Seventh-grader Sam Kenney of Dixmont is heading to Pennsylvania to compete on Saturday, but not for a traveling basketball or hockey team. The 12-year-old is going to the Pennsylvania Fly Tying Championship.
Kenney and his father, Bill, will drive 500 miles to Harrisburg, Pa., for Kenney to compete at the event at the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show.
In 2010, Kenney took second in the open division, bypassing the chance to win the youth or amateur division.
This year he thinks he can win the whole thing.
“I’m aiming for first this time. I just feel I’m a pretty good tier and stuff. And it was 20 minutes from my relatives’ house, so it’s in the right spot,” said Kenney, who will turn 13 on Saturday.
Kenney began tying flies when he was 7. His mother is a school art teacher, but neither of his parents fish. However, Kenney needed little encouragement. Maine fly fishermen who know him say he’s a special kind of angler.
Dan Tarkinson, founder of the Fly Fishing in Maine website and nonprofit, called Kenney “impressive, and widely known.”
Jim Bernstein, manager of Eldredge Bros. Fly Shop, called Kenney unusual in the fly tying world.
“I’d say he’s very unique. You don’t normally see a kid as young as him start tying full-dressed Atlantic salmon flies that are the decorative type. Most adults don’t do that. I know guys who have tied their whole lives and never even tied one of those flies. It’s art. He’s an artist,” said Bernstein, who has run the fly shop in Cape Neddick for 20 years.
Kenney sells his flies at sportsmen’s shows around Maine, at the “Cabin Fever Reliever” in Brewer, at Saddleback Mountain in the fall, and at the Rangeley Outdoor Sporting Heritage Museum in Oquossoc.
Now he’s is trying to figure out how he can turn the fun of creating elaborate fly patterns into his life’s work.
“I have a dream of making a fly reel company, with machines and the engineering to make fly reels, but not just a functional reel, also one that is a piece of art. I don’t think I would be trying to make the lightest or best for fishing, but one that looks nice and is functional,” Kenney said. “I’ve done sketches and drawings on graph paper. I’ve researched the equipment I need.”
He’s followed the stories of those who have succeeded.
Sage started 30 years ago with one man developing specialty fly fishing rods, a quest that resulted in the first saltwater specific rod. It all started with Don Green doing what he loved.
Kenney already is envisioning how such a business starts.
“In New Jersey and New York there are sports shows, much bigger than here, and only about fly fishing. I would like to go look around at the stuff. There are hundreds of booths, and fly reel companies, and the people who actually design the fly reels are at the booths,” he said.
For now, he’s pursuing his hobby, hoping it opens a door further into the fly fishing world.
The Pennsylvania Fly Tying Championship draws dozens of contestants. The half-dozen finalists usually are from Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey and New York, said Michael Klimkos, who runs the contest. Kenney will be the only youth in the final in the open division.
“We get really good judges for the fly tying. It makes it real difficult for the judges to pick first, second and third. It would be difficult for you to sit down with the top three flies and pick out the winner,” Klimkos said.
But if Kenney wins, he will find a new goal.
“I researched some competitions. But if I get first this time, I won’t do it again. It’s not sportsmanlike to show up every year and win it. I just wanted to get my name out there,” he said.
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: