The last Fly Fair?
...we hope not! Every second year in May a small Dutch town called Zwolle is invaded by hordes of fly tyers and fly fishers from the whole Globe. This year's show was as good as any - but might be the last of its kind. Read about it and see the pictures in Martin Joergensen's extensive report from
Europe's largest outdoors fly fishing and fly tying show
The Dutch fly tying and fly fishing show Fly Fair in its 2000th edition was as entertaining and educating as ever. In spite of its success it might be the last in a long row.
May/June 2000: It is with somewhat mixed feelings that I write this. On one hand I have just returned from a great trip to the largest outdoors show for fly fishers and fly tyers in Europe, but on the other hand it might be the last time I ever did that. More on that later. Let me start with all the fun.
Fly Fair 2002 will happen!
A while after the publishing of this article - charmingly time stamped in Dutch "woensdag 2 augustus 2000 12:30" - the following mail arrived from Bas Verschoor:
Lake O. again
Since we at Global FlyFisher published the story about the famed Dutch lake known as Oostvoornse Meer I have had the chance to fish there myself a couple of times. As I was going to tie at the Fly Fair in the Netherlands anyway, I decided to join the merry crew, who planned to fish Lake O. before the show.
Air mileage brought me fast and conveniently to Amsterdam and a combination of a train and a taxi brought me to Bas Verschoor's house in Den Haag, where I was welcomed by Bas and Marvin Nolte.
We enjoyed the afternoon in Bas and his wife Diny's garden discussing retirement - a subject I was more than interested in and the two gentlemen were more than experienced in. On a side note: I'm 40, but it is always good to plan ahead.
Later Bart van der Schrieck joined us, and together we drove to the lake, located in Rotterdam's vast port area. We met up with a party already assembled in the Hotel Marion right on the lake.
As we had come to fish, we immediately proceeded donning our waders and jackets, tackled up and headed for the water.
This evening I had my only real contact during the days we fished the lake. It was a calm night, and the fish could easily be seen as they were cruising. Fading light meant spotting fish by surface activity - a highly thrilling way of fishing these large rainbows.
I was fishing a small section within the walls. The water is fairly shallow and easy to cover. The fish were active in there all night. Something made one particular spot very attractive, because every time I returned there later on, I saw fish. Paul Slaney later on dubbed it 'Martin's Pool' in jest. I kinda liked that name...
I fished a selection of different flies - mostly my standard sea trout flies - but none produced. When the sun had set and the light almost gone, I decided to try a voluminous fly called Rabbit-in-a-row. I cast it to a spot where fish had been consistently cruising and on my first cast a large bulge rose a couple of meters from the fly and a fish struck hard. I set the hook, the fish leaped, leaped again and ran. And what a fish! Probably in the 70-75 centimeters (28"-30") range, fairly dark, brownish... and strong. It shook the fly within ten seconds and marked the end of my short Lake O. success.
The merry gang
When fishing was over - an hour after sunset - we returned to the Marion for drinks, food, and good company. The crowd had already gathered. I recognized some familiar faces and heard some familiar names. We had people from many places: Germany, Holland, Denmark, USA, Slovenia, Wales, and Ireland. As usual the conversation was easy going. Fly fishers always know what to talk about.
Fly boxes, photo albums and assorted pieces of equipment was passed around and new and old acquaintances were forged.
We fished the next day too, and we were joined by more people. The weather was sizzling hot, not a wind moving. The large fish were obviously cruising for the midges we saw coming off the water. Linda Foote was in a tube dredging streamers over the bottom and did fairly well. Others also landed fish, but even though I saw fish both moving, jumping and feeding I did not manage to hook any. The prize of the day was taken by Slovenian Tomas Modic, who managed to hook and land a beautiful fish - on a San Juan Worm!
In the evening we attended the club meeting in NVG - a Dutch fly fishing and fly tying club that has a long history. Marvin Nolte did a presentation, where he once again told the story about the amazing Grainger collection - the world's largest collection of framed salmon flies. I had heard the story before, but rest assured; it has not deteriorated over the years. If you ever get the chance to hear Marvin recap the adventure, make sure you attend! It is a classical story that will find a significant place in the fly tying heritage, and Marvin is both a wise and entertaining storyteller.
The worm strikes again
We managed to squeeze in a few hours of fishing the next day before leaving. Once again I occupied 'Martin's Pool' and was amazed by the number and size of fish here. Again the weather was sunny and calm, and the fish obviously feeding on midges.
I had borrowed some small dries and one emerger size 16 or 18 from German/American Herman Schibli. As I had no floatant Herman let me dip into his and treat the flies once before I was off. I had no takes on the dry flies, but the emerger brought me three offers.
Casting to these clearly visible, slowly cruising, seemingly gigantic fish was a thrill in itself, but to see one go for the fly was enough to make your heart stand still. The mere thought of one hanging on to the fly and running off was scary. I tried 0.12, 0.16 nylon and 0.18 millimeter fluocarbon tippets, and a serious strike on any of these thin lines would contain a high risk of a 'Long Distance Release'.
