Welcome back to the Fly Tyer of the Month series. This month our featured tyer is none other than Robert Strahl of New Zealand. When I first came across Robert’s tying through his Instagram Page, I was mesmerized. His fly tying style is beyond unique, and as you will see, merges deeply into art form. Sure, you will see flies that resemble patterns you are familiar with, but tied to a level of complexity and perfectness you probably will not see often. When you combine the aesthetics of these, with the fact they are fished hard, it gives you even more appreciation for the time spent on the vise.
IPT: Robert, how did you first get started in fly tying? Who were some of your earlier influences, and what motivates you behind the vise these days?
Robert: Hi Daniel, Firstly I’d like to thank you for asking me to do this interview, I’m honored.
I first got into fly tying because I felt it was a natural extension of my passion of fly fishing. Also, being a master carpenter in my professional life, I subscribe to the belief that if you want something done right, do it yourself. That’s not to say I haven’t faced a bit of criticism over my style.
I’d have to say my earliest influence was my friends. They had started tying a couple of years before me, and managed to impress upon me that catching a fish on one of your own flies was somehow more satisfying, I’d have to say, they were right. This spurned me on to get a cheap vise and collect some materials.
Lately I’m inspired by macro photography, and the thought of what a trout must see in the water. Trying to use the minimum of material to achieve the desired effect.
How would you describe your fly tying aesthetic or style? What do you find interesting to tie, what do you find difficult, etc?
I’d describe my style as clean. I like to apply a simple material as tidily as possible. I’m annoyed by thread, and try to keep my knots as hidden as possible. I find dries and emergers fascinating. They’re meant to represent such a fleeting moment of an insect’s life. They can be grotesque and beautiful.
On the other hand, I find streamers challenging to tie. Not by their difficulty, but more so by my disinterest. There are truly some talented streamer tyers out there, tying some beautiful stuff. I’m happy to trade with mates for streamers though.
It’s hard not to get right into it but your realistic ties are out of this world! How did you start tying in a realistic style, and what tips can you give to aspiring fly tyers to help them with their realistic efforts?
I became interested in realistic flies after seeing the work of Johan Put and Fred Hannie to name a couple. It requires another level of detail and concentration, as well as experimentation. There is no how to guide for realistic patterns as far as I know. Also I feel I have a long way to go compared to the before mentioned.
My advise to someone wanting to venture into realistic tying is to study your subject, be patient, try new materials. And ask questions. The fly tying community is a friendly place. Fly tyers are full of passion, and usually willing to share their knowledge.
And lastly, just keep repeating to yourself, Light and Magnification…..
For example one of my favorite flies, and one of the first flies I ever saw of yours, is that “Stinger Mayfly Nymph”. How long did it take you to tie that fly, and have you ever fished this or any of your other realistic flies, or are they just for shadow boxes?
Stinger is one of my favorite ties. One that I’m really proud of. I think it took me several days to nut it out properly in the beginning, and have the proportions the way I like. I’m often asked if I fish realistic flies. I have, and they fish fine, but mostly I tie them as gifts. These days my attention has wandered away from realistics, but I’m sure I’ll return to them again. I’d like do a presentation piece sometime, as realistic as possible.
Looking over your Instagram page,@robertstrahl, one of the things that stands out is accentuation of texture in the flies. What natural materials do you enjoy working with, and how can younger tyers better implement them into their flies?
I really love working with hackles in general. You can make some really lovely, fishable dries with nice proportions from two hackles and some wing material. I think there is elegance in the simplicity of it.My advise to young tyers would be to learn to do an aspect of a fly properly and tidily. Focus on proportions until it’s second nature, then your future experiments with different materials, shapes and colours will be rooted in those fundamentals.
The other big thing that stands out immediately is the clean photography truly highlighting the works of art. What type of camera set up do you have?
My camera set up has varied a lot. Some of my favourite images I’ve taken on my old Olympus Tough point and shoot. These days I’m using a Canon 700d with a 100mm F2.8 macro lens.
Describe your design process for us. Do you sketch out ideas, or do you sit down and mess with materials? For your realistic ties, do you reference naturalist books?
I’m not much of a drawer, and I don’t have the patience to sketch things out. Usually I plan out in my mind, a fly or idea for a component. Sometimes I’ll really just want to tie a specific type of body, or wing style and base the rest of a pattern around that.. Or maybe I’ll have access to a new hook or material, I first try to incorporate it into a pattern I enjoy tying to get a feel for it, then go from there. I’m inspired by the effect of a pattern in the surface tension of water, and try to imagine patterns around the desired effect, rather than the straight out interpretation of an insect.
What brands are you currently using or your favorite for:
Vise: My vise is a trusty old Renzetti Traveller. I’ve had it for ages, and it’s never let me down. I’ve had a hankering for a LAW or Jvise for years, but with two teenaged kids, I’ve never been able to justify it.
Bobbin: My favourite bobbin is my Ekich S-series. I also love the A-series, but the S suits me and feels good in the hand.
Thread: As for thread, my go to is Danvilles Spiderweb. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you have the knack its great. In fact, I believe I once bought every spool in the South Island .
Scissors: I have no preference in scissors. As long as they do the job, and are sharp.
UV Resin: My favourite resin hands down is Deer Creek. It does what its supposed to. It’s durable, non greasy and TACK FREE!! When you’re tying in delicate, fluffy cdc it’s nice when half of it isn’t stuck to your freshly resined body.
