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Fly tying class helps Vermont anglers make the most of trout season

Jim Cole
In this photo from 2014, a man casts his line. A key part of fly fishing is the fly — whether handmade or purchased.

Inside the Fly Rod Shop in Stowe, the bulk of the store’s floor space is taken up by three 12-foot-long wooden display cases. They are full of brightly colored fishing ties.

"Here's one that’s popular this time of year — this is the black stonefly nymph, it has two tails," says Matt Amenta, a shop employee and avid fisherman.

At a quick glance, the fly might fool you for the real thing. The hook is hidden behind a set of tails that extend off a short black torso.

Fly fishing is when anglers use flies to catch fish rather than bait, and Vermont boasts some of the most desirable trout fishing in New England. According to the most recent state data, in 2019, nearly 72,000 Vermonters got a permit to fish.

Flies are often lightweight and can be made of both natural and synthetic materials such as feathers, hair, metal wire and silicone. They are often modeled after insects that live in the river, and there are different types to mimic certain stages in an insect’s life cycle.

Some days you're the shark, and some days you’re the seal. It can be humbling, but also very rewarding.
Matt Amenta, employee at the Fly Rod Shop

For Amenta, who grew up fishing, he finds fly fishing meditative.

"Some days you're the shark, and some days you’re the seal," he says. "It can be humbling, but also very rewarding. Just knowing how lucky are to have a good day out there is what I love about it."

But if you didn't grow up in a family that fishes, it can be hard to get out on the water, says Corey Hart, an education specialist with the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.

"If you didn’t come from that type of background, it can be a real hurdle," he says. "We’re trying to get rid of that hurdle for folks."

One way the agency is doing that is by sponsoring classes that teach Vermonters how to tie their own flies.

A hare's ear, thread and tweezers sit on a table.
Ben Greenes
Community News Service
In the five-week introduction to fly tying course, participants learn the basics of fly tying.

On a recent Tuesday evening, a dozen people were sitting at tables inside a room at the Agency of Natural Resources Annex in Berlin.

During this lesson, they’re learning how to make a hare's ear nymph fly. This fly is meant to mimic insects like scuds, sow bugs, mayfly nymphs, and caddis larvae.

The students have a literal hare's ear in front of them as well as tweezers, pliers and hooks.

Tom Cate is with the Mad Dog Chapter of Trout Unlimited and teaching the class.

Originally from Los Angeles, he grew up saltwater fishing with bait. That meant the fish often swallowed the hooks. After moving to Vermont, Cate took up fly fishing, which he likes because the flies lend themselves to catch and release fishing.

He taught himself how to tie flies after he was gifted a kit.

"It sat on my shelf for about three years and thought you know, let's see what this is about, and here we are," he says.

John Anderson came from Northfield to take the class. He wanted to learn more about the sport.

A hare's ear nymph fly in a hand.
Ben Greenes
Community News Service
A hare's ear nymph fly.

"I had been fly fishing for a while, and I’d always bought my own flies, but now I decided I wanted to try to tie some," he says. "Class was very helpful."

Vermont is a great place to try fly fishing with your own flies or ones you buy.

"The public access here in Vermont is bar none," says Matt Amenta from the Fly Rod Shop. "It's probably the best I've ever experienced. You can really go into any river, and there's usually public access."

Trout season runs until Nov. 1.

This story was produced in collaboration between Vermont Public and the Community News Service. The Community News Service is a student-powered partnership between the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program and community newspapers across Vermont.

Ben Greenes is a junior at the University of Vermont studying psychological science.
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