Toledoan Chris Helm can take a batch of deer hair and turn it into a small mouse that looks so real you want to reach for the D-Con.
Except that the darned thing has a fish hook sticking out of it. It is, after all, a deer-hair fishing fly, specifically a bass bug, and it actually could be used to cast for bass, or even pike or big brown trout.
Helm, you see, is renowned both for his fly-tying and for years of teaching others about it all over the world. As a result he has been honored with the prestigious Buz Buszek Memorial Award of the Federation of Fly Fishers.
"It was a surprise," said Helm, 63, a longtime fly fisherman who has been tying flies for more than 30 years. He retired in 1991 as personnel manager at the University of Toledo after 23 years, and has been immersed in tying and related activity since.
In receiving the award, given at the annual FFF Conclave at West Yellowstone, Mont., Helm joins a list of such fly-tying notables as Dave Whitlock and Michigan's Jeff "Bear" Andrews.
During his watch he has been invited to tie and give classes and demonstrations in eight or nine countries in Europe and across North America. Among other feats, in the mid 1990s he won the open division of the prestigious Mustad Scandinavian International Fly Tying Competition with his deer-hair mouse.
Chris Helm, of Toledo, holds one of his most popular fishing flies, a deer-hair mouse fly tied in his basement workshop.
He has donated materials and equipment to underprivileged youngsters and inmates in prisons. He has tied with friends in his basement, in malls and sporting-goods complexes, conclaves and more, and along the way has brought many others into the pursuit of his passion.
"He's done it all," said Glenn Weisner, past president and current secretary of the local North Branch Boys Fly Fishing Club. Weisner, who has a growing reputation for his own tying, learned at Helm's feet, beginning as a teenager invited into a clan of fly-tying men in Helm's basement shop.
Weisner said he is thrilled for Helm. "The Buz Buszek Memorial Award is the Heisman Trophy of fly-tying. I've known him for more than 20 years and all Chris does is give."
Helm is more self-effacing about it, but pleased. "That is a good description," he agrees about the Heisman analogy, "although one thing is missing - signing a $20 million or $30 million contract to tie flies.
"The Buszek Award is really a reflection of the intense interest and love I have for fly-tying, and particularly for teaching."
He notes there are a lot of good fly-tiers, but the award "is also about what you can do for the advancement of the art."
He also has made six videos on tying, though he says, "it wasn't to make money." The instructional tapes, however, go a long way toward reinforcing lessons, especially on handling deer hair.
Though best known for the deer-hair bass bug, he notes: "You get pigeon-holed. I love to tie all kinds of flies: wet, dry, nymphs, saltwater types, and specialty flies, such as pike flies."
That said, he notes: "Deer hair gives people more problems than any other type of material. People say they are not patient enough. Patience is not one of the things you need. It's perseverance. You've got to practice. You've got to tie and tie and tie. It's like a successful professional golfer, or a pianist."
Helm notes that he has studied deer hair for 20 years and now can say, "I really understand the material. No two white-tailed deer are alike when it comes to their hair." He already has cleaned 12 short-haired whitetail hides just this fall in preparing tying materials.
Lest you think it's all about tying, Helm is quick to note his love of fly fishing runs just as deep. "My favorite fly fishing is for bonefish and permit."
Saturday: Night hike at 8, White Star Park barn, Sandusky County Road 65 just east of State Rt. 300, Gibsonburg; call the Sandusky County Park District, 419-334-4495 or 1-888-200-5577.
Saturday: Hobo stew ride, riding with Wood County Horseman Council and Friends of Van Buren State Park, followed by hobo stew, games and guided night ride, Van Buren State Park, State Rt. 613 east of I-75 north of Findlay; call 419-457-6935.
Saturday and Sunday: Maumee Valley Gun Collectors show, Woodland Exhibit Center, Woodland Mall, State Rt. 25 north side of Bowling Green, Saturday 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sunday 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; call MVGCA, 419-893-1110.
Sunday: Toledo Muzzle Loaders, ghost match, 11 a.m., Clinton Boothby Memorial Range, 875 Schwamberger Rd.; call Rich Hulsebus, 419-474-6666.
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