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Landers: Fly fishing fair benefits experts, beginners

Molly Semenik admits to being intimidated as she walked into her first International Fly Fishing Fair and began mingling with champions of the sport.

“I was still dreaming about being a fly fishing guide in 2000,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about the Federation of Fly Fishers.

“But I stuck it out. I would meet somebody at a class and get introduced to somebody else and pretty soon I realized I was surrounded by some of the nicest and most talented instructors anywhere.”

Then she became one herself.

A year after attending that FFF event, she started her own outfitting business (Tie the Knot Fly Fishing in Livingston, Mont.). She worked through the ranks to become a certified master casting instructor and a member of the FFF casting board of governors.

Semenik won’t be treading meekly through the 2012 International Fly Fishing Fair that opens today for a three-day run in the Spokane Convention Center.

“I’ll be teaching roll-casting classes from beginning to advanced,” she said.

Most out-of-area anglers coming to Spokane have already signed up for clinics and classes that will be staged from Convention Center rooms to Gonzaga University ponds and the Spokane River. Space is still available in some classes for the public walking in off the street to the Convention Center exhibit hall.

Semenik is teaching one niche of the sport that will serve a fly caster in numerous situations, especially when brush or wind might thwart a backcast.

“I consider roll casting the most important and most underutilized cast in a fly fisher’s repertoire, whether you’re out for trout or tarpon,” she said.

“It’s an easy cast to be good at, but it takes more work to be expert at it.”

One might be surprised to learn that Semenik won’t be out fishing in the region’s waters when she’s not teaching casting sessions at the fair this week.

“I’ve signed up for a bunch of spey-casting classes,” she said. “I can go fishing anytime, but while I’m in Spokane I’m taking full advantage of all the experts in one spot giving back to the sport.

“I’m not going fishing; I’m going learning.”

Gene Kaczmarek of northern California is among a stable of fly tiers that will be at the fair sharing their talent at the vise.

“We all remember how little we knew when we started,” he said. “That’s why we offer a full range of fly tying activities.

“We start first-timers with the Woolly Bugger, a pattern they can learn to tie in one class and then go out and catch a fish with it virtually anywhere.”

Experienced fly tiers pick up tons of tips moving freely through tying demonstrations. Watch the tyer’s handiwork on big screens or sometimes a secondary vise is available so a visitor can try a technique next to the demonstrator.

“We tie flies partly with the intent of catching fish and partly for the artistry,” Kaczmarek said. “There’s no end to learning about fly tying. You never get that good. You just get better than yesterday.”

Many anglers buy their flies from a pro – perhaps the cheapest route.

Some tie flies just good enough to catch fish.

Others wrap their pride into the materials they lash onto a hook until it become more than just something that will catch a fish.

The character Henry Hale Orviston (H2O) in David Duncan’s novel “The River Why” tied patterns of aquatic insects “with a meticulousness rivaling the Creator’s.”

You’ll see some of that artistry at the Fly Fishing Fair.

Kaczmarek is sandwiching the event into a three-week fishing vacation to put a little of his pride and joy to the test on Inland Northwest trout.

“I’ll be in Montana, including three days on the Clark Fork,” he said, noting that he was particularly anxious to fish for the big wild rainbows in the upper Columbia River near Northport, Wash.

“I have an invitation from fellow fly tyer John Newberry of Chewelah to fish with him on his homewaters and I’m not going to miss out on that,” he said.

Len Zickler of Spokane chairs the 18-person local host committee for the fair.

“I had a fly rod in my hand at an early age in the 1960s when my family was fishing at Medical Lake, but it was just 15 years ago that I really took up fly fishing as a sport,” he said.

A fly shop pointed him to the local clubs, where he learned about fishing the local waters and beyond.

“I started dragging my family to the FFF conclaves,” he said. “I’ll never forget going to the event in Idaho Falls when my daughters were 11 and 13. They took a beginner casting class from Joan Wulff and Maggie Merriman, the two top women in the sport volunteering their time for people who’d never held a fly rod.

“Those role models keep me coming to the fairs and contributing.”

Contact Rich Landers at (509) 459-5508 or email