Win, lose or tie: GoPro Mountain Games fly-tying competition comes down to blindfolded ties

Judges for the field of about 15 in the GoPro Mountain Games Fly Tying Competition on Friday in Golden Peak couldn’t determine a winner after three rounds, so the top 3 went head-to-head-to-head in a 5-minute blindfold fly-tying final.

“Never been blindfolded before,” said third-place winner Patrick Duke, of Crested Butte. “It was insane. You have to trust that you’re doing it right and all on feel — tying by brail.”

Ian Wilson, of Steamboat Springs, won the tie-off, earning himself a Yeti backpack cooler, some cash and an invite to the fishing finals on Sunday, along with a years worth of bragging rights.

“I have never tied a tie blindfolded,” Wilson said. “It felt very disorienting and humbling.”

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For both Wilson and Duke, this was their first time competing in the Mountain Games Fly Tying Competition.

Ben Gruner shows off his first nymph fly during the first round of the fly tying competion.
Barry Eckhaus | Special to the Daily

“That was brutal,” said Doug Powell, one of the three judges trying to determine a winner but ultimately asking for a blind tie-off.

“But they were all excellent,” added Ryan Thompson, one of the judges. “Across the board there were really solid ties.”

The field included both men and women, including a married couple competing against each other, as well as Anthony Kunkel, the winner of the Rocky Dog Trail Run on Thursday with his dog Winston, who patiently sat on the Larkspur patio in Golden Peak during the competition.

The format for the competition included three rounds: nymph, terrestrial and streamer. Competitors were given similar things to work with — animal hide, foam, feathers — and everything else needed for fly-tying was on the tables: vices, small scissors, tweezers, thread and beer.

From the moment organizers said “go” to kick off the first round, the atmosphere inside the Vail Village restaurant and bar turned very serious.

“This event’s a little bit more formal than our normal fly-tying events,” said Robby Capps, of Pig Farm Ink which puts on Iron Fly events across the country. “These are real-deal tiers. This is pretty serious competition.”

Capps said the Iron Fly events are more laid back and serve as a way to get people into the sport. That’s not the case with the Mountain Games competition.

“There’s not many things you can connect with something as much as fly-fishing,” he said, “being able to look at your surroundings, see what the fish are actually eating and then trying to emulate it.”

Rick Messmer has been volunteering with Mountain Games fishing comps for over 20 years.

“I’ve been running part of the Mountain Games since it was Jeep Whitewater Festival,” he said. “This year has absolutely gone off.”

The fishing events at the Mountain Games continue to grow, including events for kids to learn.

“Fly-tying is its whole own world,” Messmer said. “These guys and gals are artists in their own right.”

Messmer added that fly-fishermen and women that might be interested should get involved next year. It’s BYO vice, and the rest of the materials are provided. Organizers can help provide a vice if needed.

“Think about being unique,” he said. “Tie it with a little pizazz and see if you can win this thing.”

Maybe practice blindfolded, too.

Assistant editor Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2984 and Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.

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