Talk long enough with seasoned anglers and eventually you’ll hear someone say, “there’s an art to fly fishing.” That’s a curiously poetic phrase. They’re usually talking about technique, presentation or tying, but it’s interesting to see the correlation one makes between angler and artist. The Black Gnats are equally interested in this connection, so we’ve started a recurring section called “The Art of Fly Fishing” to highlight the unique stories and individuals that bring these two worlds together. This week’s featured artist …
Interview by Garrick Dorsett
Although sometimes seen as a utilitarian skill, tying your own flies is something that most fly-fishermen can comprehend. For most of us, we learn the basics and tie our favorite “go-to” patterns. That being said, I’ve never seen someone that can transcend that idea and morph fly tying into the level of fine art quite like Markus Hoffman. His use of materials and skill with his hands is unmatched, in my opinion. He’s probably most well-known for his intricate mosquito pattern, but he can tie most anything asked of him. You could spend a pretty penny buying his flies to fool your favorite species or simply display them on a shelf at home for friends to be awed. Either way, these bad boys will kill ’em!
We reached out to Markus by email for this week’s interview. Enjoy!
Black Gnats: Who or what inspired you to get into fly fishing?
Markus Hoffman: I have always been into fishing, but it wasn’t until 2007 I picked up fly fishing. A friend asked me if I wanted to go with him far up north for a week of fly fishing. My first response was “No! Fly fishing is absolutely not my cup of tea. Only suitable for old dudes dressed up in tweed, having a pipe hanging out of their mouths.” However, he convinced me it would be a great adventure. I brought an Orvis travel rod and, of course, my ultra-light spinning rod and lots of lures. First day out in Swedish Lapland land I used my spinning rod, but after a while I put together my fly rod and have been addicted to fly fishing ever since.
“No! Fly fishing is absolutely not my cup of tea. Only suitable for old dudes dressed up in tweed, having a pipe hanging out of their mouths.”
BG: Who or what inspired you to get into art?
MH: After a few years of fly fishing I was given a bag of tying materials, but I had no clue of how to use them. I made a couple of crappy flies by watching the ones I had bought, but found it too hard to really enjoy it. In 2010, I joined Facebook and a new world opened up for me. I was now able to get in contact with fly tiers and fly fishers all over the world. I also bought an old secondhand vise and began to work on my very poor skills as a tier. It wasn’t until early 2011 that things started to happen. I got in contact with Martin Rudin and he became my mentor and very good friend. I bought my Tiemco Vise II in April 2011 and that was the point of no return. Besides Rudin, I had Barry Ord Clarke and Ulf Hagstrom as idols and inspiration. Those three men got a lot of questions and they gave me a lot of great advice. All three had a semi-realistic touch to many of their flies, so I guess that’s what made me choose my path.
From semi-realism, the next step to realistic fly tying was not far and I soon found myself Googling for good pictures of insects. In November 2011, I made my first tying video – Caddis Larvae Overworked. That soon became quite popular and now has more than 48,000 views.
Realistic fly tying is all about patience and details and I guess that’s the main reason I love it. The mosquito I tie is perhaps my trademark. It takes about two hours and is quite a challenge on a size #18 hook. Putting it in a small glass bottle was really the only proper way to display it. That way, it’s safe from the vacuum cleaner and gives the owner a safe way of holding it for inspecting the details.
BG: What’s the most inspirational body of water that you’ve fished and why?
MH: I must say, Kultsjovalley. It’s located west of Vilhelmina in Sweden and I have returned there several times every year since I started fly fishing. The area holds everything from fast streams to lakes with both trout and arctic char. The crystal clear water is surrounded by big mountains. I have one special place there that always holds a few nice trout. Not the biggest ones, but the dark copper color and spots are dreamlike!
BG: If money were no object, and you could do only one thing, what would it be?
MH: Of course, the correct answer here could be something like “secure clean water and food for the world population,” but since this is about fly fishing and tying, the answer is this … restore and protect the Swedish and Norwegian rivers by destroying the dams and replacing them with other electric sources. Rivers and the surrounding areas are under constant threat. Today, any greedy fooker can start their mining business in Sweden with very little resistance or cost. They earn a few bucks and leave nature with huge wounds without the chance of healing. With politicians and other overpaid morons running the world, there won’t be much left for our kids to enjoy. It’s a sad fact, but money and short-term thinking are our biggest enemies. I do not have much hope for the human race and feel lucky to live right now, when there’s still places to fish where very few have ever walked.
“I do not have much hope for the human race and feel lucky to live right now, when there’s still places to fish where very few have ever walked.”
BG: If you could fish with one person, dead or alive, who would it be?
MH: Gunnar Westrin! He’s a Swedish living legend with a big heart. He’s involved in many fights for Swedish rivers. Everything he says sounds like poetry and his skills with a fly rod are wicked. He was the first to get me in a fly fishing magazine, as he spotted my flies on the internet. Spending a day or two with him by the river would be fantastic.
BG: Where do you see the future of fly-fishing?
MH: As mentioned earlier I do not have high hopes for the future. There are too many money-horny people and too few of us earth-loving people out there. Speaking about technology in the sport, the rods and equipment today really don’t have to get any better. My main focus is to make myself a better fisherman and that’s a thing most of all the worlds fly fishers can focus more on. Handle fish properly. Use barbless hooks. Limit your kill and your catch. There is only so much we can do to fight for our rivers, but if everyone took better care of our fish it’s at least a step in the right direction … and it’s so easy!
“Handle fish properly. Use barbless hooks. Limit your kill and your catch.”
BG: How does your medium accentuate your artwork and how does it relate to your style of fly-fishing?
MH: As I like realistic flies, my fishing flies are often semi-realistic, but I also fish the easiest, most basic patterns. Not only are the basic flies less time-consuming, but often better fishing flies. However detailed and time consuming, flies can make a difference in times when the fish is being choosy.
“As I like realistic flies, my fishing flies are often semi-realistic, but I also fish the easiest, most basic patterns.”
BG: What would you say to someone interested in fly-fishing but is too intimidated to start?
MH: I would do like I did with my girlfriend, Jenny K. Put the Orvis Helios rod in her hand and a dry fly on the tippet … put her in a place where fish rise and hook her up to a grayling. That’s the easiest way to make someone understand and love the art of fly fishing.