MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – It was 2008 when Blake Mattern became hooked on fly fishing. That fateful day 12 years ago, his friend took him Monterville, an unincorporated town in the mountains of Randolph County which is host to Elk Springs Resort. There, through a litany of trials, he caught his first rainbow trout on a fly rod.
“I spent that first day tying and retying knots and untangling [line], and by the evening I hooked up with my first fish on a fly rod,” Mattern said. “The rest is history after that.”
Now, all this time later, Mattern is 6 years deep into tying quality flies with plans to expand his hobby into a side business. But more on that later.
For most sportsmen, Mattern’s story will resonate. Born and raised in Morgantown, he was introduced to angling by his grandfather, chasing bass around town at the age of 6. That quickly transpired into a life-long hobby that’s taken him not only around the Mountain State but to Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, too. Plus, he has plans to travel to New York this year to chase salmon.
After graduating from Morgantown High, Mattern attended Bethany for his freshman year of undergrad before returning home, and it was once again in Morgantown where his hobby evolved. Upon returning home, Mattern was accepted into West Virginia University’s engineering program, but after meeting with wildlife and fisheries professor Jim Anderson, Mattern was set on switching majors.
“I figured I’d go to school for something I truly enjoy,” he said. “Being up on the hill on [the] Evansdale [campus], I met some friends that I’m still friends with to this day who were into the same things – I still fish with all those guys and tie flies for most of them. I don’t regret [switching] for one second.”
Though not currently using his degree in the professional circuit, Mattern’s plan to turn fly tying into a side business is in the works. Currently a logistics manager at Greer Industries, he’s been using his time at home during the COVID-19 pandemic to dial in on fly production and business planning. From the beginning he’s been trading flies to friends or selling them with enough overhead to buy more supplies. Still, even by raising prices in the future, he knows it isn’t going to reel in big money making flies. But that doesn’t matter – it’s all about the love for the sport.
“I can’t get enough of it when I get withdrawal and can’t be out on the stream. The vise takes me where I need to be, and I can make flies for myself and other people,” Mattern said. “It can take you away from the [stress] and things going on in life. The connection I have, something a lot of outdoors people seek, is the closest connection you can have to the outdoors. Fly fishing takes you a step further than conventional fishing. And if you can make that fly that you’re using, it puts you another step closer – you’re now catching a fish on something you’ve created. I’ve found a huge interest in that, and that’s what’s drawn me back to the vise to get better.
“When I do [start my business], I think I’m going to test the waters by making my own fly rods. It will bring me full circle and get me to where I’m truly using equipment I’ve created myself. [And] people prefer something local – that’s why I’ve decided if I go about it the right way – but it’s more of a passion than a business, it’ll always be a side-saddle. I’ve got my work [at Greer]. The fly tying will be something I do because I enjoy it – it’ll never be about making the big bucks, just enough to pay for the hobby.”
Mattern’s flies have gone everywhere with him, from the Savage River in Maryland to 20 Mile Creek in Erie, Pa. They’ve even made it out West – “My flies have made it there, but I haven’t,” he said laughing. – but one of his favorite memories is on the Elk a few years ago.
“I remember the trip, but I don’t remember the [first] fish,” he said. “It ended being a really good day. The friends that were with me, we were catching fish on patterns I tied and that’s really what sold me on fly tying. There was a caddis hatch – it was in May, what they call the Mothers Day hatch – and it was so thick you couldn’t breathe without inhaling bugs. It was just unreal. We were catching them first with nymphs – I was using a hare’s ear – and that afternoon they were rising and we were catching them on Elk Hair Caddis, probably a fish every other cast.”
The Elk Hair Caddis is one of his favorites to tie, but he’s partial to other patterns as well. After over half a decade of experience on the vise, he’s able to crank out smaller flies in batches of a dozen in an hour, while other flies, like musky flies, can keep him to one per hour.
“I would say a Hare’s Ear is one of my favorite personal flies, it’s a confidence fly,” he said. “The other one that takes a close second is a Pat’s Stone. I find that as a confidence pattern for trout and steelhead, and I’m a really big fan of that fly as well. They’re in my box all the time.”
None of this would be possible, Mattern notes, without the support of his wife, Anna, and the unconditional love he has for her and their newborn son, Grayson.
“She puts up with a lot with my long crazy fishing trips and late nights tying,” Mattern said. “My new son Grayson, he already loves watching me tie. He will be my new fishing buddy soon – he is only 2 months old right now. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do if it weren’t for her, and he is my motivation.”
So this upcoming year, if you see a new local business called Mountain State Fly Company, check it out. You’ll find high-quality flies and an owner willing to talk to you about his passion for hours on end.