Today is the final day of the Lancaster Fly Fishing Show, and, for those in the east, the show season is now winding to a close. The Somerset New Jersey Fly Fishing Show, which took place a couple weeks ago, was the only one I attended this year. I helped man the TCO booth, spent time signing books in the Stackpole Books booth, and reconnected with a lot of friends, some of which I only really see at this show. From most reports, the New Jersey show was a big success, and I believe that the crowds were larger than I’ve seen in the last several years.
Many people buy all kinds of items at the show, from rods and reels, to waders, and fly tying items. But since this was my 15th year in attendance, and because my day-job is in a fly shop, I don’t need much, so I only brought home one item that I didn’t own before the show began: The Catskill Style dry fly, tied by Mike Valla, pictured above.
Many fly anglers and tiers had never heard of Mike Valla until the publication of his phenominal first book, Tying Catskill-Style Dry Flies, in 2009. For those of you who do not own this book, if you want to tie better dry flies, if you have an appreciation of American history and contributions to fly tying, if you fish New York’s Catskill region or if you always wanted to fish there, you need to own this book. Mike’s first book is perhaps my favorite fly fishing book that’s been written in the last decade.
Few people have the background to write a book of this magnitude, but Mike does. He learned to tie from Walt and Winnie Dette, American fly fishing icons whose work developing the Catskill style of dry fly continues today, in the same fly shop, through their daughter Mary and grandson Joe Fox.
A younger Mike Valla with Winnie Dette
I wanted one of Mike’s flies for my collection for a long time. So when I saw him give one to another friend of mine, I was devastated with envy. But, to Mike’s credit, he required very little whining on my part before he finally tied a fly for me. Perhaps the most stunning thing about this fly isn’t its exacting proportions, or meticulously perfect body, wings, and hackle, but rather the fact that Mike tied this fly in a couple minutes, while talking, telling stories with everyone in ear shot. Only one of the greats could tie at a level of craftsmanship that most tiers dream to achieve in the middle of that much distraction. And Mike Valla is one of the greatest fly tiers I have ever seen.
Mike Valla today. He’s not at pretty as he used to be, but his flies sure are beautiful!
You can buy Mike’s books from most fly shops, or from his Amazon page here:
If you want to visit the heart of American fly fishing, visit the Dette Fly Shop in Roscoe, NY:
Photos of Mike Valla are courtesy of his web site