Now, I only started really tying flies in August of 2016. I am not about to lie and say I had never tied a fly before as when I was a kid my dad taught my brother and I how to wrap thread around a hook. My dad was not one for traditional patterns and just tied what he wanted and what had worked for him. So as you could imagine my brother and I roughly did the same. No rhyme or reason to tying back then, it was just fun. Heck, my brother and I weren’t even slinging bugs back then. We were still launching spoons from our old trusty Zebcos. When I decided to start tying again I asked my dad for the old tying kit and I got to work with what was in there. I was seriously pumped for the first couple flies I had spun! Looking back on them now, there is no way I would put them in my box, but I totally caught fish on them. Fly tying can be an intimidating thing to get started in. There are a ton of materials, tools, patterns and with the internet these days everyone’s opinions. I had a tiny bit of previous experience and turned to YouTube to get started, but I would highly recommend finding a club if you have the chance.
This past fall we were on the river fishing for Westslope Cutthroat. It was a mid october day, cooler out for sure and a slight breeze. The leafs on all the birch trees were golden yellows and burnt oranges. When the wind would pick up slightly a few more leaves would start their whimsical dance down to the forest floor below and some would end up on the water’s surface. I was behind the camera at this point just watching my brother fish when a particular leave floating along the river’s surface caught my eye. I watched it float effortlessly down the gently flowing stream, swirling in the current and when the wind caught it from time to time. It was making it way around the bend when all of a sudden it has disappeared! A cutthroat had come up from the depths below and ate that poor little leaf. Now I understand that a balanced diet includes some leafy greens, but I never thought it applied to fish. The point of this story is that presentation far outweighs what your fly looks like. That leaf drifted perfectly down the river, unimpeded by a poorly mended line or bad positioning on the river. It couldn’t have looked any more natural floating down the river and so the fish had assumed it was good enough to eat. As our day went on we had actually witnessed another leaf fall victim to the evil fish, but this time it was under the surface. As the leaf tumbled in the current underneath the surface a hungry cutty lined it up and took it out. So whether you are dry fly fishing or nymphing, tie on whatever ugly bug you want that is appropriate for the season, but make sure you are getting your presentation as clean as possible!
So it’s pretty clear at this point that at least trout aren’t the smartest. Further to prove my point let’s lay out a scenario. You are out sailing the seven seas, it’s day 217 on your journey and a terrible storm rolls in. It’s raining harder than you have ever seen in your life, the winds are tossing your boat left and right and the thunder is near deafening. You awake the next morning with a mouthful of sand, alone, and no idea where you are. You get to your feet and immediately realize you are starving. Up the beach and into the jungle you go! No more than 2 minutes into your walk there is endless palm trees covered in coconuts, you are saved! It’s now day 317, the coconuts are still plentiful, but you would rather eat your own foot at this point. Magically a cheese burger lands in your lap, you don’t even question it, you eat it. Now, let’s pretend your a fish and it’s January, late January. It’s been a solid couple of months of the tiniest bugs you can imagine. If you are super lucky you get to eat the odd thing large enough to be called a midge. One day your chilling in your pool, the water is crystal clear as it has been all winter. The sun is out today and the rays are getting all the way to the bottom and it feels great! Looking up to bask in the sun you notice a large object drifting very naturally across the top of your pool. It’s quite possibly the best looking, most well presented hopper in the history of time and all you can think is, it’s not a midge. Fish, especially trout key in on their food sources and if they are presented something even perfectly that is way out of whack with what they think they should be eating, they won’t even consider it. So, where presentation far out weights a pretty fly, it’s still important to choose an ugly fly that is appropriate for the body of water and time of year.
This final point doesn’t necessarily have to do with the quality of the fly you choose, but back to presentation is really everything. And honestly fish are a little weird sometimes. It’s something we call the “Ham Sandwich / Pizza” phenomenon. Again, let’s play another game of pretend. Let’s say you have a steady flow of ham sandwiches and they are tasty, they keep you full and you are satisfied with them. But one day along comes a piece of pizza and it looks damn good. You have already eaten your ham sandwich for the day, but you can’t pass up the pizza so you eat it anyways, full or not. The same thing happens in fly fishing. Sometimes a hatch happens and there are ham sandwiches (slate drakes) everywhere! But then along comes some pizza (yellow stimulator) and a fish just can’t stop themselves from taking it. The fish are in a feeding frenzy at this point already and standing out in a crowd can really pay off sometimes. Now, this pizza still has to be presented in a natural way or the fish isn’t going to eat it. Think about it, if you saw some levitating pizza in your living room chances are you aren’t touching it.
When it really comes down to it, the fish don’t really care what your fly looks like. There are exceptions to everything of course, but if you are in the general vicinity of what they are eating and you present it in a natural looking way chances are you are going to be landing fish. Further more to this, don’t hesitate to start tying your own flies if you are on the fence. I promise it’s a ton of fun and there is nothing better than catching a fish on a fly you tied yourself!