Whip Finish


Ralph Long - May 09, 2011

I recently spent some time with a fishing partner discussing the waters planned for this year, and some of the events attended throughout the past winter. It was a good talk, the kind that comes naturally over a beverage-of-choice and good company. Somewhere during the course of discussion we touched on how we had been turning to certain tying materials for the flies we fished. Eventually we went on to how some of our friends and fraternal acquaintances tend to lean towards particular materials or styles in their tying efforts as well. Reflecting on it, it’s true that over time a particular tyer can often be identified merely by looking at his-or-her patterns. It can almost become a signature of sorts.

So, there I found myself, sorting through my boxes in preparation for a trip to new water I have planned for later this month. Pausing to look over them I took a moment to contemplate the patterns I tie, and in-turn carry. Was there a pattern to my madness as well? Were there anomalies in my tying style that caused my patterns to stand out? Of course since these things seldom become apparent to the originator, and at first nothing stood out. Like most tyers, I tend to think of myself as a “free-thinker”. Not beholden to any particular style or pattern, but rather, a tyer that leans towards what the fish are telling me. What my time on the water shows me. How could I possibly let myself be pigeon-holed into a predictable or pre-determined style? Maybe other tyers but certainly not I! Unfortunately, closer inspection of my boxes caused me to have to slow-my-truck-down a little and get out of the “free-thinker” lane. It appeared that I obviously had identifiable habits within my personal patterns, along with many of the “classics” that I have become particularly fond of.

It appears that I have a tendency to tie many of my dry fly patterns using moose body hair or dark pardo Coq-de-Leon hackle. Admittedly, because I enjoy the properties of the two materials in question and find them to be more durable than most. While not a bad thing in or improper in application, both materials are often darker than the materials called for in many patterns. Hence, many of my patterns wear darker tails than most other patterns. Since the patterns all seem to catch fish just fine, I am not alarmed. But in an effort to make sure I am not just getting stuck in a rut of laziness in material selection I promised myself to pay attention to it in the future. On further inspection of the bins one thing stood out above all the rest. I tie and fish many different Elk-Hair Caddis patterns throughout the course of the season, and all of them are tied identical, with a single step missing. None wear the wire rib found on the original patterns. This is something that I have been questioned on countless times by other tyers. Most often with the statement of “you forgot the rib on this one”. But it’s in fact a purposeful deletion from the pattern. Early on in my tying growth I saw no real benefit to the wire rib in the pattern. Aside from the fact that it added additional weight, which was not a desired trait, I was looking for in a dry fly. I in effect turned the EHC pattern into a 4 step fly. I tie in the hackle at the bend of the hook, dub the body forward, palmer the hackle, and tie in the elk hair wing. No problem with durability has raised its head over the past 20 years so I’ve stayed with it. The result being that if all of our EHC patterns were to be dumped into a bin together you would be able to identify mine.
Those two things stood out to me while going over my boxes. I’m sure that if asked others who are familiar with my patterns would be able to point out at least a few more as well, just as I would be able to do with theirs in turn. Not to point out negative issue with their patterns, but too simply identifying things that tend to make them “their” patterns. One particular fishing buddy of mine does not like to tie with standard upright hackle. So, if three people were to be asked to produce what their favorite dry fly patterns were for the BWO, Light Cahill & March Brown hatches? I would be able to point out his three patterns. They would all be tied similarly with CDC. They would all be tied wonderfully, but all would be CDC. He has no trouble catching fish with these patterns so there is no negative connotation, only the identification of a predictable pattern.

Many of the patterns we think of today as classics were simply tying styles of the originators. Patterns from well-known tyers such as Theodore Gordon, Jack Atherton, Lee Wulff, etc. all have come to be known as “classics”. But what essentially gave them that moniker of “classic”? It was their personal style at the bench that was the difference. That vision they brought back from the stream on a given day, and the resulting pattern that was spawned at their vise. No other tyer would have sat down and tied up the very first Quill Gordon. We all would have seen something completely different upon taking a seat at the bench then what Theodore Gordon saw. More than likely he sat down with the goal of producing the fly that was in his head, and as a result reached for the materials he was the most comfortable with. And I’ll bet he applied the same technique that over the years had become almost second nature to him personally. I wonder if the other fly tyers which he surrounded himself with could have almost foretold what the Quill Gordon was going to look like when he was finished.

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