Practical Flies to Rile Fly Fishing Snobs

Simple Fly
OK, that one is blurry AND looks like $#%@!

At Alaska Fly Fishing Online is a piece about how fly fishing in the last frontier is led by guys who might not much care about pretty files and accurate imitations of what’s hatching, swimming and otherwise falling victim to the jaws of predacious fish. They tie simple flies that just catch stuff.

Egg Sucking Leach
Egg sucking leach, fly fishing blasphemy.

Take the Egg Sucking Leach:

Does it imitate anything as delicate and ephemeral as a May fly? Well, no. Essentially a huge purple Wooly Bugger with a ball of hot pink or red chenille tied in at the eye of the hook, it apparently mimics a bright purple leech attempting to swallow a feverishly swollen salmon egg. (In deference to readers with delicate sensibilities I will not name the variation on which the inflamed pink portion is located at the bend of the hook: ie. the terminal end of the “leech’s” alimentary canal). The fact that there are no purple leeches in Alaska, and that our ordinary green and black leeches do not, as far as I can tell, actually eat salmon eggs, begs the question of whether any self respecting angler would want to be seen casting such a freakish creation under any circumstances. Yet this fly, or one of it’s variations (the Egg Sucking Muddler, the Egg Sucking Zonker, the Egg Sucking Bead Head Krystal Flash etc.) is invariably mentioned on nearly every Alaskan’s list of must-have patterns, and for two good reasons: it catches fish like crazy, and it embodies our disdain for all things elegant, delicate, and traditional.

In my simple little mind, this was my point in the Royal Wulff post I wrote a couple weeks ago. A practical (though maybe not the simplest), let’s-not-overthink-this-brook-trout-thing type of ammo to accomplish the task effectively all day long. Just Git-R-Done. Yee haw.

Tequlia Sunrise fly
Tequila sunrise. And you're serious.

Seems like Alaska is full of fly tying cretins who want nothing more, with less thread and dubbing:

Alaskan fly boxes house some of the biggest, goofiest looking monstrosities outside of the World Wrestling Federation. The list includes such classics as the Alaskabou —a fist full of marabou lashed to an enormous, otherwise bare hook; the Bunny Bug —a fist full of rabbit fur lashed to an enormous, otherwise bare hook; and, perhaps the mostly widely used of all, the Coho Fly —a fist full of bucktail lashed to an enormous, well, you get the picture.

I started fly tying last winter. I will be the very first to say (even in a long line of people amazingly quick to point out how crappy my flies are) that my skills at the tying bench give me no authority whatsoever to comment on how flies should look, should fish and should be accepted by the cognoscenti from fly fishing’s hallowed halls in the Catskills and Pennsylvania. However, I do know that simple trumps complex, all else being equal, and the anglers in Alaska who claim success seem to echo my pragmatic (or lazy) approach to this stuff, in a hyper way:

[L]eave it to Alaskans to lower our already abysmal standards with the introduction of the “pegged” bead, the lodge guides’ secret weapon for pleasing number crunching sports who have paid obscene amounts of money to be flown out to remote rivers, and really need to catch lots of fish.

I’m not going to explain exactly how the pegged bead works —in part because it is illegal on many of our rivers, but mostly because it is so deadly you would have to try it any way. Let me just say that a problem with plastic beads is that while they look exactly like salmon eggs, unlike roe they are rock hard, so a trout will mouth nearly every one you drift near him, yet spit them out faster than you can calculate your guide’s tip. But a “pegged” bead is virtually impossible for a trout to spit without getting the hook in his face, no matter how quick he is. And, presto, it’s “Fish on!” all day long.

Is it effective? Beyond your wildest dreams. Is it fly fishing? In Alaska it is.

I won’t break the law to catch a fish. But I am of the mind that less is more, simpler is better and tradition is great so long as it works. Certainly, there are plenty of traditional patterns that work for good reasons. No need to throw the Light Cahill out with the pipe and the tweed and the pretense:

I have no desire to go back to the Fan Wing Coachman dressed with home made paraffin and gasoline floatant, any more than I want to trade my toasty neoprenes in for rubber hip boots, or my graphite rods for that Sears fiberglass club I started out with forty years ago. But you can whip up a half dozen Coho flies or Alaskabous in the time it takes to tie one decent Prince Nymph, and there is actually a little tool that extrudes perfectly spherical Glo Bugs. And, let’s face it, it’s almost impossible to fish a Bunny Bug incorrectly. Then there are the pegged beads, which will hook fish while even the most reflex-challenged angler is busy gazing up at the clouds pondering life’s great mysteries, such as the presence of Canadian bacon on a Hawaiian style pizza, for instance.

The neighborly hunters dropped off a buck tail for me the other day. And I’ve got some hooks. It’s going to be a productive winter, and hopefully the flies will turn out better. We’ll see what the real experts say — the fish.

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