What you leave out of a fly may be as important as what you put in

Here’s to impressionism in fly tying. Here’s to creating the illusion of mass without adding bulk. Here’s to using water as a key ingredient in a fly pattern. Here’s to tying flies that try harder to look like something that’s alive and good to eat than try to carbon copy the bait or insect.

I often think of the discussions anglers have about herring or menhaden patterns. The chief complaint seems to be that a given pattern doesn’t mimic the deep belly profile of the bait. The next question that should be asked is, “Is that really necessary?” Anyone who has fished a large flatwing on the greased line swing to stripers feeding on herring knows the answer.

If you talk to Ken Abrames, he’ll tell you about how an angler will come to him and complain that he’s not catching any fish. One of the first things Ken will do is ask to see the fly. If it’s up there on the opacity meter, Ken will start pulling bits of hair and flash out of the fly. Often, the angler then begins to hook up (ask me how I know).

By all means, tie and fish the patterns you have confidence in. Just consider the sage advice of Bill McMillan, who doesn’t like to pretend that a fish is anything other than the primitive animal it is.

I don’t see any big honking bellies or ultra-realistic 3D eyes on these flies. Funny thing! Stripers eat them like candy.

Rock Island Flatwings


Doesn’t look like the any of the grasshoppers I used to catch when I was a kid. Yet this fly is in grave danger any time I drift it past a grassy bank on a sunny summer day.



For hundreds of years, the ultimate in sparse impressionism. And the fish haven’t gotten any smarter.


Farmington River Tip of the Week

Yesterday, I went fishing. Sunny, middle of July, and windy. The perfect day for a grasshopper to get blown off its perch and into the water.

I fished some fast water — a mix of riffles and pockets that ranged from shin high to waist deep — with a team of three wets. The top dropper was a just-about-too-small-for-a-hopper-and-way-too-big-for-a-caddis fly I call The Monstrosity. Size 8-10 streamer hook, body of yellow or insect green rabbit fur, gold wire rib, palmered with webby brown hackle. Deer hair wing lashed at the junction of thorax and abdomen, same deer hair strands tied over the thorax, then a caddis-like head. Simple. Impressionistic. By mending the line I was able to keep that fly on or just below the surface.

The trout loved it.

Back you go, Tubby. Thanks for playing. Look at that sky. Ain’t summer grand?

Brown release

I whipped through the run in 45 minutes. No hatch, no active surface feeders, but the fish picked that fly out to the exclusion of all others (Drowned Ant and SHBHPT). None of the trout I brought to hand were under fifteen inches. And I regret to report that I lost a pig of a brown just as I was coaxing him into the net.

Hoppers. Wet or dry, ’tis the season.

Not the fly I was fishing — this is a Hopper Hammerdown, which is a little bigger than The Monstrosity and doesn’t have the soft hackle palmered along the whole body. But you get the idea and the energy of the design.