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WHEN SIMPLE IS BEST
I have been tying flies for nearly 50 years and I have a room filled with all kinds of fly tying stuff to prove it. I have book shelves that are groaning under the weight of tomes devoted to applying various types of materials to hooks. I have taught fly tying, sold fly tying material, and written about fly tying; in short I have been there and done that. While none of this marks me out as an "expert" I do have some knowledge about fly tying. What's amazing to me is, that after all these years of tying flies for my personal use, I find the most effective flies are often the simplest patterns to tie. I have undoubtedly caught more fish on patterns that consist of only two or three materials applied in a straightforward way than all the complex patterns that required hours of practice just to tie one reasonable example.
Now it's important to understand that I don't tie full dress Atlantic salmon patterns, I don't tie realistic patterns that look like they could crawl off the table or salt water patterns with several different types of flashy materials and cured epoxy bodies. I tie flies for fresh water fish; mostly trout, and overall I find simple is better.
I spend most of my time fishing spring creeks or waters that have spring creek characteristics. These waters have a certain mystic, a reputation for producing trout that have obtained a PHD in selectivity. I have come to believe that a simply tied pattern properly presented will produce as many takes at the end of the day as a fly that took 15 minutes to tie.
One of the patterns that I have given me great success over the years is a simple pattern that consists of nothing more than a hook and thread. I have tied the red thread midge worm using nothing but red thread and a hook and I have caught a bushel basket full of trout using nothing more than this simple pattern that even a first time fly tier could tie.
I recall one late spring day on the Montana's Bighorn River when my nephew and I slipped down along a long bank in his drift boat hoping to find some trout feeding on the sporadic midge and BWO hatch that had been sputtering off and on for the last hour. Spotting a few risers we swung the boat out into mid-river and pulled in well below them. I slipped out of the boat and struck out overland toward a place 30 or 40 yards upstream where I had detected a few rising fish. My nephew slipped out of the boat and moved just slightly upstream to work some fish that he could see hanging in the current.
I pushed through the streamside brush and entered the water about ten yards below a pod of browns that were holding at the edge of the deeper water. I stood watching them as they moved in and out from the deeper water to the shallow water along the bank. They were coming up but not breaking the surface so I thought I would try them with a midge worm. I pulled a size #18 red midge worm pattern out of my box, greased the leader tippet within 6 inches of the fly, and held the fly down in the water to get it wet so it would start to sink as soon as it hit the water.
When I left the boat I had picked up my One Weight Orvis® rod thinking I might find some fish feeding on small dry flies. I stood in the current holding the fly and watching the fish. I picked out the fish that was closes to me and dropped the little midge worm about a foot in front of where the fish was holding in the current next to the shore. I could not see the fly but I could see the leader and the fish and when the fish moved slightly to the side I saw the leader twitch and I lifted the rod tip and it was instant action. The fish shot out into the deeper water, head shaking down deep in the run and then shooting up out of the water like an arrow. Two or three more runs and I slid him into the net; a respectable 16+ inches of burnished bronze. Over the next hour or so I repeated that performance with the remaining fish that were lined up along the bank. Each fish would take the little red midge worm, making the reel scream as they ran out into the deeper water and ultimately sliding over the rim of my net. They were all browns between 16 and 18 inches.
Over the years that simple little red midge worm pattern has produced many similar fishing experiences. I have taken many fish on the Paradise Valley spring creeks using this pattern when nothing else was producing. I tie a few of these flies with a red wire rib to help get them down quicker and even with a small red bead and small red plastic lace material, but the simple pattern with just red tying thread is still my favorite.
I have many other simple patterns that have produced many fish for me over the years. Recently I have started experimenting with some simple soft hackle flies that my nephew has been using. These flies, like the red thread midge worm, are quickly constructed using two or three materials and fished on the surface like a dry fly.
I know that many fly tiers like to construct detailed patterns combining several different fly tying techniques to produce that certain fly pattern and I have tied many of these patterns. However, more and more when I set down to tie some flies I turn to those simple patterns. For me, there is something special about fooling a fish with a fly that consists of nothing but a hook and some thread or a couple turns of hackle.