Innovative Fly Tier: Blane Chocklett
By Beau Beasley
I’m a veteran paramedic, which means that I’m the guy you want by your side when you’re having a heart attack. Whereas others panic in a crisis, I become preternaturally calm. I do crisis well. What I don’t do well is sit quietly and focus intently on just one thing. So although I’m handy at a house fire, I’m not much use at the fly-tying bench.
I have an enormous amount of respect for those intrepid souls who sit down to a vise with a few raw materials and patiently weave them into something ingeniously, wondrously useful. I imagine, though, that there are two types of tiers. First, there are those who are less interested in innovation than in simply fishing something they’ve crafted themselves. I respect craftsmen and -women immensely, probably because I’m not one. The second type of tier, however, exhibits a bit of the paramedic. Oh, the tier might appear to be sitting patiently at the vise like anyone else. But if we could peer inside his or her mind, I bet it would be anything but calm. Yes, the paramedic fly tier is preternaturally calm on the outside, but a creative fire is burning on the inside. This is the tier who innovates.
Blane Chocklett is a paramedic among fly tiers. You won’t find the quiet, humble Chocklett working a room to promote himself. Instead, he’ll tell you that his innovative patterns are the result of years on the water, figuring out what doesn’t work. “I’ve been guiding for 21 years,” he says, “and much of that time I’ve spent just . . . observing. I watch the bug life on the water when I’m guiding. I look at how fish respond to the real thing compared to an imitation—be it a fly pattern or a traditional swim bait used with spinning gear.”
Yes, Chocklett, a well-known fly-fishing guide, admits that sometimes his clients use spinning gear. With a focus on results, he believes that if his clients prefer spinning gear, then that’s what he needs to help them use. Chocklett doesn’t get hamstrung by what someone else has decided is the right way—the one and only way—to do something. Fly-fishing icon Lefty Kreh says that “Blane isn’t like you or me; he has a different thought process. He sees things as they might be, not as they are. And I think this explains his ability to create such interesting patterns.”
The fire in Chocklett’s brain has given the fly-tying world Siliskin, a lifelike body material that he designed a few years ago and uses in many of his patterns. Umpqua Feather Merchants distributes sheets of Siliskin, in a wide variety of colors, which tiers use to imitate small crayfish or minnow bodies, hopper wings, and even insect larva casings. Indeed, Chocklett encourages tiers to move beyond his own patterns and devise new uses for Siliskin at their own vises.
Chocklett’s fly-tying renown is well deserved, but what many who admire his patterns may not realize is that he is also the owner of New Angle Fishing Company and one of the premier guides in the Mid-Atlantic region. As a result, he has secured endorsements from such respected companies as Clear Cure Goo, Flymen Fishing Company, Temple Fork Outfitters, and even Toyota. Chocklett recently collaborated with the innovators at Flymen Fishing Company on an articulating wire spine they used to create a pattern that, with the same action as a live baitfish, triggers deadly strikes. It’s called the Game Changer, and the moniker fits: I anticipate that this fly will emerge as one of the hottest new patterns of 2014.
Chocklett’s list of successes is long and varied, and he emphasizes that they all came the hard way: after lots and lots of tying and failing, tying and failing. “Often young tiers are afraid to fail or try something new,” he says, explaining that failure is in fact the only way to improve and innovate. “Often [tiers are] too busy trying to follow some formula out of a book, as opposed to trying to create something themselves. You just have to keep tying over and over again until you come up with what you’re looking for.”
That search for something new often takes a long time. For example, it took several years of effort and countless failed iterations before the Game Changer performed as Chocklett desired. In the end, he teamed up with Flymen Fishing Company to bring to life the pattern in his mind.
He has many patterns to his credit, but Chocklett’s Gummy Minnow, manufactured commercially by Umpqua Feather Merchants, is perhaps his best-known creation, sold worldwide and sought by fly anglers to catch nearly everything that swims. The success of the Gummy Minnow gave birth to an entire family of gummy variations, including the Chubby Gummy, the Gummy Sand Eel, and the Gummy Tarpon Worm. The patterns are intended for saltwater fish, but just try telling that to the smallies that fall for them by the dozen.
Chocklett’s Gummy Bugger is a great crossover pattern, and his Gummy Stone Fly in gold and black appeals to both trout and carp. Anglers who prefer surface action will enjoy Chocklett’s foam poppers, which are wickedly effective, long-lasting (when you keep them out of the trees), and irresistible to both large- and smallmouth bass.
Fly fishers in pursuit of the continent’s most challenging freshwater giants need look no further than Chocklett’s muskie patterns. Chocklett has fished for these river monsters for years, often landing multiple fish in a single outing, so he knows how important durability is when casting a fly the size of a cockatiel on a size 6/0 stinger hook to something as voracious as a muskie. Chocklett’s fly holds up; whether or not you can hold on is an entirely different matter, given the endurance needed to repeatedly cast massive flies on
“I was drawn to fly tying because I wanted to catch fish on flies that I created myself,” says Chocklett. “When I was young and couldn’t drive anywhere, I’d stay home and tie flies. The truth is that even if I could’ve gone to a local fly shop, I didn’t have
Now Chocklett’s patterns are sold in fly shops across the country, and he regularly teaches others to tie at fly-fishing shows. What’s his own favorite pattern? “I really like all my patterns—but, to be honest, I usually like the newest one best.”
Yes, Blane Chocklett’s demeanor may be calm, but there’s a fire raging inside that mind. And his devotees everywhere hope it continues to burn.