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A few thoughts on tying flies and pattern selection for the wary quarry. 

store and hand tied



I used to buy flies like a crazy person. I love flies, I would buy a few take them home, tie some that looked identical, and go fish. It’s how I learned a lot of stuff about tying and composition. Deconstructing and recreating fly patterns is how you develop your own as a tier a lot of the time.  

As I delved deeper into tying and studied more literature, trout biology, and listened to my mentors about flies, I began to buy flies less, and tie more. I found myself tying flies that seemed dull and dreary compared to the ones in the bins at the local fly shop. The more I tied with my mentor and worked on patterns and skills with him the more I understood what made a good fly. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, the flies you pick from the bin is totally awesome and it’s gonna work. If you get all the other pieces of the fly fishing puzzle to fit into place that fly is gonna catch the majority of fish in the river just fine. I just found that more and more the flies that manufacturers were churning out we’re getting more colorful, flashier, larger, filled with foam, and Krystal Flash, just Lady Gaga playing Las Vegas looking patterns. 

Did trout suddenly start wanting glitzy looking flies hanging out of their mouths as you fondle them trying to get a good release?  No…probably not. Trout…want insects. Not flies. So why do flies seem to be looking less and less like bugs and more and more like pieces of bloody jewelry for trout to wear for pictures? 

Well tying at that level is commercial and flies are easier to sell when they catch an anglers attention.  Problem is, flies are for trout not anglers. Trout only care about a few things in terms of flies. The better it resembles the natural, the more productive it should be….I mean that just makes sense. Both common sense wise and in terms of biology and science. There is a science behind flies and insect imitation. 

Certain materials mimic natural actions of insects such as angora goat and its ability to create a breathing undulating look even at the smallest level. Which lets face it, a trout is looking at little bugs with eyes designed to look at them under water. As a tier, it would be in my best interest, to tie flies that look as close to the natural as possible, maybe not exactly but imitating those key things that trout key in on instinctually is foremost in my mind when at the vise. 

Color, shape, size, profile. All important. But what about the way Caddis create an air bubble that sparkles under water, a factor trout key in on. Well throw on some Antron and you are good to go.  (By the way, Thanks LaFontaine for making Caddis fishing much more productive through your study of trout!).  There are lots of things to consider and even more material to use to mimic all sorts of things that trout key in on in relation to each pattern and natural. 

Patterns today, for me, seem to have lost a bit of that. Sure a bright orange stimulator with flash out the ass, and big sparkly legs is gonna catch fish, it looks right.  For me though, too many times in my ten year of fishing on the river here; I watch large trouts refuse flies of the store bought nature. Finicky trout are impressive really. A quarry that strikes me two fold: as an angler and a tier. Can I tie a pattern that can trick such a fish?  Because, if all the other parts click into place from cast to drift to proper tippet length, and the trout refuses, what else is there but the single most important thing you need in order to trick said trout with a fly rod in the first place?  

The Fly. 

Fly tying is an art, and the art for the trout chaser such as myself, is in the ability to tie effective flies that trick the most leery of trout. I have spent seasons testing flies. Searching for those finicky trout and testing my patterns.   Hitting hatches with handfuls of different patterns and seeing which ones work best and developing more from there. It’s some of the most fun for me in terms of angling. Having a trout be tricked by a dry or nymph pattern I have tied is that pure moment I yearn for. Some anglers it’s the perfect cast before the hookup, some dudes it’s the big fish, others it’s the perfect Snap T, the perfect take, whatever it is it’s awesome. For me it’s tricking a wary trout with a fly no one else has. The fish that no one has caught, the fish that every one tries for, big or small, I wanna trick it with my fly.  Ya man, that’s my jam. 

Tying used to be a necessity as there was no where to get flies unless you knew a tier.  There are troves of literature and journals on flies from all over the life of modern fly fishing. Going back and finding that many patterns that were the most effective were simple, subtle, and more natural looking. It wasn’t so much about selling flies as it was discovering what made up a good fly and why?  It was about tricking fish.  Guides and writers would sell flies to go fishing and fly shops would buy them until the sport got so big it required mass production of flies.  A little bit of the art of tying died or kind of faded away. 

For me, when I browse the bins at the fly shop I typically end up buying nothing. I just never find anything that stands out to me and I feel that the flies in the bin aren’t going to trick that persnickety trout. They will trick the other trout just fine but that’s not my mindset when angling as much. It’s less about tricking lots of fish and more about tricking those fish that stand out. The one 14 inch cutt that isn’t slashing the surface like all the others. The one sipping instead, maybe it’s been caught before, maybe it has some cool marking, maybe it’s bigger than I thought?  Doesn’t matter, it’s in the zone refusing flies left and right. Let’s see if one of these patterns will trick him?  That’s what goes through my mind when looking for or tying flies. 

When you look for flies at the shop, look for subtle, smaller patterns. Yes a salmon fly dry is a size 6 but when you cram a bunch of foam and flash on a size 8 4X long hook so you can fit all that crap, the fly is huge to the trout. A size smaller is typically a better idea when looking for flies for the larger insects. Look for buggy flies, both nymphs and for dries, but especially nymphs.  A Pats Stone will catch fish and I’ve even got big old steel on it, but for that trout hiding behind the boulder that flashes but won’t eat shit…ya smaller buggier bug, that’s gonna give you a better chance. I test myself on this every time I fish. Especially when working on patterns and fine tuning fly composition and material selection. 

So, if you seem to be having trouble with fly selection and trout not taking your flies, think about what you are throwing and how it looks to the trout in comparison to the natural. If you are unsure, find a trout nerd and ask them. 

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