Is there any event which shows the brilliant, diverse creativity of the art of fly tying as well as the British Fly Fair International? I very much doubt it. So much for this being a "niche" hobby- the fair has everything from rare traditional materials to modern synthetics, magnum to micro sized flies, not to mention a fantastic cast of international tyers.
What strikes you is the unique vision of each tyer and yet this is very much an event about sharing ideas, of being surprised and feeling inspired. And from a writer's angle there are countless strange and fascinating tangents to be explored here.
Perhaps we should begin with a tip of the hat to tradition however- I'm always staggered by the craftsmanship and beauty of the work on display such as Jörg Schuft's classic salmon fly pictured above. Just as fishing is about far more than catching fish the same can be said of fly tying- in this case elevated to pure art. In truth though the lines of practicality and aesthetics often blur- and an event like the BFFI is all about originality- sometimes useful, sometimes audacious. Here is Bulgarian tyer Stoyan Filipov's imaginative take on the life cycle of the frog- cute:
In my opinion, fly tying has never been a broader church. Definitely something to be celebrated whilst other branches of fishing become more and more predictable and coldly efficient. To take two ends of the fly fishing spectrum, we have hulking great pike flies and the tiniest trout flies- both are beautifully made, both have their place. Riny Sluiter of the Netherlands provides the "kingsize" snack below,
In the "fun size" category right at the other end however, small is most definitely beautiful for Andrew Baird with some delectable, tiny flies (his blog www.smallflyfunk.blogspot.com is also well worth a look):
Of course, besides the tyers themselves, the fly fair is also an unrivalled place for new and rare materials. Cookshill (check my links) are first choice for rarities and I couldn't resist taking notes on some of their weirder requests. How do you fancy polar bear fibres or condor? Parakeet is another current special- these birds are pests in London currently and some individuals have been using green fairy liquid bottles as decoys to lure them in! On the stall itself I rather liked the look of these rare Argus Pheasant wings- but at £50 maybe not eh?:
Perhaps the real surprise material for this year however was the Taser wire Caroline Emmet was using to make some cute bugs. No, I'm not losing it- the wire really does come from Taser gun wire used in training exercises. Better still, if you buy some all the proceeds go to the "Fishing for Heroes" charity to aid our ex-services people in need. With different plastic coatings this produces some interesting effects and attractive finishes ( see www.fishingclass.co.uk / www.fishingforheroes.net):
Another place of surprises, Chris Sandford's angling collectibles and antiques are always worth a look and another welcome surprise was meeting Bob James. Whilst some folks need a dodgy joke to get them grinning, these chaps were jovial enough already:
I always have a daft question or two for Chris regarding his curiosities- among which were various bugs and creature style flies and lures made from cork, fur and goodness knows what else, along with more traditional classics. Curiously, unlike the flies bought loose in todays tackle shops, patterns were once commonly sold in lots already tied to gut:
After a long day and a real tour around all the corners of the show, I just about had time to get those items of tackle on my list- odds and ends I hope will spice up my winter predator flies as well trout patterns. In the nick of time really- closing time sounded and I was absolutely knackered. Spare a thought for Keith Passant however (below), who will have (just about) completed a 24 hour tie-a-thon by the time this blog reaches you. Except that he forgot about the changing clocks and so it becomes a 25 hour session! All in the aid of another excellent cause- "Casting for Recovery" which reaches out to breast cancer sufferers and really demonstrates both the generosity as well as the theraputic value of our sport (www.castingforrecovery.org.uk).