International Fly Tyers Symposium 1997
The New Jersey area is not the worst place to be in November. This is the story about a lot of fishing and fly tying done in that area in the fall of 1997.
The New Jersey area is not the worst place to be in November. This is the story about a lot of fishing and fly tying done in that area in the fall of 1997.
Some people might find it better in August or September - mostly because the fishing is better then. But I prefer November for several reasons.
Cold Weather Man
First of all I'm a cold weather guy. Yes, I think I have come to the conclusion that I actually prefer fishing under chilly circumstances rather than on hot sunny days. In the summer I never fish in daylight and I enjoy fishing during the winter.
The second reason for preferring November is the International Fly Tiers Symposium 1997 which takes place... you guessed it; in November.
The IFTS97 is a great 'little' show. It's not the largest neither in number of tyers and booths, nor in number of spectators. But there's ambiance, friends to meet and some great tying to be seen. This year was my second, and I intend to return if possible.
A Whole Week
I arrived in good time before the show which was in the weekend of the 15th and 16th. I had a whole week off, so I intended to take some time to shop, fish, wine&dine and whatever.
Like last year I had the great pleasure of staying with friend Larry Clemens and his wife Sheryl together with my Czech friend Jan Siman. Our hosts are fine people, and Larry's cooking and fly tying basement is worth traveling for.
Larry's wife Sheryl was taken seriously ill last year just after the show, and was still recovering. But even though she was still not totally able to walk, they were no less than perfect hosts. Larry made sure that we were shuttled to and from some extensive shopping in the area and the different tying arrangements.
Two days before the show, we went fishing on a upper N.J. stream called the Big Flatbrook. This is a beautiful small stream with some very nice scenery. It runs through a forest and has both some fairly fast water with pockets and some slower pools.
We were six: Our excellent guide Jeff Kurman, Co and Marijke Roos, Jan Siman, Sepp Fuchs, Theo Bakelaar and myself. We got separated right from the start and I fished my way downstream through a very nice stretch of forest. As I was fishing a 9' rod I had all too much rod to make proper casts under the overhanging trees. Theo's short and very beautiful cane rod was much better.
I did manage to lay out some roll casts, and landed two beautiful small trout on the forest stretch. But it wasn't until I hit a slower pool above a bridge that things started happening. Here I saw fish rising, and I changed to a size 16 Red Tag. This got a few fish moving, and I had a swell time. The water was cold, but the weather was nice and time passed quickly. So quickly that I forgot to return to the car in time, and was abruptly disturbed by Sepp and Theo calling from the bridge, ready to ride back for our tying session at Ramsey's Outdoors.
Later that evening we had a tying session at the shop Ramsey's Outdoors in Paramus N.J. This was also an occasion to meet more of the other Europeans.
Here I had the pleasure of rejoining Bas Verschoor of The Netherlands and Jan Idar Londal of Norway, but also meeting for the first time Marijke and Co Roos, both from Netherlands. We also saw Billy Tomiello, Joe Keegan and Ted Patlen who all work in the store.
Hans Weilenmann was supposed to join us there, but unfortunately he and Glenn Peckel, who was supposed to pick him up, missed each other and he was stranded in the airport for a while.
Unfortunately the audience at Ramsey's was limited to say the least. But good tyers do not need an audience to have a good time, and while Jan Siman's video on dubbing brushes was narrated by Bas Verschoor in the background we tied, talked and had a good time.
Our perfect guide Jeff took us fishing once more. This day we fished two smaller local streams; one located in seclusion between two highways and one more accessible. Both were very nice, but low temperatures kept the fish down. None of us caught anything, but we certainly had a very nice time.
The Night Before
The night before the show we agreed to check out the Meadowlands Hilton in Secaucus where it's held and pick up our name tags.
Immediately upon entering the lobby we started bumping into all kinds of nice people - old friends and new friends. We proceeded to the tying area where we were met by more friends. There was a lot of shaking hands and saying 'Good to meet you'. One particular hand shaker was Steven Schweitzer who I had looked very much forward to meeting. He shifted his Gin & Tonic to the left hand introduced himself with a firm shake of the other one. We immediately clicked. How could it be different? Both fly tyers, both fly fishers, both into computers and both caretakers of the best fly fishing web site in the world - at least that was what we told each other - repeatedly.
As it so often happens, we ended up in the hotel bar sipping beer and drinks, joining the gathering crowd, talking until much too late.
