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Cade Bailey is Tying His Way to the Future

By Bruce Ingram

Photos by Bruce Ingram

Tackle and fly shop outlets typically feature the patterns of well-known fly tyers who have perfected their craft over the course of many decades. But when teenager Cade Bailey first visited Jake’s Bait and Tackle in Winchester, marketing manager Jared Mounts was instantly impressed with the teenager as a person and as a fly tyer.

“Cade stopped in at our store to buy some material and show us some of his flies, and we were just blown away,” Mounts said. “But it just wasn’t the high quality of his flies, it was also his overall passion for fishing and the outdoors. When he showed us pictures of the big smallmouths and trout he’s caught on his flies, Cade was the logical choice to become our in-house fly tyer. I really believe he has a future in the field.”

For this story, I told Bailey, a 14-year-old seventh grade student at Frederick County Middle School, that I would call him after he arrived home from school, but I wasn’t too surprised that when I reached him he was already at a stream and fly fishing for smallmouths.

“Can you hear that splashing sound,” he said over the phone. “They’re really feeding on top, and I can’t stop fishing right now.”

The middle schooler did agree to be interviewed while he cast and told me who his mentors are. One is Nate Liscum, a family friend. “I was talking to Nate and told him that I wanted somebody to take me fly fishing and also teach me how to start tying flies,” Bailey said. “He was so nice to do that, and he also gave me some fly-tying materials and showed me the basics of tying nymphs and dry flies.”

Bailey said that the next step in his development was to spend hours watching YouTube videos on stream bass and trout fishing as well as instructional videos on how to tie various patterns. He was particularly intrigued with topwater flies. About this time, he met Roanoke, Virginia’s Blane Chocklett, one of the country’s best known fly fishermen, guides, and fly tyers. Although Bailey was only able to spend a brief amount of time that day talking with Chocklett at a fishing show, he soon began watching videos of the guide in action and also began trying to imitate Chocklett’s fly tying style.

Interestingly, Chocklett graduated from Lord Botetourt High School in the 1990s, where I taught then and still do, and was in my hunting and fishing club there. I told Bailey that he has the same passion for fly fishing that Chocklett displayed three decades ago. I next asked the youngster what he has learned about tying flies from his mentors, his readings and viewings, and his efforts to construct ever more realistic patterns.

A tray holding a wide variety of colorful flies.

Cade Bailey has learned to tie a wide variety of patterns.

“I think I learn best from trial and error—making mistakes, learning from them, and then correcting them,” he said. “Wrapping a fly correctly is really hard to learn. Two of my early mistakes were tying heads and tails with too much thread. Then I struggled with choosing the right size hook to match the size of the fly. If your hook is too big for your fly, then you won’t get realistic action and you won’t catch fish.

“Also, if your hook is too small, you’ll catch too many small fish, which is not what I’m after. The whole fly has to be balanced and that was hard for me to learn. One more thing that was hard to learn was that I needed to stop crowding the hook eye with material. If you cover up the hook eye, the whole thing is ruined because you can’t work the fly right.”

The Winchester resident also credits Liscum with showing him how to correctly “whip finish” a fly just right so it is perfectly balanced—another aspect that he struggled with initially. Impressively, four years after Bailey began tying flies, his patterns are being sold.

One of the patterns that the middle schooler is most proud of is his cicada creation. “I tie the Cade’s Cicada with a rattle inside and when it moves, the rattle makes sort of a buzzing sound just like real cicadas make,” he told me. “The fly is my favorite one to use during bug season on our rivers. That’s when the bass are really looking to feed on the surface because the cicadas are always dying and falling into the water.”

Bailey operates his own business, Dead Drift Fishing, and won the prize for Outstanding Business Knowledge and Interview at the 2023 Winchester Children’s Business Fair. Bailey has become a regular at fishing shows around Virginia. I asked him what his next goals are regarding fly tying and fly fishing?

“I don’t want to become a professional guide,” he said. “But I do want to learn how to catch really big bass and trout on flies. Mostly, I want to be described as ‘somebody who ties pretty good flies.’”

  • March 12, 2024