A look behind the vise with Umpqua Signature Fly Designer Bob Reece

Article by David Young

If you have ever fished the Fusion Nymph, Masked Bandit, Rolling Stone, or Beefcake Beetle, then you have Umpqua Feather Merchants Signature Fly Designer Bob Reece to thank for those creative designs. If you have never heard of those flies, then check out this behind-the-vise conversation with Bob who owns Thin Air Angler at Horse Creek Ranch in WyomingWhen he is not tying flies, Bob runs a Life Coaching practice and he volunteers with Platte Rivers Veteran’s Fly Fishing.

Bob holds Bachelor and Master of Science degrees as well as Life Coach Certification from the Tony Robbins/Madanes Training School. He’s is working toward his second Master’s in Clinical Counseling. He shares his signature fly tying tips, tricks, techniques, and recipes in his tying videos on Instagram and online. We asked Bob a few questions to learn more about his process of tying flies and his company Thin Air Angler.

Fly Fishing Film Tour (F3T): Tell us about your business, Reece’s Thin Air Angler, and what you offer anglers? 

Bob Reece (BR): I put Reece’s Thin Air Angler together to act as a contact point for people interested in my guide operation on Horse Creek Ranch in southeast Wyoming. On the business website, anglers can explore what the ranch has to offer in terms of a fly fishing experience. In addition, it offers fly tying education for tiers. Visitors can dive into the tying video library. Within that section of the site, there are fifty-plus videos that range from tutorials for beginning tiers to more technical patterns for advanced bug-construction specialists. 

F3T: How did you get into fly tying? 

BR: As a kid, my dad was almost always busy with work. However, in the little bits of free time that he had, he took the time to teach me how to tie flies. He had a huge oak desk upstairs where he would set out tying materials for me. He would teach me one pattern, but wouldn’t let me move on to another pattern until I could prove that I had mastered that one. I think that this process, combined with his loving instruction, has had more of an impact on my fly tying skills than anything else that has happened since then.

F3T: The Fusion Nymph is one of the innovative flies that you created. How do you come up with your flies? 

BR: I worked for fourteen years as a science teacher and have always nerded out on that subject. I love examining nature and the creations that exist within it. Real bugs have always been my motivation and starting point for my pattern designs. Once I have a general design, I work to add as much movement and durability as I can while still maintaining an accurate profile of the bug. I also make a consistent effort to deviate from the more popular patterns on the market. I think we often underestimate the effectiveness of simply making a switch from patterns that trout see the majority of the time. This process has been very productive for me over the years.

F3T: How did you become a Signature Fly Tyer for Umpqua Feather Merchants?

BR: My time with Umpqua started in North Park Colorado where I was able to show my patterns to a couple of the guys from Umpqua. After looking over my boxes at breakfast, we spent the day fishing them throughout that valley. We ended up having a fantastic day of fishing and my patterns were picked up as a result. 

F3T: What is your favorite fly to tie and why?

BR: For me, that pattern would be my Beefcake Beetle. Chunky foam flies take a little time to put together, but I love watching that thing come to life during the tying process. By the time it’s finished, it looks like it’s ready to crawl out of the vise. It was also my first production fly that was accepted back when I tied for Orvis, so there’s some sentimental value there. 

F3T: For someone just starting fly tying, what advice would you have for them?

BR: I love seeing the amount of people that are moving into fly tying and fishing. With everything that’s available today in terms of tools and materials, it seems like it would be an overwhelming environment to dive into. I would encourage new tiers to master tying techniques above all else. Any pattern that you will ever tie is simply a series of techniques. If you master tying in materials, dubbing, wrapping hackles, etc., you’ll be able to tie any pattern out there. I would also encourage them to spend the money on a quality vise and fly tying toolset. The vast majority of “Beginner Vises” set new tiers up for failure and make the process much more challenging.

F3T: How does fly fishing in Wyoming differ from other regions? Advantages/disadvantages? 

BR: I’ve been spoiled by living in Wyoming for over a decade now. My favorite part of fishing here is being able to fish large flies on large tippet for large fish. For the vast majority of my fishing days, I rarely tie on anything with less than 4X, even for dries and small nymphs. A big part of the fishing experience for me is being able to escape from the hustle of daily life. The rugged landscape of Wyoming provides plenty of opportunities for that if you’re willing to put in some footwork with some weight on your back. While it does get windy and cold, I have yet to find a disadvantage to fly fishing here. It’s a special place, for now.

F3T: Do you have a favorite F3T film?

BR: I don’t have a particular favorite. I’ve really enjoyed the last couple collections of films and the variety and depth that they’ve brought with them. As a Life Coach, I love to see the healing powers of fly fishing at work in the lives of real people and how that communicates through the screen to the audience as they watch it. 

F3T: If people want to check out your flies in person, where can they pick them up?

BR: For all the fly shop owners and employees out there, they can order them through their Umpqua accounts. Some of my patterns are also available online from The Fly Shop in Redding, California. If anglers are looking to purchase them in person, there are several shops in Colorado that carry them. Trout’s Fly Fishing in Denver and St. Peter’s Fly Shop in Fort Collins typically carry the most consistent stock.