A solar-powered hula girl dances on Kelly Galloup’s fly-tying station. The risqué names of his trademarked, internationally known flies include “Stacked Blonde” and “Barely Legal.” Within minutes of meeting he asks, “Are you opposed to vulgarity?” He apologizes for looking “like a cokehead,” incessantly sniffing and rubbing his nose because wispy fly-tying material tends to find its way to his nostrils.
Any notions of pompous or Zen-like fly tyers fade in Galloup’s presence. The 55-year-old is as blunt as the square end of a drift boat. At The Slide Inn, his fly shop and lodge on the banks of the upper Madison River, about 30 miles from West Yellowstone, the brash craftsman with light-colored hair and a graying goatee sits at a table made from a rough slab of wood. On top of the table is a fly-tying vice and an elk antler to which Galloup has affixed a dozen spools of colored thread. With glasses resting low on his nose he wraps tufts of marabou and deer hair around a hook to make his signature black “Sex Dungeon,” which he says is the top-selling streamer pattern in the world. It’s intended to imitate a sculpin. Sort of.
“You’re building in just enough realism—but not so much,” he says. “Generally, when you see flies that are really, really super-exacting, they fish like shit, and they always have.”
Enticing trout with big, flashy, underwater flies called streamers as opposed to tiny dry flies that float atop the water is what’s made Galloup a revolutionary figure in the fly-fishing world. Sparked by the book Modern Streamers for Trophy Trout, which Galloup co-authored in 1999, streamer fishing has exploded in popularity, transforming fly fishing from, in his words, “just an elitist white male sport that was pretty freakin’ boring” to an aggressive pursuit that’s “exciting as hell” and appeals to up-and-coming anglers. He likens the evolution to the shift from straight to parabolic skis.
“It’s big fish you’re hunting. You’re not putting this bullshit spin on how beautiful the fish is ’cause all you can catch are fish this big,” he says, holding his hands less than a foot apart. “Now you’re suddenly catching big fish and you can say, ‘Now that’s pretty.’ And it’s more exciting. Flat out. There’s no two ways about it.”
Galloup demonstrates streamer evolution by placing a row of them on a table. He begins with the muddler minnow and wooly bugger, classic early streamers, and then adds his creations, each bigger and fluffier than the last: “Zoo Cougar,” “Sex Dungeon” and “T&A.” They each conceal two or three hooks. Some wear plastic googly eyes. “You can see the progression of size,” he says. “Nothing is the same. It’s a radical jump from here to here. It’s just fun.”