Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Jan 14, 2013

Sitting down at my bench I went about my beginning rituals for a tying session. It may not be exact each time, but I most often find myself tidying up after my last session a bit, then pulling out the particular materials I will need for the flies I intend to tie. My materials are stored in the 3 drawers below my pull-out tying table. So I find it necessary to pull the materials out prior to getting my vice staged on the table or I cannot easily reach the hackles in my top drawer. It may not be a perfect setup but it's mine and I've grown accustomed to it over the years. This visit to the bench was for the purpose of tying up an old favorite, the Satsop Stone, for the purposes of photographing the tying sequence. I had retrieved all the materials except for the ribbing hackle, when I glanced up to the jaws of my vise. Sitting in the vise was the pattern that had been the purpose of my last session. It appeared I had inadvertently left the last fly in the vise before closing up the bench.

I pulled the vise out onto the tying platform and staged my materials where I needed them, but my eyes came back to that fly in the jaws. It was a Mayfly pattern called the Haystack, tied in a version I have named the May Haystack due to its effectiveness during some of the hatches I like to fish during that month. But what caught my eye was the contrast between the fly, and the plethora of materials I had arranged on my bench. The pattern I was about to tie had 5 materials involved, and 9 tying steps. While the pattern in the vise had only two materials and 3 steps involved. Both flies are excellent patterns in their own right, and both bring plenty of fish to hand during their intended hatch. Yet the two were so vastly different in style and composition that beyond the point that they were both intended to catch fish, there was little comparison.

That thought put me to browsing my patterns and materials. It's amazing at times just how much material a fly tiers bench can accumulate over the span of 20+ years. All of which is very necessary in the intended task for which it was acquired. And all of which is part of the enjoyment and journey that we all chose when we began to put hackle to hook. From the insanely artistic Classic Atlantic Salmon flies, to the simple but effective Caddis Larva, they all bring their own spark to the fire. And without any one of them, the fire begins to dull in comparison to what it should be. At least for this tyer it does.

In the art of fly tying, we attempt to imitate nature with art. And to do so, we are not able to apply a "template" or a "rule of science" to the creation of a fly pattern. Often this is attempted, but it tends to fail because the obvious intent was to catch the eye of the tier versus the intended quarry, that being the fish. On the contrary, each hatch and pattern must be addressed as a unique entity unto itself. I have most often found that patterns in which we see lasting through generations were initially tied with the intent of fishing during a specific hatch or on given water. Many times the pattern will be a very realistic pattern directly mimicking the intended bug, but more often than not it is a more impressionistic pattern that relies on the materials used to give the illusion of movement or life that works. That pattern, if initially effective carries with it a simple truth that will endure. The truth being, it was an effective imitation of an insect or food source, which in itself is our most basic goal in fly tying.

Our largest obstacle in tying effective patterns is to grasp that goal. It may sound simple, but how many times do you see a pattern, or tie one yourself, that has unnecessary steps or materials in it? I would imagine quite often. The key is to stop once you attain that goal. On one hand, the difference between an experiment at the bench and an effective fly with a potential legacy is a single necessary step or material. And on the other hand, the difference between an experiment on the bench and that same effective fly, is one too many steps or materials. There really is no "bigger and better mousetrap". There is simply what works. When it comes to fly patterns, the fish is the ultimate judge. And sometimes, what matters most is the simplest of things.

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