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Local fly-tier shares his experiences

It is winter (despite the lack of snow). Although a few Vermont rivers are now open year round for catch-and-release fishing, most are closed. And even those that are legally open, such as the lower sections of Lewis and Otter creeks, on most winter days are not especially productive.
The next best thing to fly-fishing on these cabin-fever evenings is fly-tying. Or even better: sitting around with friends enjoying a refreshing beverage while tying flies — or learning to tie flies, or sharing fly “recipes” — and imagining and discussing casting those flies into favorite fishing holes or stretches of river. That is what local fly-tier and professional fishing guide John Synnott has in mind, offering a free fly-tying clinic for the next several Tuesday evenings.
John began fly-fishing about 20 years ago while a student at St. Michael’s College. His then-girlfriend — now his wife — bought him a starter fly rod kit, complete with rod, reel, line and leader. John says it may have been the biggest mistake she ever made. He was soon a fly-fishing addict, with a steady need for more equipment, more flies and especially more time on the river.
“It set our engagement back a year,” he confesses.
Ten years later, his three-season job as a school teacher didn’t prevent John from joining the staff of Stream and Brook Fly Fishing as a professional guide in the summers. He later became a co-owner of the company. It was shortly after he started guiding that he saw a notice in the Addison Independent about a series of free learn-to-fly-tie clinics offered by the New Haven River Anglers.
He went to the clinics and not only learned to tie flies — a passion he has continued to pursue ever since — but also met lots of interesting fellow anglers, which led him to get involved in the NHRAA and eventually to become club president.
“I’m always learning new patterns and expanding my repertoire into new areas,” he says.
At first he tied mostly trout flies, focusing on his favorite Vermont patterns such as prince nymphs and wooly buggers. Over the past three years, however, he has also started tying saltwater flies and also pike and musky flies, and experimenting with new patterns. He occasionally ties flies commercially.
“It’s a real thrill to catch a fish on a fly I’ve tied,” Synnott says, echoing the sentiments of many other fly-tiers including myself. “I can still remember the first fish of each species that I caught on my own flies, and the first fish I caught on each new pattern.”
It’s a thrill that John now wants others to experience. And so, remembering how helpful and enjoyable that first fly-tying clinic was for him, and how much he appreciated those who gave their time and talents to teach him, John is now offering his own clinic under the auspices of the NHRAA. He’s designed the clinic for beginners, but experienced tiers are also welcome to come and exchange patterns, or just sit around and tie. The first night, Tuesday, Jan. 17, he’ll introduce some basic fly-tying techniques and lead beginners through tying a basic but very productive pattern or two: probably starting with a wooly bugger and then moving to another basic nymph. Over the next two weeks, he’ll then move on to some other nymph patterns and then end with streamers.
John acknowledges that fly-tying can be frustrating at first.
“You have to learn a whole new language and vocabulary as well as skills.”
But it is also very satisfying and enjoyable. In addition to the thrill of catching a fish on your own fly, the tying itself — especially in the company of other tiers — can be a lot of fun. And addicting? Yes, that too. If you are hoping to get engaged in the next year, don’t send your girlfriend or boyfriend. Otherwise, it should be a nice series of Tuesday evenings.
The clinics will be held from 7-9 p.m. at the Swift House Inn in Middlebury on three consecutive Tuesdays, Jan. 17 through Jan. 31. There is no fee and it is open to all interested parties. There will be some vises and tying equipment available for beginners. Experienced fly-tiers are also welcome to come and tie, and to share recipes. For more information, contact John Synnott at 802-989-0398 or at [email protected].

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