Whip Finish


Ralph Long - July 1, 2013

I spoke with a good friend and fishing partner a few days ago, and he informed me of the new vest he had just purchased. A good piece of gear as far as vests go, I acknowledged as much and congratulated him on the recent purchase. However, after the meeting my mind began to work as well. Over the past few years I had actually migrated from a vest of many years, towards a hip/chest bag. My reasoning was mainly for the purposes of heat through the summer. A vest had just become far too hot for my tastes. And as things worked out and my "creature of habit" mentality, I soon found myself using the pack versus the vest pretty much year-round. And along with the change, I have noticed the amount of boxes I carried had diminished as well. Where I used to carry a full box for each and every style of pattern I either tied or fished, these days I was really down to only one or two boxes. And looking at my most recent trips a single box had become the norm, where I would find myself at the back of the truck trying to decide which box I felt like carrying in the name of space. It was time I thought, for a true fly box intervention.

Sitting down with my gear I opened up all of my existing boxes; all seven of them. My intent was to identify my "must haves" for a local trout box. The flies that would, in effect, make up a single box of patterns in which I was both successful and confident with on a regular basis. The first step was easy, go through and eliminate every pattern that I could not recall catching a fish on over the past two seasons. It was tough being honest with myself, and at times having to stubbornly knock out old favorites. Surprisingly, I was able to toss all but about 3-to-4 dozen patterns. That was a start I thought, but my goal was to get things down to a single box. Just how few would that list need to be? Looking at all of my compartment and foam boxes I decided that I could comfortably carry 20 patterns in any of the larger boxes. And one large box was perfect for the chest pack. So 20 patterns would be my goal, but how?

Switching mindsets at this point, instead of eliminating patterns by either poor performance or lack of use, I decided to identify my most productive patterns right off the top. That proved to be the easiest part, and in short order I was staring at 8 patterns. All of which caught fish more-or-less on every trip, or at least on every trip where the pattern was applicable. Now I was rolling. Next I looked at pattern types. Admittedly, I could quickly pick 20 dry patterns and be done with it. But that would be far from realistic. Obviously streamers would not always fit the bill, but when needed would be the only pattern at times that would be even remotely productive. Four patterns were easily selected that would cover every situation I would face for trout within my home waters. Likewise for me, I am loyal to a core of nymphs that just never let me down. With a little bit of soul-searching, I was able to pare it down to 6 patterns. Now I was getting somewhere. Half way there, and all I needed to do as knock my existing 2 dozen dry fly patterns down to a mere 10 patterns. I would need to cover all of the hatches that I fish over locally, though some were left out since I had not fished over a few of them in several years. Since I was looking for a daily-use box, I left out the Green Drake patterns. Normally, whenever I fish the Green Drake hatch, it is a targeted trip. On those events "All" I really needed was a few drake patterns at all. That would be a specialized box. What I needed to focus on were the hatches that revolved around the general trout season, and on the local waters in which I haunt.

Here is where the realization of what I had been doing hit me. For close to 10 years, many of the patterns within my boxes were hauntings of the past. Since moving back East, gone were the days of Stonefly patterns, a couple larger caddis patterns and a few pale Morning Duns to get me through a season. On many waters back then, a single #10 Satsop Stone pattern could account for 30 fish and a full day of fishing. Unless I was visiting a spring creek back then, a handful of patterns would cover me. But that was no longer the case. Here on local waters, I now seldom ever tied on a dry fly larger than a size #14. So while very productive out West, many of my patterns that were near-and-dear to my heart had to be placed in the "old boxes". Did they still catch fish out East? Yes. But they now fell into the realm of the Green Drake patterns I spoke of earlier; they only came off during select times and only on select waters. In those instances they would become the weapon-of-choice. But not so for a daily-use box that would spend an entire season bouncing around my gear bag in the back of my truck.

So there I was staring down at 20 patterns that for the most part had done most all of the heavy-lifting on the water over the past 2 seasons. Next step would be to tie up 12 of each for a fresh new box. This year would be the test. Would the new box leave me fishless on occasions? Or would it prove to be the driving force toward focusing on presentation and persistence? Time would tell. But one thing was for sure, the vest would be staying in storage. Was it a declaration of how anybody else should approach their season? Certainly not, it was simply a testament of where I currently was personally in my fly fishing mindset. Time would tell.

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