This article was originally published in the summer 2000 issue of Jackson Hole Magazine.
Designing trout flies for a living is pretty risky, unless you happen to catch a little luck and you’re Guy Joseph Turck. Then you can live the life most of us in the real world can only dream about... every day.
Turck, 42, is a poster boy for “laid back;” one of those people you’ve really got to get to know for a while before he says very much. When the talking finally kicks in, you’re going to learn something about trout fishing. Count on it.
As the father of the “Tarantula,” one of the West’s most popular and sought after trout flies, Guy’s name is becoming more familiar throughout the country. He hasn’t reached that “Do you actually know him?” status-but it’s coming. Another lick, one or two more hot designs, and presto-enough money and fame even to score a ski pass and take winters off.
“How” you’re asking, “can a single trout fly be such a big deal?”
Long ago such a situation wasn’t remotely conceivable or possible. But as millions of new anglers pick up their fly rods and charge off to recreate in trout streams around the world, a fly with a catchy name that works pretty well wherever it touches water, is treasured. Turck’s fly is more unusual still. It not only piques trout appetites but other species like largemouth and smallmouth bass, channel catfish, seatrout, panfish and even northern pike gulp it as well. Confidence in a fly is a prerequisite to its users and the Tarantula is the Michael Jordan of flies.
Just like an athlete or entertainment star, when an artificial fly develops such a reputation, it’s ripe for syndication. International fly producers pay royalties to creative fly designers to “use” their names and patterns. Fly tiers can actually earn a comfortable living if their fuzzy, furry and colorful creations catch not only fish but the eye of the right fly merchant.
This is where Guy had some great luck.
Although a life long fisherman, it was a ski bumming mission that caused Guy and a buddy to wander into Jackson back in April of 1981. He was a mountain climber, downhiller and spinner-slinger. He didn’t know about the Snake River, cutthroat trout or fly tying. It was three days before he even knew the Tetons were here and what they looked like! When summer rolled around and Guy intercepted local trout talk, his old fishing interest was rekindled. Grabbing a roommate’s fly rod, he struggled at whiffing a Royal Coachman around the Lewis River in Yellowstone. Despite his clumsy antics the graceful attack of an 11-inch brown trout hooked him on fly fishing. The spinning rod was permanently laid to rest .
By the winter of 1988 Guy dove into fly tying classes with Pete Wiswell, Dale “Bear” McKinney and Scott Sanchez, three creative and gifted teachers. These great fly designers truly ignited his interest at becoming a better fly fisherman. “They taught me what I know and do today. Their skills translated into the self-satisfaction of catching trout not only on flies I tied myself but on new ones I’d also designed,” he admits.
The following year, Guy began guiding float fishermen for Jim Jones’ High Country Flies in Jackson. In August of 1990, while searching for a pattern that improved the durability and visibility of the increasingly popular Madam X fly, Guy developed his clipped deer hair head, rubber leg hopper/stonefly imitation. During a slow afternoon Guy handed his creation to a client, World Bank head Jim Wolfensohn. Noting the fly’s bulky, leggy appearance, Wolfensohn quipped, “What is this thing, a tarantula?”
This wonderfully creative fly name stuck like head cement. By September when the Snake’s hefty Classenia Sabulousa stoneflies become active, another guide pal, Shannon McCormick, introduced Guy to master fishing entrepreneur George Anderson of Livingston. Turck gave the “Montana Madman” a fly which he used to sweep the One Fly competition. Turck’s Tarantula was on its way, fooling big trout, pleasing clients and carrying its creator along on a wonderful ride.
Instead of skiing and cleaning condominiums and bartending to support himself, Guy’s winters turned into long hours at the fly tying vise. The original Tarantula is not an easy fly to tie. It features numerous steps that include double rubber legs, dubbed hares mask fur body, highly visible calf tail wing, Amherst pheasant tippet tail all punctuated with the trademark flattened and triangulated head of tightly spun and delicately clipped deer hair. Guy developed tying shortcuts, added new body colors, embellished the wings and swelled the number of Tarantula sizes.
From 1991 to 1997, Guy’s winters were crammed with fly tying. He couldn’t produce enough Tarantulas to satisfy eager customers who used the unique flies in many other places besides the Snake River.
“Your Tarantula really works. Send more!” Notes, phone calls and E-mails arrived from successful anglers in South America, New Zealand, the U.K., Texas and California.
“I can’t remember all the stories but I’m continually getting E-mails,” Guy remembers. He was already developing new flies like a smaller Power Ant, again using rubber legs and a visible white wing for visibility. Guy’s information-filled Tarantula web page within the online Jackson Hole Web Magazine (http://www.jacksonholenet.com/guyturck/) visually explained Guy Turck Fly Tying. The section carried fact-filled articles about the environment, fishing techniques and even humor. I was trout bum number 17,310 to hit the site last February.
Regardless of how many Tarantulas Guy tied, the bins were empty within a few days after fly deliveries to his dealers. Here was a man with a product that obviously needed help.
And help arrived during the summer of 1997 when Guy was doing some early season guiding in Idaho for Mike Lawson’s Henrys Fork Anglers. Several commercial tying interests already were copying Guy’s Tarantula. He was having trouble reaching the right people at Umpqua Feather Merchants, the General Motors of international fly production, headquartered in Glide, Oregon. Umpqua showcases and markets patterns by many of the world’s best fly tiers, of which Mike Lawson is one of the most respected.
“I think we could sell a bunch of these flies here,” Mike said after inspecting the red body Tarantulas and black Power Ants which Guy had clients using on the North Fork of the Snake above Ashton. Guy explained to Mike the problems he was having contacting Umpqua.
“I’ll talk to ‘em,” Mike drawled in June, adding, “it’s a done deal.”
Guy Turck marveled at the speed with which his patterns joined the Umpqua fly lineup. Here was the one-time ski bum right in there with the likes of Mike Lawson, Lefty Kreh, Dave Whitlock, Bob Jacklin, Larry Dahlberg, Randall Kaufmann, Bob Popovic, Andy Burk, Dr. John Barr, Bob Quigley, Ed Schroeder and George Anderson.
Guy Turck isn’t the kind of person to sit around gloating about how luck smiled upon him. He’s working harder than ever to develop new flies. The Power Ant is undergoing color, leg and body transitions. Visibility and durability are important for dry flies to survive in heavy water. He solves this with a new attractor mayfly, the ComPower Dun, which he describes as “a Compara Dun on steroids.” He doesn’t dabble with nymphs but loves streamers. Thus he’s improving his soon-to-be-released Tiger Sculpin. Initial testing of this fly fooled a corpulent 27 1/2-inch rainbow pictured on the web page.
Guy explains that a shoulder injury prevents him from duplicating his long hours of commercial fly tying. These days he exhibits lots more confidence both on the water and off. As head guide for High Country Flies, 2000 makes his 13th summer on Jackson Hole rivers. “It seems like I just took my first trip last year,” he grins. “It’s an attitude that makes you good. With fishing, like anything else, either it’s happening or it’s not.”
The Woodstock, New York, native once worked like a demon, tying steadily during his non-guiding months to produce 600 dozen flies annually. Last year Umpqua sold 2000 dozen Tarantulas alone! That certainly made this Guy smile.