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Fish food, beer: The Iron Fly Showdown

North Sound Trout Unlimited hosts first fly-tying event, brings anglers together to create fish grub

Fly fishermen focus on the fly they are creating at the Iron Fly Showdown in Bellingham, Wash., on Feb. 16, 2023. Materials were provided and included unexpected items such as dog toys that could be used to craft a fly. // Photo by Tarn Bregman

Anglers and fly fish enthusiasts gathered at Goods Local Brews to create the most attention-grabbing fly for fish to bite in Bellingham, Wash. on Feb. 16. The Iron Fly Showdown brought anglers from all over Whatcom County for the first fly-tying event hosted by North Sound Trout Unlimited

North Sound Trout Unlimited, the Bellingham chapter of Trout Unlimited, is a nonprofit river and waterway conservation group. They aim to conserve and protect cold water fish and fisheries in northwest Washington. 

North Sound Trout Unlimited works in the Puget Sound, the Strait of Georgia, Nooksack River, Skagit River and more according to their chapter page

The North Sound chapter holds monthly events that aim to bring the angling and fly fish community together for angling-related activities.

“It was incredibly successful. We sold out faster than I ever expected, and we had twice as many people here as I expected,” said North Sound Trout Unlimited President Bridget Moran.  

Fly tiers had over an hour to create their best fly, which was judged by Moran and a series of other judges. The judges included other members of North Sound Trout Unlimited and members of Confluence Fly Shop, Bellingham’s local fly fishing store. 

The event location, Good Local Brews, allows minors in their outdoor seating area. The event was also open to all ages, which allowed youth to participate in a fun activity and learn about the conservation aspect of the sport. 

“A lot of times, these events are catered to adults,” said Brandon Sly, one of the judges from Confluence Fly Shop. “Having opportunities for younger participants to get involved with [fly fishing], that’s the future. Kind of cliche but it is the future of the sport and conservation.”


A judge examines a fisherman’s fly at the Iron Fly Showdown at Goods Local Brews in Bellingham, Wash., on Feb. 16, 2023. Judges examined each angler’s creation and met as a group to decide whose fly was the best fish meal. // Photo by Tarn Bregman

Evan Slater won the event, tying a streamer fly with eyes he used from a dog toy resembling a duck. According to Slater, his fly was designed around what he thought the judges would admire. 

“I was a little bit nervous. I was looking around at all my peers and I felt like they were tying a lot better flies,” Slater said. “It’s different than tying a fly the way you want it to be and look.”

Slater said he would be returning to future North Sound Trout Unlimited events, as it was a good way to meet and socialize with like-minded people. 

Garrett Rowles, the second-place winner, found the outdoor event conditions added an extra layer of challenge. 

“I was worried about being outside,” Rowles said. “You want no wind and good light [when tying flies]. But it worked out well.” 

Rowles’s second-place fly was a streamer, where he used deer hair to flare out the fly. Deer hair is commonly used in fly tying because it is hollow, allowing the flys to float on top of the water, according to Rowles. By cinching the deer hair and shaving it down, Rowles was able to create a fly that resembled a similar size to common insects in the area. 

North Sound Trout Unlimited hosts events each month, including a fishing campout called Speyapalooza, Writers On The Fly, a book talk for angling authors, and a screening of the International Fly Fishing Film Festival. They host cleanup events where anglers are encouraged to help clean up an area and fish it afterward.

Many of the events hosted by North Sound Trout Unlimited raise money for conservation work in local rivers, creeks, lakes and parts of Puget Sound. To find out more about upcoming events, you can visit their Facebook. 

“People feed off the energy we all have around fly fishing and our excitement for tying flies and drinking good beer,” Bridget Moran said. “I feel excited to do it again because a lot of people wanted to participate.” 

Tarn Bregman

Tarn Bregman (he/him) is a fourth-year environmental studies major who has also worked as a reporter and photographer for The Planet magazine. In his free time, Tarn can be found on Galbraith Mountain riding his mountain bike or hanging out at Bellingham skatepark. Tarn hopes to bring The Front’s coverage to niche sports and recreational activities locally and across the county.

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