For the Love of the Catch

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by Kristina Domitrovich // photos by Lindsay Pace

Richard Tucker was born and raised in Tupelo, and grew up fishing in nearby areas. This pastime turned into a passion, which soon spiralled into tying his own flies.

“It was just kind of a natural progression from getting into fly fishing and trying to learn more about the sport,” he said. “Especially trout fishing, because the flies were not readily available, and so I just tried to figure out how to do it.”

Tucker prefers fishing for white bass in the spring, and sometimes he’ll head over to Arkansas for trout. At one point, a friend told him gar couldn’t be caught by fly fishing, so he took it as a personal challenge to prove him wrong (which of course he did); “it’s so fun to catch something that big.” 

For these river fish, Tucker finds that the natural colors tend to be more effective, so most of his flies are pretty straight-forward (think: browns, whites, a few chartreuse colors and sometimes orange). To make these flies, he tries to imitate minnows, larvae, insects and other creatures that fish feed on. For Tucker, it’s all about how realistic each fly is, so he pays special attention to his flies’ proportions, trying to nail each one. 

To make a fly, he has to first determine if it should sink or float on top of the water. If it floats, it’s what’s called a dry fly, and he’ll use hollow elements, like hair from the neck of a deer, to make it lighter. If it should be submerged in the water, a wet fly, he will use heavier elements, like hair that isn’t hollow from the tail of a deer, to weigh it down. 

For his flies, he typically sticks to fly-tying threads that are coated in wax (having tried normal thread, which proved ineffective), dyed animal hair (usually deer or rabbit), chicken or rooster feathers, a set of eyes, occasionally a plastic or shiny element, or another synthetic material in case he can’t get his hands on the real deal. Through the years, he’s also learned some tricks of the trade, tying a knot in a hair or feather to create legs for terrestrial insects like grasshoppers. 

Fly tying can be as simple or as complicated as desired, and Tucker has tried both sides of the spectrum. When he was visiting family in Montana, he decided to try his hands at salmon flies.

“Salmon fishing and fly fishing was made for royalty and kings,” Tucker said. “So a lot of these feathers are no longer available because the species of birds are extinct and endangered.”

Salmon flies presented a new challenge to Tucker, and he said they took longer and required starting over a few times. These flies need to be brightly colored and elaborate, because he was fishing for salmon when their sole goal was to spawn, not to eat. In order to get the salmon to bite the bait, it would have to look so tantalizing that it “elicits an aggressive response.”

For Tucker, an artist who owns a graphic design company (LURE Creative, its playful slogan is that it can help clients catch more business), these flies were particularly fun for him, because of the visual interest. 

Usually, the average fly takes Tucker about 10 minutes to make, but the salmon flies took closer to three hours. Flies don’t last for a fisher’s life, “well, if you’re not catching fish they can,” he joked. Usually, one fishing trip will put a fly out of commission, sometimes even just one fish’s bite, depending on the angle and how hard they go after the bait. This will send a fisher back to the drawing board –– or rather, the vise (a tool used to hold the fly as it’s being assembled). But Tucker doesn’t seem to mind, because for him, catching a fish on a fly he tied is the best feeling.

“You put all the materials on this hook, and created that (fly), and then your artistry has enabled you to catch a fish,” he said. “It’s crazy.”

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