Bob Boese - October 5, 2009

The Internet is a remarkable electronic universe, which was probably not invented by Al Gore.  Surfing the “Net” is addictive and frustrating. Millions of information sources provide fact and fiction, insight and invention, but frequently fall just short of the perfect answer. Sometimes fly fishermen only want perfection. Perhaps, if Jimmy Soul’s If You Wanna Be Happy was always playing in the background, life would be much easier.

If you wanna be happy
For the rest of your life,
Never make a pretty woman your wife,
So from my personal point of view,
Get an ugly girl to marry you.

Believe it or not, most fish do not discern fine details in a fly until it is a foot or less away. A good bit of the science involving fish vision is guess-ology, but it is certain that fish lenses are perfectly spherical, which enables them to see underwater because it has a higher refractive index to help them focus and they focus by moving the lens in and out instead of stretching it like we do. They see through monocular vision (one eye only and 2 dimensionally) except for a triangular area above and in front of their head where the lines of monocular vision cross. At that point it is likely they have already decided whether or not to taste a fly and, if it is not repugnant smelling and generally resembles something they think of as food, they will inhale it.

Say man.
Hey baby.
Saw your wife the other day.
Yeah, she's ugly.
Yeah, she's ugly, but she sure can cook.

Why would fish eat ugly flies? Consider “generic,” flies. All generic patterns are intended to sort of replicate something food-ish that fish might eat. These are ugly patterns that do not look like anything in nature, but when it comes to catching fish, they sure can cook. A recent study by the University of Liverpool came up with scientific answers that reflect Pavlov and common sense. Fish respond to stimuli both instinctively and through learned response.  They may have individual learning experiences but may also exhibit a herding or community action response and can recall this to use an appropriate response for several years. The most intriguing aspect of the new study is that there are apparently fish personalities, with aggressive and non-aggressive fish of the same species. The study suggests that a bold fish are more active and more prone to approach and eat unfamiliar snacks. They eat more than their reluctant brothers and are more catch-able. Timid fish will leave strange-looking food alone. The question then arises as to why to use generic flies instead of replica flies.

A pretty woman makes her husband look small
And very often causes his downfall.
As soon as he marries her
Then she starts to do
The things that will break his heart.

Replica flies are intended to exactly replicate prey. The problem is that such flies are tied in an environment of air breathers, not underwater. A dragonfly nymph floating in the water is a little glump of wiggly parts that a fly tyer never saw on a vise. These parts fold and collapse and undulate in ways that look nothing at all like a photo of the nymph, and they don’t always do the folding and collapsing and undulating in the same way. Each glump may differ from the next. In the same way a prom date’s hairdo in a rain shower resembles nothing like it did at the salon, a fly should change with the wet environment. Unfortunately, many very expensive replica flies look the same under all conditions. They break your wallet and your heart. Older larger fish are not stupid. Generic flies, particular pattens like chenille and soft hackle varieties, look positively ugly in the water, but they look ugly in that tantalizing non-uniform glump-ish manner that says they might be food.

Don't let your friends say
You have no taste,
Go ahead and marry anyway,
Though her face is ugly,
Her eyes don't match,
Take it from me she's a better catch.

Consider a 10:30AM on a Saturday morning when the fish in a private lake have gotten lockjaw. Six veteran fly fishers ply the waters with precisely tied patterns, only to be continually discouraged, and then eight year old Kenneth arrives with a fly that looks remarkably like this. He tied it himself and it consists of a small strip of foam, some flashaboo on top and a few pheasant tail fibers as a tail. It looks exactly like nothing in nature. Kenneth casts only 10' and doesn’t work his fly but waits patiently until a large bluegill hooks itself; and then another, and then another. Then a massive bass roars out of the water in anger and after a short fight spits the hook. Then even more bluegill.

What the fish thought Kenneth’s fly was supposed to be we will never know. Perhaps something just “near ‘nough” like prey to attack, something sort of food-ish. All that is known for sure is the six veteran anglers are all likely to tie up ugly flies for next time.

Never marry yourself to just pretty flies.


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