How a Naperville man got hooked on fly tying

When you think of fly fishing, what type of fly lures do you picture? Small ones, about the size of a dime?

While these are very common for trout fishing, there has been a growing trend by fly tyers to create huge flies - some nearly a foot long, with three-inch hooks - to be used in the pursuit of the elusive musky, also known as "the fish of a thousand casts."

Fly tying is the art of attaching natural or artificial items - such as fur, feather, tinsel and other type of materials - to a fish hook to imitate a fish's natural food source. The goal is to provoke the fish to bite, and it's a test of skill, as many believe it's easier to catch fish with live bait.

One such fly tyer is Jeremy Spaccapaniccia, one of the partners of the DuPage Fly Fishing Co. in Naperville. The Naperville native started tying flies at age 13 with his uncle and father, and spent most of his early fly tying days making the traditional smaller trout flies.

Spaccapaniccia honed his fly tying skills out of necessity while working as a professional fly-fishing guide in Colorado in the years after college.

"Once I was a guide, (I) have to tie; you can't afford not to when clients lose your flies every third or fourth cast," Spaccapaniccia said. "It becomes too expensive to buy, so you hone your skills in that way."

As one of the partners/manager of the DuPage Fly Fishing Co., Spaccapaniccia runs about a dozen fly tying schools over the winter months through his Naperville shop.

"Watching someone tie (flies) for the first time with no instruction, the results are pretty amusing, but I have seen ugly, ugly flies catch beautiful fish," he said.

Spaccapaniccia said his students will learn to tie a fly the first day, and although it will not be perfect, he enjoys helping his students hone their skills over the course of the class.

While there are tried and true styles of flies, Spaccapaniccia doesn't copy others' patterns. "I like doing my own thing," he said.

He favors tying large streamer patterns, and says of musky fly tying, "it is very creative; you can play and manipulate fibers and hair in a way that you just can't do with smaller things."

Spaccapaniccia doesn't even know if he has ever purchased a musky fly. He said he only fishes with his own creations or with flies tied by a buddy or co-worker.

"Even to this day I am still surprised when I hook fish on a fly I tied," he said.

The largest musky that Spaccapaniccia has caught on one of his own flies was 42 inches.

The DuPage Fly Fishing Co. offers about 10-12 classes between October and April that run once a week for three consecutive weeks. The shop offers musky, saltwater, trout, warm water and introductory fly tying classes.

For details on fly tying or fly fishing, visit

  Jeremy Spaccapaniccia of DuPage Fly Fishing Co. in Naperville talks with former fly tying student Chris Camp of Naperville as he searches for the right material for his flies. Mark Black/
Jeremy Spaccapaniccia with a musky caught on a fly. Courtesy of Jeremy Spaccapaniccia
  Jeremy Spaccapaniccia's musky fly box is filled with colorful streamers he has created to mimic the fish's prey. Mark Black/
  Jeremy Spaccapaniccia created colorful streamers that mimic a muskey's prey. Mark Black/
  Jeremy Spaccapaniccia checks on how the materials are lining up as he works on tying one of his musky flies. Mark Black/
  Jeremy Spaccapaniccia works on tying one of his musky flies in his Naperville fly shop, DuPage Fly Fishing Co. Mark Black/
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