Fly By Day
Photos: Michelle Hickok
Kaden Swart, Fly Tying Kid
A brilliant spray of color and texture occupies Kaden Swart’s desk. Feathers of ostrich, turkey, chicken and peacock are organized with soft, dense packets of deer, moose and elk hair. Some pieces are dyed; others stay in a natural color and condition. Surrounded by spools of colored wire and threads, they are all tools of the trade in Kaden’s hobby-turned-business: fly tying.
“I like to tie flies whenever I can,” says the 15-year-old sophomore from Red Bluff. “It’s one of my best skills: fly fishing, fly tying.”
“Catching a fish with a fly rod is a lot more exciting than a regular rod,” says the relatively new enthusiast. Kaden has only been fishing for a few years, but the enthusiasm, deep research and encyclopedic knowledge he brings to his sport has gained him recognition and opportunity.
In his early years, he planned to become a vulcanologist or geologist. Eventually, however, his interests turned to the streams that surrounded his former home in Susanville. “I was intrigued about the trout and where they live,” he says.
That interest started him fishing and studying up on the species. “I got an obsession about stocking up on lures,” he says. He asked for a fly rod for Christmas but took about a year to actually start working with it.
A sponsorship to attend fish camp through The Fly Shop in Redding a year ago gave him the confidence to work his fly rod and also spurred his interest in tying flies. “We had great counselors,” he says, adding that he is attending advanced fish camp this year and hopes to one day become a counselor himself.
With a bundle of supplies as his prize from a camp fly tying contest, as well as his mind for details, he was set up to begin developing his own patterns. “I kept tying and got better and better and better,” he says, noting that he will be teaching classes at the Green Room Studio in Red Bluff this month.
The key to successful fly tying is a deep understanding of the insects one is replicating and how they behave on the water. As Kaden started delving into this aspect, he discovered an interest that has set his course for college.
“I started getting into insects because they’re a major part of fishing,” he says. “They’re what the fish eat.” Now he is researching college programs where he will study aquatic entomology. “I’ve spent hours researching this stuff because it interests me,” he adds.
He even turned his interest into a winning science fair entry by studying the effects of water temperature on a stone fly’s size and movement.
By understanding the life cycle of aquatic insects and their vulnerability to fish at various stages, Kaden is able to develop effective flies. He pays close attention to “how fish react to different colors,” and he likes to mimic insects in between stages of metamorphosis because “they hit those insects because they're vulnerable.”
“What people don’t know is how hard it is to come up with your own patterns that don’t look like anyone else's,” he says. He now has about 10 unique patterns of his own making and a repertoire of patterns by others that he likes to make. One of his own, “El Roedor,” replicates a baby mouse that would be tasty prey for salmon.
“Kaden is my fly fishing secret weapon,” says Tony Carbonell, a Red Bluff chiropractor and avid fly fisherman. “Good kid, good family. I use his flies all the time.”
“We’re doing our best to give him everything he needs to get him where he needs to be,” says Kaden's mom, Hollie. She laughs at the memory of the day “we were in the kitchen hatching salmon flies.”
Kaden recalls evenly the day he caught some nymphs and “I put them in the aquarium and they hatched overnight.” With a pause, he adds: “I didn’t have a lid at the time.”
Of course, they also have the more traditional parent-child fishing interactions, only in the Swart family, Kaden is teaching his dad, Kurtis. “He’s gotten pretty good,” Kaden says. “Once he caught that steelhead, he was set.”
Kaden plans to start a fishing club at Red Bluff High this year and will continue to study waterways of the world. He’ll keep up his bucket list of areas to fish and says that his Spanish classes take on more relevance because he dreams of fishing in Spain.
Of course, he’ll continue to hone his skills tying flies. “I look forward to people catching fish on my ties,” he says with a smile.
Kaden’s flies are available at Enjoy the Store Red Bluff. For a list of his classes at the Green Room Studio, visit www.greenroomredbluff.org.