I have to begin this article with a confession. I have known how to tie flies for a long time but have been too lazy to tie my own for far too long. First it was guide friends who tied them for me. After that I would tie out of necessity, or buy a few flies for a trip to the Bahamas or Belize. I found out how rewarding it was to tie a fly and then catch a fish on it a long time ago too, but it was my last trip to the Bahamas that changed all that.
As it turned out I had again hurriedly ordered some flies from a “reliable” source, choosing a few old classics as well as my current favorite, the Peterson Spawning Shrimp. As it turned out, the flies I ordered didn’t match my expectations, probably more a case of “operator error” on my part. Fortunately, two friends in my party offered me some of their flies. I got bailed out on that trip and despite some challenging conditions managed to catch some quality fish. Then and there I vowed that the next trip I took I’d have a box of my own home-tied creations. Fast forward to today, 10 days from my next trip to the Bahamas. This time I have seven flies tied and am on track to have a quiver of ammunition that I have confidence in. And confidence is key!
In my experience flies don’t have to be fancy to catch fish. They do have to resemble something a local species feeds on and appear natural in the water. Two of the most reliable patterns mimic baitfish and shrimp. Probably the most basic and one of the most effective and popular flies is the Clouser Minnow, created by Bob Clouser. This was the first fly I learned to tie and is still a favorite. Another favorite is the bendback, a streamer tied to be “weedless” and fished in shallow water. The bendback is also easy to tie and very effective when properly tied and presented. As mentioned, my current favorite fly and one that’s a lot more complicated to tie, the Peterson Spawning Shrimp, has gotten me tying flies and enjoying the process. Fly tying is like anything else, the more you do it, the better you get. Then suddenly you find yourself working a little harder than might be necessary to please both you and the fish.
The effort paid dividends locally when my friend Benny Parrish and I came in second in The Waterman Fly Fishing Tournament a benefit for Tampa Bay Waterkeeper. I caught all my fish on the Peterson Shrimp pattern I tie for bonefish. It was after that that I realized almost every species in both fresh and saltwater feed on shrimp, which further boosted my confidence in the pattern. If you currently tie, my advice is to master a fly you have confidence in and then work to make a fly your own. I’m constantly thinking of ways to improve the patterns I fish and finding my enjoyment of fly fishing enhanced by the experience.
I would strongly advise fly anglers to take up fly tying if they haven’t already. Start with a simple travel kit so once you’re committed you’ll be able to continue using it. Maybe then you’ll upgrade your equipment and even carve out a place dedicated to tying flies. Not only will you enjoy the experience more but you’ll have better quality flies at a much better price. Instruction on tying every imaginable fly is available on YouTube so please excuse me while I “tie one on.”