Alex Kinnison of Orono (right) talks with a customer about his "Dirigo Dragon Tails" fishing flies on Sunday during the Penobscot County Conservation Association's 82nd Eastern Maine Sportsmen's Show held at the University of Maine in Orono. Credit: Pete Warner / BDN

Back in 2020, Alex Kinnison was prepared to make his debut as a vendor at the Eastern Maine Sportsmen’s Show.

The 15-year-old from Orono is an artist who enjoys doing pencil drawings. But he also is a fly fisherman, and he took up tying flies to enhance his success on the water and as an extension of his artistic pursuits.

But the COVID-19 pandemic derailed his chance to show off his work for three years.

Finally, Kinnison had the opportunity last weekend to share his talents during the Penobscot County Conservation Association’s 82nd Sportsmen’s Show at the University of Maine in Orono.

The Orono High School sophomore had previously helped out his grandfather, Richard Kinnison, at his “Custom Wire Lures” booth. That opened the door for Alex Kinnison to branch out on his own.

Kinnison had previously tied up a selection of flies and was ready to put them up for sale. This year, he was finally tying flies, talking with anglers and making sales during the long-awaited return of the show.

His small table, part of a booth shared with “Custom Wire Lures” and Steve Alekshun’s “Unique Lures,” featured his customized “Dirigo Dragon Tails” flies.

Alex Kinnison shows off his lures. Credit: Pete Warner / BDN

“These dragon tails, they do ridiculously well for what they are, which basically is just a streamer,” Alex Kinnison said.

“For three years, they’ve just been sitting around collecting dust,” he added. “Then this show came back up and I agreed to do it.”

It was his father, Michael Kinnison, who had bought Alex his first fly rod and taught him how to start tying flies. The dragon tails feature a prominent, fluffy looking tail that is enticing to smallmouth bass, largemouth bass and even northern pike, they said.

They also have large eyes near the eye of the hook that grab a fish’s attention. One variation in black seems to be an excellent representation of a leech and features a good swimming motion as it is stripped through the water.

Michael Kinnison said the larger size dragon tails are better with a 7 weight or 8 weight fly rod, while the smaller version is suitable for a 5 weight or 6 weight. The dragon tails also can be cast using a spinning rod with a small sinker attached several inches above the hook.

Alex Kinnison enjoys the creative aspects of tying the flies.

“There’s a lot of possibilities,” he said of the different patterns and colors that can be used. “If you can make them the right size, they’re so simple.”

Alex Kinnison said he can whip up one of the flies in about five minutes.

The dragon tails have attained some notoriety among anglers in other places, including saltwater applications, but they haven’t become as popular in Maine yet.

“I am an artist. I do a lot of drawing,” Alex Kinnison said. “To me, these are little works of art.”

The teen also was learning the finer details of engaging potential customers and developing his sales skills as he was tying during the show.

As a fly-tier, it is important for Alex Kinnison to make a quality product.

“It’s all about the little things that make them last longer,” he said while applying epoxy to the eyes.

He also broke from his dragon tail tying routine and whipped up a handful of other flies during his time in the booth.

The ultimate reward, he said, is catching a fish on a hand-tied fly.

“When you have this little critter that you tied together, a piece of string and a couple of feathers on a hook, it’s fun when the fish is fooled by it, comes up and grabs it and your rod bends right over,” Alex Kinnison said.

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...