Whip Finish


Ralph Long - Sep 9, 2015

Leaning back I admired the finished pattern in the jaws of my vise and couldn't help but smile. It sat presiding over my bench in all its finished glory, yet in stark contrast to the previously tied patterns still sitting in the pockets of my pedestal base. There in the bronze pockets of the Regal sat patterns the likes of Theodore Gordon's Quill, The Wilson brothers Queen of the Waters, Mr. Halladay's Adams and Al Troths venerable Elk Hair Caddis. All of which carry histories decades long throughout the annals of fly tying. Fine patterns tied with artistic flair and a following among fly fishermen. Yet the pattern in my vise cast a shadow over them all on this day and throughout recent months on the water. Tied with the inspiration of a Dahlberg Diver and countless deer hair poppers, the little Mule Deer Diver was basking in its glory of success. That same success which was responsible for its creation on this day, alongside of a half dozen more just like it.

A very basic pattern in the world of bass bugs, the Mule Deer Diver does not strike you as a pattern tied in a master craftsman's vise. It is tied in natural hair fashion, adorned with rubber legs, hackle tips and white bucktail. No what caused me to sit back and smile was not the style or detail in the pattern. Nor was it the ingenuity and wisdom applied to its creation. The smile came from the pure audacity in which a bass fly catches fish. It does so seemingly in the face of all that is fly tying. In a world ruled by trout, their haunts and the chess game held on the water as well as at the vise, the bass fly tips its sweaty old ball cap each time a fish rises from the lilies and sucks it in. In a style and colors bringing to mind a 1920 Easter promenade mixed with a 1970's night at studio-54, the bass fly defies fly tying sense. Yet when slapped upon the water, it glurps along through the algae and vegetation causing heart-pounding strikes, which are immediately followed by a struggle akin to pulling a pit bull out of a feed bag using a willow branch.

While many bass flies are tied with a particular bug, fish or critter in mind, just as many if not more are created at the vise by curious minds with the need to try something new. This type of tying mentality doesn't always follow tradition, which is in fact just as important in the world of fly tying as anything else. And in some circles it can be the "only" fact needed when applied to the vise. Many folks eschew bass fishing with a fly rod due to this very point. They look at a size 4 bass popper and either laugh or scoff. It has no place in their world of size 16 Catskill patterns. Others turn their heads over the perceived lack of finesse.

I personally don't fall into either camp. I like to catch fish. I have an equally deep appreciation for both the sip of a trout as it takes a drifting size 18 Adams, and the assault of a size 4 deer hair popper in the lily pads. Both have their place in my heart, and both make my pulse quicken. In one hand I hold a fat brown trout and pluck the fly from its lip in wonder of why an 18 inch fish would rise for a bug barely visible in size and how a hook so small even brought it to the net? And in the other hand I lip a three pound bass and chuckle at the gaggle of deer hair, rubber legs and feathers stuck in its face while wondering what in the world it thought it was even eating?

Where most trout patterns fall into the impressionistic form of representing a specific bug versus an attractor pattern, the exact opposite applies to bass flies. With bass flies, they seem to catch fish on 40% representation of a food source, and the remaining 60% on "HEY LOOK OVER HERE! BETTER HURRY, I'M GETTING AWAY!" All of which works just fine for me, because if they have the audacity to catch fish I can muster up the audacity to tie them.

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