Hooks: Hooks are interesting. Tiemco have been my favourite for a decade or so. But recently there have been some great new options. I love Hends Caddis hooks, Moonlit dry fly hooks, and Firehole Emerger hooks. The big consideration for me is whether they’ll cut the mustard if I come across a 10 pound brown on the day.
Do you ever sell your flies? If so, how can someone get in touch to order them?
I do sell some flies. Mostly to established customers, and depending on my time. I’ll always answer an email, and inquiries are welcome. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
What are your home fly fishing waters, and how do you go about catching those giant fish you end up holding?
My home river is the mighty Waimakariri and its tributaries. But the beauty of NZ is its size. You could throw a dart at a map and realistically be there within a few hours.
Have you thought about putting together a book or dvd on fly tying, or realistic fly tying?
I’ve never thought of doing a dvd. A book might be an interesting challenge, if you didn’t fall asleep reading this interview, let me know. Honestly I’d be super interested in contributing to a magazine on a regular basis. perhaps quarterly?? I haven’t approached anyone yet, but it has been on my mind a lot.
Considering your flies artistic flare, have you thought about producing prints for sale?
I have been asked a fair bit to do a calendar. I think prints would be more aligned with my taste, if there’s enough interest. Perhaps canvas prints? I’ll need to put it out there to gauge interest.
What do you have to say about selecting materials? Do you trust some manufacturers for quality and consistency with the natural materials over others? Your quills and hackle look superb!
For materials, I try to select as much as possible. For example, I don’t want to spend weeks fighting with a patch of deer hair that’s mostly underhair. Some suppliers are wonderful with their products, as they specialize. Stripped peacock quills as you mentioned. I’ve been using Polish Quills for years and have found them to be superb.
Also Hackles as you mentioned, Whiting are my favourite They produce a wide range of colours in exceptional quality. I’m especially fond of their saddles.
What advice would you give to anyone heading over to fly fish New Zealand for the first time? Are the fish easy or hard to figure out on a first trip?
My advise to someone heading to NZ for the first time is learn to cast. I mean really cast. Cast 15 and 20 foot leaders with dry dropper rigs accurately, on the nose every time. You’ll spend a lot of time and money getting here, hiring a guide, driving or helicoptering into the middle of nowhere and beyond. Don’t spook the fish of a lifetime with a crap cast.
Are you attending any fly tying shows/fairs in 2017? Any other projects you have lined up this year or next?
At this point, I’m not attending any tying events and so forth. As you can imagine, it’s quite expensive to get anywhere from New Zealand. I’d truly love to attend the BFFI, and Markus Hoffman’s Woodstoort. I’ve made Europe my goal within the next couple years.
Are there any sponsors or affiliates you would like to shout out?
I’d like to take the chance to thank Nickolas Wright at Deer Creek. He’s a great guy and supremely generous. Thanks for having me on board.
Also a big thank you to Whiting Farms. I hope to do some North American tying shows in the next few years. I look forward to meeting many, many people in the flesh!
Of all the flies you have designed and tied, what is your favorite style, and which is your favorite fly specifically? What makes that one special to you?
I’d say at this point, of my farourite style would be cripples. There is such a wide interpretation of form. They can be messy, neat, pretty, ugly and so forth. They really open the doors to experimenting for me.
Having said that though, I’d have to say that my favorite fly I’ve designed is the Rolls Royce. It incorporates elements that most appeal to my eye. Some would say its a little fussy, but that’s part of what appeals to me. I tie it in sizes 16 to 8, and have had great success in the field.
If you were designing a box of confidence flies, which flies make the cut and why?
Designing a box of confidence flies is a difficult one. I try and fish everything I tie, if I haven’t already given them away or sold them. I’m pretty loose with what I carry around, and would be likely to have foam hornets and be out of size 14 Adams’s. My go to box is definitely a mish mash of everything. Try and have a variety of sizes, and don’t be afraid to trim flies or pull off the hackle, tails or body all together.
Any thoughts, rants, advice you would like to share?
I don’t have any rants per se. One thing I’d advise is to be civil to one another on the water and in general. There’s a lot of attitude out there these days. Looking back, I reckon I’ve made some of my best lifelong friends from a chance meeting on the water. Don’t let that opportunity pass by over a bit of poor etiquette or having wanted to be out there by yourself. We’re here for a good time, not a long time.
Every good fisherman has a good fish mobile. Robert’s is called “Her Majesty”. It doesn’t get much better than this.
Huge thanks to Robert Strahl for taking time out of his busy life to share with us his thoughts on fly tying, and for letting me share with the world some of his absolutely breathtaking fly photography. To answer your question Robert- about the book- I would absolutely buy a copy. Any magazine would be LUCKY to have you contributing on a regular basis, and my tying workshop could use some prints. I encourage you to pursue all of these avenues.
I tried not to just spam this interview with his photography. He has so much up for people to check out, PLEASE, head over to his Instagram page HERE, follow him, and check out the flies and photography that I just couldn’t fit in. If you are drinking your morning coffee, getting ready to fish, and have 10 minutes to kill- it is WELL worth it.
Lastly, Robert has been doing Youtube tutorials of some of his flies, so not only can you look at them- but if you are brave enough, you can tie some of your own. He makes them look RIDICULOUSLY easy…trust me, they are NOT! Nonetheless, I included one here at the end for your viewing pleasure. It is Robert’s favorite fly, and the featured image of this interview. I present to you, the Rolls Royce tying tutorial.
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In Pursuit of Trout