By WILLIAM PAINE
I first grabbed the Lanse Dawson site at the Pulaski train depot market. Lanse sets a table among the many vendors and this is where he can be seen teaching the art of fly tying. To be clear, these aren’t the same flies that annoy us on picnics, but rather intricately designed lures used in fly fishing.
âTake the scissors and cut them off, so you don’t have hair sticking out,â Lanse told the youngster who was sitting next to him. The front of their worktable was draped in fabric with an image of a fly fisherman next to the words Haunted by Waters inscribed in large print. Their shared workspace contained a collection of hooks and wires and a vise, which is used to hold the fly while it is being made.
âKeep these wraps nice and tight,â Lanse continued. âI would return that to the other side. That way you can keep your hands on it and it won’t come out. Place your spool here. This way you keep your yarn in place and it won’t twist and mess.
The name of the little boy who was tying a fly intensely is Marshall Johnson, who is no coincidence the grandson of Lanse Dawson. While giving instructions, Lanse makes sure Marshall is making the decoy correctly. While not exactly a task master, Dawson is somewhat strict about taking the task seriously.
âWell, I believe whatever you do, you do for the glory of God,â Lanse said of his teaching technique. âIf it’s picking tomatoes from the garden, do a good job of it. If you are a racing driver you want to be the best you can be and if you are riding flies you want to do your best. If you always do things haphazardly and sloppily, it will follow you throughout your life. “
Lanse Dawson grew up in Cana, Virginia, but at the time, everyone who lived there called him simply “the holler.”
Her stepfather, who worked at the Hercules factory, moved the family to Pulaski on Lanse’s 11th birthday to be closer to his job. They moved to a house on State Street near the old NeHi bottling plant. Pulaski was a different place in the 1950s and 1960s.
âIt was a prosperous little railway town,â Lanse recalls. âThey had a few drive-ins, and the carhop was coming out and waiting for you. There were sporting goods stores and a couple of pharmacies downtown. There was a lot going on in Pulaski at that time, but when I went to school nobody thought their children were being disturbed or taken away.
Lanse remembers walking home from Pulaski High School and walking past the Luttrell Chevrolet parking lot to check out the new models.
Lanse has fond memories of high school, largely because he and his brother Roger Dawson were members of the varsity basketball team. For their last game, this team went to the Coliseum at Virginia Tech and beat Handley High School to win the 1962 Basketball State Championship.
âWe played for a coach called Carl Tacy,â Lanse recalls. âHe shaped my life in part. He was a man of character. He was a dedicated man and he taught me that whatever I did, I had to do it right. You don’t want to be second best. “
“We only had 10 players on our squad,” added Lanse. âWhen we won the state championship, we could barely face each other. You had to follow the line or he would put you out of the team. I especially remember how, if you were on one of the high school sports teams, they treated you in a special way. I mean they put you on a pedestal.
Pulaski City Council even provided a meal for the Maple Shade Inn team.
âThe only sore point I have with the town of Pulaski has been to demolish the Maple Shade Inn and build a shopping center,â Lanse explained. âIt was a beautiful building. They had all kinds of events there. There was a cheerleader competition there at one point and people came from all over the country. “
Lanse Dawson trained in a machine shop for two years at New River VOTECH (now NRCC), then accepted a job with General Electric in Salem. Less than two years later, he met a man named Marvin “Bud” Webb at a recreational league basketball game. Webb sold home appliances at Sears Roebuck in Pulaski and helped Lanse land a job as a home appliance salesperson at Sears store in Radford.
âBud Webb was in everything,â Lanse said. âHe was hunting. He fished. He cavedâ¦ he even had his own glider. We were very, very close and what he did, I did. So he got me interested in tying flies.
After a stint in home appliance sales, Lance accepted a position as a loan officer for Credit Way in Radford. When that company merged with American General Insurance Co., Lanse was promoted to director and tasked with opening a new office in Wytheville. He worked there as an owner-operator for several years but decided to take early retirement just before his company merged with American International Group (AIG).
âI have no regrets working there, it was like any other company, they expected you to do more than you were able to do,â Lance said. âBut it was a good job. They treated me well and I treated them well.
“I remember telling my brother Roger that I was going to retire early,” he said. – He said I was worried about you. I’m afraid you’re bored. I said, ‘Roger, I have too many things I love to do to be bored.’ “
âIf I’m a little exhausted from one thing, I could do something else,â Lanse continued. âI guess that’s what I like about the market. I like to talk to people. I like to answer their questions as best I can and it’s just a satisfying thing to pass on what you know to someone else.
Lanse’s daughter, Bethany Johnson, is the one who convinced Lance to install a fly-tying table at the market. There, he has all the equipment and a specialized rotating vise for making flies, as well as several finished flies that he occasionally sellsâ¦ but he doesn’t really make a fortune.
âI had two clients last week, a young woman wanted to buy some for her brother and she bought six. I charged her $ 15 and then someone else bought a bit so I had a total of $ 19 last month. A man came over last year and bought me about $ 30. He told me what he wanted, so I specially tied what he wanted. I just like to do it. I’ve been doing this for so long, it’s second nature. I don’t even have to think about what I’m doing.
Last season, Lance and a man named Bill Cox taught a group of children aged 10 and over the art of tying flies at a weekly gathering at his church.
âThey were so dedicated to fly tying that they quickly wanted to go big,â Lance said. âWe actually had a fishing competition and I told them they could only use the bonds they made. Then one of my grandsons came to me and said, âGrandpa, can I take part in your competition? and I said, ‘Well, you’re not in the class’ and I kept thinking about it and I thought, ‘I can’t refuse it.’ “
His grandson’s enthusiasm influenced him and Lanse opened the competition to younger people who wanted to participate.
Is fly tying an art or a craftâ¦ or both?
If you take a fly and do it the same way every time and the flies all look the same, then you develop the craft, âLanse said. âBut it also allows you to use any color you want, any variation you want. It’s like putting paint on a canvas. You can do whatever you want. therefore an art.
âNow attach a half hitch and take your Sally Hanson nail polish and finish it,â Lanse told her grandson Marshall. âWe use more female nail polish than most women because we use it for fly tying. You can put more than one layer on it here and make it really shiny.
Lanse Dawson doesn’t spend every minute of the day tying flies. He has many hobbies and has spent many seasons coaching recreational league sports including basketball, T-Ball, soccer and even women’s softball.
His immediate family includes his wife Gail, his stepson Greg Canevari and his two daughters Tanya Brown and Bethany Ann Johnson. Bethany has six children and most of them already know how to tie a beautiful fly.
It was Bethany who gave her father the idea to name his company, Haunted by Waters. Inspiration came from a book called “A River Runs Through It” about a father and two sons living at the turn of the 20th century in Montana. These family members are all very different, but they all love fly fishing and it serves as a bonding force. A River Runs Through It was made into a movie in 1992 which Bethany and Lanse enjoyed.
In the last scene, the brother who remains is then an old man and we see him fly fishing alone by a secluded stream.
The voiceover says in part: “Of course, now I’m too old to be a true fisherman … but when I’m alone in the dim canyon all existence seems to fade away to become a being with my soul and memories. . â¦ Finally all things merge into one and a river runs through itâ¦ I am haunted by the waters.
Look for Lanse Dawson at the Tuesday Afternoon Market at the Pulaski Rail Depot. It will teach you all about flying, tethering and never coming second.