Fishmail: Dens of vice

August 31st, 2002

It started innocently enough. There I was, drinking a cup of coffee and enjoying the spring sunshine when a little voice whispered in my ear: "Here, try one of these". I suppose it was curiousity at first. I mean, how much damage could it do, I asked myself? I thought, as we all do, that I could handle it. I was, after all, hardly young and innocent; I'd been around a bit, I thought, and there wasn't much left in this world that could corrupt and deprave me. Now, of course, I know the truth.

At first, it was just a couple of Shipman's. You know, pretty lightweight stuff, the sort of things of which you can put away a dozen or so without really thinking about it. Then someone offered me a pheasant tail pattern and a couple of suspender buzzers. All still pretty manageable, really; I was fine, still sleeping well, still getting out into the world and meeting people. But then came the parties where people were handing around soldier palmers, Coves, damsel nymphs; and suddenly and quite literally, I found myself in a world of vice. Before I knew it I was getting through an ounce of seal's fur every week. And I didn't stop there. In the following months I developed a serious tinsel habit; I found myself lurking outside reservoir lodges trying to score coastal deer hair, dyed partridge feathers, even (and I shudder as I type this) type 4 CDC plumes. I was a mess, my dreams full of giant man-eating muddlers and appetisers, my fingers shaking at the vice every morning as I got my fix with the first sedge pupa of the day.

This week I finally realised the full extent of my depravity. In a sort of varnish-induced haze, I found myself showing a friend how to tie a superglue buzzer, that most evil and insidiously satisfying of patterns, and I knew that I had to stop before I did someone else the same damage that had been done to me. So here I stand before you, a broken man; but a man who has woken up to the lies and deception that fly-tying forces upon you, and a man in search of a twelve-step program for victims of this vicious business.

You may recall that several weeks ago, I wrote about the Three Great Lies and a proposed replacement for the third of them. But fly-fishing has shown me that there are many more fibs out there that must be exposed; in particular, the notion that tying your own flies saves you money. I feel somewhat churlish about revealing this, especially at a time when Sexyloops' very own Ben Spinks is doing such sterling work in explaining the ins and outs of fly-tying to us all on these pages, and showing us the the deperate lengths to which a man will go to acquire materials. But the awful truth must be revealed, I'm afraid, before others are as corrupted by it as I have become.

I just had a quick scan of my materials cabinet and I reckon that at a conservative estimate, the tools and materials I have gathered in the last year or so have cost me about 500. Not too bad, I hear you say; at an average of 90 pence each for commercial versions tied by underpaid Kenyans and Thais, you only have to tie 556 or so to get your money back, right? Well, yes and no. The problem, of course, is that this only works as long as you restrict yourself forever to tying the patterns that your materials allow. So while I have marabou in half a dozen shades, a collection of seal's fur that makes even the most spectacular rainbow look like a muddy driveway and a mink pelt that would look pretty damn good around a supermodel's neck, I still don't have most of the stuff that I need as my skills evolve and my insane lust for new patterns grows.

Last week, for example, I decided I needed to learn to tie some Invictas. The Invicta seems to me to be an excellent all-rounder, representing all sorts of buggy and edible creatures. You can tie it slim or bushy, silver or gold, large or small; you can fish it wet or dry; and you'll catch fish whichever way, on the Wylie or the Waiau. But you need some serious gear to tie it. A couple of different kinds of pheasant, only one one of which I have. Red game cock hackle, with some blue jay for the throat — the first I can do, but the jay is currently beyond the scope of my collection. So just to tie up a few of these essential patterns, I need to spend a tenner or more before I can even think about getting started. And while I'm out shopping, I'll invariably find something else I need; that Greenwell's cape I've been promising myself, some olive nymph skin, a new pair of hackle pliers, a proper hair stacker to replace the Biro tube I've been using. So that tenner turns into thirty or forty or even fifty pounds; all for the sake of a few trichopteran lookalikes that will probably do no better a job that my existing deer-hair sedges.

And so it goes on. Parachute Adams? I need muskrat fur and calftail. Snipe and purple? I need snipe wing and, well, purple stuff. Don't even get me started on poppers or naturals or fry imitations or Powersilk or.... You can see where I'm going with this. The more curious you get and the better you get at it, the more it costs you and the less time you have to actually go fishing, or see your girlfriend, or do any work. The horrible truth is this: whatever Ben or Paul tell you, fly-tying ruins your life. Just Say No, while you can; and think of me this evening, as I roam the streets of London looking for a deal on a kilo of possum fur. It's not for me, officer, it's for a friend...

Sean Geer ( is a freelance journalist, author and tinsel addict. He is an expert in not catching fish on any of his home-tied flies, preferring to steal better examples from the fly-boxes of his fishing partners whenever possible. As absentee co-moderator of the Sexyloops fly-tying forum, he has failed spectacularly to contribute anything worthwhile to the global body of knowledge on this subject. None of this has stopped him from accumulating the world's largest and most pointless collection of dubbing materials. He is currently writing a novel about sex, fluorocarbon and the life cycle of chironomid insects.

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