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Fly Fishing - Classification Of Fly Patterns

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Fly fishing came late to America but in this vast country where every man regards the woods and waters as his own, it quickly grew into a flourishing sport. Early anglers copied the fly patterns long in use abroad and at first they found that, as is still the case in remote places, the native American fish were not too choosy about what they hit. But as more fly men fished, our Eastern streams began to be overworked, trout became harder to catch, and especially after the suspicious brown trout was introduced to remedy the situation of declining native species, anglers discovered that to consistently take fish meant more than just tossing any old fly to a rising trout. They found it took the right fly, and as a result they began to study stream life, gathering a smattering of entomology in order to be able to match through their various stages the natural insects upon which trout prey.

Today there are more anglers in America who know the history, technique and tradition of tying artificial flies than will be found in any other country. Every area in the United States has its share of tyers producing standard patterns that are good not only in their own bailiwick, but wherever trout are found. And these same men also come up with variations of the standard ties, new flies that are uniquely suited to their own area and do a special job on a special fish, or under special circumstances.

All artificial flies are not necessarily tied to represent natural flies. Many are made to imitate minnows, mice, frogs, beetles and other types of aquatic or streamside life, both insect and animal, and the flow of inventions designed by resourceful fishermen is never ending. For instance, last spring in Pennsylvania I bumped smack into a whole new line of flies tied by Vince Marinaro and Charlie Fox, which they developed as a result of their study and analysis of the insect life along the limestone streams of their home state.

This pair of anglers has come up with what they label "terrestrials," that is, flies that are designed from naturals which are born of the earth rather than the water. Of particular interest to me were the Japanese beetles and the jassids, as I had encountered times when bass in the Susquehanna River would take nothing but a Japanese beetle; and again and again I have fished streams that fairly cried for a jassid. So I tucked a few in my pocket before heading west, and sure enough, found that they produced wonderfully on Montana's many spring creeks.

I think that in these terrestrials our Pennsylvania friends have come up with a set of flies which, while not a substitute for the hatch of the moment, or for the stream food of major importance in any one place, will still be universal fish takers.

Terrestrials cover a wide range of land insects that either fall, crawl or are blown into the water. Almost all of them are fished dry but some are also good when played under the water. They imitate the green worm, leaf hoppers, many different types of beetles, various kinds of ants of different colors,-red, brown, black, white, and black with red tail-and jassids. One of the very best trout attracting terrestrials is the big daddy long legs. This is a deadly number that they'll.hit every time it comes down the stream but it is a tough one to tie and is so fragile that each hit just about ruins it so that the trouter who intends to fish a daddy long legs needs a good supply in his box.

Many of the flies tied by neophytes are merely hopeful concoctions of the tyer's fancy, signifying nothing in the world and more often than not looking like something that a mother trout might use to scare her young, rather than a real gone lifelike natural. But in time these adventurers discover that in order to be consistent takers of fish, their inventions must subscribe to certain rules as to appearance and the way they may be fished. In the main, flies fall readily into certain classifications according to their construction and the way they are handled in the water. These are:


Added to these feather and tinsel creations are the fly rod lures, not too often used but still a part of the fly man's equipment, small spoons and wobblers and tiny plugs; and a whole new selection of flies tied for salt water gamefish which have recently been adding so much to the fly rodder's sport; and the hair bugs and popping bugs used in all fields of fly fishing-trout, bass and the salt. These I have classed, for description in this book, as:


In some cases there must be overlapping, as for instance with ants. In addition to the ant fished under the surface like a wet fly or nymph, the black flying ant has long been a favorite dry fly on Eastern streams and, particularly when swarming, these aerial performers seem to tickle the taste buds of trout. I remember fishing a lake one day when the place literally came alive with flying ants. They fell on the surface by the thousands and just as suddenly as the ants had appeared, the trout started to rise all over the lake, sucking in the downed insects. I got into the act, too, with a size 20 flying ant, dry. Business was good right off, and stayed good for a half hour. And many other times the flying ant has produced when there was no obvious supply of naturals. For this reason it has long been one of my favorite dry flies.

Flies that are good in one part of the country are nearly always good in others, too, so that I seldom denote flies as "Eastern" or "Western" flies any more. Most of the Eastern flies were tied to match hatches on Eastern streams but have proven out elsewhere, too. And flies tied for a small stream in one part of the country will usually prove just as effective on small streams elsewhere.

But East or West, when a hatch calls for a certain fly, then the angler must have it. There is no more exasperating experience than to be in on a hatch where flies are all over you, swarming across the surface, and trout are hitting into them with what looks like reckless abandon-till they come to your offering. You may take the odd fish, but to really cash in on the situation you need the right fly and the right size fly, be it in the dry, wet or nymphal stage.

