The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

T’was late one evening after a longs day’s fishing in north-east Victoria, when four wise men (Mat Burnette, Louis Jasek, Peter Jasek and myself) sat at the fly-tying bench drinking some fly-tying juice and tying some masterpieces. Buoyed with confidence from the great fishing we’d had that day, one wise man suggested something probably never tried before: a competition, but no ordinary competition. This competition would be to see who could catch trout on the worst fly; in the process testing the age-old presentation vs imitation thing.

The scene of the crime…

As the mist settled in the Kiewa valley, we each set about tying a fly that our companions had to fish the following day. The rules were simple: two of our party needed to agree that the fly might conceivably catch a fish and Peter (the wisest man of all) would adjudicate should agreement not be reached. The flies were tied, more fly-tying juice was consumed, and off to bed we went; all quite confident that, despite the awfulness of the flies, the competition wouldn’t last long given the quality fishing the previous day. How wrong we were!

The competition flies are below: the Rainbow Nugget, tied by me; the Claret Confuser, tied by Mat, and the High Beams, tied by Louis

(It should be noted that the Claret Confuser did not receive unanimous approval from the board, requiring Peter to step in. After a considered gaze, he announced, “Yes this is fine, it is IN!” My heart sank.)

We woke the next morning full of nervous excitement given the mammoth task ahead. Mat, who knows the area extremely well, proclaimed, “I know a spot.” Off we went to Mat’s secret spot, where the fish were apparently so plentiful, even a novice would struggle to catch less than a dozen.

At least the water looked good.

We arrived at a beautiful stretch of mountain stream and I rushed to the best pool, wielding the Claret Confuser. After working the water thoroughly for no result, I decided there must be trout in there so I changed to Louis’s High Beams. Now true to its name, this fluoro coral giant silver-beaded pattern was so visible under the water, I could watch the fly instead of the indicator. Immediately, the dumbest fish in the river tapped the fly and I missed it… or maybe it simply tried to beat the fly away with its tail?

Shortly after, Mat started yelling from upriver as he landed a small rainbow on the High Beams. This was followed by a cry from Louis, who was into one on my masterfully-crafted Rainbow Nugget.

Louis with a fish on the Rainbow Nugget.

We then fished up 100m of lovely water without catching anything more. We were all starting to fade by now, convinced we’d fished over stacks of trout we hadn’t managed to catch. But then we spotted a beautiful-looking hole coming up. The boys actually pushed me towards the pool, given I still hadn’t caught a fish. As we peered into the water, we sighted a big dark shape deep, deep down – moving from side to side. You beauty!

I lobbed the High Beams up ahead of the shape and the 3.5mm tungsten bead dragged the fly into the depths. As it came past, the shape turned downstream… no movement on the indicator… another metre… smallest twitch of the indicator… strike! The fight took a few minutes before a 3½lb brown came to the net for a photo and quick release.

I can’t believe this trout ate the High Beams!

The High Beams had now accounted for two fish, and Louis proudly proclaimed he was the master fly tyer. Mat and I responded that it was clearly angler skill getting the results!

An hour later, we hadn’t managed to catch another fish, so we decided to resort to ‘normal’ flies. However, with no more success, we concluded the stretch itself was no longer fishing well, so we gave up and moved spots.

A few kilometres upstream, we found the fishing we were expecting. The trout were everywhere and hungry, so we decided to put the ‘comp’ flies back on in an attempt to get a winner.

A nice one on a ‘normal’ fly.

At this stage, we all had normal flies on our droppers and the trout just couldn’t bring themselves to eat the whacky creations next door. Eventually we took off the droppers in an attempt to force a fish to eat the comp. flies. Did this work? No it did not! While Louis had now unfortunately lost his Claret Confuser, Mat and I persevered with his High Beams, and my glorious Rainbow Nugget.

After numerous tiny taps on the flies, it appeared the trout just couldn’t bring themselves to eat them properly, so we decided for the final time to retire them for good.

So, who was the real winner? Louis, the creator of the most successful pattern? Or me for actually catching a good fish on that rubbish? The jury is still out but there are a few different opinions!

On a slightly more serious note, it was very interesting to put presentation vs fly choice to the test. As expected, both are important and the poorer either is, the fewer fish will be caught. For most anglers, fly choice is easier to get right than technique. It follows that we often attribute more value to the (harder) presentation part of the equation. I certainly thought we could catch more fish than we did on the horrible flies, so fly pattern might just be more important than I sometimes give it credit for.