The next morning was set up time for me. I don't bring much stuff to these shows - at least that's what I tell myself. And setting up for some tying demonstration can be done in no time.
The crowd started hitting the show immediately. And a good crowd it was. It felt bigger than last year, and certainly demonstrated a lot of interest in the tying. I had a great time tying whatever I could produce in my vise, and the spectators seemed to have a nice time too.
As Bob Petti so precisely puts it, a show like this is 'sensory overload' to anybody interested in fly tying. You see so much, talk so much an meet so many nice people, that I at least have a difficult time keeping track. Hence the following impressions are totally chaotic, out of chronology and most certainly directly wrong in some places - but that's what shows and people do to me.
At a certain time within short after the show opened, the first names started to pop up. 'Hi Martin!, I'm so-and-so from FF@', 'Are you the Joergensen with that web page?', 'We e-mailed a while back' and so on. That's when the fun begins!
I also took the time to browse the show several times, leaving my desk for a few minutes. That's one of the ways a tyer gets to see the other tyers on these shows. Here I met just as many old a new faces, and had the chance to talk to many people that I wanted to see.
I met so many old and new on- and offline friends that I can't even remember the names of half of them. A few highligths of the show would be meeting people like Steven Schweitzer, Bob Petti (whom I met last year, but did not remember), Kim Guilinger and her husband Braden. I also talked with Tony Spezio who is a enthusiastic and skilled tyer, Paul Ptalis who ties some beautiful salmon flies, Bob Mead, master of the most incredible imitations, Paul Schmookler and Ingrid Sils, authors of some astonishing books on flies and materials, Mike Martinek of New England streamer fame, Chuck Echer, who'd lost the Santa hair that he featured on the cover of FFF's magazine, Ted Patlen who tied full dressed salmon flies - without a vice, Doug Stephen, the man behind The Black Stream Fly Company, maker of some great lamps and magnifyers - and an excellent fly tyer... and so on and so forth. I exchanged flies and lies with many of these people, and will treasure the time I spent with them for a long time.
A few events do stand out though. First one is Hans W's 52nd birthday. Somtime during the morning of saturday a couple of gents stepped up to my table, handed me some small notes and introduced themselves: Richard Ross and Andrew 'Drewmeister' Nix. Both well known FF@ members, and as it should reveal itself - pranksters in the true FF@ tradition.
The note said that a birthday party was to be held that same noon. The lucky person? Hans Weilenmann! And he had no idea that it was his birthday... and it wasn't!
The joke was thought out by a merry bunch of FF@ pranksters, and was delicately staged and executed with a great effect. There were at least 20 people gathered to sing a song, and Hans was handed a small - very small - cake with all too few candles. I missed one thing though; the gifts... All that celebrating and no gifts?
Well, Hans seemed surprised but happy enough. And he had enough sense to get the picture and the name of everyone present. So we never know what we have coming from his hand. One is for sure though: the pictures can alle be seen in Hans' mug shot gallery.
The FF@ Lunch
The FF@ prank was a perfect kickoff for the FF@ lunch wich had been planned well ahead of the show. Tables had been booked well in advance in the Hotel restaurant and we got to sit close together at a few tables with a good view of The Meadowlands. With seats and food came more calm conditions and a time to assess the crowd. And what a fine bunch of people. A few of the listers weren't able to join us - amongst those Harrison Steeves and Tony Spezio - but we sure had a grand time anyway.
There was a lot of talking, pictures taken and as usual when FF@-friends meet, it's like meeting old friends that you have known for a very long time and meet with frequently. As it is so often pointed out, the FF@ factor is there, and people really do, as we say in Denmark, 'go into each others with wooden shoes', meaning there's no shyness and no formalities, just straightforward friendship.
There was also the traditional group shot to be taken. This took a while as these things do. It seems like every camera in the room has to take at least two of those. I didn't take one, but several can be seen online. Look at Hans' or Steven's.
A lot of us had met each other before, and most of us had exchanged private or list e-mails to arrange things. So it was no surprise to most of us that Bob Perry and Hans Weilenmann had some sweet - albeit very different - rods to demonstrate. Hans had brought some very beautiful bamboo rods that made saliva drivel. Bob's rods were more affordable; small glass rods, excellent for the local type of stream fishing.
This demonstration must have stirred the fantasy of some of the other guests and the waiters in the place. A dozen or so fishers trying a couple of rods, means that a few have to do without. The combination of pantomime and ballet is indeed very graceful.
After this great experience it was back to tying, more talking, exchanging flies and lies and so on for one and a half more days.
