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Rick Whorwood - Tying Classics

Q- First off Rick, could you tell us just a little bit about yourself?

RW- I think with any fisherman, after a certain time you start to think about changing your style and techniques. My fly fishing started when my wife and I were actually dating. We purchased a small trailer and started going camping, I started seeing guys with fly rods on the rivers. That was back around 1970. I watched a couple of guys fly casting and I knew that I wanted to try it. I went out and bought myself a relatively cheap outfit and got started. Unfortunately, after the first year I found it so frustrating I sort of put it down and went back to terminal tackle. About 5-6 years later I decided to take it up again. A few years after that I took some lessons.

The fly tying aspect is a natural progression. I think most people start out buying flies, but then you start looking at it and say "boy, I can probably tie twice as many flies for half as much money", which turns out to be quite a joke because it ends up you spend more money on materials than you would have if you'd have just bought flies. So I started out that way like most people, just tying for fishing and that, like dry flies and nymphs, streamers and wolly buggers and so on.

Q- And when did the "Classic Bug" bite you?

RW- I was very fortunate. When I started getting serious about fly fishing I became good friends with Barry and Cathy Beck. Through them I met one of their guides, Donnie Bastian. Donnie and I just clicked. We became excellent friends and still maintain a strong friendship to this day. He invited me down to fish with him a number of times. That would be around 1982-83. I was tying at that time and we were trading off different ideas about tying, mostly trout flies. He was about to do his first fly tier symposium, and he invited me down as a guest. I went down with him, and then the next year he talked to Chuck Furimsky and got me invited as a tier. I was tying a lot of hair-wing Atlantic Salmon [flies] at that time. That particular year they had a tremendous amount of really good classic fly tiers from all over the world. I was fortunate enough to be able to walk the aisles and talk to these guys, and I made my decision that day that this was something I was going to do.

Q- So once you made the commitment to pursue it, how did you go about learning?

RW- If you look at all the top contemporary tiers in North America, and I imagine a number in Europe, probably Poul Jorgensen's book [Salmon Flies: Their Character, Style, and Dressing] would have been the biggest influence. That was a book written in, I believe 1978. I got a copy of it and I tried tying his style through the book. A writer friend of mine, Jim Poling, he actually phoned Poul and told him I was interested in tying classics, and would he be interested in giving me lessons. So I originally went down and took lessons off Poul Jorgensen. I spent two days with him and I kind of went over how to tie a classic fly. That was sort of the start of the quest that I was on. Next I took lessons from Rob Solo, a tier from Newfoundland. Then for about the next 6 years I literally set up classes at my home with fellows such as Ron Alcott, Mike Radencich and Bob Veverka.

I was still doing the North American Fly Tying Symposium shows. When I did a show, I would always make sure that I'd kind of wrangle things so I could sit beside one of the better tiers. Guys like Charlie Chute and Paul Rossman. Guys I knew were really good tiers and I was going to learn something. I would literally just sit and pick their brains and take lessons more or less off the cuff. In the mean time I kept working at it. Literally, whenever I finished a fly Iıd start right back in on another one and spend many hours doing it.

Q- Did you spend a lot of time critiquing the flies you tied?

RW- That's a natural process. No question that it's like anything else, the more you do it, the more you spend time with good tiers, the more your eyes develop into what's good and what isn't. Other tiers are always forever giving you little pieces of advice and helping you and saying "try this" "try that", or "try that material". That plays a major part of it. You get in with a nice circle of people that are very competent. Everybody's friendly and helps each other.

Q- Now to somebody just starting off tying classics, what piece of advice can you give them?

RW- Take lessons. Seek out good instruction. It's like whether you're learning to cast, whether your learning to tie even just trout flies, the value of lessons from a good tier is really important. You can save hours and hours by taking some lessons, whether it's casting, tying, or any aspect of fly fishing. You know, I can't say enough about taking good lessons from somebody that's competent in what their doing.

The other thing is materials. Materials play a huge factor. Start going to the major shows, the Symposiums, and start looking at good materials. Good materials are going to make you a better tier all around. You can learn material management much quicker with good materials than you can with crappy stuff.

Q- Now some people maybe aren't in a location or don't have the means for lessons, and they may have to settle for second best. What would your recommendation be?

RW- Mike Radencich's book [Tying the Classic Salmon Fly: A Modern Approach to Traditional Techniques] by all means is probably the best dollar value. Mike's book is a good book, especially if you follow the instructions carefully. And there's a lot of magazine articles out now as well as videos. All you have to do is some research. I've had a couple articles published in Fly Tier that can show you how to set wings and how to do bronze mallard. You could check those out.

Once you have good tying skills and you understand what you're looking at you could get a book like Mikael Frodin's [Classic Salmon Flies: History and Patterns] and just go to town. It's got recepies and a little history on about 60 classic patterns and it's really done nicely. Just start tying !!

When you finish tying a fly, look at it very critically. If you're not totally happy with it, strip the hook and start again. Or set the fly aside and tie exactly the same pattern, only try to improve on certain aspects of it. It doesn't hurt to take a magnifying glass and look at some really nicely tied flies. Look at how the tier layed in the different materials and try to mimic what you see. You know, it's one of those things that if a person puts enough time and effort in they'll get good at it. No question in my mind.

