Michal Zapal is a fly tyer from Poland who is becoming increasingly well known and popular for his style of fly tying. Michal is skilled in all aspects of fly tying, but is probably most well known for his style of simple but perfect competition style jig nymphs. I’ve been following Michal’s work for several years, and he has been very generous with his time answering the following, plus quite a few extra over the years for me when I needed help with a technique on one of his flies. His work has been featured on many websites across the globe, including FrankenFly, The Limp Cobra, plus many tying forums in the US. He is also the creator behind the brand Live 4 Fly Fishing where has several different fly tying and fly fishing products, and a line of apparel.
Michal, for those that have not followed your work, introduce yourself and your fly fishing brand and business Live 4 Fly Fishing. When did you get started fly fishing and fly tying, and how did that evolve into you starting Live 4 Fly Fishing? What are some of your fly tying accomplishments?
My adventure with fishing started in the 80’s when, with my Grandfather, I took my first steps by the river of Wisła (Vistula), trying to outsmart barbels, chubs, breams and wels catfish. As the time passed by, my passion and interests slowly turned into something else – I changed spinning and float rods to fly fishing set and started to chase after trouts and graylings using my first home-made flies.
I had that luck, that near the place where I lived in, there were a few small rivers flowing, where the trouts and graylings are majority species. I spent hundreds of hours on fishing escapades and, by this, had a chance to carefully observe aquatic environment which along with having tied thousands of flies, has given me the knowledge to create new patterns of flies and modify these old ones (still classic patterns of course).
I also had an episode, that I took part in fly fishing competitions, I managed to win, but I don’t take this as a success, because I had poor competitors. LOL
From the moment when the idea to create Live 4 Fly Fishing appeared, I tie comercially, mainly for individual orders, and I have less and less time for fishing trips. But I am trying to use all my free time to spend it by the water for fly fishing and testing new patterns of flies.
Live 4 Fly Fishing was created on the beginning of 2013. Lot of people who tried my flies persuaded me to create a company which will offer good quality flies. I like to experiment with blending various materials for dubbings. Now I am proud to have created two original kinds of blends on my own and I am selling them known as Live 4 Fly Fishing Special Blends. They are blends of natural fibers, some of them are with addition of synthetic fibers like SLF.
I am member of two Pro Teams: Competitive Angler (US) and Deer Creek (UK).
When you started tying flies, who were some of your earlier influences, and who are your current influences?
I tied my first flies when I was about 17. It coincided with the time when I started fly fishing. I always thought that fly fishing and fly tying are inseparable. And I still can’t imagine my fly fishing without tying flies. I remember that my beginnings in fly tying were difficult. There wasn’t all this information on the internet which is available now. Knowledge about fly tying was passed by anglers at variuos fishing meetings in Poland. Sometimes getting information about the flies, fly tying materials, etc. bordered on the miraculuous. Those were difficult times for fly tying and fly fishing, but so interesting. As I mentioned when I first started fly tying, there wasn’t much information available everywhere. There were also difficulties with getting materials. I cannot also say that I had a guru in the subject of fly tying. I had a few older friends, who tied a good flies.
Nowadays, there’s so many good tyers, that it’s difficult to enumerate them all. Part of them are specialist in tying streamers, other tying great dry flies, others – beautiful salmon flies. I think that among so many great tyers, you can get some inspiration, but the most important thing is to create your own style based on a solid foundation of experienced colleagues.
You seem equally skilled at tying nymphs, dry flies, and streamers, what are some of the patterns you are most well known for? What are some of your favorite flies to tie?
From the moment when I started tying flies commercially, 60% of flies which I am tying are nymphs. In Europe nymphing is very popular, so that’s why this is the majority of my tying. I am tying also dry flies and streamers. No matter whether dry flies, nymphs or streamers, these are categories of flies, which are very complex. That’s why I can discover them all the time and develop myself. And this is what I like the most in my fly tying. If I will add experiments with new materials and testing flies by the water to this, then I can say that I am in heaven.
When sitting down to design a new fly, what is your thought process? You seem to have a very creative side with some of the nymphs using very bright, flashy materials and different color combinations.
I assume that a good nymph is one that can induce fish on many associations. When I fish, very often I reach for patterns that do not imitate anything specific living in the aquatic environment. Very often those fishcatchers turn out to be very effective baits. As I mentioned, I love experiments with tying materials, so that’s why I’m using all these flashes, different color combinations of dubbings etc.
