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Reelin’ in success: East Idaho Fly Tying and Fly Fishing Expo reaches 28 years

Abram (right) ties a fly while his father Trevor Atkinson (left) looks on at the Eats Idaho Fly Tying and Fly Fishing Exposition and Banquet Expo on Saturday. | David Pace
IDAHO FALLS — Cancer survivor George Heinlein, of Aberdeen, turned to fishing as a lifeline during a difficult period battling liver cancer.
Heinlein says he had no one to support him, and he was facing his cancer diagnosis alone when he became acquainted with Idaho2Fly. The nonprofit organization specifically supports men battling cancer and was one of 46 vendors at the East Idaho Fly Tying and Fly Fishing Expo hosted by the Snake River Cutthroats Friday and Saturday at the Mountain America Center.
“We take them out on an all-expense, paid fly fishing retreat,” Idaho2Fly Vice President Steve Drabek said. “We go to Three Rivers Ranch, or we go to Wild Horse Creek Ranch, and they’re there for three days.”
The nonprofit has introduced Heinlein to a world of support with other men who have also undergone or are facing cancer treatments.
“It is an amazing program, and not just for the fishing,” he said. “You get to talk to other people. I didn’t have anybody helping me fight cancer. I was on my own. Then all of a sudden, now I’ve got friends like Steve and the other guy, Tom, that we have breakfast once a month at his house.”

Idaho2Fly representatives George Heinlein and Steve Drabek share their organization’s mission at the expo Saturday. | David Pace

The men’s camaraderie was also evident among fly tiers and fly fishermen of all ages Friday and Saturday at the 28th annual expo — from the most experienced fishermen to the nine-year-old novice tying her or his first fly.
“It’s a lot more challenging than it looks,” said new fly fisherman Jace Burnham, from Sugar City, who attended with his father John. “It’s really technical, and there’s a lot of cool things to learn. … I really like all the people. They’re all super-friendly, and there’s a lot of good stories and experiences that everyone has.”
Longtime volunteer Ron Scott recommends Henry’s Lake, South Fork, Henry’s Fork, and other stretches of the Snake River as ideal fly fishing water.
“There’s some big fish there — probably 24 to 25 inches,” Scott said.

More than 120 fly tiers, including Shawn Bostic (front right, green shirt) demonstrate their craft on the arena floor. | David Pace
Paul Strembridge helped run four youth tables with fly tying, knot tying plus a youth raffle. As a counselor at Eagle Rock Junior High School, he has organized a Youth Fly Tying Club at the school that provided mentors to younger children at the expo.
He said the expo provides a unique forum for masters of the craft to rub shoulders and mentor those who are just starting out.
“You learn at places like this, because once you get out of this environment, everybody stops talkin’ and it’s like ‘No-Tell-‘Em Creek,’” Stembridge said. “One of the best places to learn is sitting next to somebody talking at one of these expos, asking them and then going to the clinics.”
The Snake River Cutthroats boasts a record of success and impact in its conservation efforts and in the community. In 22 years, the organization has raised $448,265 with $424,910 distributed to conservation projects and $23,354 toward education programs, according to an event flyer. The group is a chapter of Trout Unlimited.

Children play together in Caribou-Targhee National Park’s erosion sandbox.| David Pace
The organization is heavily involved in supporting Yellowstone cutthroat trout, by constructing weirs — fish spawning projects that prevent rainbow trout from entering feeder streams where Yellowstone cutthroat prefer to spawn — to reduce crossbreeding between the two species.
“We’re supportive of keeping the cutthroat on the South Fork of the Snake River,” said East Idaho Fly Tying/Fly Fishing Expo co-chair Steve Long. “It’s one of the last bastions of quality cutthroat trout habitat.”
The group is also involved in tree planting projects around Rainey Creek as well as conservation efforts in Salmon-Challis National Forest, according to Long.
The event was free to the community — with a casting pond, workshops, instruction, gear, films, vendors, raffles and silent auctions to help support the Snake River Cutthroats’ programs throughout the year.
The next expo will be held March 21 and 22, 2025.

Satoshi Yamamoto from Livingston, Montana, completes a fly Saturday.
The post Reelin’ in success: East Idaho Fly Tying and Fly Fishing Expo reaches 28 years appeared first on East Idaho News.

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