Tomas joined me later, and like I he was thrilled and amazed by the number and size of fish. Tomas' San Juan Worm did the trick again, and he hooked a large fish. I didn't see it out of the water, but I saw it start out quietly and deep and then add steam and take off. When it was about 30-40 meters away, Tomas's rod bent double, his line was in a large curve and the tippet broke and the fish took off.
That marked the end of Lake O. for me. I returned to Marion to pack my things and get ready to leave for Zwolle, the location of the Fly Fair.
The Bream Busters
I drove to Zwolle with Bart van der Schrieck and Linda Foote, and we had a calm and nice drive. Bart used to work with a big construction company, and is able to tell you a story of every single construction site along the road. We had lectures on bridges, dams, dikes, soil and many other interesting subjects while The Beatles were playing on the stereo of Bart's brand new Citroen.
We arrived at the hotel Postillon, which is the place where the tyers traditionally stay during the show. After having checked in, I proceeded to meet with Bart and Herman Schibli in the lobby. Our plan was to go fishing for bream in the river IJssel, which runs right by the Fly Fair. I had never caught a bream on a fly before, and wanted urgently to pursue the matter.
Things worked a bit against us, though - the traffic was hell and the gas station, where we were supposed to buy licenses was gone! Bart made a quick decision: we would poach! As we could probably only put in an hour or so we cordially agreed not to feel bad about the fact.
Bart had tied up a lot of the typical IJssel nymphs - heavy and colorful. He passed a handful to each of us and after having put on waders and readied the rods we headed for the water.
Bream and roach are fished along the banks of the large and murky IJssel. They come here to spawn, and play amongst the reeds in the shallow, slow flowing water. It is amazing that the fish can see a fly, as visibility is only a few centimeters. In spite of this you fish the flies fairly fast and on the bottom - the weight will see to that. The bottom is very soft and silty, and as soon as you stop moving the water will start rising - or rather you will sink in. The current is moderate although detectable.
The short trip was a clear success! The fishing was fun although casting the extremely heavy nymphs was somewhat a challenge. Herman and I each landed a couple of weighty bream and lost a few too. I saw bream jumping in the middle of the river - a sight I had never expected.
We returned to the hotel and joined the others for the traditional Eve of the Fly Fair - a banquet, where all the organizers and participants get together. Over drinks in the hotel bar we were baptized the Bream Brothers. Later someone converted that into the Bream Brothers and even later it was transformed to the Bream Busters - a title we accepted with honor!
Saturday came and the show could commence. We arrived early to set up, and as usual the first hour or two could be used to say hello to old and new friends. The crowd began flowing in and Irish Peter O'Rielly opened the show. He put in words a lot of the feelings we have for the show and the Dutch hosts and fly tyers. A large choir of pirates continued the festive with some amazing and jolly chants, and the crowd was now tightly packed in both the large tents that house the whole arrangement.
The tyers were cranking away - some followed the motto of the Fair "Back to the (bloody) basics", while others did what they always do. Tying on the show myself I had precious little time to get up and look around, but during a couple of breaks I did manage to take a round or two and see some of the exquisite tying on display. I will mention no one in particular but just let you have the pictures on these pages to engulf in. The list of participants and guests was long and impressive and as Dutch fly tyer Hans Weilenmann put it during the banquet the evening before the show: "If a 747 were to crash on this hotel right now, it would have a major impact on the fly fishing industry."
The Fly Fair auction
The tents were also shelter for the Fly Fair Auction, which took place Saturday evening after the show and after people took dinner different places in Zwolle or Hattem.
The auction is a tradition almost as long as the show itself. It basically aims to raise money and entertain and does both equally well. During the auction a lot of items are sold - both some that are very valuable and some, which could merely pass as pranks. Fly tying materials, framed flies, flies cast in clear plastic, emblems and a ton of old and odd stuff such as special Fly Fair hair tonic (sic!) was auctioned off.
Ad Swier was the auctioneer in the absence of Willem Hofman, who has taken this responsibility all the other years. Unfortunately Willem was taken ill, and could not attend. Ad Swier did a fine job, and the auction was as always a unique show and a hilarious experience.
Some of the sights
In spite of the tying obligations I managed to get a good view of some of the happenings in the tents. Watched more than a few tyers do their thing, and I was humbled and awed by most of them. There are so many good tyers out there. I will not name them individually, because I didn't get to see everybody and I would never be able to be fair to those that I did see.
But I was confirmed once again in that being at a show such as this is a learning experience. Just watching and listening during these two days will teach you a dozen new and different ways of doing things. You will also see things you new done with lighter hands and more steadiness than you imagined possible. I divulged in salmon flies, dries, nymphs, pike flies, sea trout flies, flies for bonefish and tarpon and flies for other existing - and a few hardly-existing - species.
