Jim reflects on flies.
All my flyfishing life, I’ve been asked what my favorite trout fly is. It’s as impossible to nominate that, as it is to name a favorite river, lake, country, dry fly or wet; the list goes on. I really dislike these questions. Yet they continue, particularly from those who don’t fish a lot.
Even so, I can’t help but write about trout flies. After all, they are truly the business end of the whole deal. I, like most avid flyfishers, have boxes of flies – even if many are rarely (if ever) used.
When I was in the fishing tackle trade, I can well remember some of our customers, usually from the legal or medical profession, but sometimes businessmen and politicians. They would grizzle about the cost of flies. So, I’d then suggest that they take up fly-tying. I’d carry on about how special it is to take a trout on a fly one has tied oneself, and the therapeutic advantages of being in front of a warm fire in winter, tying flies for the next season. A few hundred dollars later (possibly a thousand today!) my victim would walk out of the store armed with a fly-tying outfit: vice, tools, feathers, tying silk, etc.
The following season, my erstwhile victim would be back looking in the fly drawers, selecting flies for the next fishing trip. After their time creating apparitions of fur, feather and silk on a hook, there was never any further discussion about the price of a trout fly again. The men who charged like a wounded buffalo for their professional services by comparison, now couldn’t believe how cheap trout flies really were.
I’m just as pathetic as most. Wherever I travel to fish, I can’t help but walk into the local flyfishing store and peruse the flies. And worse, spend much more than I should on what temporarily look like masterpieces of fur and feather, which will undoubtedly be successful. Most likely, you the reader will have the same disease. Therefore, most serious flyfishers end up with many boxes of flies which have hardly ever been tied to a tippet. After many years, they might be handed on to a beginner or junior angler just starting out.
Times don’t change. It really is all about the ‘maybe’ factor with flies; and overall, the ‘maybe’ factor is why we fish. The fly chosen from a store far away, just might have a unique quality which will work back home!
In reality, the most important part of flyfishing is presentation and not the fly. I’ve written many times on the subject of the importance of casting and presentation, so I won’t expand on it here. I’ll endeavor to stay on topic about flies.
I liked how David Scholes, in his very first book, A Fly-fisher in Tasmania, divided trout flies up into exciters and hoodwinkers. I think he was 100% right when he discussed the moving fly and the perfectly inert fly, setting a trap for an oncoming trout. I remember another book where the title said it all: Fishing the Dry Fly as a Living Insect.
To me, this is more important than just casting out a fly and fishing it back. Similar to my neanderthal abilities with the digital age, I would never classify myself as a good wet fly fisher. I think fishing wets started to change with a small craze called loch-style fishing. With the world flyfishing championships coming to Australia in 1988 for the first time, English and European competition flyfishers arrived who changed our techniques forever.
My first fly-line was made of silk, and it sank when not treated to float. Today, there are so many different fly-lines, the mind boggles. Today’s modern angler may own a number of different sink rate fly-lines to fish the appropriate depth in a lake. They even fish lines that have heavy sinking bellies with a floating tip, to which they can attach a fly made from foam, so it floats off the bottom. They fish out of boats with sounders which can paint a virtual picture of the lakebed and its features below, and can even see individual fish on screens. At times, these anglers have outstanding success. They are always adjusting their retrieve rates from very slow / almost stationary; through to fast retrieves like the roly-poly. They also use the term ‘pulling’ flies, an expression I’d never heard until recently. Our generation just ‘flogged wets’, an almost derogatory description, and something usually resorted to because the weather was too poor to do anything else. How little did we know!
As many readers will be aware, my favourite fishing is sight fishing, particularly during a hatch or while polaroiding. Again, I won’t go there but will continue on styles of flies.
From a dry fly point of view, the most important types of insects to represent are beetles, mayfly, caddis, grasshoppers and midge; and then followed by damsel/dragonflies, ants, jassids and at dusk, moths. Some readers will disagree with my order of importance, but so be it!
From a wet fly point of view, many of the above have a nymph stage, and then of course there are various minnows, tadpoles and small frogs. When I take a good look at my dry fly box, I always have a range of mayfly and beetles and a few from the other above types. And always a hopper and jassid pattern at the right time of the year.
My wet fly box is mainly mayfly nymphs and caddis larvae, plus a few wets, starting with smaller traditional English loch-style flies, and also some larger patterns like Woolly Buggers. There will be a few smaller, slimmer minnow patterns. A tadpole, mudeye and even a frog pattern is probably present too.
Going back to my words at the start, one reason I’ve refrained from naming my number one patterns in print, is because they’re a moveable feast. My favourites change from year to year, and of course season to season.
For those interested in furthering their knowledge of trout flies, there is no better way forward than to obtain two books: Australia’s Best Trout Flies, and Australia’s Best Trout Flies Revisited. The first was released in 1997 and the second twenty years later. Both are valuable additions to an Australian flyfisher’s library. They were published as fundraisers for the Australian team to compete in world flyfishing championships. They comprise of about thirty known flyfishers and their favorite half dozen patterns. Both are very good reads on how to tie, fish and use the flies presented. The initial publication is still available from a few retailers, but the second is harder to obtain. Copies sometimes come up at club auctions and on eBay.
Overall, never underestimate the importance of presentation, which in turn often comes down to the ability to cast a fly where it needs to be, and sometimes quite quickly! Then, having a fly on the end of your line which is being fished with confidence. Those two sentences are possibly the most important in this diatribe.
As summer approaches, I hope your line has a fish on the end, and frequently!