Among the fly tiers assembled at the Brewer Auditorium on Sunday, Sam Kenney was neither the most experienced nor the best known.
That didn’t keep Selene Dumaine from stopping by for a quick visit during the Penobscot Fly Fishers’ Fly Tying Symposium.
If you’re one of those who knows someone who enjoys attaching fur and feathers to a bare hook, you may have heard Dumaine’s name before. Ties with her fingers, without a vise? Been featured in national fly-tying magazines? Creates breathtaking recreations of Carrie Stevens-style streamer flies?
Yeah, that Selene Dumaine.
That didn’t stop one of the stars of Sunday’s expo from visiting the tying bench of a 10-year-old Dixmont fifth-grader and offering him a deal.
“What do you say? You want to trade?” Dumaine asked a wide-eyed Kenney.
Kenney quickly agreed to the swap, one streamer fly for another. Dumaine insisted they also swap autographs.
For her, it was likely a common event.
For Kenney — who printed his name in carefully formed letters — it was anything but.
Kenney’s work is impressive, fellow tiers admitted. The feather-wing Atlantic salmon flies, in particular, look more like pieces of artwork than fishing flies.
And they look like something that would have been created at the tying bench of one of the exhibitors who’d been honing his or her craft for decades.
Kenney has only been tying for about 2½ years. It took him about a year before he started tying anything that even remotely resembled a pattern that other tiers would recognize.
And already, said his mentor Moe Decoteau of Belfast, Kenney is tying at a level that makes it difficult to improve his technique or his finished product.
“I can’t teach him anything new any more,” Decoteau said.
Kenney, who also creates jewelry as a hobby, said he stumbled onto fly-tying.
“Me and my dad were just walking in the woods and he picked up this feather and said, ‘I wonder if people tie flies with this?’” Kenney said. “I said, ‘What’s a fly?’ and he told me. I went home and I didn’t even have a vise and tied it with the feather, in my hand.”
That was the beginning.
Not too long after that, he received a book on tying flies, and a vise to hold his hooks. Sunday’s show, at which he set up his own table next to Decoteau’s, was his first, save a combination jewelry-and-flies exhibit during the Santa’s Breakfast at his school.
Kenney said he has a young friend who has taken an interest in tying flies, and he has helped his pal obtain a vise and some tying materials. And before he made his official fly-tying debut at Sunday’s show, Kenney admits he told schoolmates about his weekend plans.
“I told them about my show here and I brought a fly to show ’em and they thought it was really cool,” Kenney said.
So did show attendees and his fellow exhibitors, many of whom took time to stop by and chat … or swap.
That’s part of the point of the symposium, which has been run according to its current format for the last three years.
“In the last three years we’ve kind of shaped it into just fly-tying,” said Don Corey of the Penobscot Fly Fishers. “It’s kind of a social event as much as anything. The guys that come and the girls that come, it’s a chance to see people that they don’t get a chance to see all the time, so there’s as much visiting between exhibitors as there is visiting with the public as they come in.”
Admission to the event is always free, and exhibitors like Dumaine and Kenney don’t pay a cent for their booth space.
The Penobscot Fly Fishers absorb the costs associated with the program as a way to help fly tiers learn more about their craft, and to network with those who enjoy the same activity they do.
“People can come sell things if they want, but we ask that they be tying at the same time so that people can learn and if they want to pull up a chair and watch them tie or ask them questions, they can do that,” Corey said.
Among the things people are likely to ask Dumaine: Can you show me how to tie a fly without using a vise?
She can. And she did.
“It really is not that hard,” Dumaine said after completing a sans-vise gray ghost. “If you can just hold the hook, life is good. That’s all your vise does is hold the hook. So if you can hold the hook, you can do it, too. In your hands. It’s been done.”
For some tiers, like the legendary Carrie Stevens (and Sam Kenney), tying without a vise was the natural starting point.
And today, 2½ years after he took up the hobby, Kenney admits he still enjoys tying and learning more about the craft.
“[The fun comes] just from looking at the flies in the shops, and it’s just that I wish I could do that,” Kenney said, explaining his inspiration. “I started tying flies and now I’ve just gotten so many books, and it just really interests me how beautiful they are and how a fish will actually take a fly that’s just on a hook with some feathers.”