For noted fly tyer and guide Blane Chocklett, it is creativity that has set him apart from the folks throwing the same old patterns at the same old fish. Chocklett has made himself a life and career by searching out new fisheries and new fly patterns. If you have flyfished for a while, especially for some larger species, you have likely seen or thrown one of his patterns. Think Gummy Minnow or Game Changer.
Chocklett grew up in Troutville, VA, just outside of Roanoke—not exactly the flyfishing mecca in the 1970s and early ’80s when he was a kid. Still, by the time he was a high school freshman he was convincing his mom to drive him more than an hour to the Jackson River tailwater nearly every weekend, where he would fish for hours while she waited patiently in the car. It was on one of these trips to the Jackson that Chocklett’s flyfishing journey would take a significant turn.
One morning, he’d caught a fish or two but saw two older men upstream hauling in one after another. Chocklett mustered the courage to approach them and ask what flies they were using. The two turned out to be Steve Hiner, a professor of entomology at Virginia Tech; and well-known fly tyer and author, Harry Steeves. Rather than share what they were using with Chocklett, the two sent him away with several viles and told him to collect samples from the river and to tie what he saw. None of the three at the time could have known that a lifetime friendship and mentorship had started right there on the Jackson.
Chocklett knew the river was full of black-fly larva and spent the week reading about their lifecycle. One element jumped out at him: black flies rise to the surface in air bubbles. Later that week, while at the craft store with his mother, Chocklett spied some glass beads. He thought about the air bubbles and purchased beads in all colors and sizes, tying them to hooks.
The following weekend, Chocklett’s mother again drove him to the Jackson where Hiner and Steeves were back at it. When Chocklett opened his box and explained the glass beads, the two men started laughing and opened their boxes that contained the same flies. “I went from catching five or 10 fish to 50, “Chocklett said. “Having that kind of fly box for every type of fishing I do became a lifelong pursuit. I want to have the fly for every fish I target.”
In the fall of 1998, armed with a pocket-full of Gummy Minnows, a pattern he had been experimenting with using sili skin (a breakthrough rubber material he and Steeves had been working on), and the confidence of a 25 year old, Chocklett found himself at Tom Erdhart’s annual bbq party at Harker’s Island, NC. The party was held in conjunction with the false albacore migration along the East Coast, and had become a regular stop for the who’s who of flyfishing.
The first person Chocklett recognized was renowned fly innovator, Bob Popavics. Chocklett walked right up to him, introduced himself, and stuck out a hand that contained a Gummy Minnow. “The first thing I thought was, ‘this is cool!'” Popavics said. He wasted no time in shuffling Chocklett and the Gummy Minnow through the crowd to meet Lefty Kreh. Chocklett’s life was changing with each step.
Lefty loved the Gummy Minnow at first sight, Popavics recalled, and by the next day, prominent guides Brian Horsely and Sarah Gardner were mopping up the albies outside of Cape Lookout with them. Lefty would soon introduce Chocklett to the folks at Umpqua, and within a few months fly shops across the country were having a hard time keeping Gummy Minnows in the bins.
Gummies became the fly at some noted destinations, including the bonefish flats of Los Roques, in Venezuela. But the innovative pattern did cause some controversy, both Chocklett and Popavics remember. After all, it didn’t use feathers and fur; it was plastic. Popavics had faced the same sort of controversy when he first used epoxy on his Surf Candy pattern in the 1970s. “Blane’s got things in his mind that he wants to capture,” Popavics said. “And he’s going a different route than anyone has gone before. I love it.”
Chocklett wasted no time in proving that the Gummy Minnow wasn’t a one-hit-wonder of creative fly-tying. “Bob told me that good flies come from problem solving,” Chocklett said. One of those problems for Chocklett was that his clients threw big, heavy flies for musky on the Virginia rivers he guides.
He wanted a fly that was less bulky to fish but that would still draw the ire of a musky on the prowl. Chocklett’s solution was the T-Bone, a musky pattern tied with saddle hackle, bucktail, flashabou, and most importantly, body tubing, a material Chocklett had stumbled across outside of tying that he incorporated into the pattern and later marketed through Flymen Fishing Company.
“He is always innovating, always on the mission to create the next best thing,” said Colby Trow, who, along with his brother, Brian, own Mossy Creek Fly Shop in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Trow also guides for musky in Virginia, and credits Chocklett for bringing Virginia musky fishing to the forefront. “It wasn’t a fluke,” he said. “It took a lot of time and dedication.”
Of course, the fly that has turned the most heads—both anglers’ and fish—has been Chocklett’s Game Changer, an articulated streamer that swims like a lure. In the early days, many of Chocklett’s clients brought spinning gear along on guided trips, and after watching them crush smallies on flukes and other soft plastics, Chocklett wanted a fly that could produce the same action. The Game Changer was the result.
“Blane has always used the conventional world to guide his fly patterns,” Trow said. While this approach has increased the controversy (along with the price: Game Changers generally run from $12 to $18 retail), the results produced keep complaints to a minimum. Any person that chases big fish likely has one in their box.
Chocklett, like everyone in the flyfishing community, lost a great mentor this year in Lefty Kreh. “One of the most important things he taught me is to take chances and not worry about failure.”
Chocklett now guides 125 to 150 days a year, mostly in southwest Virginia around Troutville, where he still lives. On any given week he might fish for musky, smallmouth, trout, and striped bass. The fishing and the sport has come a long way since the ’80s, when Chocklett was a kid and no one could have dreamed of making a living as a full-time flyfishing guide in southwest Virginia.
Well…almost no one. Now 45, one might argue Chocklett is in the prime of his career, and according to Popavics, “We ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”