One of the average trouter's greatest fears seems to be that he will have to use a small fly.

"Size 20!" he says with obvious dread.

First, he is afraid he can't see the fly, and second he is sure that the fish can't see it and third, he doesn't think that the bend of the hook in a small fly is wide enough to hold a big fish.

Yet flies tied on hooks in sizes 18, 2o and 22 consistently bring in big trout, fish of three and four pounds. Perhaps the fact that the bend in the hook is so small as to not allow any play explains it. The hook sinks in to the hilt and there is no room for the hook to straighten out, as might happen with a longer shanked hook with a wider bend.

A hook that straightens out usually does so on the strike, when the point of the hook jabs into a hard part of the fish's mouth. Or when the fish is lipped or, as some anglers say, "when you pull his nose." Then a small fly will often come back with the bend opened up. Bending the hook back into shape does not seem to weaken it to any great extent, however, and I've often bent a hook back and continued to use it and land many more fish with it. However, all flies should be examined regularly, especially after missing a couple of strikes, to be sure that the hook has not been straightened out to some degree, and also to be sure the point has not been knocked off on a rock.

For special occasions, some of the very small flies are tied on bigger hooks. Such a fly is the popular snow fly used on the Yellowstone River, which is open for fly fishing all winter. These tiny numbers were first tied to use in winter and spring when big hatches of the tiny naturals showed. Tied on 5X short hooks, they are dressed to fit a size 18 or 2o hook, but the 5X is heavier, and has a much wider bend and will do a real job of holding and fighting a big fish. The only difficulty is to maintain a good float, as the heavier hook tends to pull the lightly dressed fly under the surface. But if kept loaded with fly buoy, it will usually stay up there to get plenty of hits.

Two well known fly experts in the Montana area use these snow flies regularly. Merton Parks of Gardner, at the north entrance to Yellowstone )?ark, believes that the snow fly is a winter fly that lays its eggs in water but pupates in ice and snow. He ties a black snow fly to ape this little natural, on a 5X short hook and although the real fly is almost too small to match accurately even with that, still his concoction gets plenty of hits. It can be fished either wet or dry but Parks likes to fish it dry.

"But sometimes you see an eddy that has foam in it," he says. "The fish will be rising and taking things from the foam. Then I use the snow fly wet, tossing it to the far edge of the foam and bringing it back in a slowĄ even retrieve. They sock it hard."

"Sometimes you are casting over ice," he went on. "But it's worth it."

"When is the best time?" I asked. "I'd like to try it sometime."

"It's good all winter," he said. "But March and April are the best months, and the first few days of May are very good. One day last May I went out for an hour and a half, and in that time, using the black snow fly, I took three three-pounders, and five two-pounders, besides several that went a pound."

Dan Bailey of Livingston ties a similar fly, really a midge, and finds that its use is not confined to the winter months. Last October I saw him put it to great service on the famous Spring Creek at Lewistown, Montana. Dan noticed that the prevalent hatch was so small that he could hardly match it with a size 22 hook. He tied a gray snow fly on a 5X short hook and floated it over a riser. That fish took then, and came right out, a really big rainbow with more than his share of aerial ability. That fish turned it on and it took Dan 15 minutes to bring him to net, a fine four-pounder that gave it all he had, and he had plenty. Dan showed me the 5X short hook, afterwards. It was still in its original shape, not showing the slightest sign of opening. A size 18, 20 or 22 hook might have taken that rough treatment, or it might have opened up, but the odds were at least slightly in the favor of the 5X short.

"It was good to know I had my fly tied on that hook," said Dan as if reading my mind. "I could fight him harder than if I had been using a smaller lighter wired one, like an ordinary 20. And nothing but the small size would have turned the trick here."

So it pays to cover every possibility and to have enough flies along so a trip will not be spoiled by shortage of either size or pattern. Of course, the fisherman who ties his own flies can take his fly tying material along and, after seeing the hatch, he can tie the fly he thinks will match it, and so be away ahead of the fellow who depends on buying his flies. But one way or the other, it pays to be ready with a good supply.

In this book I do not propose to go into the intricacies of the actual tying of flies. That is a field in itself, while I am concerned herein with the practical business of casting a fly so it will take fish. However, over a long period of time, fishing as often as I do, searching for fun and material, I have used just about all the standard flies and have come upon almost as many more new and strange creations, tied both here and in other countries. And because I think it is important for a beginner to have a basic knowledge of what flies work fairly consistently almost anywhere, I am listing in the text of each of the following chapters the patterns and the fly rod lures that I have found did a good job for me. Properly fished, these standard flies have produced and will continue to produce over the years.

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