Monday, November 18, 2013

Art from the vise in the far north: the ultra realistic flies of Markus Hoffman

Winter is rapidly approaching and trout fishing, like the warm weather, is a distant memory. Desperate for anything related to my favorite pasttime, I spend evenings in the garage cobbling together poorly made wooly buggers and chernobyl ants, and while my standards are low, I still produce an embarrassing amount of flies worthy only of the trash can. Unfortunately, after seeing a particular fly in my Facebook feed, it seems all my flies are worthy of the garbage can....

Markus, rehydrating after a particularly grueling session.

Meet Markus Hoffman, a young flyfisherman and fly tyer from Sweden. Amazingly, he only bought his first vise in 2011 after trying his hand at tying with some leftover materials from friends. From those humble beginnings, he immersed himself in tying and made up for lost time, quitting his day job as a construction foreman and starting his own fly tying business just last year. Markus was gracious enough to answer some questions.

How did you get into tying such ultra-realistic flies? Did you have a mentor or did you teach yourself?

The first flies was not that good looking but as I registered to Facebook the world of flytying expanded. Martin Rudin, Barry Ord Clarke and Ulf Hagström recieved a lot of curious questions. Mr. Rudin later became my friend and mentor. His style of semi-realistic fly tying is how I started. From there the step to ultra-realistic is not far. When I started to create lifelike flies, I just googled up the insect and figured out a way to tie it.

Do you use conventional materials and tools to tie these flies?

The materials I use are mostly basic stuff, but a key to small fly tying is the thread. I only use UNI-Thread 17/0 through out all my tying. I am also a hunter and strive to use as much as possible from the forest where I live.

Even your "fishing" flies, as opposed to your art flies, have an incredible amount of detail and effort. How much time do you spend tying?

Last year I quit my job as a foreman building contractor and started my own company, therefore I am tying flies every day of the week. If there are no flies ordered, I fill up my own fly boxes. This time of year people buy realistic and fishing flies as christmas gifts.

How about fly fishing? Judging by some of your photos, you don't spend all your time in front of the vise! 

Fly fishing is the drug for me. I go up north as soon as there is a chance. Fly tying has taken me fishing as well. If there is a tying event it often comes with fishing included. This year has taken me to both Norway and Austria. I am blessed to have the opportunity to fish as I work.

And here's the proof...

Most importantly,  how many flies did you have to tie in order to afford that amazing tattoo?

It was quite expensive so I would say about 35 realistic flies covered the costs for it. The tattoo took 17 hours, but it was so worth it. It is one of my trademarks and at fly tying shows I wear a tank top to draw some extra attention.

Markus spends about two hours making one of his ultra-realistic mosquitoes or mayflies, and they're displayed in a small glass bottle with a handwritten, aged label. If there's a specific insect you'd like to him make, let him know and he'll try to work with you. I'm curious what he'd charge for a Cicada!
Visit Markus at, or on see more of his amazing work on his Facebook page.

The Swedish flyfishing scene is incredibly fortunate to have guys like Markus as ambassadors of the sport, destroying the stereotypical image of a fisherman that we're all trying so hard to break out of. Sweden is probably one of my favorite places on the planet, and I can't imagine anything better than paddling a canoe along the shoreline of one of her countless lakes, sipping a can of Starköl, and casting one of Markus' streamers at hungry pike under a midnight sunset.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Killer Bug

Nope, not Ebola, H1N1, or SARS, though this Killer Bug was in fact designed to wipe out an entire species.


A few weeks ago, I found and watched a British fly fishing show on YouTube, Search and Sight fishing with Oliver Edwards. An entertaining show, while possibly unfamiliar to non-British anglers, it concerned itself with the famous river keeper, author and flyfisherman, Frank Sawyer. Even the beginning fly angler is familiar with his most famous creation, the Pheasant Tail Nymph, but he also invented a few other flies, among them is the Killer Bug. I hadn't heard of this fly, but I was very intrigued when I saw Oliver Edwards tie it on his show. It was so simple, and apparently quite effective. Here's the video, provided it hasn't gotten removed:

After watching, I decided to embark on some internet research and I found that this historical fly has a very interesting history. Originally designed to expedite the removal of the grayling from the River Avon (considered a pest at the time), it consists of nothing more than a hook, copper wire, and a few wraps of grey wool. But, because flyfishers are decidedly wierd and prodigal squanderers of money, it can't just be any "grey wool", mind you, but it has to Chadwick's 477 grey wool. A storied, almost mythical wool, the original recipe was lost in a fire some four decades ago and no one has been able to faithfully reproduce it since. It's also a wool that sells for absurd prices on Ebay. It's somewhat grey, with a bit of pink and brown, but apparently the real colors miraculously manifest once the fly is wet, at which point it looks sort of wet grey, with a bit of wet pink and wet brown. I jest, apparently it becomes somewhat translucent, displaying the reddish copper beneath, and resembles a pink freshwater shrimp.

The Yarn. THE Yarn. ( Image from

Also it can't just be the regular "copper wire" you buy from your fly tying supply, that's not nearly red enough and it's far too thick. Frank Sawyer used wiring from aging electronic devices and legend has it he tied these flies without the benefit of a vise. Apparently the thin strands of copper wire twisted inside of speaker wire are an acceptable substitute.

Armed with regular old grey wool and some speaker wire, I'm going to make a handful of these nymphs and fish them next year with not only a keen awareness of the history behind them, but also the fact that I'm using the wrong yarn.