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Jackson fly expert employs knowledge of local entomology
Ralph Watson, right, watches instructor Jay Buchner tie the beginnings of what will become a small crab fly for salt-water fishing during a fly-tying class on Jan. 22 at High Country Flies in Jackson, Wyo.

JACKSON - Jay Buchner's hands, worn from decades of fly-fishing, work carefully and methodically around the silver vise in front of him. The contrast between the tiny fly on the stand and his large hands seems almost comical, yet Buchner's dexterity makes up for the difference.

Grasping several feather tips with his fingers, he places the curved tufts on the back of the hook, wraps them tightly at the stems with a translucent piece of line, ties it off and sits back in his chair.

"Now it's got those pincers that crabs use when they go about their business," Buchner says, mimicking snapping crustacean claws with his hands.

His audience watches and listens intently, for though the comment may seem silly, few in the world of fly-fishing know the sport quite like Buchner.

He is a former Fly Fishing Team USA member and founder of High Country Flies in Jackson. He has been casting, reeling and tying since his youth, traveling all over the world in the process. He even fished Africa's Zambezi River.

But at High Country Flies' weekly fly-tying class, the 40-year Jackson resident gets to teach from that experience - and learn more himself.

"Oh, it's a learning experience all the time," he said. "That's one of the fun things about teaching the class, that it's never the same, and lots of the time you get great ideas from guys in class who do something a different way."

For Buchner, who started High Country Flies in 1974 and has since sold the business to Jimmy Jones and Howard Cole, fly-tying is the art of making a seemingly realistic product - such as a small crab or a bonefish-magnet shrimp - by understanding the nuances of the process.

"What you're trying to create is an illusion," he says, "and detail is of great importance."

And Buchner certainly knows his detail.

"The great thing about Jay, is that he's such a good entomologist. He can explain what you're doing and why," Jones said.

In fact, Buchner is considered an expert in local entomology - the branch of zoology that deals with insects, also known as fish food - in the waters surrounding the Snake River watershed. His fly-tying patterns and techniques have appeared in articles in Fly Fisherman, Fly Tyer and Backpacker magazines.

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Ever considerate of detail, he makes a point of trimming the fly to streamline it, a trick to hide its man-made reality. Yet, Buchner also offers general advice that pertains more to self-preservation than fly effectiveness, and these tips can be equally as useful.

"If you're not used to tying with the hook up," he said during the shrimp fly demonstration, "then you might stab yourself several times. I've done this many times, and I've even managed to stab myself just now."

Despite his knowledge and experience, Buchner acknowledges that he's always improving as a fisherman.

He takes the approach of wanting to know everything about the sport, and some of that growth comes from teaching.

"With the classes, you have a much more informed person who knows the difference between a good fly and a poorly tied fly," Cole said. "It automatically makes you a better fisherman because you never look at flies the same way again. It's kind of completing the circle by creating something that you can catch the fish on after you've gained all the other skills."

"And sharing everything you can put your hands on," Buchner said, "is what this is all about."

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