Fly Tying with John Shand
Updated: Jul 26, 2019
Since starting work at Hunting and Fishing in Gisborne, every couple of weeks John stops by the shop to show me his latest and greatest creation. As routine, he tells me all about the fly itself, we swap a few fishing stories and then compare opinions over different rods or reels. His regular visits have continued to make my stay here in New Zealand that much more memorable and he’s become one of my greatest supporters and good friends in the world of fly fishing.
John was born in 1951 and grew up in Palmerston North. He was first introduced to fly fishing at age 10 when he was required to help feed the family one night a week and used to ride his push bike 8-10 miles to a local stream to catch perch or eel’s for tea that evening. Although it wasn’t his first choice, John
was transferred to Gisborne after
graduating from his studies in Wellington and has been here with his family ever since. In July of 2017, while visiting his daughter in Kelowna, Canada as well as partake in some of the finest steelhead fishing British Colombia had to offer, John suffered a severe heart attack which nearly killed him. He says that he owes his life to his daughter, a tri athlete for Canada, because she was able to run down to the bottom of the mountain to get help in time. Since the accident, John has been very restricted with his mobility and the amount of walking or traveling he can do in a day, therefore meaning he can’t get out for a fish as much as he’d like to. So naturally, when given limitations, fly fisherman have to improvise.
Fly tying wasn’t something John had ever given much thought to until attending Angling Club one night in Gisborne and watched his mate Gavin Murphy tie a few flies during the meeting. After that night another keen angler set John up with an old vice, some feathers and a few hooks, and you could say the rest is history.
Over time, he grew so fond of fly tying that at one point John sat down and tied an entire box of the top ten patterns from the American Fly Fishing Team. He soon came up with some own patterns of his own, and I asked John if he could tell me about one of his signature ties “The Shandy” and its significance. The man from Palmerston North then told me that he owed his biggest brown to that particular fly and claimed that last season it helped catch over 176 fish. It's used as an attractor or trailing-fly, meaning it’s tied on behind a heavier or beaded fly, as a nymphing rig. He then shared the recipe on how exactly to tie it:
UTC 70 ultra black thread body
#14 or #16 hook
Mixture of claret light and dark dubbing for the collar
2mm Orange foam with a gold glitter top for the wing case
Coq de Leon for the tail
I asked John what his advice would be to people wanting to get into fly tying. He said, “The simplest of things have the ability to catch more fish. You can spend hours making a fly but in the end, the more natural you can make it the better.”
When asked who his inspiration and greatest teacher was, John gave his thanks to the internet and YouTube. “Technology is really the backbone on making flies isn’t it? The best fly tiers in the world have step by step tutorials on YouTube. Also, I would have to say Orvis is one of the best companies to follow because if you can make flies as good as the experts who work for them, you can’t go wrong because they’re so good.”
On the very rare occasion, John makes his way over to Turangi for a fishing trip with his son and gets into some stunning fish, just as long as he keeps his heart rate down. It’s been a long road to recovery, but this hasn’t stopped John from still indulging in life’s small treasures. Through fly tying, John has discovered new meaning in life and truly enjoys sharing this new found love with the world. When he’s not able to get out for a fish, John is at home doing the next best thing- tying flies for family and friends. He has become such an inspiration to me and is living proof that no matter what your limitation might be, it should never stop you from doing and enjoying the things you love most. As John would say- when life gives you lemons, make lemonade and tie a few flies.