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Al & Gretchen Beatty - Rotary Fly-Tying Techniques

By Joe Cornwall

 

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Al and Gretchen Beatty have become the “first couple” of the fly tying world. Active on many on-line forums and ubiquitous in their written contributions to the fly fishing and fly tying magazine industry, Al and Gretchen are a veritable fountain of fly tying knowledge. They’ve earned that knowledge; Gretchen learned the art of fly tying at her father’s knee at the tender age of six and Al began at age fourteen. Together they are a formidable commercial fly tying team with thousands of dozens of flies to their credit. In a world where off-shore commercial fly tying is the rule, the ability to compete and succeed domestically speaks volumes about this couples efficiency, creativity and quality.

A bit more than a decade ago Johnny Fisker, the creator of the Danvise, approached the Beatty’s about distributing that remarkable tool in the United States. An agreement was reached, the Danvise hit the market, and the Beatty’s quickly found that they had to become experts in rotary fly tying techniques to properly and effectively promote the new tool. Since Gretchen had learned to tie on a treadle machine – a Rube Goldberg-like adaptation of a foot-operated sewing machine – and Al had had considerable experience with a variety of rotary vises it appeared to be a relatively simple task. As with so many things in life, the Beatty’s found that rotary fly tying was rich in new techniques and demanding of new skills. A small project became a driving fascination and the rest, as they say, is history.

Rotary Fly-Tying Techniques is a new book by the Beatty’s. It is the first of its kind and, judged by any conceivable standards it’s destined to become one of the classics. Anyone who owns, or plans to own, a rotary fly tying vise of any kind owes it to themselves to get this book. In fact, I believe this book is one which should be included in even a modest fly tying library. With its detailed examination of fly tying history, its inclusion of a number of simple and useful patterns, and its clearly presented demonstration of tying principles, this is a book that will help anyone become a better crafter of fishing flies. It’s a book that can (and should) stand beside the likes of Art Flick’s Master Fly-Tying Guide, Eric Lieser’s Fly Tying Materials, A.K. Best’s Production Fly Tying, and Mastering the Art of Fly-Tying by Dick Talleur.

Rotary Fly-Tying Techniques starts with an exploration of the history of rotary fly tying. I was flabbergasted to find out that rotary tying can be dated to a pre World War II time frame. According to the authors, Gretchen’s aunt, Ms. Lois Coon, tied commercially on a treadle machine for the Glen L. Evans Company at that time. The Beatty’s personal history with this esoteric technology is astonishing! Chapter Three is a photo-rich essay on tying with these antique machines. The treadle vise, the Dean Pollard vise (a strange hybrid reminiscent of an electric can-opener and lathe, adorned with a jaw to hold the hook) and the Universal manual vise are all featured as the techniques used in a rotary environment are demonstrated on three fishable patterns.

Subsequent chapters demonstrate several different patterns and tying techniques on each of the Nor-Vise, the Dyna-King Barracuda, the Abel Supreme, the amazing Danvise, the Griffin Montana Mongoose, the Peak and Renzetti vises. This is quite a treasure trove of information because the reader can look at this from the point of view of a vise model comparison, a demonstration of pure technique, a tutorial on the creative freedom and efficiency of rotary tying, and a series of rotary tying exercises that will build a basic skill set. I am constantly amazed, being a self-taught tier who’s refined his bad habits for nearly four decades, at how different using the full ability of a rotary vise makes the tying experience and, even more surprisingly, how poorly my modest abilities translated to this realm without proper instruction! I learned a lot, and that’s the highest compliment I can pay to a how-to book.

Rotary Fly-Tying Techniques (ISBN 978-1-57118-418-3) is available from Frank Amato Publications for $24.95.

 

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