Amy Hazel shows off some of her flies.

Amy Hazel shows off some of her flies.

April Baer

Do designers have a shelf life? That’s the question “State of Wonder” guest curator, user experience designer Elena Moon, asked us in search of a craft that only improves with age.

Amy Hazel, who co-owns the Maupin fly-fishing shop the Deschutes Angler, has traveled the world looking for great places to fish. But if you’re wondering where the best spots in the world — or just on the Deschutes — are, she makes it clear that you’re going to need far more than GPS coordinates.

What you’ll need is an expert in foam: someone attuned to the vagaries of bubbles and intimate with the current.  

Hiking to a fishing spot on the Deschutes River.

Hiking to a fishing spot on the Deschutes River.

April Baer

“No foam, no fish,” Hazel said, reciting the traditional wisdom. “Foam is home.”

Hazel’s seen a lot of foam, and she’s gone through a lot to do it. She has been fishing for 30 years. In her twenties, she traveled to 19 different countries to fish, including somewhere where she had to pick her way around land mines.

“I went full-hog,” Hazel said, chuckling as she recalled the beginning of her journey into the world of fly-fishing. “I loved fishing, but then when I found fly fishing I thought, ‘This is really a thinking sport.’ You’re not just throwing something out there and hoping that something will grab your fly. You have to actually imitate the insects. It’s active.”

Hazel demonstrates the craft to Elena Moon.

Hazel demonstrates the craft to Elena Moon.

April Baer

As she squints into a pair of binoculars from the banks of the Deschutes, she’s inspecting foam for insects, trying to distinguish what the fish are eating. The colorful flies imitate insects, but making these inanimate objects come to life involves wrangling a multitude of conditions. These conditions change with the seasons, the unique life cycles of each species involved and the tools of the trade. Learning the sport means learning about fish, water, insects, and equipment at a level of granular detail that is just scary.

What makes a good fly: Exotic bird feathers? Vintage polar bear fur? A cunning knot?

Thousands of flies fill the Deschutes Angler, and fly-tying itself is an art form not unlike sewing, gardening, or cooking: creative yet practical, and offering a whole world to be explored basically without limit.

“It takes a lot of years to learn these skills,” Hazel said, “and that’s part of the challenge of fly-fishing.”

When people come into her shop asking for directions to good spots, she refuses. But one of the main pieces of advice she is willing to give is to look for places where fish feel comfortable. Getting a true feel for what that means is a painstaking process called fly fishing; her job is just to provide a wise welcome.