Altogether an excellent show with many, many memorable moments.
With the show as a sweet memory and enough tying done to satisfy any tyer, there's only one thing to do: tie some more! We had agreed to do a small tying demo in the basement of Larry Clemens' house with a few of the regulars that come there to tie once a week.
After a delicious meal - cooked by Larry, the group's gourmet... and gourmant - we commenced to do some Danish and Scandinavian patterns. Amongst those were found the Frede, the FMJNM, a large tube fly and a few more.
I had a great time, and I hope the other participants felt the same.
During the show Bob Perry had promised to set up some fishing on the famed Connetquot. For those who don't know: the Connetquot i a Long Island spring fed stream that's (heavily) stocked with rainbow and brown trout. On top of that it has some brookies and a fair run of good size sea run brownies.
The Connetquot is a stocked stream for good and for bad. On one hand you get to see and feel so many fish that it's unbelievable. It's said that anyone can catch a trout here, and the local guys gest about the Connetquot 'being the perfect place to take your wife fishing'.
On the other hand it's almost too much when you as I hook a fish in your first lazy roll cast 15' from the car with less than 15' of fly line off the reel. It's the fishers paradox: on one hand we want to catch fish, but on the other hand we don't - at least not too easily.
Some of the locals call it Disneyland for fly fisher, and true, it's more like an amusement park than a wildlife preserve. I fished it last year, and even a fisher like myself with modest stream competence, will easily catch dozens of fish. Skilled fishers will have one in each cast. We told this to Co and Marijke, who did not believe us... until that first roll cast.
Well, never mind; the day was beautiful, the river was beautiful and the fish were nice.
I never get used to the crowds that Americans accept. After having fished beautiful, small, hidden streams alone I was somewhat struck by how many people there were on the Connetquot. On top of that I was told that it was a quiet day for a closed company. I don't want to try to imagine how it is on a crowded day.
Even so there's fish in the stream wherever you look and cast your fly. You scare the close ones off to reach the ones further away, and when you stand in the same spot for more than ten minutes, fish will find rest behind your legs. And I'm not kidding!
You get through all three phases of fishing: first you try to catch as many as possible, then you try to get the big ones, and at last you spot that one difficult fish that won't move and you go directly for that. But instead of doing it over a lifetime, you do it during a few hours.
I saw so many fish that day. One does stand out though. While fishing for one of my last and difficult fish, I was talking to Bob Perry who kept swinging a beadhead bunny leach by the nose of several visible fish across from us. We were joined by Lindsay Gradisson and Jeff Kurman. Suddenly Bob yelled as a huge fish emerged from the shadows and grabbed the fly.
As soon as Bob had hooked it we realised that he had a double figure rainbow hooked on a 4/5 weight with a 5X tippet. I was close with the camera, and the pictures below tell that story very well.
After the landing and releasing of that fish I had only a few minutes left before I had to head for the airport - in Newark. For those not informed, going from Long Island To Newark, New Jersey between 2 and 5 in the afternoon is more a social experiment than transportation. Thanks to my excellent driver Jeff we cleared both Queens and Manhatten and the river and I made my flight ready to go home after a great week.
Having returned from a show like this, I am always filled with impressions from a great experience. But after a while I realize that what I and the other guests tend to take for granted, the arrangement, transportation, commodation and all that getting together, has actually taken a lot of effort from our hosts.
That fact makes me want to express the gratitude on behalf of myself and most of the other foreign tyers to the following persons:
Glenn Peckel - as ever dependable coordinator of pick-ups at airports
and arranger of host families.
Larry and Sheryl Clemmens - patient and charming hosts of Totowa, excellent food, driving, shopping... and tying.
Jeff Kurman - first-time and last-minute host for Co & Marijke Roos... and myself for one night. On top of that Jeff acted as an excellent driver and fishing guide.
John Harrington - always referred to as 'Uncle Jack' inevitably showing up at JFK to pick up people.
Ted and Judy Patlen, and Mamma Etta - always having 'open house' for anybody that wants to drop in at Westminster 198, referred to by some as "Toothpick Mansion".
Denny & Noreen Fitzsimmons - who threw that great party, last year, and whom I only met shortly at Ramsey's this year.
Chuck Furimsky - and all the other people behind the show itself. You are the reason we come at all.
We were all overwhelmed by the trememdous hospitality shown to us by our hosts. All these people really bend over backwards to give us such a good time. Thanks, we'll pay back!