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We’re Talking Fly Tyers, The Life of a Bug, and the Umpqua Fly Tying Tour

We are psyched to host Umpqua’s Signature Fly Tying Tour on Saturday, February 11. See all the details here for an event you do not want to miss! Covey Guides and Signature Tyers Hans Mylant, Greg Blessing, and Jon Easdon will be tying up some of their beauties. Landon Mayer will be at the vise, too. And Rachel Leinweber, General Manager, may be coaxed to spin a few bugs, too.

This original blog was posted spring of 2022 — not long after Jon Easdon had found out that Umpqua had accepted his submission for the Blindside Midge. What follows below is the story — The Life of Fly — that captures the development of the Blindside. Check out the video, though, for an exciting announcement today, February 3, 2023.

Jon Easdon with an exciting announcement about the Blindside Midge.

The Life of a Fly

We talk a lot about lifecycles of different aquatic insects, their evolution from egg, to larva, to pupa, to emerger, and adult.  That’s their progression in the natural world.  But what about the patterns that fly tyers develop, sometimes working on them for years before the fly lands in the bins in your local shop?  For this article, I interviewed Jon Easdon, Director of Services at Angler’s Covey (in italics throughout), and Russ Miller, Director of Marketing at Umpqua to understand the life of the fly pattern.  

The Blindside Midge is Hatched

Jon Easdon: I invented the Blindside Midge about 25 years ago

Tweaked it here and there over the years.  Just, like, trying to perfect it. 

About 15 or 16 years ago, I switched from a regular soft hackle to ostrich. I didn’t like how the soft hackle stayed splayed in the water. It just didn’t undulate like I wanted it to.

A lot of the R&D on the Blindside was done close to home. In fact, I developed the purple version specifically on the Taylor, probably 10 years ago. I fished and modified it on very technical fisheries: the Taylor, in Cheesman, on the Frying Pan. If you can get a pattern to pass the test in areas like that, it’s kind of a good bar.

It’s unique enough that it looks different than what the fish see everyday.

Certain fisheries, like our tailwaters, get fished hard, so if your bug can stand out, that’s huge. The Blindside doesn’t really look like other bugs that are in our bins. That’s a difficult thing to do in today’s fly world. In pictures it may look like some other midge patterns, but it looks very different for a tiny little midge. Using ostrich made a difference in how it acts in the water.

It’s been a cult favorite.  Our [Angler’s Covey] guides know about it. I tie the bug for the shop, and they don’t last more than two or three days. The bins are even empty now.

The Blindside Midge. PC: Juan Ramirez

The Blindside Emerges

I sent it to Umpqua a couple of years ago and they didn’t take it. Timing of my submission had a lot to do with it. 

One of the things that helped me get the Blindside accepted (by Umpqua) was that it started to get a lot of love in the underground. Fly Tyer magazine did an article with step-by-step instructions to tying it.

I wanted it to be a guide fly from the outset: really easy to tie and super effective. So not a lot of steps in it.  Doesn’t take a lot of time to tie.  The primary drive was keeping it simple. I love what Landon (Mayer) says about guide flies. They are those flies that crush fish, and you can tie them effectively and efficiently.

Russ Miller: We do four review sessions per year, so quarterly submissions.

Sometimes we review a ton of patterns. Especially in the spring quarter after people have been tying all winter. The conversations at the review sessions run from,  “man, these are all amazing” to some sessions more like, “‘meh.’ We’ve seen these all before.” We don’t have a hard and fast ratio of acceptances to submissions.

Easdon: In the fall of 2021, I submitted my flies at the Umpqua party (a gathering hosted by Umpqua to celebrate the past season). By the end of October, I had word that they approved The Blindside Midge.

The Committee

When somebody submits a pattern to Umpqua, all patterns/submissions get reviewed by a fly committee. The committee examines and discusses the fly and weighs them on whether it goes beyond the previous iterations or is merely a subtle variation.  So it has to be more or do more than a similar pattern did in the past to get voted in.

The committee meeting is quarterly. Tyers typically  get an acceptance or a rejection letter within two to three days after the meeting.  There are lots of stories about a big name tyers who had their patterns rejected;  it’s not the end of the journey. They continue to use that as an inspiration for the next thing.

While we don’t necessarily have a criteria sheet, the fly has to fill a need, fill a gap. Is it a pattern that kind of brings new life into a pattern that has existed?

A really nice submission will have 6-10 flies all of the same fly.  So when the committee members are sitting in the room, each person can hold a fly and talk about the properties of the fly, what they like, what they don’t like.  Then with the decisions that are really difficult you can see the committee member’s thought process. The discussions are great as members point out the strengths and weaknesses of each pattern.

We want to see what the tyer thinks is their best work. A tyer should not submit all of what they have created and say, “tell me which one you like!” Submit the best!

Bin Appeal

In addition to the pattern being proven and have fish-catching capabilities, Umpqua is investing in setting up a new pattern. It’s a business. There’s a whole production side to it. And we have to ask: is it going to sell?

The pattern has to have “bin appeal” that gets the angler’s attention. It has to make somebody “pick it up and say “oooh, that looks tasty.” 

