Only the Harder to Tie Fly’s Catch Fish?

Guest Blogger Justin Aldrich

Coming right out of the gate let’s get the title directly out of the way and include it here so it’ll all make sence…..
So, only the harder to tie Fly’s catch fish, right??? Now that that’s taken care of…..

For right now I’m primarily speaking about our submerged bugs here. Nymphs, Pupa, Scuds, Midge’s, Crane Larvae, you get the picture. Although some of what I’m about to throw down applies to Dry’s, Emergers, and Streamers as well….

Well, it only makes sense when you think about it. Since your at some level thinking about it briefly right now, you’ve figured, “Hey, he’s gotta point….” Even if it is a lot of bull.

After all, good things happen when you work hard…. Salary increases at your job, heartier crops in your gardens, and even your personal health. So why wouldn’t the more timely and difficult patterns catch more fish than the amateur hour simples ones? Hang on, I’m getting there…

There are many reasons I’ll come right out and say in my own personal opinion….. my, own, personal, EXPERIENCE. I believe the quicker to tie Fly’s will over all catch us more fish. But the top leading, (Not only), reasons are this;
First, more time off the vise leaves more time for, oh I don’t know, let’s say FISHING. (This possibly might not apply to the lucky few who have buckets of free time on their hands.)

But for those of us who are very limited on time in terms of free time, the first reason is a biggy. If your boxes are full and your off the vise, that frees you up for anything, not just fishing. But since this is a fishing blog, we’ll stay on point. More time off the vise means more time on the water fishing your Fly’s, period.

So, still on the first point, re-filling your boxes after a full day on the water becomes a whole world easier. You can easily tie six to twelve “simple” Fly’s in the time it would take you to tie one or two of the more challenging ones. Less headache, stress, and another sub point I’ll throw in here real quick, typically less materials. (So now your even saving a bit of money for your lucky lady. You’re welcome.)

The second reason, Number two; It’s all about that beautiful “C word”, that’s right, CONFIDENCE. (Whoa, whew.)
I can without shame, although I’m hanging my head a tiny bit, admit I don’t fish my more time consuming patterns as hard as my easier bugs. That can mean possibly wanting to fish a  pattern that took us an hour and a half to tie, but not wanting to lose it at the same time.

It screws with our heads people. When we finally convince ourselves to use our award winning masterpieces, we’re so terrified that everything about our fishing is off. Your presentation, if it’s a bottom dwelling Fly becomes childish. You’re so scared of loosing it to the bottom that you might not weight it properly. Or,  when you feel the slightest tick of the bottom, knowing it’s the bottom, we’re all to quick to lift our rod tips too fast to save our beloved nymph/pupa/scud/midge from getting hung up, and there goes our perfect drift.

What about “fishy” looking water, drifts, holes, ect? Let’s face it, fish love to hang out in places that make it most difficult for us to reach them, coincidentally. (Personally I think conspiracy but I’ll just save that for another blog.)

How many times have we come up to a full tree line with that magical water running underneath it just right and knew there was a piggy in there waiting to be tricked? The only problem is the window, the “safe zone” for casting is tricky at best. One wrong move, the slightest error in cast, and our Fly’s are in the trees. Or, just because we are scared of getting hung up so much they land several feet away from the desired target in “safer water”….. and the up most worst out of all of them, we just skip that water entirely. That’s just depressing right there, but reality unfortunately for a lot of folks who take pride in their work on the vise and don’t care to chance loosing something they’ve spent extended time on. Who can fault that though…?

You know if we loose that special Fly for any reason, even if it’s an accident from dropping it in the water, that means somewhere in the future we have to make a designated time to tie that monster again. So it can be a bit nerve racking and a major pain…… and let’s not forget the possible onslaught of curses that can come uncontrollably out of our mouths from the depths of our guts afterwards.

Now on the other hand, I’ll take my more simpler ties and juggle them in the water if it meant catching more fish.(Admittedly I’m known for being very superstitious on the water.) Only because I’m not worried about loosing them since I can re-tie a dozen or so in an hour.

