Nick Vlahos a.k.a. Sandbar Flies is a Lousiana-born fly designer and commercial tyer. Now famous for his signature pattern, “The Sandbar Crab”, we decided to catch up with Nick to talk Redfish, fly design and where he takes inspiration from when creating new patterns.
Flylords: When did you tie your first fly? What pattern was it?
Nick: I picked up fly fishing in middle school when my family moved to Alpharetta, GA but didn’t pick up fly tying until college at Louisiana State University. I was targeting redfish and speckled trout while in Louisiana and so the first fly I learned how to tie was a Clouser Minnow.
Flylords: What was the first fish you caught on your own tie?
Nick: The first fish I caught on my own fly was a speckled trout off my kayak in Destin, Florida. It was sight fished over a grass flat in a foot of water.
Flylords: What is your favorite pattern to tie these days?
Nick: Just depends on the day. Lately, I have really been enjoying tying shark tube flies. I’ve also been tying up a bunch of Mantis/Ghost Shrimp using fake fingernails.
Flylords: What draws you to fly tying and fly design?
Nick: Fly tying is challenging! If i’m not being challenged then I’m not learning, if i’m not learning I become bored. There are moments when I’m laying down in bed and an idea pops up in my head. So I’ll get up and go sit at the vise at 2am and tie the fly so I don’t forget when I wake up the next morning. The fact that you the tyer have the ability to manipulate each and every part of the process from the hook size, thread size, weight, color of the fly, movement of the fly, etc… it’s all controlled by what the tyer wants to imitate. When I’m not tying orders I really enjoy going outside of my comfort zone as a tyer and learning new techniques that say freshwater tyers use that saltwater tyers don’t. I can then take those new to me techniques and incorporate them into new designs.
Flylords: What is your process while designing and testing a new pattern?
Nick: I first decide whether or not I want the fly to ride hook point up (if fished over grass or oyster shell bottom) or hook point down (deep water or over sand). Next comes the weight of the fly depending on the depth of water and how far out you can spot the fish. For instance, if you are fly fishing for Louisiana redfish in 3 ft of muddy water over an oyster bottom, you might not notice the fish until he is within 10 feet of the boat and cruising along the bottom. You want that fly to sink quickly and hook point up to not snag an oyster and/or dull the hook point.
I try to match the size of the fly with the size of the bait in the water. Color of the fly will be based on water clarity or color of the bottom.
Flylords: When did you realize that fly tying was a professional aspiration for you?
Nick: I had no idea that it would end up being such a large part of my life. Making a living from something I love to do is something I don’t take for granted. I lost my Mom to brain cancer in October of 2018 and her advice to me was to do what I love. She was a Registered Nurse. Even on her sickest days she would tell me how much she missed her job and would still be working if she was healthy enough. I’ll keep tying as long as it makes me happy.
Flylords: Do you customize any patterns for specific fishing regions?
Nick: Yes indeed. Half of my time is spent in south Louisiana and the other half in Destin, Florida. The Sandbar Mullet and LouisiAnimal are designed for the Gulf Coast especially Louisiana bull redfish. The Marbled Sand Flea is designed for pompano along the Florida Panhandle but has been fished for corbina in southern California all the to Maine for striped bass.
Flylords: Do you have any advice for new tyers or anglers looking to pick it up?
Nick: First step is to buy a good vise. Buy once, cry once. Second step is to buy material for just a couple proven patterns and master them. Consistency is key. Watch youtube videos, attend fly-tying classes. The third step is to catch a fish on a fly you tied. Catching that first fish on a fly I personally tied was an amazing feeling and one I hope all fly fishermen get to experience.
Flylords: How do you photograph your flies? What’s your camera setup?
Nick: Mostly just Iphone pics and a mirrorless Sony NEX.
Flylords: How many species do you think have been landed on your patterns?
Nick: I wish I knew! The most I’ve personally landed in one day was 14 different species on a November day in Louisiana. The pattern that has caught the most species has to be the Marbled Sand Flea. From Florida Snook to Louisiana Redfish and California Corbina, it’s definitely my most versatile pattern.
Flylords: Tell us a little bit about some of the non-traditional materials you use to tie your flies? How did you get inspired to use fake nails as crab shells?
Nick: I wanted a realistic sand flea/mole crab pattern and the use of fake fingernails just seemed like the perfect material to get the job done to create the Hardshell Sand Flea. The fake fingernail can be easily trimmed to size and colored with epoxy or marker. I’ve since incorporated the fake fingernail into the Mantis/Ghost Shrimp pattern. The flexible straws have also been something I’ve been using a lot lately with the Sandbar Shrimp and Hardshell Crawfish patterns.
Flylords: Where can people purchase your patterns?
Nick: All of my personal hand-tied flies are available at SandBarFlies.com. A few of my patterns are available commercially through Fulling Mill and are sold at many Orvis stores and other select fly fishing stores across the country.
Flylords: What is next for you in 2019?
Nick: Every fall guides from around the country will travel to Louisiana for bull redfish and that makes up most of my fall and winter orders. Besides that I’ll continue to design more flies and make more step by step tutorials. Besides fly tying I’ll be chasing tarpon, cobia, and pompano on Louisiana sandbars.