Steelguy’s “Spinal” got me thinking about what constitutes a “fly” in regards to fly fishing. So not wanting to hi-jack his thread, I decided to air a few thoughts on a new post.
The term “fly” itself seems misleading. Calling our presentations a fly conjures up at least some connection to a flying insect or bug, and at least in the historical sense, that’s what a fly was trying to imitate. But flies have certainly evolved to imitate virtually anything a fish might find appetizing – insects (aquatic and terrestrial), baitfish, immature fish, small animals, frogs, leeches, salmon by-products. Maybe that’s why some of us tend to say we’re “nymphing” or “fishing streamers.” Especially here in Alaska, the majority of our flies are imitating something besides a bug – alevin, smolt, flesh, eggs, sculpins, mice, leeches, candlefish, etc.
Then there are “attractors” which don’t look like anything natural at all, but simply rely on reaction strikes out of curiosity or anger. Maybe the best choice if we’re fishing for salmon or steelhead that don’t feed consistently once they head up river, but there’s no doubt that attractors account for a lot of resident trout, dollys and grayling.
Our fly fishing equipment was developed as a way to cast a “weightless” fly a useful distance. If you can’t cast the fly – cast the line. But anyone who’s casted (or tried to cast) some lead-core, beadhead, rabbit-fur monstrosity knows they’re anything but weightless. I’m a fan of fly fishing with big streamers – but I’d wager I could cast many of them (sculpins, rabbit leeches, clousers, MOALs, etc) far enough with light/medium spinning gear to catch fish. And I’d save myself the occasional scare when one of those things come whipping by my head a little too close.
The components we use to create flies have come a long way in the last century. As a fly tyer, it’s overwhelming how many options I’ve got for materials these days – countless flashes and synthetic “furs” in holographic colors of every style imaginable, stuff that glows in the dark, fluorescent beads and furs and feathers, foams and poppers and artificial “skins”, rubber legs in “natural” colors, mayfly wings precut and pre-colored, coneheads with prismatic eyes, nymphhead beads with molded “eyes”, etc. We’ve got bouncer flies with bead bellies. I saw something the other day that looks like the cone you put on a dog to keep it from chewing out its stitches that you put on the front of a streamer to impart “action.”
Then there’s the notion that a fly is a hook with various “stuff” tied onto it. Even that conception has been challenged by MOAL and “strung out” style flies that use a string and a stinger hook, or “articulated” flies that use two (or even three) hooks tied together. All of this to impart more “action” to the fly. You can make a MOAL using nothing but superglue if you’re so inclined – maybe soon we’ll here, “I’m just at the bench gluing some flies.” I can’t believe that I’m the only fly tyer out there who has tied a pattern or two on a jig head just to “try it out.”
I’d love to grab a couple of fly books full of the “standards,” go back in time a hundred years, and show it to a fly fisherman in the Catskills to see what his reaction is?
Any, with all that, there’s still a strong resistance among some/many in the fly fishing community to accept anything with a spinning blade as a “fly.” Maybe it’s because these hybrid monsters blur the lines too much between “spin fishing” and “fly fishing” and bring about too many cases of identity crisis. Take the Pistol Pete that was developed some 30 or 40 years ago. Nothing but a wooly bugger with a little spinning propeller on the front (not all that different from a beadhead wooly bugger other than the bead is flat and spins). There’s no doubt that Pistol Pete’s catch a lot of fish, and although these flies have gone in and out of favor among various fly fishing groups, as a whole they’ve just never caught on among the fly fishing community as a whole. There’s just something about a spinning piece of metal attached to our fly that makes us feel uneasy (myself included).
I found an interesting article on the Pistol Pete the other day. Check it out sometime. (Also, you can purchase the propeller blades from J Stockard’s - and I’m sure other places - if you want to cross that final line in your own home-brewed creations.)
To wrap it up, if I can feel comfortable fishing with a mass-produced, artificially-dyed sphere of plastic rendered from the 50-million-year-old biomass of some prehistoric swamp and call it “fly fishing” I don’t see how I can draw a line in the sand and say using a fly with a spinning blade is taking it too far. Maybe I’ll have to try tying up something similar to the Spinal myself sometime.
Those are my thoughts. I’d love to hear yours. What is a “fly” to you?