Eye of the Guide


Tom Travis - Mar 2015

What flies do I need? This is one of the most common questions asked by traveling fly fishers. This is because many fly fishers also enjoy tying flies and wish to properly prepare for their trip. The best way to determine your imitation list is with a little research. Call a local shop in the area you are going to be fishing, ask about the hatches and the pattern recommendations for the time period that you will be fishing the area. If you are unsure of some of the patterns, have the shop send you one each of the patterns, so you may use them as samples.

When you received or view these patterns ask yourself do I have patterns that look like the patterns that are suggested and do I have these patterns in the proper sizes? Furthermore how are these patterns being fished? This simple question is often never asked and actually it is very important as you may need to bring a full sinking line or sink tip to present the imitations in an effective manner!
Even if they are dry flies are they being fished in a dead-drift manner or are the imitations being twitched or skittered on the surface of the water.

If you do not tie flies, I suggest that you visit a local shop once you arrive in the area where you will be fishing and ask for recommendations on both the patterns and methods. When I travel, I always bring my own flies which are suited for the area, like mayfly, caddis, stonefly and terrestrial imitations.

Many of the patterns that you already have may also work on the waters you are visiting. Many times I have heard fly fishers says "Gee, I should have brought those with me". I always bring my patterns besides inquiring about local recommendations. You can't use them if you don't bring them.

I often hear complaints about the number of different patterns that may be needed. I have read numerous articles about a simple pattern selection which contains only a dozen patterns. On streams that are rich in food forms which the trout feed on, not having the proper imitation will lead to frustration! 

On waters like the Henry's Fork of the Snake, Nelson's Spring Creek and Silver Creek, there is an overabundance of food forms for the trout to eat.

Many of these trout have also been caught and released, maybe more than once; and on waters such as these, and as we as fly fishers practice catch and release, we are going to need imitations that are different than the standards, yet effective. Our selection of imitations will continue to become more involved if we continue to work over selective wild trout.

However we as fly anglers are often our own worst enemies as well are always looking for the hot new patterns when we often have effective patterns in our boxes but we lack the confidence and/or the ability to fish these imitations in the proper manner to be effective.

Often anglers buy a new rod or fly line thinking that these items will solve our problems when in fact the old equipment may be just fine, the problem may be our inability to cast or read the water. The basic knowledge of fly fishing is very important if you want to be successful and those individuals who cry that people like me are making the sport of fly fishing to complex are needlessly crying wolf, yes the approach to fly fishing can be kept fairly simply however you still need to learn some basic casting skills, presentation skills, learn the basics of what the trout eat and where to find them in the water column. You can have the finest selection of fly patterns in the world yet if you lack the basic skills to properly use them you will soon be frustrated and looking for answers. But the truth is that the lack of basic skills and the lack of knowledge is the reason for our failures.

Now as to fly patterns, I have lots of them and I am always modifying patterns or designing new patterns and some of them I have even marketed but I have never do so claiming that they were the next great pattern. I simply offer them as patterns that I have use and found to be effective.

Why do I create or dabble in modifying fly patterns, the answer to that is simple, as a fly angler/tyer part of the charm of the sport is the ability of create patterns that catch fish. All of us who tie flies want to catch fish on the flies that we construct. I should mention that there are a few fly tyer who pursue fly tying as an art form in its own right.

Over the years I have seen hundred's of fly patterns that are touted as the never fail patterns or the big fish producers and when I see those types of patterns, claims or articles I am always amused.
Why amused, because there are no secret killer type fly patterns, what produces trout are basis knowledge, time on the water and placing imitations to the fish you want to catch and a bit of good old fashion luck. Never discount luck, many times during my career as a fly fishing guide I have seen beginning level anglers catch large trout by simply being in the right place at the right time.

I love to modify and create new fly patterns but I fully realize that they are only a tiny part of the answer and that the effectiveness of any new or modified pattern depends on so many variables.

The other part of the answer is basic knowledge of casting, presentation methods, knowledge of the trout and where they are found in the water column along with a basic what they eat. The willingness of the angler to be observant, open-minded and the desire to do a little homework, this isn't making fly fishing to complex. In every sport there are some basic information that must be learned to engage in the sport, take golf you learn that the putter is a club that you use on the green to sink the putt in the hole, if not golfers would be out there using all manner of clubs.

There are no bad fly patterns, just incomplete knowledge on how to properly use them. Therefore go forth, educate yourself and have fun fly fishing and fly tying.

Enjoy & Good Fishin'

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