Tying skills have him flying high

SUNDAY, AUG. 16, 2009

John Newbury of Chewelah has received international acclaim for his skills in the art of fly tying. (File / The Spokesman-Review)
John Newbury of Chewelah has received international acclaim for his skills in the art of fly tying. (File / The Spokesman-Review)

Fly-tying standout John Newbury of Chewelah had some dark days on his way to the national spotlight.

In the early 1980s he’d become a bona fide fish-aholic who packed his float tube and fly-fishing gear to some 60 lakes a year throughout the region.

He’d already developed a reputation as a fly tyer when disaster struck in 1983.

With a cruel suddenness he was disabled by a central nervous system disorder known as rapid onset dystenia Parkinsonism.

The disease confined the ultra-active outdoorsman to a bed for 18 months. It cost him his job as a math teacher as well as his marriage. It rendered him forever difficult to understand, laboring to speak as though his tongue is paralyzed.

While confined to his home, he turned to fly tying to pass the time, doggedly searching for the fine motor skills that were fouled by muscle spasms and involuntary jerking and twitching.

“The results weren’t pretty,” he said.

But he persevered, one feather, one wrap and one snip at a time, often to the midnight hours. His quest to create flies patterns with a meticulousness rivaling the Creator’s was leading him out of his darkness.

By 1986, he was demonstrating his tying techniques at sportsmen’s shows. Word spread and samples of his work got around.

In 1989 Newbury was tying flies at a Federation of Fly Fishers international conclave seated between Lee Wullf and Gary Border. To the uninitiated, that’s pretty much like being in the dugout between Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

Fly tying became his new life, but despite living on a $1,600-a-month disability income, he shunned tying commercially.

Instead, he built an aviary and began raising his own exotic birds for feathers. He donated his talents and materials to classes and his exquisitely tied flies to museums and publications as well as to auctions that have helped raise funds for fly fishing education and conservation efforts.

In 2007, the Washington State Council of FFF created the Washington State Fly Tying Hall of Fame and named Newbury the first inductee.

In 2008, he was honored by the national association with the Lew Jewett memorial life award for service to youth education, fly fishing innovation and significant contributions to the sport.

Last month, he rose to the top of the international heap by receiving the FFF’s Buz Buszek Memorial Award for significant contributions to the art of fly tying.

Not bad for a guy who, for several years as an adult, couldn’t even tie his shoes.

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