I see a lot of your flies (nymphs, emergers) feature significant color changes in the bodies. It’s a great effect- lets take your multi colored Catgut Nymph- how are you getting the color change in the body? Do you think these color changes are a trigger for the fish?
Exactly as you say. I change threads to get this effect. When I build a shaded body I use UTC threads, and they are my favourite for this kind of flies. Visually, they are definitely more interesting. I caught a lot of fish on the design of catgut you mentioned,
What advice would you give to fly tyers out there that want to tie flies as cleanly (perfectly) as you do? What tips do you have for tying large numbers of flies?
Answers for these two questions are very simple. Tie, tie and once again tie. Strive for perfection. And if you want to tie huge amounts of flies you need to have all materials grouped, order in workshop and Facebook turned off lol.
Fly tying is becoming a global market, with products being readily available. I know some of the US tyers struggle at times to get some european materials, are there any materials you struggle to get in Poland?
I’ve heard, that you are looking for European tying materials which are especially appreciated on American market. But just as you’re looking for materials in Europe which are hardly available in the US, I am looking for materials in the US which are hardly available in Europe. Nowadays, it’s not a problem to make an order for materials from every part of the world in stores like Competitive Angler or Casters Fly Shop, which are stores where I usually make orders for fly tying materials.
I usually buy Whiting capes in US. In Poland they are available, but there’s not as much choice as I would expect. When I’m not tying flies with my own dubbing I am using sensational blends from Jack Mickievicz. I also buy a lot of synthetic materials in US like Crinkled zelon, and Arizona Synthetic Dubbings, which you have in your store for sale, as I remember. So I see only positives flowing from this, that fly tying market is global. Through this exchange of materials, all of us can feel like a member of the great family of fly tying.
Speaking of materials, you launched two material lines this year through Live 4 Fly Fishing. A line of dubbing and a line of metalic tinsel. How did you decide to launch some materials of your own, and what did you learn during the process of making them and testing the batches?
When it comes to dubbings, producing them is a long process. My dubbings are blends of natural furs, which need to be properly prepared, dyed, cleaned etc. Dubbings made of hare are hand made, without using any machines. I can tell that fur which I am using to produce my dubbings is hand shorn and selected. These values are what makes these blends unique and desired by fly tyers who tie mainly nymphs and wet flies.
I don’t produce these blends in huge quantities, and they are available only in some stores, including yours.
Metallic Ribbing is a material that can be used in many designs. I usually use it as a ribbing in tying buzzers. After this, as it will be covered by a layer of Deer Creek UV Resin, it gives a very interesting effect. I use them also as a metallic accent in the smallest dry flies, nymphs and wet flies.
From the photos, you have an extensive material collection and workshop. How do you organize some of your more common materials – such as hooks, beads, wire/tinsel etc?
Yeah, I am fly tying junkie. I still buy new materials, and I don’t use them lol. I like this – my fly tying materials collecting. There’s only one problem. I don’t have more space for storing. All of my materials are sorted in described boxes. These, which I use most often I have at hand. I work at home and I created a special place which I still modernize.
You tie a lot of nymphs using stripped peacock quills – I love tying with them but I find those that are chemically stripped are VERY brittle. Do you have any tips on tying with stripped peacock quills?
I agree with you. Those quills which are stripped chemically are really brittle. That’s why I prepare quills for myself by my own. They are hand stripped. I don’t tie nymphs only. Wets and dries look also great with quilled body. If your quills are very fragile, you can try to soak them before tie. It should help a little.
At this point on the website, you have hundreds of patterns available for sale. If you had to guess, how many flies did you tie in 2015?
All of orders which I realized are archived. So flies from orders, flies for myself and flies for my clients for whom I was a guide will give us a number about 10,000.
What are some of your favorite hooks and materials when tying nymphs?
Most of flies I am tying on barbless hooks. My favorite hooks for nymphs are Hanak hooks. But I am also using Partridge and Akita for some nymphs patterns. As I mentioned I am using my own blends of dubbings to tie nymphs, and 200 others which are available on market
Do I have some favorite materials? Let me think. Generally, each pattern of fly requires using other fly tying materials. But I definitely like combination of Sparkle Braid with Hare’s blends. It always gives interesting visual effect and is always deadly.
