Ternald: Tribute within creativity

“STF dubbing all week long!”

This is the second part of our new portrait series, which I introduced last week with the danish super star Morten Hansen also known as mr. @coastfly. If you missed it you can easily check it out right here.

This week’s interview features none other than my swedish coastal brother, the great Jonatan Ternald. Ternald is really beyond any comparison in my book, when it comes down to fronting the new generation of coastal fly tying in the North. He does his own thing, and like Morten Hansen, he has his very own aesthetic.

When you see a picture of a Ternald fly, you know it’s a Ternald fly.

Where Morten Hansen is the front runner of what I’ve called ‘the glass movement’, Ternald has managed to incorporate both tradition and innovation in a fly tying aesthetic that really defines new territory – a new frontier so to speak. Ternald’s fly tying is clean, breathtaking, and astonishing with a lot of respect for tradition. Yet he rethinks or redefines the matter in almost every fly he puts on display, and that lifts him to the very top of what I would call the postmodern fly tying league.

When studying Ternald’s work you can see how the roots of pioneers like Rune Westphal and Kern Leo Lund are layered in razor sharp finishing touches enhancing the pure magic of detail, but yet turned into Ternald’s very own way of thinking in new directions.

There’s a poetry in the way Ternald builds up a fly – and also a hell of a lot of American saltwater running through his scandinavian and nordic fly tying style to be really honest with you. Just look at his fry flies, and you’ll see what I mean. But when it comes down to the very essence of the nordic tone Ternald is a true mastermind putting those vast Scandinavian feelings into his fly tying practice. It’s a study in unique focus, and I just love every little part of it! For instance, if you pay Ternald’s Instagram page a visit (click here), you’ll totally agree with me. But let’s see what Ternald has to say about his thinking and creativity. So folks, here we go!

Kasper: Jonatan, first of all a big high five for taking your time to talk with me about coastal fly tying and for guiding us through how you perceive your own work. Let’s start with the fundamentals. What are the basics of a good coastal sea trout fly? And how would you describe your identity as a coastal fly tyer? 

Jonatan: In my opinion, you can divide it into two categories: provocation and imitation flies. The provocation flies can either be about movement like the ‘Jiggy’ that uses a bouncing walk to attract the fish, or a spey fly with its pulsating body which easily can deceive a sea run like no other. Then we have the flies that uses color for provocation. Pink, orange, chartreuse, preferably in fluorescent colors, seem to have the trigger factor, especially in colder waters. When it comes to the fundamentals and basic of an imitation fly for sea runs, I am all about trying to perfect the right silhouette and profile. I also think it is very important to get the sink rate right especially on shrimp flies. I would say that I’m coastal fly tyer that likes to tie as realistic flies as I can. And I’m one of those UV-resin guys by the way!

Kasper: In your words what defines your coastal fly aesthetic?

Jonatan: A nice contrast between colors in the fly and a nice silhouette, as well as a good-looking tapering and proportions are important features. I also work hard to get my shrimps and some of my baitfish as “see- through” as possible.

Kasper: What is your favorite fly tying material and why that specific material?

STF dubbing all week long! This is for me the most versatile material for coastal flies out there. If only I was allowed to use one material (plus thread and hook) for the rest of my life I would be fine! I use a lot it in of my shrimps as do many others and I love to tie it into small fry flies. But it also makes a really nice bulky head on bigger flies as well. The transparency of the STF is so awesome. It makes all flies dressed with it look deadly in the water. And the length of the fibers allows you to do so much with it in terms of dressing the perfect silhouette.

Kasper: Take us through your work process – from idea to end result.

