Fd: How did you first get into fly fishing and tying?
Joe: I grew up with a fishing rod in my hand. I used to have a backpack that was full with a tackle box and supplies that I took everywhere with me. I started off in my late teens going to the local fly shops. At the time, there weren’t any patterns to catch any stripers north of Boston. It was like a secret society. I was dealing with 8-12 ft. tides, and I tried all the Southern patterns, but they didn’t work up here. I needed to get down to the fish. Then one day, a friend of mine’s father, Ralphie Sarette, gave me one of his flies. I used a WetCel straight sinking line to get the fly down to the fish. It was a bead chain style eye deceiver. And then, bang! I caught my first striper on a fly rod. Eventually, I moved on to lead eyes after visiting Bill Hunter at Hunter’s Angling Supplies in New Boston, New Hampshire.
Around the same time, I went over to Surf Land Bait and Tackle in Plum Island, Newburyport, Massachusetts. That day, I caught thirty fish off the shore. I spoke with the owner, Kay Molton and she looked at my flies and asked, “How many can you tie for me?” That is when my commercial fly tying started. The flies that I showed her I called clouceivers, which is my version of a half and half. Back in the late 1980s I was calling it a clouceiver before I even knew what a half and half was. You can find this pattern in Deke Meyer’s book, Saltwater Flies Over 700 of the Best.
Eventually, I was tying exclusively for Dave Beshara, owner of American Angling Supplies of Salem, New Hampshire. He helped me refine my commercial fly tying skills. Over time, I was noted for the most durable and productive flies in the area.
Fd: Is there a reason why you specialized on saltwater patterns? Where were you living and fishing those days?
Joe: I love fishing saltwater the most. Tying saltwater fly patterns is an open field. You don’t have to go by the rules. Whatever works, you tie. There weren’t any patterns for fishing north of Boston, so I got to create my own patterns. I grew up in a small town ten minutes north of Boston and by the time I was fly fishing and tying I was married to my wife Joanne, living in Derry, NH which is 35 minutes from the coast.
Fd: How important do you consider the eyes to be in streamers for saltwater species?
Joe: I put eyes on everything from my clouser minnows, to my deceivers and my Striper Dragons. Eyes play a key role in triggering a fish to strike. I notice if I lose an eye on a fly, it takes away from its effectiveness.
Fd: There are new tails, new eyes and lots of new fly tying materials these days. In your opinion, what are the basic elements that make a good saltwater streamer?
Joe: I use saddle hackle, bucktails and a little bit of crystal flash and dumbbell style eyes. A clouser minnow will catch any species of fish anywhere in the world using those materials. I am a huge natural material guy. I use very little synthetics. Given, they still have their place. For instance, I love tying my epoxy minnow flies. I am using UV resins right now and it makes a big difference. It works extremely well for your smallest species of tuna species such as false albacore, black fin tuna, Spanish maceral, and creole maceral.
Fd: What is your ideal gear setup for striped bass fly fishing?
Joe: I like to use a 9 or 10 weight rod. I loved using the Rio 350-gram line. I use that line when I am in current, and if I’m not in current, any clear striper line intermediate. A good reel is Abel and Nautilus. A good fast action rod is Loomis GLX. For a less expensive rod, I have been using Echo rods by Rajeff Sports. For the money, you can’t beat those rods. Any reel with a decent drag system will work.
Fd: Do you enjoy tying other kinds of flies and fishing for trout or other species?
Joe: Oh, yes of course. I love tying my bass bugs. I live right across from a pond, and I am always fishing. I have a Hobie Pro Angler kayak that I like to take out on the water. Typically, when I’m out on the pond, I’m fishing for bass and trout. I don’t hit my local streams like I used to, but I enjoy that also.
Fd: What tips can you give to the tiers that want to tie flies like you?
Joe: My best advice is to use the “kiss method” of tying - Keep it simple, stupid. A little bit of saddle hackle and a little bit of bucktail will catch any species on planet Earth.
For more about Joe Calcavecchia and his flies visit his site here: saltwatercustomflies.com