10 Rules for a Fly Tying Demo- by Vern-O

Articles, featured, People — By on February 29, 2012 5:11 pm

The winter months tend to be fly tying season for many anglers. Time to refill the fly boxes, beat the winter blues (unless you are a devoted steelheader), and attend a fly tying show or demonstration in hopes of learning something new. It gets the blood pumping to sit behind the vise and reminisce about days past that were warmer and prolific hatches abound. You load yourself into your source of transportation and truck it to a fly tying demonstration. It need not be a cross country mission, but merely an afternoon spent at the local fly shop (the dying breed that they are, being consumed by mega-redneck-sport-supply-box-stores). You get yourself to said location and sit there for a few hours and absorb what is being poured out in front of you. Maybe even thank the location or person for sponsoring the event. You then take this knowledge and hopefully some needed supplies from the location putting on the event and head home to test your new found lessons. This is a wonderful exchange. What about the individual(s) giving the demonstration? What motivates someone to put themselves out there for all to comment and critique? There must be fame and fortune attached to such events?


I consider myself a rookie on both the tying and demonstration fronts. I find myself constantly wanting to torture my abilities and my audiences. Why do I do fly tying demonstrations?

That’s a good question. I guess there is a deep down love for fly tying that I feel the need to share with others. What does one have to do to make a fly tying demo happen?

Rule Number One: Find a venue.
This can be a bit tricky. How far are you willing to travel on your own dime? Yes, some places may actually pay to have you tie at their event but the reality is, if you are in it for the right reason then you should expect nothing. Establish contact with a venue or shop owner. As a fly tier you had better have a portfolio of your work, thus flies on hand or a web site set up that one can view your work easily. I will often plan a trip to a new body of water I want to fish and locate the nearest fly shop. I then call the shop ahead of time and let them know that I plan to be in the area in the near future and wonder if it would be possible to stop by. I usually determine through the persons attitude/vibe on the other end whether I want to make my intention of doing a demo known immediately. I try to make it absolutely clear that I am not trying to sell a product, but rather try and draw support for the shop and offer a service that may help them do so. Many fly shop owners tend to be very leery of this type of thing, that is why a face to face conversation with flies in hand is much easier. My worst cold call experience went like this: “Why would we have you do a demo at our shop? We tie all our own flies, why would we need you to come out and we don’t have a lot of room.” I informed them that I was going to be in the area and was wondering if they would be interested…that was all. It’s quite obvious that the person on the other end of the phone knows everything about fly tying, has plenty of business, and does not need anymore. My next move was to call the shop directly across the street. I received a little better reception and had to settle for a Friday afternoon as opposed to a Saturday or Sunday. It was a start and has developed into almost an annual trip for me.

Rule Number Two: Be flexible.
Work with the shop owner to find a good time to do the demo. I try to work it in so that I can fish the local water before hand or afterwards. This can lead to great stories during your demo and discovering new waters. Know your potential audience. I don’t recommend tying saltwater flies in the mountains of Colorado. It may be fun to throw some odd balls into a demo, but do a little background research first.

Rule Number Three: Offer something up.
If you’re doing a demo offer to make flyers to post in the shop. Plug yourself through social media, it’s the 21st century. Get the word out there. At this point you are selling yourself and the shop has no obligation to do anything. If you end up tying to no one other than the guys that work in the shop you had better have some good stories to tell or awesome flies.

Rule Number Four: Plan Ahead.
Don’t agree to do a six hour tying demo in a venue you’ve never been to before. Who can sit there for six hours and listen to you ramble on? Practice and pack materials ahead of time. Try tying in front of your local Trout Unlimited Chapter to get comfortable tying in front of a group of people. I like to tie the flies that I’m going to demo about two nights before the demo. That allows you to pack all the required materials in their own bags so that you have everything together. Be sure to have a back up plan to tie an extra pattern or two if time goes slower than expected. I tend to go overboard with this one, and end up bringing too much stuff. Plan ahead as to how and why you are tying each fly. Why are you showing these people this fly? Don’t tie a dry fly, then a streamer, then another dry fly…..get some flow to your demo, let it unfold and develop as you go. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Don’t attempt to tie a full dress salmon fly that you have never tied before and tie it in 30 minutes. Start with something easy and work your way into it. Bring a tying light and extension cord. There is nothing more painful than trying to tie in the dark in front of a bunch of strangers.

Rule Number Five: Final Contact.
Call the shop a day or two before the demo. Let them know/remind them that you’re ready for your demo and will be there a little ahead of time to set up.

Rule Number Six: Getting there.
Give yourself plenty of time to get to the venue and take weather conditions into account. If you can, bring a buddy along, so that you have a familiar face there with you. This can help relieve any pre-demo jitters. Play some music that motivates you on the drive there. This can help you relax and get a mental rhythm going.

