Meet Charlie, an avid fly fisherman, fly tier, fly shop owner, and author. Fly tying for Charlie started when he was 8 years old, and his fly tying passion continued when opening Charlie’s Fly Box, selling retail, and putting fly tying clinics together. We had the chance to catch up with Charlie, learn more about who he is, talk about some of his favorite flies, materials, and his endeavors in writing books about fly tying. Check out the full interview below.
Flylords: Who is Charlie Craven?
Charlie: Honestly, just a guy who loves to fly fish and tie flies. These days the world may have some sort of differing impression, but it really all boils down to something I started when I was really young and became good over time. I still tie flies everyday and really look forward to having a whole day without other plans where I can sit down and really get creative.
Flylords: Tell us a little more about Charlie’s Fly Box.
Charlie: I started Charlie’s back in 2004 after years spent guiding and working in and for other fly shops. I had always had the plan to open a shop of my own at some point and everything just kind of lined up right and we were able to make it happen. It was a little scary at first, but by then, I had enough experience in the business to make it through. These days, we’re a pretty well known shop, not just for having a good inventory of everything you might need, but, I like to think, for having a smart inventory and acting as a kind of litmus test for all the things that come to market. I see a lot of shops these days just ordering everything from every vendor and while that probably does result in more sales overall, I think it can lead to unhappy customers because there’s no inherently expert advice on what to use or how to use it. I probably didn’t explain that as well as I could have, but I really feel like the main service that fly shops can offer is experienced, expert advice on specific products that fill an actual need and do what they are supposed to do. I think we do that really well here.
Flylords: How long have you been in the fly tying game, and what has inspired you to start tying?
Charlie: I have been tying since I was eight years old, and I just turned fifty-f******-two, so that’s a pretty long time now. I remember having gone on a family camping and fishing trip and losing all of my dad’s lures. On the drive home my Pops mentioned that if I learned to tie flies, I wouldn’t have to worry about losing his lures. He was really cool about it and for my birthday that year, my folks gave me a fly tying kit that I was immediately enamored with. I played around with tying for several years and just loved the creativity and detail of it. When I was about twelve my Dad, again, saw an ad in the newspaper for a local company looking for fly tiers and casually mentioned that if I got paid to tie flies I might save up enough money to buy a car, so I applied and got hired on with that first outfit. I tied lots and lots of flies and got lots of practice and eventually I actually did buy a car with that money.
Flylords: Do you have a particular fly that you enjoy to tie to most, or more importantly, a favorite fly?
Charlie: I like tying anything I haven’t tied a million of before, so new patterns are at the forefront. I do a lot of experimenting and pattern development these days, much more so than production tying. I seem to gravitate towards flies that are more complicated and compelling, I guess. I couldn’t really say I have a favorite fly to tie as they all have some aspect I really enjoy, especially if they’re a little tricky. That being said, I hate Bead Head Prince Nymphs from tying too many of them back in the day; however, I still love Humpies. As for my favorite fly to fish with, that’s a dumb question and you know it. My favorite fly is the one that’s working (unless it’s a Bead Head Prince Nymph). I don’t leave home without Two Bit Hookers, Fat Angies, Parachute Adams, the Mole Fly and a Jujubaetis though.
Flylords: Would you say you are more of a euro nymphing junkie, meat thrower, or dry fly purist?
Charlie: I’m definitely not a euro nympher… I’ll just leave it at that. I love throwing streamers when appropriate and I even more so love throwing dries. I can get heavily behind a good day of sight nymphing too, and I probably fish dry-dropper as much as anything. I think a good angler has to have all those tools on his belt and be ready to use them any time. If I could design a perfect day, it’d be fishing dry flies, just a single dry cast to targets. That’s heaven for me.
Flylords: Out of all fly tying tools and materials, what is one tool and material you couldn’t live without?
Charlie: I am both a tool and material whore so even the idea of having to exclude some things gives me anxiety, but as for what I really, really like, it’d have to be a Tiemco Midge Whip Finish tool. I use a lot of different bobbins and hair stackers and even scissors but the Tiemco Midge Whip Finish tool is just the right size to be accurate and precise. Materials-wise I don’t know that I can narrow it down too much as I like all of them, but I would say good quality CDC, Polypropylene Macrame Yarn and Whiting Hackle would be tough to get away from.
Flylords: What draws you to fly tying and design?
Charlie: I have always loved the puzzle aspect of fly fishing, so tying is just sort of one more rung down that rabbit hole. At first it maybe just started as a way to get a little creative, but I find these days I always feel like I can do better than what’s out there, very often including my own patterns. Being able to solve a problem, and even more so, figure out that there IS a problem in a fly pattern is a huge pull for me. I love that thought process and the idea of figuring things out on my own and solving issues on the water.
Flylords: What is your process while designing and testing a new pattern?
Charlie: All of my flies generally start as trying to solve a problem on the water. Flies that don’t float very well, are hard to see, don’t sink fast enough, or are hard to cast can all be improved on. I try to go about things in a different way than what everyone else is doing, on purpose. That’s not hubris, but I really feel like I can usually come up with a better version that is purpose driven and does exactly what it is supposed to do. I love the problem solving aspect of this game both at the bench and on the water, and being able to combine the two is just endlessly compelling to me.
Flylords: You are an author of four different books, what was your inspiration behind writing these and do you find yourself producing another book in the future?
Charlie: I wrote my first book, Basic Fly Tying, because the books that were out when I was a kid were frankly just terrible from a teaching aspect. Four pictures and six sentences of directions does not help anyone who is just starting to tie flies. I wanted to do a more thorough, clear job of the details of fly tying and stress a pedagogical approach building techniques on themselves and learning things in a more useful order. I think that’s why that book is still around and so popular. That all came from me being a young kid and being frustrated with “Step 2, Tie in the wings.” My other books kind of just branched out from there, but stay true to the technique-first approach. Be sure to check out Charlie’s YouTube page for step by step instructions by clicking HERE.
Fly tying is really just building and mastering a collection of techniques, and once that’s done, exact patterns can change and you’re still comfortable with tying them because you have a solid foundation to work from. As of right now, I have the Basic Fly Tying book, Charlie’s Fly Box, which is a collection of my signature patterns, Tying Nymphs and Tying Streamers which are obviously focused on each of those genres. I do have plans to write a Dry Fly book this winter, with several others in the big picture from there on out. I enjoy writing and photographing the flies and learning a bit more about their history and background has always been something that interests me. And to be honest, signing a book for someone is one of the coolest things in the world.
Flylords: Where is your bucket-list or dream place to fly fish?
Charlie: I am really not picky when it comes to places to fish. I do a fair bit of saltwater fishing and have been to Mexico, Belize and the Bahamas several times and I have traveled all over the Rocky Mountain West fishing for trout. I really think it’s more about who you are fishing with than where as far as a bucket list kind of thing. I love fishing in Wyoming with my wife, Lisa and our dear friend Blake Clark, I’d give anything to fish one more day with my youngest son Jonathan, with him sitting in my lap on the bank while we picked off sippers, or spend a day “guiding” my Dad, or I could spend the rest of my days fishing a big, white flat in the Bahamas with my buddy Brandon at my side, floating the Colorado with my best friend Matt or I could be perfectly happy fishing to a big pod of risers with my oldest son down on the South Platte.
I wouldn’t go to the most exotic destination in the world with the best fishing you could imagine with a bunch of strangers, fly fishing is far too precious for that. I honestly don’t remember specific “epic” fish at all these days but I do remember the cast, the people I was with and the laughs we had. That’s my bucket list right there.