Fly Tying Darwinism

TL;DR: Fly tying Darwinism to identify 20% of flies that catch 80% of the fish.

For fun, I watch a lot of fly tying videos and read many fly fishing blogs. I’m particularly drawn to people who compete in tournaments. They’re very practical anglers: They fish what works and are constantly experimenting.

I think fly tying can be as simple or as complicated as I want it to be. Some days, I enjoy making intricate dries. Most days, I just want to tie flies that have proven themselves to work.

When I see a new pattern, I tie one or two of them. I bring them to the river and give it a go. If the fly works, I tie more and put them in my secondary fly box. I then note in my fishing journal afterwards which flies work and under which conditions.

I find that each fly has its own role and is highly contingent on a use case. Deep water or shallow? Fast water or slow? And, which flies do brookies, browns and ‘bows favor? Do some flies work better at some rivers and at certain times of the year?

Over time, if the fly consistently works for its use case, it goes to my C&F chest patch. That’s where the “starters” go. Before I fish, I plan what flies I’m going to start that day and tweak the C&F’s contents accordingly.

If a new fly doesn’t work, it will languish in the secondary fly box. Eventually, I’ll collect the dud flies and strip them down to bare metal when I’m in need of more hooks.

So, it’s a form of natural selection.

Two patterns that have earned spots in the line-up are the jig-style tungsten Wooly Buggers in black and the JT Special. They’re extremely effective.

The WB does well as an anchor nymph at deep runs in the spring. The JT Special does well at shallower water or the tail-end of riffles, usually in the spring and fall. For example, it recently did well with wild brookies at some new water that I was exploring for the blog. That single fly accounted for about 10 takes in very short order.

As I was looking at my fly boxes, I noticed that I was nearly out of both. So, I tied up a few this morning. They’re among my confidence flies.

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4 thoughts on “Fly Tying Darwinism

  1. Having tied flies for many decades, I will note that the exponential increase in new patterns mostly increases the catch rate of fishermen and not fish. Just look at Pheasant Tail nymphs and it’s uncounted variations. They are fun to tie, but really how many variations of the same theme do you need to carry?
    IMHO there are usually dozens of fly patterns equally capable of solving a particular hatch. Find a couple you have faith in, keep it tied on and you will be good.
    I think that the most important advances in fly fishing have been in methods used to present the flies: be it terminal tackle attached to the flies, or how the flies are constructed.

    1. Steve, that is such a thoughtful comment. Thank you! And, the offer still stands: please write for the blog! Your knowledge is incredible.

  2. I do the same from time to time, especially this time of year when fishing time is limited. I examine the fly box and identify what flies I rarely if ever used, and take them apart to tie the ones I do. Sub-surface wise, I usually turn them into pheasant tails, soft hackles or scuds. Dry flies, I like the collection I have and mostly leave them be.

    I miss the days when there are no leaves or pine needles to contend with so I could try those dry flies on a rising trout. I love catching trout in all ways, but to me that is the most fun and challenge. What thrill when you finally get a take.

    Regards, Sam

    1. Sam, I agree. Sight casting dries to rising fish is great, particularly if it requires an approach with stealth. Heart-pounding for sure!

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