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Monthly fly tyers group meets to make it through long winter months

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Longtime fly fishing enthusiast Kevin Jeffrey of Grand Forks shows off a large fly he tied. Jeffrey is one of the regulars who gathers the first Thursday of every month at Half Brothers Brewing Company to tie flies with the Forks Fly Tyers. Brad Dokken / Forum News Service2 / 6
Mike Hartman of East Grand Forks ties up a fly Thursday night, Feb. 1, 2018, during the Forks Fly Tyers' monthly "Beers and Bugs" gathering at Half Brothers Brewing Company in Grand Forks. Brad Dokken / Forum News Service3 / 6
Some of the essentials for an evening of tying flies with the Forks Fly Tyers during their monthly "Beers and Bugs" sessions: a fly tying vice, tying adhesive, hooks, beads, feathers, thread and -- optional -- a tasty brew. Brad Dokken / Forum News Service4 / 6
Adam Stusynski of Grand Forks shows off a bucktail jig he tied Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018, during the Forks Fly Tyers' monthly "Beers and Bugs" gathering at Half Brothers Brewing Company in Grand Forks. Formed in August 2017, the Fly Tyers group meets the first Thursday of every month to tie flies and talk fishing. Brad Dokken / Forum News Service5 / 6
Kevin Jeffrey (left) and Steve Ficocello of Grand Forks tie flies Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018, during the monthly gathering of the Forks Fly Tyers. The group gathers the first Thursday of every month to tie flies and talk fishing at Half Brothers Brewing Company. Brad Dokken / Forum News Service6 / 6

GRAND FORKS — Make no mistake about the weather on this Thursday evening in early February.

It's cold, as in 10 below zero cold. Way too cold if you're into fly fishing, as opposed to the kind of fishing that requires staring down at a hole in the ice.

Just ask Steve Ficocello, founder of the Forks Fly Tyers. The group, which gets together the first Thursday of every month to tie flies and talk fishing, was marking its six-month anniversary on this chilly February evening at Half Brothers Brewing Company in downtown Grand Forks.

"For the people that fly fish, this is the only way they can get through the winter," Ficocello said.

While the other patrons packing the microbrewery watched basketball on big screen TVs or engaged in lively conversation, Ficocello and three other fishing enthusiasts sat at a table with an assortment of vices, feathers and other fly-tying essentials and sipped their favorite beverages.

"Beers and Bugs," the Fly Tyers' events are called. There's no membership required, no dues to pay; just an interest in tying flies or learning about the craft. Some months, the gatherings draw a half dozen enthusiasts or more; other months, only a couple of people show up, Ficocello says.

"It's been a lot of fun," he said. "We've seen a lot of different faces. Guys that are 20 years old, guys that are 65 years old. So it's been fun to learn from the older guys and teach some of the younger guys and the newer people that are getting into it."

'It's worth it'

One of the faces falling into the "older guys" category on this night is Kevin Jeffrey of Grand Forks. Well known in local fly fishing circles, Jeffrey says he's attended most of the fly tying sessions since Ficocello started the group in August.

There have been evenings when the group has tied flies and talked fishing until after 11 p.m.

"I'd like to do it more than once a month, but it's probably a good thing because Friday morning, I'm going to be kind of tired out," said Jeffrey, a photographer and multimedia specialist for Minnkota Power Cooperative. "But you know what? It's worth it."

Jeffrey, who learned to tie flies on the fly — literally — with a guide along the bank of a Montana trout stream, says he's honing his skills at tying large flies at the Forks Fly Tyers gatherings.

Streamers and other large flies are a favorite for Ficocello, who says he gets bored tying small flies.

"I'm learning a lot from Steve," Jeffrey said of the Fly Tyers' founder. "He's into the big flies so he's got me into the big-hook stuff. Back in the 1800s, they would call them 'irons.' That's what the big hooks are — irons."

In the lingo of the day, tying flies is "trending," Jeffrey says, as is the move among all kinds of groups to gather in brew pubs and similar spaces.

"I like to get somebody who's never tied and get them into it because fly tying right now ... I talked to some guys at a fly shop down in Minneapolis, and — not necessarily fly fishing, but fly tying — is really coming up again," Jeffrey said.

No experience necessary

Seated nearby, Adam Stusynski is a picture of concentration as he adds hair of various colors to one of several leadhead jigs draped on his vice.

"Adam, what are you tying up over there?" Ficocello asks.

"Just a hair jig," Stusynski says.

"There you go — getting ready for summer," Ficocello replies.

Stusynski falls into the newcomer camp, and the leadhead jigs that he crafts are used with spinning gear and not for fly fishing, which relies on the weight of the line to propel the fly. Stusynski says he'd like to learn more about fly fishing, though, so he definitely has come to the right place.

Experience isn't a prerequisite, Ficocello says; members of the group even can supply vices and other equipment for newcomers who don't yet have their own supplies.

"I'm really surprised at the variety of people in town that like to fly fish or are interested in it, so that's been really cool, something unexpected, the breadth of people that are interested in fly fishing," Ficocello says.

Across from Stusynski, Mike Hartman of East Grand Forks, Minn., works on a tiny fly that likely will get put to the test on a trout stream sometime in the not-too-distant future.

He's planning a trip with a buddy next month to the Bighorn River in Montana and also makes the occasional excursion to fish trout in southeast Minnesota, an area he says is a "real gem" for small stream fishing.

Hartman approaches fly tying like he approaches cooking — by straying from the recipe; the fly in his vice is no exception, he says.

"It's kind of a well-known pattern, but I always like to add something," Hartman says. "I don't ever do the exact same pattern because that's what theirs are like, too."

Growing up in western Canada, Hartman says he honed his fly fishing skills on the Bow River, which flows through Calgary, Alta., starting out with a fly rod he bought at Canadian Tire, a hardware, automotive and sporting goods retailer.

He's been fly fishing 30 years and tying flies for 20 years.

"Eventually, you get to the point where you don't want to pay for every fly that you lose in a tree, so then I started tying," Hartman said. "I don't think you save any money, to tell you the honest truth, because you buy so many materials. But it's fun, and if the fish aren't biting, I can stick my hand in the river and figure out what they're eating and make my own right there at the river."

Joining the fun

Hartman says he and a buddy had talked about starting a fly tying group when they heard about Ficocello's plans to launch Forks Fly Tyers last summer.

Now, he's a regular.

The Thursday night gatherings also draw the occasional curiosity seeker who stops by to chat and check out the proceedings or perhaps score a couple of flies or hair jigs in exchange for a beer.

"A lot of it is, 'What in the world are you guys doing? We've never seen anything like it,' " Ficocello said. "It's been a lot of fun."

The next Forks Fly Tyers session is set for Thursday, March 1, and the best way to keep tabs on the group is through the Forks Fly Tyers' Facebook page, Ficocello says.

"We've got people that have been here once, some guys that have been here twice," he says. "Whatever anybody wants to do."

Tying flies is a great way for fly fishing enthusiasts to get through the winter, to be sure, but it's just a warm-up for better days on the horizon, Ficocello says.

"Come spring, we're planning to take a trip as a group and do a little fishing," he said.

• On the Web: and search for Forks Fly Tyers.

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998.  A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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