Winter is here in the Southern Cape, the rivers are closed, the rain pours down and temperatures have dropped to the point where fashion gives way to pragmatism in an effort to avoid hypothermia.
Winter here is like a Tigerfish strike, short lived but violent, the wind whips about, snow falls on the high ground and the temperatures plummet. It’s not fishing weather at least not in the worst of it, so most of us batten down the hatches, get in a bottle of scotch, turn the heaters on and take to watching DVDs or tying flies.
I suppose that tying flies when you can’t fish is akin to writing poetry when you can’t be with your loved one, not exactly the same but at least it maintains some level of contact.
All of which got me to thinking about fly tying and perhaps more so why some anglers manage to avoid it for their entire careers. To me tying your own flies is part and parcel of the fishing process. Catching fish on your own flies has a purity to it, some sort of Zen significance lacking when the fish chomp down on a pattern from the store.
This isn’t unique to fishing, I have a client who manufactures his own bows, arrows and even flint arrowheads to go hunting. In fact he is something of a collector of flints for the purpose and has bits of it from all over the globe. Obviously the game isn’t just about killing a deer, he could do that as well with a rifle, it is the process that makes it worthwhile, the connection and I suppose at some level the idea that one is “self sufficient”. Whichever way you look at it, I do think that tying your own flies adds to the experience and no doubt in my mind makes you a better angler to boot.
But I do recall the early days of tying my own flies, to be honest they were pretty dreadful and for a long time I figured that they were worse than the shop bought ones. So I would “hold them in reserve” for when the fishing was easy or the shop ones ran out.
Interestingly and I suspect that this is true of many, at some point one experiences what a business speaker would refer to as a “paradigm shift” and from that moment on one has more faith in patterns of your own manufacture and a heap less for the bought ones, in fact a heap less for any that you didn’t create yourself, even if donated by a supposed expert.
I can still recall one of the favourite patterns of my youth, it was tied on a long shanked #12 hook, had a brown cock hackle tail, copper wire rib, a black hackle and a wing-case manufactured out of yellow floss. It was a carefully thought out fly too. The tail was pretty standard, the peacock was cheap and readily available the hackle was simply because I had already decided that movement in a wet fly was important to me and the yellow floss wing case? Well simply put it was all I had to make a wing case with ( sometimes pragmatism outweighs artistry, even in poetry)..
I fished that fly on reservoirs over much of southern England with good effect, in fact better than good effect and it caught fish wherever I went. I doubt that it was the comely aspect of a well tied fly that did the business though, it was that I had confidence in it. Confidence is a big thing in fishing and perhaps that is why some people never get the fly tying bug. For them the confidence comes from a purchased pattern whilst for us fly tiers it is the exact opposite. It is just a little tricky to make the transition, if you are used to using shop bought flies you are going to experience doubt and doubt can be fatal. Work through that doubt however and your confidence will soar.
There are a number of oft quoted advantages to tying your own flies:
The financial benefits are questionable, if you tie basic patterns the way that fishing guides tend to do then it in undoubtedly an economic imperative. If you regularly wander into fly shops and pick up esoteric materials and the latest gadgets you are probably going to spend more than you bargained on your new found hobby.
Perhaps to me the greatest advantage is that you can get exactly what you want. You want an Adams with a black parachute wing to fish in the late afternoon for better visibility you can tie one. You need your nymphs with a hint more lead or a slightly more brushed out body, the solution is at your fingertips. That is the real advantage, the shear control you have over what you choose to tie and what you choose to fish.
Almost every fly in my boxes has been tied with a specific circumstance and often location in mind, sure they work in other places too but the originals are all manufactured with a purpose. To imitate the early season black micro caddis on the local streams, to drum up some action in high water when a bigger fly is usually better or to make it easier for my clients to pick up the size twenty that they are forced to fish in low summer flows. To me that is the essence of tying your own flies, you have control and with control comes confidence and with confidence comes fish.
If you have never tied a fly before in your life don’t be put off, it is fly tying not rocket science and even the most ham fisted can manufacture at least the odd passable nymph that will catch fish. My father always told me that “if you are going to do something do it well”, I think that is disingenuous advice to be frank and far prefer the alternative version “ if you want to do something it’s Ok to do it badly, at least for a while”. Adults tend to shy away from doing things badly, somewhere; deep seated in our subconscious is the idea that the days of doing things badly are past us. Rubbish, if you want to learn to do anything you have to do it badly for a while and with fly tying it doesn’t matter. You can always take a sharp blade and destroy the evidence if you turn out a real clunker.
I am not only tying flies to occupy myself this winter, I am working on a book on basic fly tying techniques, particularly with the idea of helping people get the basics right and get past that “doing it badly” phase as quickly as possible.
I don’t really think that you will ever reach your potential as a fly angler until you tie at least some of your own flies, but it isn’t so much that which drives me to encourage people, it is the fact that I know your enjoyment is likely to take a leap at the same time as your effectiveness.