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updated: 4/30/2014 5:08 PM

Confessions of a fly-tying addict

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I've had a long and arduous journey through the world of withdrawal.

I was one of those slaves, happily locked into my addiction -- or so I thought.

When I shared my plight with pal A.J., he asked me why I had this need to be so down on myself? I figured my self-deprecating style of writing brings a few smiles to the faces of some readers. Pretty warped, eh?

Our family dinner table is supposed to be a sanctuary, a special place where conversation and great food go together. In my mind's eyes, the perfect family dinner oozes Norman Rockwell-esque Americana charm.

All of our children are adults and are now making their own way in the world. But when our youngest and middle daughters arrive for dinner and sit at their places at the table, it just seems the family comes second while cellphone texting is No. 1.

I put an end to that despite their pleas that they were awaiting urgent communications.

Urgent. Right.

But that's all minor stuff compared to my issue.

I would spend up to 15 hours a day in the basement, in front of the fly-tying table, fully dressed in my new Orvis chest waders, fishing vest and hat, creating what I determined were the greatest fishing fly patterns mankind has ever experienced. I used every conceivable hair and feather material sold in fly shops in the city and suburbs. I had to dress the part when tying, just in case I had to jump in the tub to make sure the dry flies were floating upright.

Fishing itself took a back seat to this insanity. If I was seated down there in my basement, nothing else counted. I had a lighted set of magnifiers strapped around my head, plus a high-intensity magnifying lamp added to the mix so I could make sure I had every detail of my art down pat.

I never heard my wife's constant calling from the top of the stairs. In fact, I never felt the warmth of her hand on my shoulder when she repeatedly shook me to get my attention to listen to what she was saying. I never realized the kids were standing behind me taking pictures while laughing at the same time.

This routine went on for years -- and then I learned secondhand that my wife walked over to the rod rack, removed one of my prized beauties and broke my baby over her knee.

Her act of frustration was described by my fishing friend after my wife called him out of desperation. He came to my house with six other anglers to help me begin the long path back to a level of normal behavior.

"Mike, you are addicted to fly tying," my friend declared. "You've got to stop wearing those new waders to bed."

I whispered to him that I often take naps wearing those Orvis gems.

"We came here as part of an intervention," he added, "and we will stay here as long as it takes so you can see more clearly that you are addicted to fly tying."

He was right. I was, and still am, an addict.

I am dependent on the feathers, chenille, fluffy marabou, elk and deer hair, pheasant cape and all the other natural and artificial accoutrements used to make the foolers that tempt both cold water and warm water species to strike.

My wife and daughters stayed out of sight while the exorcism took place.

The group then told me I had to place a tarp over the fly table and secure it with bungee cords, and then slide out of the waders. They produced a copy of the book by Tom McNally (the late outdoors writer for the Tribune), and made me swear an oath while placing my hand on the book to not to go near the fly table for three months.

They left me alone, in a corner of the basement, with a bottle of Snapple and a towel to wipe up the sweat left over from this emotional event.

I finally built up enough nerve to climb the basement stairs and collapsed into my wife's arms as both of us sobbed.

Nothing was said. She started to lead me to the dinner table. As I passed the mudroom closet, I suddenly remembered I had stashed one of my fly-tying vises under some towels, along with several packages of unopened feathers, some small hooks, tying thread and some finishing glue.

I grabbed the vise and some feathers and sat down at the table. Two of my daughters came for dinner, and of course as they sat down they started texting on their smartphones. They didn't see me working on the vise until my wife let out a scream. I was cooked, right then and there.

All of this took place some time ago, and I can honestly tell you the treatment I took was well worth the fly-tying lessons I gave to the facilitator as a trade-out.

I have enough flies right now, but one never knows if and when the supply will get low and the urge drags me downstairs again.

• Contact Mike Jackson at, and catch his radio show 6-7 a.m. Sundays on WSBC 1240-AM and podcast at

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