Worm's the word for marine anglers

GIG HARBOR – Fly-fishing isn’t just the weirdest and fussiest form of pestering fish.

Fly-fishing is an art of subcultures and cults. For example, some anglers camp out in the ultra-prestigious – the dry-fly-only group, which means they fish only flies that imitate bugs floating on top of the water.

Other, grittier, more practical anglers – who call themselves nymphers – repeatedly remind dry-fly elitists that fishing flies near the bottom hooks more fish.

The groups and subgroups – and friendly squabbles – go on and on and on.

But it’s fair to say most fly anglers belong to most of the groups.

And most fly anglers tie their own flies – even as many of those flies imitate creatures that have never – and will never – actually sprout wings and fly. So, a fly doesn’t have to imitate a fly to be a fly.

The subgroup of fly anglers who chase sea-run cutthroat trout and coho salmon in Puget Sound falls into this group. Puget Sound fly anglers tie flies that imitate baitfish, shrimp, krill – and even those weird marine worms that spent most of their lives burrowing around in the mud, shellfish beds and pilings.

A small group of this small but growing subgroup of fly anglers gathered last Friday to compare and trade favorite styles of flies that imitate marine worms.

The meeting was at the Tides Tavern in Gig Harbor – a place where anglers of all methods traditionally feel safe and secure.

Beer flowed into pint glasses, food was ordered and about a dozen members of the saltwater fishing forum of – yet another subgroup of countless subgroups – met to talk marine worms.

Now, marine worms are possibly the least glamorous fly on the planet – but Puget Sound cutthroat trout and coho salmon eagerly whack flies that imitate the size, shape, action and behavior of these lowly creatures.

I arrived at the Tides Tavern and found Kelvin Kleinman of Seattle busily drinking his beverage of choice, eating a snack and getting his version of a fish-catchin’ marine worm arranged on the table.

Kleinman was clearly a multitasker of some talent – he was also the only tier who was suave and smart enough to bring a significant other along. Kleinman’s flies – long, slinky, elegant flies tied with expensive feathers – made my simple, stumpy flies look like Yugos in a Ferrari dealership.

Interestingly, our flies imitated different stages of the same red-and-black marine worm. My simple, short creation – it’s called the Dumb Protein in honor of my great fishing friend Greg Cloud – matches the small, young marine worms that sometimes swarm by the thousands in squirming, racing schools.

You had better have a small marine worm pattern that imitates these critters if you hope to catch sea-run cutts when the swarms take place.

Yet, Kleinman’s flies imitated the long, mature adult worms. Fish eat the big adult worms as well – as just about any kid who grew up fishing on Puget Sound can tell you.

Kleinman’s long flies catch fish, and most of the tiers who trickled into the Tides Tavern – and promptly started pouring flies on the table and beer down their throats – brought adult worm imitations.

My pile of stumpy, baby worms looked kind of pathetic next to the long, elegant creations of my fellow fly-tiers, and I constantly told anyone who would listen that my fly actually caught fish.

My new friend John Hilt – we all became friends during this luau – displayed a brilliant slinky worm created out of rabbit fur wound and glued onto a long string that carried a small hook at the very end of the fly. At first glance, the fly looks like a fuzzy plastic worm, and it works really well for Hilt.

I’m sure it will work really well for me.

Tier Steve Seville showed up with marine worms tied with long, marabou tails, and Rob Ast’s flies were sleek versions of marine brush worms.

One tier – the famous Ed Call, who haunts the salt water forum on – wasn’t able to show up.

It seems that Call’s father-in-law had arrived in town, and he was not free for the rest of the day.

Everyone at the meeting was sad to hear this. Call’s generous spirit shows in his posts to the board, and those who haven’t met him in person were disappointed he had to cancel.

I was one of those people.

But Ast brought Call’s marine worm flies to the meeting. It seems that Ast and Call had gone fishing that very day.

It also seems that Call might be a member of the fly-fishing subgroup that will choose fishing time over sitting around and swapping flies.

I’m a member of that group as well, but I’m glad I came to the tavern Friday afternoon. I made lots of new friends, learned some new fly-tying ideas and was reminded that every angler on the planet has these things in common:

 • They love to talk about angling.

 • They love the water and the fish.

 • And they all see the fascinating cycle of fish and what fish eat in different ways – even when the subject is the humble marine worm.

Chester Allen: 360-754-4226