Quote of the day: Casting vs. Fishing

If Ray Bergman came back today and saw the endless discussions about casting and distance on internet message boards, he would never stop throwing up.

Bergman knew that it was more important to be a good angler than a good caster. Of course, the two are not mutually exclusive. And it is true that it’s hard to be a good angler if you are a poor caster. But I’ll let Ray take it from here. This is from his book Trout:

“That you cast so well that others compliment you for your skill is not so important, but that you handle the flies in some particular and almost indescribable way may be very important indeed. You may gather from this that I am not particularly interested in perfect-form casting, and that is very true…If you become a perfect-form caster while achieving the necessary results, so much the better; but it is best to concentrate on the other points, rather than on form, and the casting will usually take care of itself. In this connection let me say that some of the best fishermen I know could not be called “pretty” casters, but they do cast their flies so that they act the way they should and catch the fish.”

Fish don’t examine the tightness of your loops, your line speed, or how far you cast. This twenty-pound striper certainly didn’t.

Block Island All-Nighter 20 pounds

The Alexandra Winged Wet

Ray Bergman described the Alexandra as, “A fancy pattern that often proves surprisingly effective.” Fancy, yes. But in appearance only. The Alexandra is a very easy pattern to tie. As to its effectiveness, the fly is said to have been so deadly that its use was actually banned on some fishing beats.

The pattern was created in Great Britain in the mid 19th century. It was also known as “Lady of the Lake,” suggesting that it was intended primarily as a stillwater fly. I’ve only fished it rivers. So, is the Alexandra truly ban-worthy? In my experience, no. That is, you should not expect trout to blithely hurl themselves at the fly just because it is tied to your leader. But yes, you can expect to catch with it. I think it makes a fine tiny baitfish imitation, and what’s there not to like about silver, red, and the rainbow iridescence of peacock sword? I tend to fish this fly in the fall, early season, or when the water’s a little off-color.

The Alexandra

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Hook: 1x short, 1x stout wet fly (this is the Orvis 1641) size 6-12
Thread: Black 6/0
Tail: Peacock sword fibers
Body: Flat silver tinsel
Throat: Red webby hackle
Wing: Peacock sword fibers

Tying notes: I tie this fly two ways: heavily dressed (like the one pictured here) and much sparser. Both work. Peacock sword is easy to work with; I use between 3-6 fibers on the tail, and between 5-16 fibers for the wing. Sometimes I’ll make the wing a little longer than the hook bend, as I’ve done here. In Trout, Bergman lists scarlet hackle as a tailing option. I have a love-hate relationship with tinsel. It’s a pain (for me, at least) to wrap, unlike braid which is basically idiot-proof. Sadly, I have a traditionalist streak that often compels me to honor the materials of yore. Some pattern variants include an oval tinsel rib on the body and a scarlet floss tag. For the throat, color options include deep wine, claret, or black. I think any of those would look spiffy. Some listings of the Alexandra include a dash of scarlet in the wing, and I’ve seen people use a strand of red holographic tinsel for that step. I’ve finished the head here with a coat of Griff’s Thin, followed by three coats of H-A-N.

Classic Bergman Wet Flies Tied With Jungle Cock

Last week, someone used the search term “wet flies tied with jungle cock” to find currentseams. I found that intriguing because I had never tied a wet fly with jungle cock in my life. Sure, I’d done classic steelhead patterns. And untold numbers of flatwings and bucktails for stripers. But not a single wet with that most enchanting of feathers, the enameled nail from the cape of the male junglefowl.

Well, if someone took the trouble to navigate all the way to my humble site, they must have been disappointed when their search came up empty. And so, lonely internet sojourner, I took to the vise just for you. I have no idea who you are. But I hope you come back some day and find the little gift I left for you. And I thank you for the one you gave to me.

Here are four wets from Bergman’s classic, Trout. Clockwise from upper left: Silver Jungle Cock, Dr. Burke, Lord Baltimore, and Secret Pool No. 1. They are all tied on a size 8 1x short, 2x strong hook, the Orvis 1641.

