Anyone that fly fishes enough knows that eventually you see something on the water or, now days, something on the internet that sparks your creative juices and gets you experimenting at the vice. This often leads to the invention of some fly meant to match some hatch, baitfish, or maybe just a little leaf you saw a carp suck up. Though designing a fly may seem straight forward here are a few tips that will make it much easier and effective in the long run.
Rule #1 – Design a Fly that is Repeatable
This is probably the most important of the “rules.” I’ve tied tons of original flies that are not easy to reproduce for a variety of reasons. Odd materials and difficult or time consuming techniques make lots of fly patterns difficult to manufacture efficiently. For example, hand painted or airbrushed balsa wood poppers look awesome and are fun to tie but take too long to reasonably make for fishing. Complicated deer hair flies that look more like art than something meant to fool a fish is another example of inefficient fly tying.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Some people can reproduce the same stacked deer hair bugs and ultra-realistic nymphs, although most cannot. Other fish truly do require super complicated and time consuming flies. Muskie, for example, typically only chase massive streamers reaching a foot in length, there is nothing quick and easily repeatable about that. Other exceptions include spoon flies or tube flies, which require odd materials and tools but are well worth the extra effort. However, for the most part when designing flies, tying a repeatable and efficient fly will make your new pattern that much better for anyone out there willing to try it.
Rule #2 – Design a Fly with Standard Materials
It can be really tempting to try new, even obscure, materials when tying a new fly but typically that just makes reproducing it a pain. I would recommend not using any materials you can’t easily find more of. Chances are when you run out of whatever odd material you used that may mean the end of your fly, which would really suck if it catches you a lot of fish. Don’t you agree? Furthermore, for any weird fur or dubbing you utilize there is probably a comparable fur or dubbing that is easier to find on the world-wide web or in a fly shop.
Rule #3 – Design a Fly with as Few Materials as Possible
This “rule” may sound a little weird but I think it’s an important little tip to keep in mind. The more materials you have the more expensive the fly will be, obviously. More materials will also add weight to flies (especially streamers) which can make them significantly more difficult to cast. A longer fly recipe will also limit who else can tie and fish your fly, which may be good or bad depending on how you look at things. This “rule” also ties into the one above, with fewer materials on the hook, chances are you’ll be using fewer odd materials too. There are numerous more reasons this “rule” is important, but nobody wants to read that much, just remember that less is typically better than more.
Rule #4 – Design a Fly with the Hook in Mind
The hook is as important as anything you put on it. Like materials, don’t use any obscure or odd hooks you can’t easily get more of. For poppers and bulky flies a hook with a wide gap is necessary, otherwise you won’t be hooking any fish whether they bite or not. Typically, I like to tie flies on the lightest gauged hooks I can get away with. This allows me to control the weight of the fly more easily, as well as the flies balance in the water. For little nymphs and dry flies don’t be afraid to shell out some cash for quality hooks, there are few things as disappointing and frustrating as losing a big fish to little more than a bent hook. This “rule” may seem obvious, and if it is then that’s great, but I’ve often found myself changing hooks for a new fly pattern after a couple of days slinging it.
Rule #5 – Design a Fly and then Design It Again
Sometimes when you pull a good looking new fly pattern off the vice you fall in love with it a little bit even though it hasn’t yet caught a single fish. It may sit in the fly box for weeks before being used but when it finally gets the call it most likely won’t be the most perfect imitation you’ve ever seen. That’s okay though right? When has any invention been “just right” upon the first attempt? Like anything else there is going to be trial and error. Maybe it’s to light or to heavy, too big or to small, or just flat unrealistic. It is important to revise and edit your new fly, no matter how proud you are of the first prototype. You’ve got to be willing to change it up and try something new, repeatedly. This is how your own creation becomes a new go to fly, as opposed to one you only try on days when they’re hitting just about anything.
The next time you’re bored and experimenting at the vice, following some of these “rules” to get a better fly out of your efforts. Of course, there are exceptions to all rules. In fact, they’re more of guidelines really.