The following interview features high levels of synthetic materials on extremely original, progressive fly designs. Viewer Discretion Advised.
All jokes aside, there is still this archaic group of fly tyers out there that feels that synthetic materials somehow dilutes the purity of fly tying. Johnathan Kiley is one of the most progressively minded, creative, out of the box fly tyers in the business today. His designs are outright gaudy at times, but they catch fish. I’ve never seen one of his flies posted and thought that it was or could have been tied by anyone other than himself. Johnathan Kiley created his material business, Fly Skinz, a few years ago, and he is already shaking up the global material market with his innovative products. Without further ado, here is our interview.
First, for the people that are unfamiliar with you or your company Fly Skinz, give them some background. Who you are, and what your company is about.
Fly Skinz was created because as I was making up new materials most of the flies were names with “Skinz” in them. It was a brainstorming effort between myself and a mentor within the fly fishing community. What I really needed was a website or source where people could go and see how to use a lot of the products…the www.flyskinz.
Fly Skinz to me is something of an evolution…I started the business or the thought of a business several years ago. I was tying for guides and friends a lot. I was pretty apt to customizing flies in which ways people could not purchase them. I was always inventing new ways to work with existing materials and even making new ones to help people catch fish. At some point along the way I felt I could use my talents of coming up with new materials and maybe make a living on it.
There is no doubt that the fly tying or fly fishing community is a very saturated industry. It’s actually extremely difficult to make people break the traditions of it. I’m not really worried about the “in-the-box” folks…I want to create something new and revolutionize things. There are a few people pushing those boundaries right there with me and I really feel it is a good thing. Think of traditional archery, or anything else that has evolved over the years…why not fly fishing?
The first product created was actually my Scud Skinz…I was tying a scud pattern to fish the waters of CO below the many reservoirs. These fish here are extremely pressured so I thought I needed to make a more realistic pattern to combat the fish identifying the norm. Literally you will hear people say the fish know fly patterns by name here. Long story short I made my own shell out of vinyl which not only made it appear realistic but was a lot faster to tie than using a plastic bag.
It seems like you’ve come pretty far in a relatively short period of time. Getting your materials into Hareline is obviously huge. How has the overall industry reception been? Any haters? We all know the purists that exist within this niche industries.
I would agree with you…I am really excited what I have done in a short period of time. With that comes a lot of pressure. I might be the one putting the pressure on myself, but either way I feel it. How do you stand out from so much tradition? How do you create something new in a saturated market? My answer is….thinking, strategy, research and development, and just plain old hard work.
I owe a lot of credit to the Hareline Dubbin team and their support. They took a risk by having a guy such as myself and essentially making me part of this huge thing. I hate disappointing anyone or feeling that I have done so. So I work hard to ensure I am open about how I am running Fly Skinz. I’ve tried at the beginning to partner with people and no one seems to be “all in”. It was like I was having to be like them in order to make it happen. It also moved slow and if anyone knows me I jump all in no matter what I am doing. If I feel for a split second someone isn’t with me I start solving problems in order to make something worthwhile.
You know that I’m drinking your Kool Aid- I immediately saw the innovation when I saw the Fish Finz for the first time. Tell us about the development of the Fish Finz- what gave you the idea, and how did the initial design and manufacturing process go?
I appreciate that you have enjoyed the Fish Finz! The Fish Finz was actually something sitting in the corner of my tying bench in a few different forms for a while. It wasn’t until I was in contact with the geniuses at Fly Fish Food that helped it come to fruition. They wanted me to make a sculpin fin so they could skip the annoying parts of making fins the old way. Just to have several finz in the bank ready to rock and roll. I sent them a few samples and it blew up from there.
Along the way I ended up developing a whole new material and manufacturing them myself as you see them today. It wasn’t easy, and I basically taught myself a whole new trade. That’s how I work though…all in as I said before. With some discussion with my mentor and what would be more appealing to the market it all came together. I am very fortunate and can’t thank all the people involved in the process enough. Yes I can come up with new ideas and make it work on a fly that fishes unbelievably but if the team effort doesn’t happen between inventor, manufacturer, distributor, shops and the customer…it won’t work.
As far as fly design goes your materials lend a unique advantage to anyone with a creative mind. Describe your fly design process Does it start with a new material, an idea, a problem to solve etc?
You nailed it…it’s usually to solve a problem. I’m always in that mode. Realistically it’s the critical thinker mindset I’ve been programmed with. I think I can thank my father for this. Knowing a ton of trades really allows a person to “connect the dots”. Over time you can just look at something and know how it is done. Like tying flies…when I did so many by the book I could just look at a picture and make it. If I didn’t have the exact materials I would improvise or make my own. I don’t mind doing it either, in fact it’s my preferred method. This allows me to be a free-thinker and less stressed:) within that there are some good life lessons.