I’ll see that hard to reach run, or hole, and go for broke without any hesitation with my go-to simpler patterns. (Which by the way, our hesitation in clutch situations is usually what gets us in trouble.)
It just doesn’t matter with a quickly tied hairy “Sexy Walt’s Worm” ( Sexy Walt’s Worm ),
as apposed to a inverted realistic Mayfly pattern that has the perfect amount of segmentation, lifelike feel to touch, three split tails just so, perfectly aligned legs, antenna, two wing pads, ect, that took forever to tie and make perfect.

One tip our Fly Fishing competition friends have taught us is that our nymphs/Pupa belong on the bottom. I won’t go into percentages, okay it’s like 89% – 92%, but that’s about the amount of time spent by Trout on the bottom. The rest of the time is dedicated to slurping Emergers and Dry’s…. and slamming streamers.

So we shouldn’t be afraid to add extra weight to our patterns, especially out of fear from loosing them. There are countless studies and articles out today about how simply adding a bit of split-shot to our Nymph rigs, or just getting them down anyway we can increase our catch ratios immensely.
Here are a few quick link references for Nymphing;

But again, sometimes even though we know additional weight would help us, we are a little hesitant about adding it in fear of loosing a Fly to the bottom.

I could go on and on about this subject, and I usually do and have at demo shows and other times, but for length and boredom’s sake I’ll start to close……

I’ll finish here with a few tips, tricks, and suggestions about how to better make some simpler bugs that look fantastic, saves some time, and better yet, catches loads of fish over and over……
(Another great benefit about tying more simplistic patterns is sometimes just as a by-product they are a great deal more durable than the more extensive one’s…. sometimes.)

First, thread bodies, don’t count these out. Utilize this one especially on Mayfly, Stonefly, & Midge. This one is pretty straight forward, simply build the body up with a tapered thread body much like the “Zebra Midge.”
When I use thread bodies, I’m 9.9 out of 10 times adding some sort of rib to it since segmentation is almost non existent. The rib in these cases has nothing to do with durability, just cosmetics. Once your done, just finish off the thread with your favorite varnish or U.V. Resin and call it a day….. **I recommend using something thin over thick….
*Here is an example of an “Iron Lotus” that consists of only thread and a rib for the body.

Second, I’m gonna contradict myself right quick, but at least I admit it…. although I truly believe wingcases are an effective triggering characteristic, I don’t believe they are necessary. These days most of my **Mayfly/Stonefly patterns tied on Jig/Euro style hooks basically consist of a dubbed thorax and that’s it….. much like “Frenchies” without a hotspot collar.
*Here is a classic “Frenchie” brought to life.

(**Most of what I use simulate more than one species of bug. That’s another great appeal to tying simpler Fly’s. They usually suggest a Mayfly & Stonefly, or Caddis Pupa, Midge, Crane Larvae, or in some cases all of them at the same time. Not only do they simulate more than one species, they also have a tendency to suggest more than one stage in the lifecycle depending on how they’re fished.  Example: A spikey dubbed Caddis Pupa with a real spikey thorax or soft hackle addition, is not only effective on the bottom as a Pupa, but is just pure deadly being swung in the water column for incredible strikes from representing and emerging Caddis.)
*Here is a beautiful “Fer-De-Lance” example of a multi-species pattern tied by Hans Weilenmann.

Third, replace some costly soft hackle with a Spikey dubbing. This includes Hare’s Ear dub with the guard hairs left in, Squirrel dubbing, Fox Squirrel dub, Deer hair dub, Seals fur, anything that looks like it came off the back of your shoulders….. simply apply with a dubbing noodle, split-thread technique, or dubbing loop,   and then brush it out with whatever tool you like to use and leave it alone. Those long staple fibers will emulate and function just like the fibers on a soft hackle will.
*Here is an example of a Caddis Pupa with just a spikey thorax.

Lastly, try swapping out triggering characteristics and materials with other quicker to tie triggering materials and ideas…..
For some of you old school veterans on the water that can out fish me Monday through Saturday and twice on Sunday, this might make you cringe a bit…. but the two main triggering materials I’m talking about using are Flash and the almighty Hotspot.
(Popular hotspot colors are Fl. Orange, Fl. Fire/Orange, Red, Purple, Fl. Chartreuse, and Pink. Typically hotspot colors are used in contrast to the Thorax color.)

