Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Deadly Dozen Flies

I know, I know.  Another "Deadly Dozen" article on trout flies.  How many times do we have to read "Ten Top Trout Flies" blog post?  Dear reader, give me a moment of your time to make my case.  First, this is not your typical "My favorite Trout Flies" article.  The following list is not a list of MY favorite flies.  No, I scoured the World Wide Web to find all the articles of other people's favorite flies, every one from bloggers you never heard of, to Trout Unlimited, to famous magazine publishers.  I then tabulated the results into a complex matrix that ranked all the flies mentioned, and then ranked the fly's popularity.  The more times a fly was mentioned in various authors lists, the higher the ranking.  The 12 highest ranked flies made this list.

I wanted to do this for two reasons:
1) so you never have to read another "My Favorite Flies" article again, and
2) so we can see how unoriginal we really are as a group.  Trust me, read on and you will see what I mean.

Deadly Dozen Flies List 

1)  Adams/Parachute Adams
(1922, Leonard Halladay Michigan, possibly designed by his friend Charles Adams).  Any surprise here?  Having the Adams listed in a Deadly Dozen article is as predictable as a nun wearing black and white. The Adams was on 90% of top flies list as either the traditional (Catskill) or parachute.  Interestingly, the parachute hackle can be traced back to Michigan as well.  In 1934, William Avery Bush patented a hook that had a wire post to allow the tier to wrap a hackle parallel to the hook shank.

2)  Elk Hair Caddis 

(1950’s, Al Troth, Pennsylvania)  This fly was the other fly to be listed 90% of the time. Originally tied in Pennsylvania but also fished and made popular in Montana.  The buoyant fly floated merrily merrily down stream perched on its palmered hackle, caught fish, and quickly became popular.  If there is a caddis hatch, it's the first fly you tie on.

3)  Gold Ribbed Hairs Ear

According to fly fishing mysticism, there has been no beginning to this fly, it has always been, and as such, it has no creator.  This is the most popular nymph in this survey, and why not?   It is the first nymph you learn to tie, and no matter how bad you were at tying it the first time, it caught trout.  Like sex, you can get all fancy with it if you want (flash backed, bead headed, rubber legged mofo), but it is at its best when it is kept simple and messy.

4)  Woolly Bugger
(1967, Russell Blessing, Pennsylvania ) On any good sized river in the U.S. there is always one fisherman that has earned the nick name Woolly Bugger Johnny.  You know the guy.  He is a bit too skinny to be healthy, drives a beat to crap Chevrolet Citation which is in the parking lot before anyone else in the morning, and fishes the green off an olive woolly bugger all morning long.  Oh, and he catches more fish than you.

5)    Pheasant tail
(1958, Frank Sawyers, England) How can anyone not like the pheasant tail as tied by Sawyers?  Legs on a nymph?  Don’t need them. Dead drift?  I guess, but why not create some poetry and go with the induced take?  Peacock herl? You must be American.  A great nymph tied with only pheasant tail and copper wire. All described in Nymphs and the Trout.  Please read it and stop with all this epoxy flash back nonsense.

6)  Griffith's Gnat
(1960s, George Griffith, Michigan) A pattern attributed to George Griffith, who lived in Michigan, was one of the founders of Trout Unlimited, and was apparently into alliteration.  Another one of those two material flies you can tie right now without driving to the fly shop to buy some 1mm wide exotic plastic. 

7)  Royal Coachman/Royal Wulff
The Royal Coachman wet fly was first developed in 1878 (or maybe 1876) by John Haily, in New York City.  The fan wing dry fly may be attributed to Theodore Gordon around 1907, and the Royal Wulff tied by Lee Wulff in 1930.  If there was any fly that was designed to catch fisherman it was this one.  The fact that it also catches trout seems to be an after thought.  But the green and red body with the white wing are all great trout attractors (a quick nod to LaFontaine's color theory detailed in The Dry Fly: New Angles ).

8)  Stimulator
(1970’s, Randall Kaufmann, Oregon) Like early computer entrepreneurs, Lance & Randall Kaufmann began a mail order fly fishing business in their parent’s garage in Tigard, Oregon in 1969.  Randall developed and tied flies, and one of his flies, the Stimulator, is to the stonefly as the Adams is to the mayfly.  A match the hatch type fly when stoneflies and caddis are around, and a great attractor when prospecting.

9)  Copper John
(1993, John Barr, Colorado).  It took John Barr around 3 years to design this nymph, and a lot of fly fishers are thankful for his work.  The fly just looks great, and the wing case, which is usually an afterthought, is so cool looking. Thin Skin, Flashabou, and epoxy, why didn't I think of that?  And Copper John is heavy and likes to drop it likes it hot. Copper wire body, lead wire, and a bead head… the only way to add more weight to this fly is to use a bead head made of plutonium.

10)  Blue Winged Olive
This fly was a surprise that it was mentioned so many times in so many lists.  Most likely it is due to the fact that we call so many species of mayflies as blue wing olives. But again I think it's also because of the green color and the green leaves around our eastern rivers that makes this fly so effective (again...LaFontaine, what a guy)

11)  Muddler Minnow
(1937, Don Gapen, Minnesota).  Because there have been so many effective streamers developed in the past 20 years, it's a surprise that this streamer is still listed in so many top fliy lists.  Or by judging how established this fly is in our fly boxes  or maybe how set in their ways fly fisherman are, maybe not.  But in a time when it is more likely to see half a rabbit wrapped around a 4X long hook, it always brings a smile when a traditionally tied Muddler turns up in a stranger’s hatband.  Most likely it is rusted, hasn't been used in 5 years, and hooks the fisherman more times than a trout.

12) Ant
If it wasn't for this pattern, dry fly guys wouldn't have much to do on summer days once all the mayflies have hatched out in the spring.  Much credit goes to Fox and Marinaro who worked terrestrial patterns on the spring creeks in Pennsylvania in the 1940s.

What I find so interesting about this list is that only one fly was designed less than 40 years ago.  It's tough to say that fly fisherman are forward thinking and innovative when we are fishing the same flies as our grandfathers.  I suggest a Post Modern Fly List that doesn't include any fly developed less than 25 years ago.  (Good bye my old friends Adams and Royal Wulff) for no other reason than to give some credit to current fly tiers.