Home » The Eye of the Beholder: A Study on Flies for Fishing

The Eye of the Beholder: A Study on Flies for Fishing

Standing on the banks of that fabled river, I felt a deep connection to all the anglers who came before me. The rocks, the water, the trout themselves vibrated and flowed at a frequency that resonated across space and time. And I was amidst all of it, fingers trembling as I sought to attach the fly to the end of my tippet. The delicate dry fly was tied with great care. Perfectly proportioned wings, expertly wound hackle, and a finely dubbed body came together to perfectly imitate  the pale mayflies that danced across the surface of the water. Although it was a facsimile, it should serve as a worthy surrogate.

With a drag free drift, I expected it to glide naturally over the lie of a healthy trout I had observed. With a quick flick of my fly rod, the line uncurled and propelled the gossamer-thin leader outward. The fly naturally followed; fluttering down with the whimsy of an actual insect caught in some heretofore unseen zephyr.

In those moments, time seems to stand still. The entire endeavor of angling crescendos in a  series of events that are ever so still and ever so silent. Minute adjustments of the fly line were made with surgical precision. All the while, my attention was split between the fly itself and the position of the targeted fish. Eyes, unable to focus upon two objects at once, attempted to defy the laws of physics and dart quickly from one to the other. Then, the already protracted clock slowed even more. The trout, seeing or sensing a possible meal, changed the cadence of its tail ever so slightly.

Rising from the translucent depths, the figure of the healthy fish became more perceptible. Tilting its head upward, it hung in the current motionless. Like a still frame, the trout and the fly appeared to be frozen while being carried downstream in unison. The telltale white mouth was the only visual cue that something other than a dance was actually occurring.

But at the last minute the fish pulled out a hackle gauge, held it up to my fly, laughed a presumptuous laugh, and swam away.

I muttered a few choice words as I snapped my line back towards me. I grabbed the fly. It looked fine. Maybe I fudged it a little and used some hackle better suited for a 14 on a size 16 hook. But how was I supposed to know that these trout are not only discerning but downright pedantic?

“Forget this fly” was the general sentiment. Back into the rows of dainty little dries it went. Wings. Really? Like fish can actually see those two tiny feathers in all of that hackle.

As normally happens while fly fishing, I got frustrated by messing with fussy flies and whatever fussy fish might eat them. I went to The Box. The Box catches all the fish. The Box is filled with egg patterns, Walt’s Worms, little rubber flies, and woolly buggers… lots of woolly buggers.

A woolly bugger it was. And a looker, it was not. Let’s just say that if this fly was in the lunch room, it would be eating by itself. Apparently the farmer provided the hackle specialized in heritage breeds of lopsided chickens. A couple of errant thread wraps left a good number of fibers pointing straight forward. Somehow the bead was crooked, I still don’t know I I did that.

I moved upstream a bit to where a culvert entered the creek. It had rusted through in some spots, and was covered in spider webs that were heavy with insects. I lobbed (not really a cast) the bugger just upstream, let it sink for a second, and then jigged it back towards me. Sure enough, a thick brook trout popped out of the drain to nail the fly. It put up a good fight, running downstream. As it swam into the hole below me, it gave the previous trout a good scare such that it dropped it’s hackle gauge and wet its pants.

Releasing the fish was an ordeal. I dropped some stuff in the creek and I got wet. The hook caught me as I dislodged it from the trout. It didn’t stick around for any pictures, either. Classy move. But it was a good fish: strong, resourceful, and willing to play ball.

I have nothing against shadow box-worthy flies. I am in awe of the men and women who can tie such things. There are trout out there that probably require flies that are put together at the molecular level. I’ve just never met them in person. Plus, I can’t offer them what they want. Me, I can tie a mean San Juan Worm – I even burn the tails..? heads..? rear ends..? to make them look all pretty. Those bugs, and the handful of others I’m barely adept at spinning, work more often than not. As a good friend of mine said, “Sometimes it pays to throw the biggest, ugliest fly in the box.”


  1. Alan Petrucci says:

    Good sense.
    There are flies that work on anglers and there are flies that work on trout. I hope no one finds out which is which.

  2. They need to make a superhero named woolly bugger. Woolly bugger to the rescue!! Good article and fish for sure don’t care if flies are perfect, I occasionally find really hungry fish that will even eat mine.

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