Fly tying competition comes down to blindfolded ties |

Fly tying competition comes down to blindfolded ties

VAIL — Judges for the field of about 15 in the GoPro Mountain Games Fly Tying Competition on Friday at Golden Peak couldn’t determine a winner after three rounds, so the top three went head-to-head-to-head in a 5-minute blindfold fly tying final.

“Never been blindfolded before,” said third-place winner Patrick Duke of Crested Butte. “It was insane. You have to trust that you’re doing it right and all on feel — tying by Braille.”

Ian Wilson of Steamboat Springs won the tie-off, earning himself a Yeti backpack cooler, some cash and an invitation to the fishing finals Sunday, along with a year’s worth of bragging rights.

“I have never tied a tie blindfolded,” Wilson said. “It felt very disorienting and humbling.”

For both Wilson and Duke, this was their first time competing in the Mountain Games Fly Tying Competition.

“That was brutal,” said Doug Powell, one of the three judges trying to determine a winner but ultimately asking for a blind tie off.

“But they were all excellent,” added Ryan Thompson, another judge. “Across the board there were really solid ties.”

The field included both men and women, including a married couple competing against each other, as well as Anthony Kunkel, the winner of Thursday’s Rocky Dog Trail Run with his dog, Winston, who patiently sat on the Larkspur patio at Golden Peak during the competition.

The format for the competition included three rounds: nymph, terrestrial and streamer. Competitors were given similar things to work with — animal hide, foam, feathers — and everything else needed for fly tying was on the tables: vices, small scissors, tweezers, threat and beer.

From the moment organizers said “go” to kick off the first round, the atmosphere inside the Vail Village restaurant and bar turned very serious.

“This event’s a little bit more formal than our normal fly tying events,” said Robby Capps, of Pig Farm Ink, which puts on Iron Flies events across the country.

“These are real-deal tiers. This is pretty serious competition.”

Capps said the Iron Flies events are more laid-back and serve as a way to get people into the sport. That’s not the case with the Mountain Games competition.

“There’s not many things you can connect with something as much as fly fishing,” he said, “being able to look at your surroundings, see what the fish are actually eating and then trying to emulate it.”

Rick Messmer has been volunteering with Mountain Games fishing comps for more than 20 years.

“I’ve been running part of the Mountain Games since it was Jeep Whitewater Festival,” he said. “This year has absolutely gone off.”

The fishing events at the Mountain Games continue to grow, including events for kids to learn.

“Fly-tying is its whole own world,” Messmer said. “These guys and gals are artists in their own right.”

Messmer added that fly-fishermen and -women who might be interested should get involved next year. It’s BYO vice, and the rest of the materials are provided. Organizers can help provide a vice if needed.

“Think about being unique,” he said. “Tie it with a little pizazz and see if you can win this thing.”

Maybe practice blindfolded, too.

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