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Fly tie wrangler

Dennis Ulrich of Renville enjoys the art of fly tying almost as much as fly fishing itself. Ulrich enjoys the challenge of creating flies that trick fish into believing food is there for the taking. Tribune photos by Tom Cherveny

RENVILLE -- He takes tiny fishing flies that he creates in the comfort of his home in Renville to the big wilderness rivers of Montana and Colorado, and succeeds.

"I like to fool the fish, offer them something that they think is their food,'' said Dennis Ulrich in describing just one of the reasons he enjoys the art of fly tying.

The other reason, of course, would be the destinations themselves.

His love for fly fishing has led him to waters as famous as the Yellowstone River and as wild as the Bald River in Montana, and as stunning in beauty as the Poudre and North Platte Rivers in Colorado.

But more often, and for very much the same reasons, he is every bit as happy to succeed on waters that hold no trout and lack a backdrop of mountains.

The lakes of Kandiyohi County, such as Long Lake near Hawick and Nest Lake, can offer a fly fisherman or woman all the same enjoyment of their sport. And that includes the pleasure of seeing your hand-made creations fool the fish.

The joy of tricking and landing a feisty bass -- or a plump, bright-colored sunfish -- while sunlight dances on a Minnesota lake can be very much the equal of luring trout from a mountain stream, said Ulrich.

"It's all about being outdoors,'' he said to his explain his passion for fly fishing.

Ulrich retired last September from a 36-year career in the sugar industry, which gives him more time to enjoy the outdoors.

In the 1970s, his career led him from his home stomping grounds in north central Ohio to assignments in Denver, Colo., and Billings, Mont.

Ironically, he took up fly fishing not in the mountains where he lived at the start of his career, but in the cold water trout streams of Ohio.

On a whim, he had purchased a fly fishing rod from a guy in need of cash. A co-worker introduced him to fly fishing while they were together in Ohio on a three-month assignment with the sugar company.

He returned to Montana a convert to fly fishing and began exploring its wild rivers.

Ulrich put the mountains behind him in 1978, when he was lured to Renville and the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative with the opportunity to set up the young company's engineering department.

He put the fly rod behind him, too. He picked up a spinning reel and began a two decades long pursuit of walleye, northern pike, panfish and bass in the lakes of Kandiyohi County.

Just over 10 years ago, circumstance re-introduced him to fly fishing. Ulrich turned a teaching assignment for the sugar industry in Fort Collins, Colo., into a working vacation with his spouse, Linda. While touring a small town they happened upon an older gentleman he described as "crusty'' with a sign in front of his fishing shop proclaiming: " I can teach anything.''

Their guide in bib overalls outfitted them with fly fishing gear and led them to the Poudre River, where Linda landed her first 14-inch brown trout.

"She was hooked,'' said Ulrich.

And so again was he. On their drive home he made a stop at an outfitter's store and re-stocked with fly fishing and tying gear.

He hasn't used a spinning reel for more than 10 years now. "I carry one in the boat in case somebody is along who wants to fish with me,'' he said.

The Ulrichs have a lot on Long Lake near Hawick, and he loves nothing more than flaying the small lake's waters with his hand-made poppers and surface flies.

Every autumn, husband and wife return to northern Colorado where they rent a rustic cabin and devote whole days to the sheer pleasure of fly fishing mountain streams. Through the years, the husband and wife fly fishing team has known the excitement of landing everything from 9-inch brook to 24-inch rainbow trout on the flies tied by Dennis.

Linda prefers the scuds, or imitations of fresh water shrimp, while a pheasant hair nymph is his ''go-to'' fly of choice.

All of their fly fishing for trout is catch-and-release. The only exception came this February, when they fished the stocked waters of the White River in Arkansas.

It's the fishing and not the taking that guides his practices on local waters, too. Ulrich said he releases most of the fish he catches, but loves to take home a few sunfish to sauté in a mixture of olive oil and butter.

And, that's when he knows the full benefits of fly fishing. After a good day on the water and great meal to boot, he's got the evening to tie flies for the next day's adventure.