Innovative Fly Tier: Garner Reid
By Nick Carter
What is familiar can grow mundane. Sometimes creating a little separation from the commonplace can be like kneeling down to blow on smoldering embers.
For Garner Reid, head guide at Cohutta Fishing Company in Cartersville, Georgia (www.cohuttafishingco.com), that separation was what some anglers would call living the dream. It was in Montana—on rivers that are merely lust-evoking photo spreads for many Southern trout anglers—that Reid found a renewed passion for his home waters.
“I spent a stint working in Montana. Guys out there were going wild about carp fishing. And it seemed like all they wanted to talk about was bass fishing,” says Reid. “I knew we had that all over the place down here [in Georgia], and it kind of fueled the fire for coming back to target the species we have here with flies. We have great year-round fishing here. There are so many cool species to target. The idea is to find techniques and patterns that make fishing with a fly rod less like tying an arm behind your back.”
For many warm-water anglers, picking up a fly rod is exactly that—a way to tie an arm behind your back. Unless they grow up in the mountainous northern tip of the state, Georgians typically progress to flies via one of two routes: they are either lured to the long rod by tailwater trout or they simply feel a need to make fishing more difficult. There are only so many farm-pond bream and bass you can catch with spinnerbait and red wigglers before you start looking for a new challenge.
For Reid it was a combination of those two routes. He grew up just outside Atlanta, in Kennesaw, where his home fisheries were the Etowah River and Allatoona Lake. He also wore out tires traveling to the mountains of north Georgia and western North Carolina to feed his trout obsession. But exposure to south Georgia farm ponds and rivers was what convinced Reid to put down conventional gear and pick up an 8-weight for good. An understanding of the two disciplines is evidenced in his flies.
As both a warm-water and trout guide, Reid twists up a lot of flies for clients. “Quick, easy, durable, effective” are key words at his vise. He knocks out all the standard trout patterns efficiently, but the innovation that goes on at the Cohutta Fishing Company is mostly on the warm-water side. This holds true across the region, where other tiers like Craig Riendeau and Henry Cowen are dreaming up new patterns or improving old ones to better target species such as stripers, spotted bass, largemouth, shoal bass, and carp.
Reid is very hesitant to take any credit for innovation in the fly-tying world.
“We’ve got this cool culture down here,” he says. “We’re all borrowing back and forth. I mean, our carp flies are inspired by bonefish flies. We’re drawing from the muskie patterns Blane Chocklett is tying up in Virginia. The Southeast is starting to gain more attention, and people are starting to realize we’ve got some really cool stuff going on down here. We’re showing people you can catch fish other than trout on a fly rod.”
The warm-water flies are evolving, not being developed, and the little shop in Cartersville is like a think tank for the process. Reid says Cohutta’s owner, Andy Bowen, and employees Conner Jones and Brandon Heath are all putting in time at the vise and brainstorming together.
“We’re all cooking up these ideas,” he says. “It’s a culmination of all of them. We definitely co-conspire on all these flies.”
It all boils down to meeting a need; whether it’s for a carp fly that gets down quickly and kicks up a mud trail without hanging in the weeds or a big articulated streamer with just the right action to tempt Etowah River stripers, it’s about tying flies that work. Reid reports they are not skittish about blurring the distinction between traditional fly-tying materials and conventional tackle. Jig heads, spinnerbait skirts, and the occasional spinnerbait blade can all be found on the tying bench.
“I grew up fishing a bait caster as well an 8-weight, and there’s a lot of crossover between the two. There’s no ego here, because we do both,” says Reid. “It takes the originality out of stuff if you’re not willing to mesh the different styles of fishing.”
It goes the other way too. A conventional technique called the float-and-fly has exploded on the reservoir scene during the last five or six years. Finicky spotted bass feeding in cold weather on small threadfin shad might not take a big crankbait, but you can wear them out with a fly. Guys are matching the hatch by fishing long spinning rods armed with a light line, weighted bobber, and jig head with some hair. Reid says it’s no longer a surprise when guys wearing bass-tournament jerseys come into the shop to peruse the fly bins.
So could fly tiers benefit from stepping over into the conventional section of the tackle shop? Maybe. You might find that the rubber fibers on bass jigs make great wiggly legs. Reid says they’ve been experimenting with using them in dubbing loops or tying them into the fly itself. At the very least, a tier could find inspiration from conventional lures like soft plastic swimbaits or walk-the-dog baits such as the Zara Spook. Both are staples among conventional bass and striper anglers and have their fly-fishing counterparts.
River stripers eat big baitfish. Size and action are important when trying to convince a striped bass to commit, which is why swimbaits work well. The fly fisher’s equivalent is a big, articulated streamer, which can be tough to cast. To address this, Reid adds mass without weight by reverse-tying bucktail and blending in synthetics for the signature Flash a Shad.
Speaking of flash, it’s a boon when targeting any species of bass. That’s why the guys at Cohutta spin a lot of their own dubbing brushes loaded with synthetics, such as DNA Holo Fusion, to create bodies with abundant long, flashy fibers sticking out.
And Reid just won’t stop talking
about how Clear Cure Goo has revolutionized the shop’s tying because it sets with a UV light, eliminating the need for epoxy. “It has allowed us to use materials that have been around a long time in totally different ways, “he says. “We use it for everything from finishing to reinforcing and building profiles on baitfish patterns to provide structural integrity.”
The theme is consistent: tweaking existing techniques and materials and drawing from other tiers to create flies that work on your waters. Reid says they are now toying with swinging for stripers on the Etowah. It’s not a new technique, but Spey casting is not common among Southeastern fly fishers. In theory, it makes sense. Covering a lot of water methodically is the normal game plan when fishing for migrant river stripers. If the guys at Cohutta can figure out how to make it work, you’ll probably start seeing more two-handers on Southern rivers.
It’s tough to effectively fish a Spey rod with one arm tied behind your back. Maybe that’s the point. Reid and the guys at Cohutta Fishing Company might shy from a term as haughty as “innovative,” but there’s no doubt they are part of a growing culture that’s pushing the evolution of warm-water fly fishing in the region.