Rule Number Seven: Set up and greet.
Once you get to the venue be sure to greet everyone who works in the shop and the patrons if it’s appropriate. This is a good time to hand out business cards if you have them. It never hurts to buy something before the demo even if it’s a pack of dubbing. Get your gear set up and everything in order so that you can begin.

Rule Number Eight: Let the show begin.
Start on time and be sure to introduce yourself if the venue owner does not do so. Let your audience know a bit about you and what you like to tie. Throw out the ice breaker stuff: comment on the weather, ask them how many tie their own flies, get a feel for your audience. I like to tell a story or two about something that happened while fishing, usually funny. Don’t tell some story about how you caught all these monster fish on this stream or that body of water. If you have a fly that works well, consider telling how or why you think it works well. Do not throw out number….I caught 60 fish one evening using this fly. This tends to lessen your credibility a bit. Relax and have fun. You are there to share what you know. Encourage questions. The right question asked by an audience member can really open up the way the demo goes. If you answer the question clearly, this will help encourage others to ask more questions…thus you have your audience captivated and interested. Explain the tying steps and why you do them. If you have a part of a fly that is tricky for you to tie, tell the audience, this part may be difficult and show how to work through it. Pass materials and flies around so that the audience can gather knowledge. Keep an eye on time. If you are tying a pattern that isn’t your design, let your audience know and give credit to its creator if you know who that is. Don’t panic, if the tying or the fly doesn’t come out the way you had hoped, then say so and point out what you should have done. If appropriate tie another one.

Rule Number Nine: Post demo wrap up.
Let the audience know that you have time for one more fly. When you are done be sure to thank the audience for coming and the venue for allowing you this opportunity. Encourage them to give yourself or the venue feedback on your demo. Take your time packing up, because it’s not uncommon for someone to come up and ask questions. Take the time to answer and thank them for coming. Get your materials gathered and thank the venue owner for allowing you to come. Ask for feedback. Try ending your conversation with “maybe we can do this again when I’m in the area.”


Rule Number Ten: Take it all back home.
Load up your gear, get back home, and unload it all. I usually spend the ride home to hash over the highs and lows from the demo. What went wrong. What went right. How to improve? I often reflect on questions asked and consider whether or not I answered them clearly. I sometimes have suggestions from audience members to try this or that and I hash these over in my head. Typically I have a feeling of elation. I tend to find these experiences very rewarding and that is why I continue to do them. I also feel a fair amount of mental exhaustion and compensate this by listening to music or watching a good movie. Often times after a demo, I’ll feel the let down of it all being over and questioning why it is I do this? Why all the preparation? Why all the leg work? Why no monetary benefit? It drives me! It drives me to better my abilities and share what I have learned. Most of us don’t get into fly tying to become wealthy. We do it because we have a passion for it. This is often lost in today’s fly tying world of gimme the latest and greatest as fast as you can. Remember that when you tie on a fly plucked from a bin. Did the person that created that fly do it as part of a machine designed to gobble cheap labor and materials in a foreign land or was it put there by someone who wants your next fishing experience to be one to remember. The next time you show someone a photo of a monster fish that you caught and they ask you “what did you catch it on?”……You can answer “just some fly in a bin” or “a fly crafted by someone who wanted to make my next fishing experience just that much better”.

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6 Comments

  1. Bruce Corwin says:

    Nice piece, Vern. It covers most if not all of the subject in detail. It reminded me of a few things I have to do to get ready for a demo I have this saturday :>). Thanks for the reminders!

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  2. Alan Berry says:

    I’ve caught a couple of Vern-o’s tying demos (at the shop pictured). It’s a very enjoyable couple of hours. The preparation he puts into the demos is obvious. Thanks for sharing your secrets.

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  3. avril anjers says:
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    Great article Vern. Great pointers. One day, I’d like to sit in on one of your demos.

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    Love these off beat type of articles that you can’t find anywhere else. This article makes a lot of sense and easy to read.

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  5. Enjoyed your points. You do what you do because you know that there are people like me who are just getting started or even expierenced who are hungry for the knowledege you pass on. You probably remember what it was like when you first started and want to pass on the excitment and fustration that await us. Thanks for sharing with us and maybe one day we will be the one on the other side passing it on.

    on.

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  6. Crackaig says:

    For the last 20 years I’ve been doing demos for branches of the Fly Dressers Guild (FDG), in shops, and at shows. All of the above is great advice. It will help you get the mechanics of a demo right. There is another aspect that is possibly even more important. Presentation. This will vary on the kind of demo you are doing. If you have a captive audience for an evening, as is the case with the FDG, then the principle I work on is. Everybody should laugh, everybody should clap, and everyone should pick up a tip that helps their tying.

    The point is that in a couple of hours demo you are not going to teach much. The audience isn’t there to learn, they’d do a class for that. They are there for an evenings entertainment based on their interest in fly tying. If you laugh, clap and pick up a tip that’s what you have had.

    Cheers.

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