Fooling Feeding Fish

For some people, fly-fishing is a sport. For others, it’s an art. But for the diehard fly-fisher, it’s more like a religion.

Doug Hnatiuk chuckles at the comparison.

“It really is a passion for people, once they start to experience some of that outdoor serenity, peace and tranquility that comes with just a really quiet day on the river, or on the lake, just feeling like you’re one with nature,” he acknowledges.

“I’ve had some of my students say it’s almost a Zen experience. If you want to take it to a spiritual context, it would be kind of connecting yourself up with creation.”

Hnatiuk should know. He’s been involved in teaching fly-casting and fly-tying in Whitehorse since 1997.

“I’m not a person who’s going to say fly-fishing is better than spin-fishing, which is better than bait-casting. Certainly, for the experienced fisher, each of them offers something different in the experience,” he says.

Still, it’s obvious that fly-fishing and tying flies have a special place in Hnatiuk’s heart.

“There’s nothing sweeter than tying a fly, putting it on a line, and then going and catching a fish. It’s just such a rewarding experience, going through all of the steps from start to finish, and then the reward is catching the fish.”

On this particular evening, Hnatiuk has a table full of equipment set up at the Canada Games Centre for the fourth evening of a beginner’s course in fly-tying, offered through the City of Whitehorse Parks and Recreation department.

There are threads, hairs and feathers of various patterns and hues, small aluminum vises, thread bobbins, scissors and something called a dubbing loop twirler and something else called a whip finisher.

There is a vase with pheasant tailfeathers and a peacock feather, and plastic bags of feathers from chickens that are specially bred to provide unique colours and patterns for use in the fly-tying trade.

Other common elements for tying flies, Hnatiuk explains, include squirrel or rabbit fur, grouse and wild turkey feathers, and synthetic materials that mimic the skin and legs of insects.

For more exotic flies, or those designed for fishing larger species such as salmon, the menu might include feathers from guinea fowl, jungle cock, ostriches, swans, or even macaws.

The purpose, of course, is to create objects that emulate various insects well enough to fool unsuspecting fish into believing they are delicious morsels of food.

Hnatiuk, along with some of his own mentors, such as Bill Dahl and Frank Alge, have spent countless hours on Yukon rivers, streams and lakes, reading the water and observing the insects that appeal to local fish, such as the caddisfly, stonefly and mayfly.

He willingly shares that knowledge with his students, both male and female – about 25 each year in his fly-casting courses and 16 in the fly-tying sessions.

“We get into a fair amount of entymology discussion. We also get into a lot of discussion about the attributes of that bug, the life cycle, where you would find them typically, whether they’re on the bottom in the rocks, or mid-way up to the surface, or on the surface, or in the air.”

After teaching hundreds of Yukoners to cast a fly and to tie their own flies, he can “count on one hand how many people really didn’t get it,” Hnatiuk claims.

Regardless of someone’s skill level, knowledge or age, he says, “We can make you into a fly-caster in five lessons.”

Becoming proficient at creating fish-fooling flies, on the other hand, requires a willingness to practise over and over again, he cautions.

“But I can give you all the tools you’ll need to be able to do a good job and to understand the art and to understand the sport.”

He doesn’t make any promises about the religion of fly-fishing.

Hnatiuk is offering a 10-hour Intermediate Fly Tying course beginning Tuesday, November 8. For more information, contact the parks and recreation office

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