Will you be tying at any shows this year?
I grew up in PA, and fished a lot growing up all over the state. I moved west due to work, but with my job I have fished in places people would have to pay a lot of money to go where I have been. My job is a blessing in disguise for fly fishing. In general I have loved every place I’ve been as far as fishing. This might be because I use it as a stress relief.
What is on the horizon for you and Fly Skinz in 2016. Are you currently developing any new materials?
I have a lot of new ideas I am trying to make come to fruition for next season. I feel ahead of the game but along the way the new ideas keep flowing. These are some new materials coming out that I am really excited about and really think the tying community will be as well. I think this is the basis on how companies either thrive or die. If I could work in an R&D department for a fly company it would be a job come true. The “Brain Train” is what I call it, and never stops.
I saw that you got involved with Project Healing Waters. How did you get involved with them, and how has your experience been?
I’ve worked with PHWFF for the last 3+ years in many capacities. First I volunteered as a mentor and tied during the tying classes. As I sat in and helped out I wanted to do more. It just so happens one of the leads was stepping out of the tying/training chair position. I immediately volunteered because I had a lot of ideas. So I developed a class that taught more skill sets than flies. I knew that most of the veterans moved a lot after the program so I wanted the to feel confident in more areas than trout fishing in CO. It only seemed fair. Not to mention the had some amazing trips in saltwater and more. So with the help of my good friend Bill Kirk, we developed curriculum for 4 levels of classes. Each one progressively showed the skills where they could eventually tie anything and everything.
1. Articulated Sculpinz using the Fish Finz:
I really feel this fly can be a 3-6 depending on how crazy you want to get with it. It can be easy like a wooly bugger, some zonker material and finz if you want. Tips for finz…easy as can be. If you want them to stick out simply tie some dubbing dos first and let the material get squeezed in between to help it pop. From there the fish will love the action.
2. Spiked Slow Rolla Tail- favorite type of fly to use them on:
The Swamp Thing… It’s a fly I created to attract the most unsuspecting fish. The slow rolla tails themselves are so universal…you can make worms, bait fish, bugs, your imagination is the only limit.
So these are a recent obsession and take me back to when I was building lures. I also used to make handmade wood lures. These join the two together in ways that make any traditionalist cringe. That’s maybe why I love it 🙂
5. Mini Craw:
The mini craw is surprisingly a little complicated…however it is a very effective fly. I will do a video soon I hope…it’s probably a 6-7.
Bobbins: Rite Bobbins
Thread: veevus, mono, and Kevlar
Glue/UV: gorilla superglue & Loon
Fly Box: I love Cliff Boxes but also like tacky boxes for my small stuff
Fly Rod…I’m not a snob when it comes to rods or reels. A lot of manufactures use the same blanks but put their name on it. I have to experience before I buy. With that I have several I love. I’m looking into some glass ones again though.
Fly Reel… Same with reels as rods:)
Vest/Pack:I love Simms gear, and what they stand for. All around great gear.
Other Tool/gadget: hmmm , what can’t leave home without? A good camera…I’ve been sponsored by GoPro since I did triathlons a while back so definitely that. I’ve also just purchased an Olympus TG-4 camera that I’m starting to really enjoy.
Are you a member of any pro staff teams? If so- what teams. What are your thoughts about the social media pro staff craze in fly fishing?
I think I could consider myself a member of Harline Dubbin 🙂 and a few others but nothing like “pro staffers” you hear of these days. I’m planning a huge project over the next few years that maybe gets several entities involved.
Any one you want to give a shout out too?
Hareline is at the top of this list, along with Loon as they have also helped me out…of course my local Fly shop “The Peak Fly Shop”.
Not much on this except it’d be nice if everyone could just be happy for one another. Do your thing and if something doesn’t go along with your set of rules, as long as it’s not breaking rules…worry about yourself. Not everyone needs to hear your opinions. Appreciate and move on. As for the tying industry itself…there is not much out there that is really new any more unless you invent it yourself. There are those who preach to give credit where credit is due when it comes to patterns. Truth is there are so many patterns out there you could easily associate it back to someone else. I probably don’t know half the amount of tyers out there. Not because I don’t want to but it’s the way it is. Take a stroll at a show in different regions…there is no way to avoid the overlap. So get over yourselves and press on. Some of these “well-known” tyers do the same thing. Trying to preach for credit when they have modified one simple step on an existing pattern. It’s silly really, and I don’t have time for that kind of stuff.
Many thanks to Jonathan Kiley for taking time out of his busy schedule for this interview. He is a great guy, and an extremely talented fly designer. I’ve been using his products in my own flies, and to help spread the message I am going to give away quite a few of his products over the next week or so via Facebook and Instagram. Scroll to the bottom for links and information.
To end the interview, here are a few more pictures of sick fish and sick flies.