An interesting sight was the activities in the center of the tyers tent, where newcomers were taught by experienced Dutch tyers. Next to them a gentleman, whose name I did not register, was demonstrating the process of producing furled leaders on a board much like the one I use. I did not look for long, but noticed that he used an old fashioned hand driven drill - an energy consuming but probably healthy method.
I also took a stroll along the booths of the commercial vendors and was confirmed here too. A dangerous path to troth. There is soooo much gear that I just need to have. Paul Morgan's book shop Coch-y-bonddu is one of my bad habits, and I could not resist his booth this time either, but just had to bring back a couple of books.
As always on these occasions there is a generous exchange of flies between the tyers - on top of all the flies that are given away to the spectators during the show. Anybody showing enough interest will usually earn a fly from the tyer. Some of the tyers, who tie expensive or very complex flies do of course not do this. A few of the pros sell flies, but most of the tyers are happy amateurs and would never charge money for a fly. On many occasions during a tying session kids wearing caps filled with flies will step up to the table and look at you with big, wet Bambian eyes. The signal is obvious and a fly has to change owner. Marvin Nolte - who ties full dressed salmon flies professionally - taught me a neat little trick. In stead of giving away your most precious creations to a fate unknown, bring a box of simple, colorful flies and let the kids choose a fly themselves.
As usual I brought home a bunch of flies myself - Bambian eyes strike again. On this page you see a very small selection of them.
The Mystery Tour
One of the Fly Fair highlights for the participants is the chance of participating in the Mystery Tour. This tour takes place the first day after the show and is a secret, which is not revealed until the bus arrives. This year the bus unloaded its passengers at a quay on the river IJssel next to a beautiful riverboat called the Success. While we were waiting to board the boat's steam organ played an impressive tune.
After this the captain welcomed us, and we boarded. The day was beautiful and after a welcome drink - Dutch bitters accompanied by more organ music and different hors d'oeuvres - we flooded out on the upper deck to enjoy the sunshine and the beautiful sight of the surrounding fields, wetlands and small villages as we sailed the IJssel.
The meal we were served onboard was beyond description as was the interior of the beautifully restored boat. Its history was as amazing as the pictures of its state when the restoring started. The ship had been a wreck, which to most bystanders would seem beyond salvage. Nothing on the boat revealed its prior condition, and we all thoroughly enjoyed the day.
The last Fly Fair ever
One thing was without joy. As the meal was over and we were getting close to the quay, Ad Swier - a member of the organization behind Fly Fair - addressed the crowd with a speech. He thanked for the participation and accounted shortly for the history of Fly Fair. He then told us that we had been the privileged participants of the last Fly Fair ever. What a sad announcement! Some of us had heard the rumors, but this confirmed the fact.
Ad was as sad as the rest of us, but left a bit of hope, as he indicated that he was not going to give up on the thought of some kind of fly tying and fly fishing arrangement in The Netherlands in the future. In spite of this faint hope, the mood was significantly lowered and faces were not happy. It is hard to express the feelings that we international visitors have for the Fly Fair. It is a different, very social and personal arrangement and the people behind the show have done a marvelous job over the years. I am sure that many will join me in saying thank you to Ad Swier, Egbert Land, Wim Maurer, Willem Hofman and the many people who have helped them for their hard work in this. We still hope to see you all in two years somewhere in Holland.
There is one more tradition, which makes the Fly Fair a special event for the tyers, and that is the Fly Fair tour. For those who want to see a bit of the Netherlands, a program with sightseeing is arranged by Bas Verschoor and a bunch of his handymen.
I had the chance of joining the first day of the trip, which gave me the chance of seeing not only Darwin Atkin on a bike, but even Mike Martinek! The definition of a streamer. None of these gentlemen had been on a bike for decades.
We enjoyed the museum, the bike rides in the forest and a lunch of crepes in a nearby cafeteria. Our drivers took us for a nice ride in the beautiful countryside and back to the hotel. Here we prepared for another evening in the NVG.
This evening was a special banquet for the foreign tyers with a fantastic meal prepared by the club members themselves. After the meal there was an auction of things donated by local and foreign participants - and a couple from non-participants. The rest of the evening was spent tying flies. We foreign tyers set up our vices and tied away the whole evening.
Altogether an extremely enjoyable event and a great way to meet the local fly fishers and fly tyers. As usual on these events group photos were taken to add to the impressive gallery of photos on the old walls.
I had to leave Wednesday together with Mike Martinek and Jeff 'Bear' Andrews and his family. We said our good byes and drove off to the airport, where we parted. Mike and I had the chance to go shopping in the airport and keep each other company almost to the gates. Here Mike left for England and I found my way back to Copenhagen.
As always with the luggage filled with fond memories, freshly tied World class flies, pictures and a few books and magazines.
Hope to see you all in a couple of years to whatever will follow Fly Fair.