What can I say, those materials work on a pattern. But like I mentioned earlier, you need to have confidence in said ideas and materials  for them to work….

By swapping out I mean instead of utilizing a wingcase, try skipping it and simply using a hotspot collar in place of it. I’m not saying the hotspot represents another wingcase, I’m saying it takes its place as a trigger.
Or instead of using a piece of Flash on top of the wingcase initially turning it into a “Flashback”, try using the piece of Flash as the ribbing instead. Also, like I stated above, try replacing a Hackle collar with a real spikey dubbed thorax. There are many more ways to subtract a material on a “standard pattern” yet turn it into something really quick to tie and neat at the same time.

There are countless ways to simplify already existing patterns and come up with new ones entirely that are extremely quick, simple, fun, and most importantly productive to tie.

By the way, I am in no way discrediting our beloved and cherished patented patterns of old. The PTN’s, Hare’s Ears, Prince’s, Copper John’s, and all the rest alike will always hold a place in my heart and fly box.

Thanks so much for allowing me to toe the mark so to speak, but hopefully some sense was made and imaginations sparked.

Here are a few of my patterns that are a bit simplified but absolutely dangerous in the water……

4 thoughts on “Only the Harder to Tie Fly’s Catch Fish?

  1. Mike Cline

    Interesting thesis. I don’t buy any flies, but I’ve seen that tentative behavior you describe by anglers who are afraid to lose that expensive $3 fly. But for those of us that tie and fish our own flies on a regular basis, I don’t think the difficulty of an individual pattern plays into the equation. Whether it takes 10 or 30 minutes to tie a pattern probably doesn’t matter much. If the pattern works, most anglers will be adventurous with it. I think probably the only thing that might make me more timid with a particular pattern would be the presence of a very expensive material like “Jungle Cock”. No matter what the pattern-difficult or not-, the ones that catch fish are the ones we put in front of the fish.

    1. Justin Aldrich

      Very well put Mike……

      I don’t have an argument for your reply and thoughts. I think I kinda want to, but I just don’t have any. Ha ha.

      I agree, if my number one confidence Fly took an hour to tie, well then I’d keep on tying it. Admittedly one of my “must have’s” is a longer tie….

      What I was trying to explain is there are other solutions is all….. I’ll give you a fantastic example.

      The longer to tie fly I just mentioned is my Matuka Bugger. It’s pretty straight forward, it’s a Woolly Bugger tied with a Matuka wing….. I’m a bit OCD so matching up materials is a must for me so this Fly is a lengthier one for me. But, here comes the great part, it’s Cousin that does extremely well in the water is the standard Woolly Bugger….. although I tweak it some to fit what I want out of it more. But it’s a much much shorter tie and it produces like crazy.

      I was just explaining ways around time consuming ties…. but like you said, everyone will spend the time to tie their favorite producing patterns, no matter the length of time it takes.

      Thanks for commenting Mike. Hope you have a great year on the water.

      – Justin

  2. Michael Vorhis

    What with interruptions, shaky hands, and just never having cared much to develop any tying speed, if a fly takes me less than an hour to tie I consider it a “quickie.” But I have taken over two hours on one or two over the years, ad-libbing as I went, and it’s true I don’t tend to fish them at all. When attaching one to the tippet, I don’t tally the hours that a fly took on the vise. I just fish the flies I have plenty of. And they’re the ones I’ve done well with before.

    I don’t buy or fish el-cheapo flies–they fall apart, the hooks break, they use really poor fish-attracting materials, and there’s just no joy in catching a fish on those flies. Even just fooling a wild fish and missing the hook-set, if I tied the fly myself, is more fun.

    I like your ideas about using rattty guard hairs instead of soft hackle. I don’t care about the “saving ten munites” part, and I do think soft hackle is unsurpassed, but I like the look of some of the flies that use the methods you suggest.

    If I’m tempted to cast into downed branches, it’s true I won’t do it with a fly I care to keep on using. I’ll tie on one of the same kind but one I was ashamed to show anybody. I have plenty. 🙂

    – Mike


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