Flies, Flies, Flies! Have you ever walked into a fly shop to be amazed by all of the flies local shops have? Well as an avid fly fisherman and fly tyer I love just visiting fly shops just to see the local fly artistry. On average, I will spend at least thirty minutes in a shop perusing the fly boxes and shooting the shit with people running the shop about the flies they have on hand. I love the feeling of finding a fly and being perplexed on how someone has tied it. Hours of my life have gone to deconstructing flies in my head until I would get that euphoric feeling of “Oh that’s how they did that.”
To be fair the local fly shop that I visited when I first started fly fishing and fly tying had a limited variety of flies on hand, so when I would visit a new shop to me I would geek out at all of the new flies I would see. But I think seeing new flies has helped me over the years to better understand the essential techniques of fly tying and with fly fishing. Also I now understand why my local fly shop only carried the variety that they did.
“Wait. Where the hell are you going with this?” is probably what you are thinking right now.
As a person that spends a lot of time out on the water and behind the vise; I can tell you with confidence that a majority of the flies you probably have in your fly boxes can be thrown in a coffee can to collect dust. Let’s be honest right now, there are probably four or five flies that you have right now in your box that have never touched water. Am I right? You rather bought them from fly shop, made them after seeing a fly tying tutorial, or randomly created them out of your head. But they still have not made it to the end of your tippet. Why?
This dilemma goes down to the very root of why we fish. We want to catch fish! That’s it, that’s the answer to why you have flies in your box that go unused season after season. You have zero faith them; they will fail you (at least in your head) every time you use them. So they never even get the chance to test themselves out against a fish. I am not saying there are flies out there that will absolutely catch fish and those that will absolutely not catch fish, what I am saying is that every fly fisherman probably needs to clean out their fly boxes of unused flies and stop purchasing flies that they will never use.
“Whoa!!” or “Blasphemer!” is now what you are probably saying.
Well before you bring out the pitchforks and the torches let’s see if you have ever had a scenario like this happen to you:
You are currently fishing your favorite trout stream in the middle of winter. There is snow on the ground, ice all along the banks of the stream. You know that the trout are not hitting any dry flies, so you produce a nymph (small pheasant tail or zebra midge). After a few minutes of seeing trout ignore your first fly you switch to your second fly. However it too doesn’t reward you with a fish. By now you are freezing your ass off, you’re frustrated, and probably wondering “why the hell am I out here?” So you start scanning your fly box for anything that will work. There it is your lucky fly, the one you save for such an emergency. Within minutes you are catching fish or you are packing up your gear so you can go home to warmth and a beer.
Am I right? Come on you know I am. No matter what the season is or what fish you are targeting, eventually a scenario like this always happens. It is a part of the game every fisherman plays every time we put that rod in hand. What we all want is to catch fish; if not then we stop fishing and do something else.
One day, very similar to this scenario, I noticed I had several flies that I never once used and zero of one specific fly that was my “go to” fly that season. By several flies I mean several fly boxes of “test flies.” It ruined my day because I had zero faith in those test flies, even though several resembled the fly I wanted, nothing seemed to work. I was so mad when I got home that I spent that afternoon gutting those fly boxes and tying multiple flies of the go to fly I wanted that day. Ultimately that one day ended up changing my out lookout on everything in regards to fly fishing and fly tying.
Over the past two years I went from having five fly boxes to two. One is just a fly box dedicated to nymphing because that is my preferred method of fly fishing. While the other is a seasonal/test fly box (dry flies, nymphs, and streamers) that I change out from month to month. I still love trying to tie new flies, but I try to limit these test flies to one or two max so that I am not wasting materials on flies that I will never use.
Only one fly over the past two years has made it way from the seasonal/test fly box to the nymph box. Unfortunately that fly is the Squirmy Wormy invented by David Hise, I say unfortunately because that fly takes little skill to tie and the material is just plastic. Really there is no art to the Squirmy, which I hate as a fly tyer, but it is damn efficient fly when your goal is to catch fish. Before the Squirmy I would have suggested that the best fly to use was the Zebra Midge, it is one of the easiest and fastest flies to tie and it catches fish regardless of season. Now though, the Squirmy is moving up to being the Zebra’s equal.
When I stated earlier that I now understand why my local fly shop only carried a limited variety of flies it is because its owner had already figured this out years before me. Because the owner would fish each fly; he only carried the flies that he knew would catch a higher percentage of fish. He wouldn’t carry any fly that he would think would let a customer down out on a stream. He also knew when and where to fish each of the flies he carried. But in contrast the same owner had one hell of a fly tying section, and actively supported learning fly tying and making new flies. I still take a lot of pride in bringing him a couple of flies I have made to hear him say, “That will fish,” or to have him say he wanted to sell those at his shop.
Believe when I say I understand the concept of a smaller variety of flies is a hard thing to grasp, especially when social media, the internet, and major fly companies are constantly trying to tell you the opposite. Look at any major fly company catalogue and you will see hundreds of flies out there that they claim will catch fish. I’m not saying that they won’t, but if you don’t believe they will then don’t buy or try to make them. Be intelligent about what you buy and what you tie. Unless you are looking for artistic pieces that you are going to keep, research what you are buying and make sure your new fly is something that you believe will catch a fish. If you are just starting to learn how to fly fish or fly tie, talk to your local shops about what they think are some of the best flies for your area. Not only will you get a lot of useful information out of them, they should also save you a lot of money. As a fly tyer; don’t make or keep a fly that you are unhappy with. Hooks and beads are the most expensive material of any fly; if your fly starts to go wrong stop and try to correct it, if it goes terribly wrong take a razor to it and start from scratch.
One of my fondest memories of my life is my first trout on a fly I had tied myself; it was a hare’s ear nymph. Even though it was a simple fly to tie, the pure joy of knowing that I had tied a fly that would catch a fish is impossible for me to describe to you. It is the reason why I keep pounding the streams year after year. Seriously I want everyone that has taking up fly fishing to have those same feelings. But I do not want you to fall into the same scenario as I have over the years; wasting time and hard earned money on flies that will never be used. End the end go with your gut feeling on a fly is what I am telling you to do. If you believe without a doubt that a certain fly will catch a fish then buy it or make it, if not consider why you don’t believe it will and go from there. It’s your choice.