An angler may say “I can’t stop catching fish on this.” And that may be a 100% true statement.  The fly’s look may turn people off from wanting to try it.  They just have to judge it on the merits of how that fly looks in the shop. Does this look fishy?

It’s In the Materials

Mostly what we tend to see, or what is most striking, is if the tyer uses material in a way that is outside the norm.

We have flies that literally have custom dubbing blends. Tyers will say, “I mix 25% this, 25% that, and 50% of this dubbing.” So we create the dubbing, for example, and then make a pound of it for production. Once the tyer approves our mix, we create a bulk quantity of it.

The Blindside is not really unique in the materials. You can get all the ingredients at every fly shop.

My scud is a little different.  They accepted that as well.  I’ve had to direct them a little more with tying my scud.  Because that is a blend of dubbing.  Might be a little harder to find. It blends, basically, three different types of dubbing. It makes it a really good color when wet.  Looks like an authentic dead scud. The blend of dubbing gives it a pop. But it looks more muted than other scud patterns that are out there.

The Take

Brett Bauer – in charge of Umpqua’s new product acquisition – will reach out to tyers, and welcome them to the Umpqua team.  The tyers and our team exchange notes. We start to look at the potential beyond what the tier submitted. Maybe they may have submitted an 18, but we want to go down to a 22. We might ask for color extensions to their submissions:  “Super nice baetis.  I bet that would translate to a PMD or a drake.”

They wanted to change the bead — and I didn’t fight that. In the size 18s and 20s, I use a mercury bead. But in the 22s, I use a 1.5 mm tungsten bead. Super small. And they wanted that throughout. So we made that change.

We’ll ask the tyer for the bill of material on it and instructions.  How did you tie it?   Every fly tied is tied to the original tyer’s specifications. The Umpqua version is the tyer’s version. So that gets the process rolling.

Quality Control

So after those initial conversations, the tyer has to tie samples for our factory.  We require eight samples for each color that they submit.  Each factory — we have five of them — gets a sample from the tyer to replicate; this becomes “the golden standard.” So as folks at the factory are tying the pattern, they put the standard at the center of their work. Quality control continues with the factory tyers matching the original tyer’s work. 

We keep three flies internally. Then our factory ties a first round of samples.  They send two dozen back to us and we send them to the tyer to review.

The tyer may say “well, they have a little too much material here. Or not enough material here.  Or ‘when I tie in the wing case, I use this technique that does this…’” There is usually a second round of samples sent with flies tied based on the tyer’s feedback. 

Easdon: I’m currently waiting for the samples to come back. They’re in that pre-production phase. [Writer’s note: Because the Blindside Midge is still in pre-production, it is not available in Shops. You might be able to find it in the bins at Angler’s Covey … but good luck!]

Typically, we can nail it there. On more complex patterns, we might do three or four rounds of counter-sampling.

Once we get it right, the tyer says “hey, let’s go,” we start number crunching.

We start by doing a forecasted number of flies. We try to apply our best guess, a  gut feel, as to how many of these will pre-sale.  And we begin tying them. 

And then we go on the road with our sales force to hit pre-season sales. We’ve already begun tying and then we go on the road.  And we might discover, “whoa whoa, we’ve got a run- away pattern. We’ve got to up our forecast on that.”  We build our big inventory based on preseason research. 

In Production

Quality control measures are followed throughout the process.  We tie everything to the tyer’s specs.

In fact, the biggest quality control measure that Umpqua puts into place is the relationship with the tyer throughout the process.

We don’t substitute materials.  We don’t say to the tyer, “oh you tied it with something very expensive. We’ll use this instead to keep the cost down.” We do exactly what the tyer does. Between a quality hook, quality materials, and the great wages we pay our tyers in our factories, our flies end up being a bit more expensive. 

Our tyers in the factories then tie to match “the golden standard.”  You want the 1st dozen flies to look as good as the 20th dozen. Quality control happens throughout the tying.  A job captain oversees the process and takes a dozen flies to spot check against the orginal tyer’s fly.  The factory then sends those to Louisville, and we do the same check when the flies hit the deck.  All new flies have a QC inspection.  We compare the ones that the factory sent to the three remaining flies that the original tyer sent to us.  Did the factory hit or miss the mark?  Do we reject them or put them in inventory and ship them?

As a company, we hang our hat on the quality.  We are the most expensive.  We know that.  It’s truly the tyer’s intellectual property; they took time to come up with the idea, and we reward their time by paying them for their pattern.

Read More, Learn More

If you want to read more about Umpqua’s history, check out the “About the Company” page on their website. They also have a great tribute to Dennis Black, Umpqua’s founder. You can read more about Umpqua’s business practices (with a focus on quality control) here.

Interested in tying up some Blindsides? Check out these videos by John Wood or, for more experienced tyers, this shorter video by Juan Ramirez.

Our Bug of the Month for April is the scud. You can read more about it on our blog. For an added bonus, Jon Easdon demonstrates how to tie his Slapshot Scud pattern in this video.

1 Comment

  1. […] I am going to tie Blindsides, I get all the materials ready. I get ice dubbing, ostrich herl. I cut up my wire before I start […]

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