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(upper left)
Silver Jungle Cock
Tail: Golden pheasant crest
Body: Silver tinsel
Shoulder: Orange floss, palmered with grizzly hackle
Wing: Jungle cock
~
(upper right)
Dr. Burke
Tail: Peacock sword
Body: Flat silver tinsel with oval silver tinsel rib
Hackle: Yellow
Wing: White with jungle cock
~
(lower right)
Lord Baltimore
Tail: Black quill
Body: Orange floss with black floss rib
Hackle: Black
Wing: Black with jungle cock
~
(lower left)
Secret Pool No. 1
Tail: Golden pheasant tippet
Body: Peacock herl butt and shoulder with gold tinsel center
Hackle: Claret
Wing: Slate with jungle coc

Tying notes: Some tie the Silver Jungle Cock with a longer shoulder; I kept mine more thorax-like. I think this would make a great steelhead fly. It was the easiest of the four to tie.

You can tie the Dr. Burke with as many or as few peacock sword hackles as you like. I chose four for this size. Trivia: Dr. Burke is Dr. Edgar Burke, the man who painted all the files in the color plates at the beginning of Trout. Dr. Burke is credited with creating the Secret Pool No. 1 pattern.

The Lord Baltimore is the first Bergman-style wet I tied with a quill tail. It was far less intimidating than I imagined.

I didn’t have any claret hackle for the Secret Pool, so I used wine marabou. I also tend to use more golden pheasant tippet fibers in my tails; again, that’s an individual choice for each tyer. No matter how many fibers you use, I like to show the second black band.

A Classic Bergman Wet: The Fontinalis Fin

This is a fly with a great backstory.

The Fontinalis Fin Wet Fly

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Hook: 6-16 (this is a 1x short, 2x strong Orvis 1641 size 10)
Thread: Black
Tail: White hackle fibers
Body: Orange wool with fine gold tinsel rib
Throat: Furnace hackle fibers
Wing: Orange mallard married to a thin strip of black or natural grey mallard, then a slightly thicker strip of white mallard

The old-timers up in Maine (or down East, if you’re going for authenticity) who were fishing for brookies thought their quarry was highly territorial. So after they creeled a fish, they’d clip off one of the fins and use it for bait. And what an attractive bait it was: shiny, deep orange, contrasted against dramatic black and white bands.

An enterprising fly tyer named Phil Armstrong realized he could replicate this bait in the form of a married-quill wing wet fly. And thus was born the Fontinalis Fin. “Fontinalis” from the second half of the brook trout’s taxonomic name, Salvelinus fontinalis. “Fin” for rather obvious reasons. What a brilliant concept.

The real McCoy

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While it’s tempting to look at the flies featured in the color plates of Berman’s Trout (this fly appears on plate 10) as more of an exercise in tying legerdemain than practical fish catchers, I can tell you from experience that this fly does work. It’s pretty simple as far as married quill wings go, and the rest of the pattern is something anyone with basic tying skills can do.

Tying notes: If you’ve never tied a quill wing, don’t start. Your first quill wing can be the fly-tying equivalent of the Bataan Death March. While I was kidding (mostly) about not starting, I think it took me over a half hour to tie my first quill wing — and that was accompanied by a generous use of rather colorful language. Once you get it, though, the process becomes easier. I’m often asked at classes and demos, ‘How do you glue the different quill sections together?” You don’t. The edges of quill fibers are like velcro — they stick together quite nicely. There’s a specific technique to matching quills (the wings should be a mirror reflection of one another) and marrying the sections. Perhaps someday I’ll post them. In the meantime, you can probably find a good how-to by doing a web search. Also, the quill wings should sit a little higher on the shank so as to not hide the body; I was in a rush to finish this fly, so I plead sloth.

The Catskill Wet Fly

I first learned of the Catskill when I read Ray Bergman’s classic, Trout. While it lacks the garish palette of the majority of the flies that appear on the color plates at the beginning of the book, the Catskill is nonetheless an attractive fly – albeit in a rather understated way.

There’s something seductive and buggy about wood duck. The soft brown hen hackle will collapse and pulse in the current, contrasting nicely against the orange floss body. It’s easy to imagine this as an over-sized caddis. Or at least as something that looks alive, and good to eat.

I tied it large, but I can see going down to about a 16 or so with this fly. Although I have not yet fished it, I already have supreme confidence that it will be a fish catcher.

You can, too.

The Catskill

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Hook: 1x short, 2x strong size 8-16 (this is an Orvis 1641 size 10)
Thread: Black
Tail: Wood duck
Body: Orange floss under brown hen, palmered
Wing: Wood duck