Q- So this is one of those things where practice really does make all the difference?

RW- Just like fly casting, practice makes perfect. No question about it.

You know, don't be scared to contact accomplished fly tiers and ask questions. If you get really keen on it, set up a group of 6 or 7 guys and get someone in to do a weekend course. Start going to some of the major shows where there are some very good tiers. Make sure you hang out at one bench long enough to pick up some good instruction.

Q- Speaking of good materials, I understand you actually took that one step further and raised your own birds for feathers. What would you like to say about that?

RW- I was afraid you were going to bring that up. {laugh} Donıt do it! There's a bit of a misunderstanding there. It's quite a story and it's a long story so I'm not going to burden you with it. But a friend of mine had a little hobby farm, and he had a couple of Golden Pheasants and such. I went down there, showed some interest and explained to him how these materials were being used in classic flies. I showed him my flies and he took a keen interest in the feather part of it and we sort of struck up this idea to buy some birds. I could use the feathers and he would get pretty birds for his farm, so we went 50/50. Well it went crazy. At one point we had close to 1,000 birds of all different species and we didn't really know what we were doing. It was just a friggin' nightmare to say the least. Surprisingly enough, we had thought about getting into raising birds for game farms, which was the reason why we had so many birds. We had over 500 Ring-Necks at one point. But we also had really nice birds, like Macaws, Tragopans, Brown Eared and Blue Eared Pheasants. We had all different phases of Ring-Necks, some Reeses, Red Goldens and Yellow Goldens. We had a really nice aviary at one point. But it just seemed that between buying medication and food, you were just standing at the door of the pens and throwing money in. It became overwhelming and it just wasn't the direction I wanted to go. We basically made the decision that he was going to stay with the caged birds and we sold all the penned birds off... Don't do it!

Q- Iıll take your advice!

Q: Which tiers have you most admired and which tiers are you watching now? Who do you have your eye on?

RW- My personal favorite tier, and this is kind of a tough question because, to ask that you almost have to say "Who's your favorite caster?" or "Who's your favorite fisherman?". I mean, if the guy is a bass fisherman and he doesn't do anything else, is he your favorite fisherman all around? If you're talking straight sit-down-and-tie-a-classic and it turns out excellent, there's no question in my mind that Charlie Chute is by far my favorite. I'll justify that by saying Charlie will sit down at a show and tie a full dressed Jock Scott without even thinking about it. He's amazing. Where a lot of these tiers, and myself included, will tie a Jock Scott over a number of hours. If their not happy they'll undo stuff and start over. Charlie just basically sits down and does it. I have a lot of admiration for Charlie. I think he's a wonderful person and he's definitely one of the best tiers we have today.

If you look at Speys and Dees, there's no question that Bob Veverka is up there. There's a number of other fellows that I admire, but Bob certainly was the guy that showed me how to do it. I'd set up a lesson with Bob specifically for that reason. He's one of the best.

Q- Now you tend to stick to the classic dressings and don't invent a lot of full dressed patterns of your own. Is there a reason for that?

RW- Yeah, I have a love for tradition and a love for history. I have a lot of respect for guys like Paul Rossman who are doing more artistic type flies, but for me, to sit at my bench and go through the old books, like Hale and Kelson, Ephemera, and Jones Guide to Norway. I find that the most enjoying. It was a phenomenal time the Victorian Era. They [ghilles] used to carry a little kit bag of materials and they'd literally concoct the fly on the river. In a lot of cases they would tie a fly where they'd start while their sport was fishing down through the pool. The ghille would walk behind them tying a fly and they'd change flies at the other end. You've got to say that those guys were remarkable people. The thing is, when I put a hook in the vise and start tying a classic, it gives me the opportunity to almost drift back into that time. It's a tradition. It's a history.

Now when I'm tying fishing flies I'll experiment like crazy. I'll tie with all different materials and work with them to get them to swim different and react different in the water. I'll play around with different colors and everything on fishing flies, but to me the classic is sort of honoring tradition.

Q- Finally, we just have to know, do you ever dunk any of your classics?

RW- No. {laugh} Simple as that. A full dressed classic salmon fly, I don't know if I've ever fished one to be honest with you, but I have fished Dees and Speys. Quite often I'll tie Dees and Speys on return loop hooks. Let me throw in a plug for a friend, if you're going to tie classics you've got to buy Ron Reinhold hooks.

As far as tying full dressed classic's , to be honest with you, most of the time I tie now I'm tying specifically for a reason, a show or event. I still do a lot of hairwings and saltwater flies, a lot of trout flies, and a lot of spey/marabou type flies for Steelhead. I find it's just as much fun to tie nice fishing flies using marabou and strip wings and feather wings than it is to tie a full dressed classic.

Q- Well that settles that! Rick, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us.

Rick Whorwood teaches single and 2-handed (spey) casting in Southern Ontario to individuals and small groups. For more information contact Rick at (905) 662-8999 or

Interview By: Brian Doelle.

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