streamers are incidental for him, something he’s tying for lakes while the Rogue is up and out of fishing shape.

“I’m just tying these because nothing’s going on now in the river,” Huntington says. “These things work very well for bass."

While most guild tyers look to imitate the best patterns for their traditional flies, Huntington thinks differently.

“We all tie different flies, and we all have different favorites,” he says. “I’m sort of obsessed about having something that looks a little different than everybody else’s on the river, even when I’m fishing steelhead. I figure they’ve seen a lot of stuff and sometimes they don’t want to grab the same thing someone else has already hooked them on.

“That’s why I’m not particularly a sharer,” Huntington says with a laugh.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter MTwriterFreeman.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Dave Roberts works on a fly Tuesday at his home in Eagle Point.
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