Jacob Stucker plants himself in front of a tiny desk in the basement of his family home in Hotchkiss, his 6-foot, 5-inch frame belying his 13 years of age. He grasps a tiny fish hook between sturdy forefinger and thumb and clamps it into a small vice.
With sewing scissors in hand he rapidly wraps black thread around the hook, then carefully selects a long black and white feather, called hackle, gently examining the vanes in search of just the right piece. He snips off a few inches of wispy feather, fluffs and snips, then alternately wraps feather and thread around the hook. He then cuts a small clump of hair from a patch of elk hide and trims it up, removing dirt and dander in the process. He fans the hairs out, then swiftly wraps them in more thread and trims them again. In less than 5 minutes he hand-ties the whip finish knot that will keep his work from unraveling and removes an elk hair caddis fly from the vice, ready to fool a trout at the first cast of a fly rod.
Stucker, who goes by Jake, began tying flies at the age of 6. Today his hand-tied flies are displayed at the Creamery Center for the Arts in Hotchkiss. The Colorado Tourism Office includes "Jake's Flies" in a promotional gift package given to special visitors to the state. Both 5280 and Cowboys and Indians magazines have featured his flies.
Five of his flies — the grey hackle peacock, black woolly bugger, Quill Gordon, elk hair caddis and black foam beetle — are also sold individually through his website, www.jakesflies.com. Stucker hopes to begin selling gift packs soon, and is working on other marketing ideas to increase his sales. The money goes straight to a college savings account.
While there are thousands of patterns, or "recipes" for flies, Stucker has demonstrated the ability to tie about 20 different flies. He describes them: the long slender pike fly that is supposed to mimic a minnow or other small fish, the "blood-lined rusty scud," made to look engorged with blood and different from the "rusty scud." He ties red ants, red ants with wings, the prince nymph and muskrat hare's ears.
Stucker discovered fly-tying from fishing with his dad, Ryan Stucker. His first prototypes were made of chicken feathers from his mom's chicken coop and hooks fashioned from her sewing needles. "It was pathetic," said Stucker.
Then, through a stroke of luck, Stucker met Jeff Hatton, owner of Gnomish Rod Works in Paonia, where he makes and repairs custom fly rods. Hatton is also a fly rod historian and a commercial fly-tier.
Ryan Stucker asked if Hatton could repair a fly rod once owned by his grandfather. Rather than accept the job, said Valarie Stucker, Jake's mom, Hatton offered to teach Ryan to restore the rod himself, and to teach Jake how to tie flies.
Hatton is a tough teacher in the old-school tradition, said Valarie. "He's really particular about his lessons, making sure the head-to-body ratios are correct. The segments of the body must be just so."
Even the whip finish, that final knot Jake tied to prevent the fly from unraveling, had to be learned by hand, when there is a tool that will make it much easier.
Stucker must demonstrate an ability to tie each of his subjects following their recipe. As part of the lesson he is required to research his subjects and submit a report. Following MLA style, his reports include background information on his subjects, the stages of their life cycle, and the recipe for each fly. He must identify the thread and hook size used, and include instructions on how to tie each fly.
And while Stucker admittedly doesn't like doing his school work, his reports, like his most recent one on the Quill Gordon, are impeccable. Stucker devours Hatton's lessons, and that's unusual, said Valarie.
Stucker has Attention Deficit Disorder and struggles to focus. "He can sometimes hyper-focus on certain things, and this is one of them," said Valarie. "He can sit and do this all day, where with other things his mind wanders; this is something that captures his attention."
Stucker will listen to Pandora radio and tie flies until his hands turn black from the materials. If he works from morning to night, he can make 100 flies — the number the tourism office orders for their gift packages, in two or three days. For his dad's birthday this year, Jake gave him a box filled with his hand-tied flies.
To get him to focus that hard or write a report of this detail and quality on any other subject would be a miracle, said Valarie.
Stucker said he practiced for about two years before he could make them good enough to sell. But Stucker doesn't claim to be a pro just yet. "It's a hobby," he says humbly.
Stucker said he'd like to be a professional fly-tier some day and maybe own a fly-tying business. Like Hatton, who makes his own fly patterns — Hatton's Pike Fly, Hatton's Hare's Ear — Jake wants to create some of his own recipes. He's also hoping he can be one of the fly-tiers at the annual Fly Fishing Expo next March in Grand Junction, where at a previous expo he won a fly rod in a casting competition.
From the family's house, modern on the outside, late-1800s architecture and woodwork on the inside, Stucker points out over the North Fork of the Gunnison River as his favorite place to fish for trout with his dad, and where, he swears, they once caught a blue gill.
Stucker has come a long way since the days of chicken feathers and sewing needle hooks. Today he buys professional materials, including hackle from Whiteside Farms in Delta, where some of the best rooster feathers in the world are grown. He's found unusual materials to work with, including toucan feathers, polar bear and caribou fur and kangaroo hair. A family friend recently gave him a bag of pheasant feathers from a recent hunt.
But does he use his own flies when he goes fishing with his dad? "Always," he says.
And is he successful? Yes, says Jake Stucker with a smile. "Quite often."blog comments powered by Disqus