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.
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.