Archive for Sunday, June 22, 2014

Lawhorn’s Lawrence: Life on the fly

June 22, 2014


So, that's been the problem. All these years I've had a variety of rods, reels, coolers, depth finders, coolers, special sunglasses, coolers, tackle boxes and coolers, yet I've never even sniffed the prospect of being a great fisherman.

But I didn't have any chicken feathers.

That's right, chicken feathers can be mighty important when it comes to fishing. In fact, and this is no joke, there are actually chickens that are raised for no other purpose but fishing.

"Not only that; they're really expensive chickens," says Ronn Johnson, owner of Lawrence-based Yager's Flies.

But hey, put that hen and that really big hook away. We're still talking about the feathers here. Specifically were talking about long beautiful hackle feathers that grow near the neck of the chicken. Men like Johnson will take tiny pieces of those feathers, and then open up a tool kit that looks like MacGyver has met a PBS quilting show.

Area fly fishing

People who want to learn more about fly fishing can get information about joining the Free State Fly Fishers club at Yager's Flies, 2311 Wakarusa Drive. Members of the club will be competing in their annual fly fishing tournament at Lone Star Lake from about 9 a.m. to noon today. The winners have their names engraved on the tournament's prestigious trophy, the Stanley Carp.

There are vises, bobbins, thread, tiny scissors, knot-tying do-dads and, of course, feathers, fur and other things that I'm pretty sure weren't moving. A few twists around a hook here, a ruffle of a feather there, a tying of a knot and — presto! — you have something called a CrackBack. Or maybe a Woolly Bugger. Or maybe a Meat Whistle.

Men like Johnson have all types of names for all types of creations on a hook. Men like Johnson are fly fishermen, and it doesn't take long to figure out this isn't what I do with my 15 coolers.

"Fly fishing is a little bit different way to look at the world," Johnson says.


Johnson wants to be clear: He does not stop and pick up dead beavers from the road and put them in his trunk. Of the more than 100 members in the Free State Fly Fishers, he doesn't believe any of them do either.

But when you are tempted to do so . . .

"That's when you know fly fishing is beginning to become a bit of an addiction," Johnson says.

You see, chicken feathers aren't the only thing used to tie flies. Fur from a beaver, an opossum, a deer or almost any animal can be called for on some version of a fly.

A simple Salmon Egg fly uses 27 different pieces of material, and that's on a hook that is usually an inch or less in length. Others don't look like flies or lures at all. Johnson grabs one that is a replica of a small field mouse. It is made from deer hair that is woven and then shaved. There are plenty of other examples.

Johnson's Yager's Flies operates online, and at a brick-and-mortar store at Clinton Parkway and Wakarusa Drive. Between the two locations, Yager's stocks about 39,000 varieties of flies.

No, Johnson does not tie all of them himself. But someone does. Johnson has contracts with fly companies, which employ people to hand-tie flies.

"Every fly you pick up has had someone else's hands on it to put it together," Johnson says.

Sometimes it's the hands of the fisherman himself.

Johnson's shop sells the supplies for people to tie their own flies, and Johnson said that can become almost as addictive as the fishing.

"If you can fool a fish on something you have tied," Johnson says, "that is the highest compliment."

Actually, there may be one higher, now that he thinks about it.

"A dragon fly took one of my flies right out of the air," Johnson says. "That's the highest compliment."

Bragging about catching dragon flies. This really is a bit different.


Welcome to summer in Kansas. The calendar says it has officially begun, and soon enough there are parts of your anatomy that will desire to be waist-deep in a Colorado mountain stream.

You may even want to take a fishing pole with you.

But Johnson says you don't need to go to Colorado or some other place hundreds of miles away to fly fish. Nearly any body of water around these parts is suitable for fly fishing. Lake Shawnee and the small Lake Henry in Clinton State Park both have trout. But fly fishing doesn't have to be limited to trout. Bass and crappie can be fun too, and one of Johnson's favorite species is carp.

"A lot of people don't like carp, but if the tug is the drug, you don't get much more powerful than a 10 pound carp on the other end of the line," Johnson says.

But let's face it, if I go out fly fishing for carp or anything else, I'm likely going to be the thing on the other end of the line. It is easy to imagine that during the whipping back and forth of that long line, it eventually will become wrapped around my neck.

Johnson says the unique casting motion required for a fly rod does scare a lot of people away. But he said mastering that motion — well, learning it anyway — isn't that difficult. It just requires remembering the No. 1 thing about fly fishing: You look at the world a bit differently.

"The harder you try to throw this, the less far it will fly," Johnson says.

Johnson, as he often does, demonstrates in the parking lot outside his shop. He has 30 feet of line uncoiled from the reel, which is the standard amount used in a cast. He whips it back hard, and it creates a snap like a bullwhip.

"We call that a buck-fifty cast," Johnson says.

You've just lost your fly and at least a $1.50 in the process.

Instead of trying to be powerful, take some time being small. In fly fishing you pay attention to the small things: the color of the insects in the air, the clarity of the water, the strength of the current and so much more.

"It takes a lot of weight off my shoulders when I can just go out there and get in touch with what's around you," Johnson says.

Again, hopefully it is not the fly line that is around you. Johnson works with everybody who buys a rod and reel from him for 15 to 20 minutes to get them on the right path. He often tells them a story about one of the fellows who taught him. He was essentially a one-armed instructor because the hand that didn't have a fly rod in it always had a drink.

He would would bring that rod back to the 1 o'clock position behind his ear, and take a sip. He would bring it forward to the 10 o'clock position, take another sip, and watch the line and fly travel 60, 70, 80 feet. Twice as far as those who were trying harder.

"The biggest thing I try to teach people is to relax," Johnson says. "It becomes so much easier when you relax."

Try easier and relax. Whether we go fly fishing or not, perhaps we all ought to vow to look at the world a little differently from time to time. And yes, it may even involve a chicken feather.

But if we end up with a beaver in the trunk, let's reassess.


Lawrence Morgan 3 years, 11 months ago

This is a great column. I frequently spend time when I'm free going to the Golden Gate Park (San Francisco) Casting Pools. These are one of the finest fly fishing casting pools (actually 3 pools) in the world. There are always advanced as well as beginning fly fishing persons there. Plus, it's absolutely beautiful, one of my favorite areas of Golden Gate Park.

I'm actually working right now on a blog which suggests a fly casting pool for Lawrence. For those who don't fish, it's wonderful just to walk around and, if you wish, to meditate. The trees and beauty of this area of Golden Gate Park are incredible. We could do the same for Lawrence.

If you ever come out to San Francisco and I'm here and not in Lawrence, I will take you to the Casting Pool in Golden Gate Park! Also, there's a worldwide tournament in April of each year - people come from as far away as Siberia and Japan.

It's free to cast as much as you want and there's free parking, as well.


and here is a little of the history of the Club:

ggac image

ggac image by Lawrence Morgan

Scott Morgan 3 years, 11 months ago

For the non fly fisherman, or we spinning reel types, very very small spinning reel types, Yager's Flies is not a waste of time. Tip o hat!

His shop has hundreds of perfect "sunfish" type artificial baits. The accessories are the best in the area. Best bug repellants around for sale in there too. In fact, nothing like using a few of the designs with an old fashioned cane pole. Umm sounds like a plan.

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