Jonatan: It can go two ways, I think. The most common is that I want to imitate a specific prey for the seatrout. I start with either going down to the water to study them or doing the lazier alternative, using Google to find good images of what I want to tie. Then I try with the materials and techniques that I think will work best. It rarely comes out the way I pictured it in my head on the first try. But I can see what parts works and looks good, and I will use them for my next attempt where I swap out the things that I didn’t like. I get a lot of inspiration and ideas from Instagram and not only coastal tyers, but also by looking at nymphs and wax worm imitation for example. It’s awesome to use that as an inspiration to a shrimp fly. Sometimes I get a new material in my hand that I just have to use, and then I start tying until I find a pattern that will do the material justice.

Kasper: If you could pick only one pattern, what would it be? Shrimp or baitfish?

Jonatan: I’m a shrimp guy. I fish with shrimps through the whole season. Of course, I fish with a lot of baitfish also, but I catch more fish on the shrimp fly.

Kasper: What does tradition in the sense of fly tying mean to you – and how do you use tradition?

Jonatan: Tradition for me is hackle flies or old school flies like the Mickey Finn, which are super effective streamers that seem to be able to catch fish all the time. I tie hackle flies as well, and I fish them with great success. But traditional flies are not the reason why I get the opportunity to answer questions from you. There are way better tiers then me doing this type of fly. My thing is “modern” flies that many tyers would categorize as not being fly tying in a traditional sense. My goal is to make the best-looking fly as possible, and I’ll use any technique or material that will do the job. How I use tradition, is more related to the materials, I think. I’m a big fan of oldschool materials such as buck tail or mallard feathers.

Kasper: What is in your opinion the most important feature or design aspect of a coastal sea trout fly?

Jonatan: It’s hard to pick one thing only. However, if I must, I would have to say the silhouette, combined with the right speed and your own movement when stripping the fly home are the factors that will help you catch the most fish. Fly tying is only a part of the great deceive, which is important to remember.

Kasper: Let’s take a look in the crystal ball: What is the next big thing in coastal fly tying?

Jonatan: There will always be new awesome materials, but I’m thinking more about the type of flies, we use. My home water is in the archipelago outside of Gothenburg on the Swedish west coast. I do a lot of boat fishing far out in deeper waters with sinking lines chasing the big trouts feasting on herrings. Many of us have seen big herring in the stomach of a sea trout, so I often fish with herring flies and catch quite big ones. This summer I’ve been trying out big articulated streamers. There are probably many anglers who have tried this already, but I’m convinced that the same rule applies in the sea as it does in fresh water. Big fly equals big fish. Speed has been a key element to get the seatrout to bite. If this is going to be the next big thing? Maybe, maybe not. But one thing is certain: both the fishing and the tying with these big flies is a heck of a lot of fun!

Kasper: What is your proudest achievement up until now as a skilled fly tyer, what is your biggest invention so far?

Jonatan: I would have to say my own pattern, the ‘Super Shrimp’. A realistic shrimp pattern that has caught many nice fish and that I have gotten much attention for.

Kasper: Thanks again, Jonatan, for the nice chat. It is absolutely no secret that I totally adore your work, and I often turn in your direction when seeking inspiration for my own fly tying. I wish you the best of luck in the great times ahead, my friend.

Well, that was it for this time around. I hope you have enjoyed reading about two of the most skilled scandinavian fly tyers out there at the moment and their way of thinking. What really sums up both Morten Hansen and Jonatan Ternald’s fly tying aesthetic is the will to constantly push the boundaries of what could be achieved. I’m also intrigued by the fact that I’m not the only one who has a deep-rooted belief in integrating practical experiences of fly fishing into the way we practice fly tying – and at the same time respect the traditions and works of others. It’s so inspiring for all of us to really follow that road or direction within the fly fishing community.

I don’t know what you thought of it, but I’m already a big fan of both Morten’s and Jonatan’s future prospects of using big streamers for searuns. I really think there’s a great potential in rethinking the whole American tradition of saltwater streamer flies in that direction and adapt them to the scandinavian conditions. Let’s get this thing started right now, folks!

Have a great week,

// Kasper

Photo credits: Morten Valeur