History of the NEFT Fly Tying Course
Prior to the early 80's, the NEFT offered no formal fly tying instruction. While members who were tying flies at the club were always willing to explain what they were doing to any interested observer, that was the extent of the instruction.a beginner could expect.
A small group of members got together unofficially and began to discuss the possibility of creating a formal, well organized course in fly tying. The concept that emerged was a skill building course, starting with the very basics, such as setting up and adjusting the vise and starting the thread on the hook, and progressing to the more advanced techniques in what they conceived as a 'building block' teaching method.
Once an ordered list of skills was committed to paper, the next step was to select the fly patterns that would best illustrate the skills. Ultimately, a list of twenty fly patterns was developed. At that point the group presented the idea to the club at a business meeting. Reaction was mixed, with a vocal minority expressing the the belief that it was too big an undertaking to commit to. The membership voted to sanction the group as an ad hoc committee to bring the idea to fruition. Asking for volunteers, the group was expanded to ten members, each to select two of the fly patterns and write a first draft of two lessons based on the flies. Results were mixed. A few were quite complete and detailed while others were nothing more than a list of materials and the order in which they were tied on the hook. It finally came down to one person who agreed to produce the first draft. That person was Dean Clark who later played an important role when the original manual was used as the model for the NEFT Video Manual of Fly Tying.
Another key player was Bob Duffy, an artist and high school art teacher, who agreed to do the illustrations for the manual. Randy Swanberg agreed to handle the editing, page layout and printing of the manual. Bob Griffen, now deceased, volunteered to act as a coordinator and a 'whip', setting a schedule and making sure that the schedule was kept. At the beginning of the 1986 season, the first five lessons were ready and the first class of six students began the 10 week course. The next five lessons were ready when needed by that first class. Eventually the entire manual was complete and served as the cornerstone of the NEFT's teaching efforts.
During that period, members had been tying at the Telegram & Gazette booth at the Eastern Fishing and Outdoor Exposition at the Worcester Centrum at invitation of the paper's outdoor writer, Joe Michnewitz. We were able to arrange for our own booth at the Eastern Fishing and Outdoor Exposition at the Worcester Centrum and suddenly we were swamped with 40 new students who had signed up for the course. Because one instructor cannot teach a class that size and not everyone can see, our teaching effectiveness greatly suffered. It was suggested that we bring in a video camera and record the lessons as they happened. This idea was ruled out as impractical and sure to produce poor results.
Someone suggested that we might be able to use the facilities of the Shrewsbury Public Access Connection (SPAC for short). They were contacted and Dave Flint and Randy Swanberg paid a visit. Both were impressed with what they had to offer. They were located in a former middle school and the studio was half a gymnasium. An overhead pipe grid was hung with flood lights. spotlights, broadlights. The control room was equipped with a large light control board, audio control board and editing equipment.
There were three video cameras in the studio connected to a video switcher and editor which were connected in turn to a professional recording deck and a special effects generator. There was everything we needed to produce a professional quality series of tapes, including free classes in all phases of video production including lighting, sound, and editing.
Randy and Dave Flint completed all of the courses, submitted a short video tape and were certified as SPAC producers. In the meantime Randy basically re-wrote the manual, converting it from words to be read to words to be spoken and heard. In effect the manual became the model for a shooting script.
While many fly tying videos feature well known tyers/teachers/authors who do ad-lib commentary as they tie for the camera, we used a different approach. Our plan was to have the tying sequences narrated by a host/narrator so the script could be tightly re-written so in post-production the narration would exactly fit the video. Dean Clark was the natural choice to act as host and narrator because of his ability to read a cue card or script as though it was coming off the top of his head.
We even built a set to represent a comfortable den for the introductory sequences in each of the ten half hour tapes.
Because we did not want the tyer to be just a disembodied pair of hands, each volunteer tyer appears on camera to introduce and explain the materials used in the fly he was about to tie. Tying for a video was a new experience for the tyers.
Rather than show the tying operations from the viewpoint of an onlooker, we wanted to shoot from the viewpoint of the tyer as shown in this video clip of a Wickham's Fancy of Lesson Nine. This meant that the vise had to be turned at an angle so we could get a profile view of the vise by shooting over the shoulder of the tyer. )
The tyers had to reach out and around to put the right hand in a position that looked like the vise were in a normal position. Some of the tyers were skeptical at first but quickly caught on as they viewed the scene on the studio monitor.
As a relief from the tying sequences, Dean would appear about half way through the detailed tying sequence to review what had been shown and introduce what would follow. After the step by step instructions were complete, the tyer would tie another fly in real time without commentary but with music. The narration also had music running under the voice and when a long repetitious sequence occurred, the music went "up and over".
Because we needed each tape to run 30 minutes from opening to fade out after the scrolling credits, each lesson includes a fishing sequence showing various techniques that are applicable to each style of fly. This required a number of field trips shot with a camcorder. The tyers were Mike Rinaldo*, Dave Flint*, Bob Goudreau*, Bert McQuiston, Ray Holden, Jim Buck and Dick Brown. Those with asterisks also appear as anglers in the fishing sequences along with Dean Clark, Ken Hull, Paul Kubert, Mike Beaupre, Joe Buccino and Randy Swanberg. Many of these members also acted as set-up crew, camera operators, floor managers, cue card handlers. In all, 20 members were involved in the effort over a two and a half year period. Producer/director Randy Swanberg spent about 3000 hours on the project which included 400 hours of editing. Music was composed and performed by Randy's son Gary, featuring some full orchestra pieces all done on a Kurtzwiel keyboard capable of reproducing the sound of any instrument and assembled and edited on a Macintosh midi system.
At the time the bottom line price quotation by most professional video production companies was about $1000 per minute of running time. At 300 minutes the videos are worth $300,000. We did it for about $700.
The tapes, in conjunction with the printed manual and experinced instructors have proven themselves over and over to be most effective in teaching the art and craft of fly tying.