The Magic Bullet
16 March 2005
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Odd, isn’t it, how a fly that inspired complete confidence ten, twenty or thirty years ago just doesn’t cut the mustard anymore? Why is that? Some anglers think it’s because trout are getting smarter, have wised up to our tricks and it takes something new to get them interested. Every time a new fly works it reinforces that idea, a new ‘only thing they would take’ is born, and more anglers tie one on their leader – and so it goes. This kind of thing is the strongest kind of reinforcement, even though we suspect that it is the fly that happens to be on the leader when the fish begin to feed that catches the fish. Just try to ignore the advice to use a Green Octopus on Corrib these days. I can’t.
Nevertheless, you have to admire those adventurers who try out new twists on the old themes in the first place, the outcomes of creative winter tying sessions, when speculation, experience and outright fantasy produce the new spring models. Mystics and enthusiasts, all of them, and what would fly-fishing be without them, constantly searching for the ultimate alchemical formula, just one step ahead of those suspicious and increasingly learned trout?
Colour is always one avenue worth exploring. Maybe a little extra something added to an old standby will turn the trick; a fluorescent tag, a sprig or two of mylar added to the wing. I know good anglers who put almost all the money on colour, sticking with traditional styles but ringing the colour changes according to light conditions or just an intuitive whim.
Others go the shape route, concentrating on aspects of form. This camp, the fly designers, splits cleanly into two factions, the realists and the impressionists. One group works toward more exacting simulation of the natural, the other looks into the salient ‘triggers’ to a response from the trout.
Looking back over my career as a fly tier I can identify periods of change in my thinking from pattern to design. Now, when I open my fly boxes, some of the old favourites look faintly ridiculous. They remain there pretty much for nostalgic reasons, but, as John Gierach says, what good is a sport if you can’t get all mushy about it?