Flyting: Old and New; Something Purple, Something Blue.*
When I began fly fishing, tying my own flies was an obsession. It was the one thing I felt I could do with reasonable success. (Success defined here as wrapping materials onto a hook so they resembled something a fish might eat and didn’t disintegrate the first time I cast it.) Whether these creations caught bonefish was not part of the criteria. At that point catching bonefish was merely a dream, in the same class as the schoolboy daydreams of owning a small island with a secret location, building a lair inside its hollow volcano and carrying out “missions” of international espionage. In other words, unrealistic, but an addicting pastime. Nevertheless, I felt that finding the right fly, the correct fly, was the secret to one day unlocking the mouths of these fish.†
It’s romantic to imagine the sunburned guide, lime-infused beverage sweating on the table, reggae in the background, casually yet carefully tying flies in a cluttered tackle room as he plans the next day’s fishing. Reality is less glamorous; tying flies becomes a chore. I had to keep my hapless clients supplied.
In those early days we hooked fewer fish than now, but we still managed to lose an inordinate number of flies. Stray mangroves, jagged limestone shorelines and driftwood grabbed unguarded back-casts. Poorly tied knots returned as pigtails. Wind-knots parted unceremoniously mid-cast. And, the occasional fly was broken off in the mouth of an actual bonefish. It was a war of attrition and the ranks in my fly boxes bore the brunt. I began tying in bulk, using production-line strategies to shorten time spent on each fly. Finally, fatigued, I surrendered entirely and had flies produced wholesale to my specs. At eight bucks a dozen they allowed me to go years without tying a fly in anger.
Now I’m less of a full-time guide and perhaps that is why tying has once more becoming a simple joy. I like filling up those little plastic craft-box compartments with identical flies, ready to be loaded into the tiers of a pocket-sized fly box, like serried shells on a bandoleer.
I’ve also become more experimental with the colors and patterns I tie. I still think I could be given three patterns (in various sizes and weights) and fish 90 percent of the world’s bonefish successfully. But, variety, or more accurately unpredictability is at the core of this little game we play. I mean, fishing is a game of self-imposed rules and fly fishing is study in extremely stringent, not to say ridiculous rules. These are the only constant. Everything else is a crap shoot: weather, tides, seasons, migrations, hatches, and so forth.
Why not let the fly itself be a part of that complex equation? Since I don’t actually know I’m fishing the best fly at a given moment, I like to have the option of trying something different. So I carry way more flies than I need. As a result about twice a year dig through the boxes and remove an embarrassing number of unproductive (and possibly un-fished) patterns. I can’t say I remove many flies, as most have transformed into unrecognizable tangles of salty fur and flash, each leaving a dark rust spot on the once-clean Styrofoam lining. And yet after I salvage the usable bits—lead dumbells and hand-burned mono eyes—I sit at the vise and concoct something new, something never before seen in the history of the universe. Maybe it will be purple, pink and brown, or something yellow and blue. And maybe one day I’ll go down to the water and toss that thing at a tailing bonefish and that fish will eat that thing.
I dig the thought of that.
* Post originally inspired by the ramblings over on BonefishOnTheBrain.
† I still think like this some days, when the fish are being particularly stubborn. In truth, when fish won’t they probably won’t bite anything we throw at them. But, changing flies at least gives you something to do.