TEAYS VALLEY — Chances are, many of the 15,000 people who attended this year’s West Virginia Hunting and Fishing Show saw Courtney Walls.
She was the tall, blonde teenager who sat in the first booth inside the front door, tying brightly colored trout flies on safety pins and giving them away to show-goers.
People who met her and spoke to her seemed intrigued that a 19-year-old would take up fly tying. They might really have been intrigued had they known she’d been at it for eight years.
“I got started when I was 11,” Courtney said. “I saw Dad tying and started asking questions. Then I decided I wanted to do that, too.”
Courtney’s father, David, is a fly tier known to plenty of people in and around the Kanawha Valley. For more than two decades, he has taught beginners’ tying classes for the Ernie Nester Chapter of Trout Unlimited. Teaching his daughter, however, proved to be a bit of a challenge.
“She’s left-handed and I’m right-handed,” he explained. “I had to mirror-image everything I did so she could imitate it.”
Only one in 10 people are left-handed. Among fly tiers, the percentage is probably even lower because all the instruction books and videos depict right-handed techniques.
David said Courtney never let her left-handedness dampen her eagerness to learn.
“She isn’t afraid to take things on,” he added. “I show her, and she takes off with it.”
Basic fly-tying techniques are easy to learn. Getting the right proportions on the flies’ wings, tails, hackles and bodies can be tricky, as Courtney soon learned.
“Really, the only thing that was difficult for me was getting the flies to look the way I wanted them to,” she said.
As her skills developed, Courtney started tying at the Trout Unlimited booth at the Hunting and Fishing Show, held every January at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center. A few years ago, she saw another member handing out colorful flies tied on safety pins. She fell in love with the idea, and each of the past two years she’s sat there during the show, cranking out fly after fly after fly for interested onlookers.
“I’ve given away too many to count,” she said. “I thought most of the people who would want them would be kids, but it turned out to be just about everybody — kids, women, and even some men.”
Some of the people she talked with were surprised to see someone her age engaged in a pastime not ordinarily associated with young people.
“People my age and younger seemed really fascinated,” she said. “After they saw up close what was involved in it, they thought it was a lot more interesting.”
So far, Courtney has focused most of her effort on basic patterns. That’s about to change. She, her father and her mother have started a part-time family business that centers on fishing-rod building, fly tying and fishing-lure making.
Courtney’s role as a fly tier will center on patterns similar to those found in Joe’s Flies, spinner-and-fly combination lures that have been popular with anglers for decades.
“I want her to do a lot of the old-fashioned winged wet flies,” David said. “People aren’t tying those any more. We’re not only going to be tying the flies, we’ll be making the spinners to put them on.”
Finding time to learn new techniques and patterns might be easier said than done. Right now, much of Courtney’s time is taken up with her studies at Bridge Valley Community and Technical College, where she’s studying to become an ultrasound technician.
“School keeps me from tying as much as I’d like to,” she said. “But I really like to tie. I’ll find the time.”
David has no doubt she’ll succeed, both at her studies and at tying.
“She wants to learn, and she has no fear of taking new things on,” he said. “She’ll do fine.”