What are your thoughts about investing in quality hooks and materials and their overall effect in your ability to tie a good fly? I see a lot of US tyers trying to use cheaper hooks and materials to minimize their investment and they struggle tying some of the flies they are attempting.
I always use high quality hooks of known brands. I don’t know how to use something what pretends to be a hook, lol. Now there are a lot of hooks on the market, which I wouldn’t recommend. Good hook is a half of the battle. I always try to use best materials, because it makes my work more pleasant. I set my bar high. Flies which I tie for my clients should be liked by me, in the first review. So using all those good quality materials, allows them to go through the complicated, internal quality control, before they go to my clients.
Back to hooks – do you tie the same fly on a few different hooks to see what works best, or through prior experience do you kind of know what style of hook you need for that fly to work properly?
At this stage I know what model of hook will be best for pattern which I want to tie. But I don’t limit myself only to checked models of hooks. I am trying to be open for novelties. Actually each pattern of fly can be tied in various ways. But thinking about the ultimate look of the fly forces us to use certain shapes of hooks, which dictate all the proportions.
Which tools could you not live without in your tying workshop?
All of tools which I am using in my wokshop are necessary for me. I can’t imagine my tying without bobbins. I am using Tiemco and C&F. I also have a set of necessary tools, which was produced especially for me by my buddy Grobôcz Mésterk . I have brushes, bodkins and finisher. You can check him on FB, he makes really beautiful stuff from wood.
Your Facebook page for Live 4 Fly Fishing is absolutely incredible. It is pure motivation for fly tyers, but one of the best things is the beautiful fly tying photography. What is your set up, and what tips can you give to those struggling to get clean shots of their flies on camera?
Thank you very much. I am glad that you like my pictures. It is true that a good picture, allows for good presentation of the fly. I am an amateur and I use probably semi-professional cacacacamera. For shooting my flies I use body Canon 70D and lens Tamron SP AF 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 VC.
One of my favorite videos in the past few years was yours for your Demon Death Ghoul Streamer. For those that haven’t seen it- it is NOT your typical tying video- in a good way. How did you come up with the fly, and what made you go outside the box with the video?
Thanks. I am glad that you like it. I suppose that there are not a lot people who share your opinion. Music, which was used in that movie is devilish lol, but I can’t imagine to create this movie with different soundtrack. I wanted to make something different, something with humour. The story of a monk, who at night turns into a demon, and tie flies in ruins of monastery seemed to be perfect to connect it with pattern of streamer which I called Demon Death Ghoul. It was our Halloween joke. I didn’t get Oscar for that movie (I don’t know why?!) but I cheer myself that Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t get it so far, lol (maybe he will in a few days on 88th Academy Awards ceremony. I keep my fingers crossed for him).
As for the fly. for quite some time I have been using zonkers streamers for keeping the colors and using the same materials, which I showed in the movie. These are excellent baits everywhere, where trouts live. Demon Death Ghoul Streamer is a modified version of my old pattern Demon Streamer. This new version is very popular nowadays articulated streamer.
I’ve seen you do a few more tying videos since then, have you considered doing them more regularly – and have you considered writing articles or even a book at some point?
Making movies is a great fun and excellent complement of rod trips. I would continue creating them in that way that I started, I mean connecting SBS’s with second part by the water, what ultimately makes a fly a main character of the movie.I think that it is more pleasant to watch than a regular SBS video. Together with my girlfriend, who helps me with creating all these videos, we are totally amateurs. So all our productions leave a lot to be desired. I would make movies regularly, but I never have enough time to do that. As I mentioned, I tie flies commercially, I have a lot of work by the vise.
Honestly, you are first who asks me about my fly tying and all of stuff which is connected with it so widely. I am glad that my work is becoming noticed. It is very fortifying and motivating.
As for the articles and book, I didn’t think about it, until the moment when you asked me about it. I believe that I could make a valid and meaningful opinion on several issues related to fly tying.
During all these years of tying flies I’ve got some experience, and it would be helpful in writing some articles. In my opinion writing a book is a culmination of fly tyer’s career. Now I don’t feel strong enough to write a book, I still learn, and I am glad that I can learn, because it allows me to develop.
It looks like you had a booth at at fly fishing show somewhere in Europe. What show was it- and what was that experience like? Did you enjoy tying in front of a crowd and answering questions? What questions did the audience ask you most often?
