Guest Blogger: Scott Hetzer, Eclipse Fly Co.

We all remember our early days of tying flies. Whether you started because of an inherited tying kit, read about it in a book, or these days, learned about it on YouTube, we all remember the sense of overwhelming possibility and creative potential. We start with world-famous pattern recipes, buying up all of the listed materials down to the brand, color, specific variation, etc.  This is fun, going to your fly shop or favorite online retailer to ‘unlock’ new patterns. I would even argue that this stage in one’s tying journey is among the most enjoyable and exciting, now nostalgic. As you progress… gaining proficiency, developing preference, creating your own style, materials begin to accumulate often in great quantity and variety.

In my own experience, going by the book and following recipes as instructed certainly serves its purpose, but also can result in a ton of unused products. There is an inflection point, when you realize that not only can you make substitutions with your favorite/available materials, but you can actually develop a strong enough relationship with the materials that they begin to tell you how they want to be used. I’m sure you’ve experienced this as well, if not in tying flies, but certainly angling, or likely in any other creative endeavor. Whether you are letting the trout tell you what they want to eat, or letting the materials tell you how to use them, many of us can relate to an “a-ha” moment of realizing that great success can often be found when we let the subject of our pursuit tell us how we should proceed.

Pheasant tails, a material we have all used at one point or another, are the perfect example of this phenomenon. As an aside, myself being a commercial tyer, this is of particular interest, as razor thin margins make using the full potential of a material imperative. Pheasant tails often have two distinct sides. One will be stiff, barbed and webby, feature more prominent color, and have much more overall volume (great for wrapping bodies and tying in tails). The other side of the feather has totally opposite characteristics – flimsy, drab color, and far less volume. As its profile is different, so too are its applications.

The exact pattern that taught me this lesson was Charles Jardine’s ‘Holy Grail Emerger’. (If you haven’t tried that pattern, you should) Solving for the problem of leaving enough room to properly anchor in the soft hackle collar under its whip-finished hot spot, I came to the realization that the refuse flimsy side of my pheasant tails not only provided fully adequate coverage for the pattern’s wing pad, but also saved critical space due to its less voluminous nature. Additionally, it’s muddled appearance has since become the preferred look, making this situation a win, three times over.

Since stumbling upon this component of fly tying, the lesson it has taught me has been applicable in countless situations, and I believe has served a great role in becoming more proficient at the vise. This approach to tying can create a connection between the tyer, material, and fly, of which offers an incredible sense of creative fulfillment. Despite saying all of this, fly tying is a highly personal pursuit. It is strictly whatever you make it, and it will always be of utmost importance to engage in it whichever way provides you with the most enjoyment.

1 Comment

  1. Interesting, Scott, and well said. Your observations remind me a little of the words of one of fiction’s “Great Masters”…can’t recall which one (although I’ve plagiarized his line more than once)…he claimed he invented little or nothing, and that he took direction from his characters, who showed him what they were going to do.

    In particular I seem to get schooled by so-called “found” materials, because they rarely appear in recipes. I’ll see some stuff that catches my eye and picture it on a fly. Next step is usually imagining how it might replace a material in more common use–add it to some existing productive pattern and see how the fish react. And then the whole exercise diverges where it will.

    If nothing else it provides one more reason to get out on the stream as soon as possible to see what happens. You’re right, it’s a big part of the creative fun of the whole picture. Great article Scott.

    – Mike

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