Yes, I was invited by my friend who is Varivas distributor in Poland for Rybomania Trades last year. They are the biggest fishing trades in Europe. Every year they organize trades in few cities in Poland. I participated in this edition which was in city where I live. It isn’t stricte fly fishing event, but there were a few companies from fly fishing environment who participated in these trades. I received invitation for Nordic Fly Fair this year, which will be 7-8th May in Elverum, Norway. I hope that it will be great time spent with Vikings. I would also love to take part in big fly tying fest in autumn, but it is not sure, so I don’t want to spoil anything. A lot of people visited our booth during two days of trades. People asked for various things. Very often for materials which I use to tie my flies, but actually they asked for everything what is related to fly tying: what vise I can recommend for beginner what hooks I prefer to tie my patterns on etc. I spend most of the time at home where I am working, so my contact with people is limited. So every conversation with people in real is a big pleasure for me. I am this kind of person who likes help to others, and I am tyer who doesn’t keep secrets about my fly tying.
If you were designing a box of confidence flies to fish an unknown river to fish for trout and grayling, which 6 flies would you have in your box?
I would take for sure: Olive-Beige Scud, Black Ant, BWO Emerger, Caddis Pupa (my pattern), Peacock Sedge, White-Gray Zonker Streamer.
If you could go fly fish right now, anywhere in the world- where would it be and why?
Iceland and fishing huge brown trout in lakes there has been in my head for quite some time now.
What are your favorites:
Vise – Through all these years of my fly tying I have used different vises, but for a long time I am faithful Snowbee Waldron which I use to tie the majority of flies. This is great vise, but I have a feeling that it is underrated by tyers. I can tie on it flies #26 and also fly on hook #6/0.
Bobbin – To be honest, I have three favorite: CFT-61 and CFT-60SW and TIEMCO Standard Ceramic Bobbin
Thread – I probably use all of threads which are available on the market. To different type of flies I use different threads. So I don’t have any favorite, but I like Nano Silk from Semperfli and Giorgio Benecchi’s threads.
Glue/UV – I would say that LOON but I think that Deer Creek Pro Team Member shouldn’t say that lol. Now for serious. I think that Deer Creek UV Resin is the best. I am using it with all my quilled nymphs, buzzers, some streamers. You can check out the product on their website, HERE (For those in the US, I would recommend contacting Caster’s Fly Shop or go on their website HERE tell them IPT sent you)
Fly Box – For few years I have been using C&F boxes, but now I am waiting for package from US with my new Tacky Fly Boxes. They look like they may become my favorites soon.
Here is a short list (VERY short) of my favorite flies of yours- for each one list how difficult they are to tie for an average fly tyer- from a scale of 1 to 10- 1 being easy, 10 being extremely difficult. And then a tip or two for anyone wanting to tie that fly. (I’ll post a picture of each one)
1. Bunny Vis Quilled Emerger
Difficulty: 7– Most difficult thing here is tying the quill and hackle evenly. We can obtain precise alignment of quill by using right thread. The best will be easily separating fibers.
2. Caddis Catgut Nymph
Difficulty: 3– The most important thing to tie this nymph is using threads which are easy to split for separate fibers. It’s really easy to tie.
3. Jig Nymph #129
Difficulty: 4– I think the important thing here is matching the length of hackle to the size of fly, and trying to put those Holo Tinsel stripes quite evenly on both sides of the body. Deer Creek UV Resin should be put on in thin layers. If it is needed, put two layers on, if not- just one.
4. Streamer #S20
Difficulty: 4– Shouldn’t use very long zonkers to tie this fly. This one on my fly is a little bit too long lol.
5. Caddis Dry Fly
Difficulty: 5– This kind of caddis should be very subtle, it shouldn’t be tied with too many materials.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and your patterns for the interview Michal! You are extremely humble and I appreciate you taking the time out of your day, away from the vise to answer some questions for this interview.
For those reading, we want to hear from you- comment to tell us your thoughts about this interview and Michal’s flies. There will be a prize package given away. To be entered to win, comment on this post with your favorite fly featured today, or comment through the In Pursuit of Trout Instagram page (@inpursuitoftrout)
Links and Information:
Buy Michal’s materials and apparel on his website Live 4 Fly Fishing HERE
Like Michal’s Facebook page HERE
Check out his Instagram page HERE
Watch his fly tying tutorial for the Demon Death Ghoul Streamer HERE
You can also buy his dubbing blends through my shop HERE