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Scruffy Flies

I've been threatening to write something on flies for a while and I'm writing this a couple of hours before upload time, so it's going to be scattered. I can tell you this right now, so be prepared.

Like most people, I guess, I started tying flies when I took up flyfishing. My first flies were pretty crappy; fat heads, wonky bodies, over dressed. Still they caught fish and they improved. Back then they were probably only slightly better than Ben's.

It's a simple fact that the more fish you catch on a fly, the scruffier it becomes and the more effective the fly becomes. To say that the fly doesn't matter is wrong; the fly is everything. So long as you can get it there, and either present it naturally or else tease or trigger the fish into taking, the fly is the thing that matters.

It's just that I think it should be a smudge.

Neat flies don't work very well. I'm not talking about how they look in the vice, on in the box, or how good you think they look on the water. I'm talking about how they catch fish. The only way to develop flies is to catch fish. I don't design flies, fish design flies and they want scruff.

I don't like flies with a hard outline. Sure I've caught fish on glues, but I think there are better patterns, it's just that glues get down there quicker and so fit a role the other patterns cant fulfil.

Legs are a good example of something that doesn't work. I'm not talking rubber legs, which are great, or daddy legs, which are important; I'm talking six accurate nymph legs. Tease out some seals fur and you have legs that work.

Some of the best flies I've fished have been simple Scottish spiders. Clyde style flies have a miniscule body and a turn and a half of plumage. It doesn't get any better than this. A great book to read, by the way, is WC Stewart's “The Practical Angler”. Stewart's flies evolved through catching fish – and lots of them. This guy also fished worms – it's how he paid for porridge and whisky – so you can bet his flies were fish catchers. And they still are.

When I started reservoir fishing no one fished dries seriously, hard to believe I know, but that's just how it was. We fished the odd daddy and sedge, but the small emergers and other damp flies just weren't around. I'm not a believer in high floating flies. Sometimes, very occasionally, the fish require it, but not very often. I can think of a few times while fishing the Black Gnat either in Scotland or the West Country where the fish would refuse a parachute version but take a full hacked fly. But most fish refuse the high floating fly. (Refuse is the wrong word by the way, as no doubt Bob Wyatt would point out, but Bob's offline and living in his Middlemarch Scout Hut – so I'm safe).

While on the subject of Hurricane Bob, you should read his Trout Hunting book. It's made me a better flyfisherman and I'm more “in there” than I've ever been. There are even some thoughts on understanding fly design from the trout's perspective which make sense of my flies. Almost.

Something Bob doesn't really talk much about is colour; I think colour is really important. And often the colour that works is a different colour to the natural. I'll often fish small claret suspenders when the trout are on light olive naturals. Why? Because that's what works.

It's also important to mix colours. I usually use two or three different shades or even separate colours, and blend them together in my hand. Different olives, different clarets, black and red, black and claret. I don't use black on it's own very much, not with nymphs, at least not here in New Zealand high summer where it can actually spook fish. Yep you can spook fish with colours alone.

And then there are colours which are triggers, pure and simple. Hot orange and pink come to mind. Sometimes a little spot of orange can work well, but I rarely use it, preferring instead a blob of the stuff. You're looking at savage takes of course but sometimes it's the way to fish.

Flash is interesting. I don't like flash very much. I know it's a baitfish trigger but I find subtle flies get more confident takes. A little bit of flash is useful, sometimes. I've started to incorporate sparkle dubbing into my bodies of indicator dries and small nymphs and the results have been excellent. I suspect that in this case the flash gives a similar effect to translucency. I'll have to take some underwater photos to find out.

Anyway, here's some advice on tying scruffy flies!

Don't trim anything. Break a profile marabou tails with your fingers. When making muddler heads start the first stack using tips which you can leave untrimmed and after clipping the front, roughly use your fingers to break the fibres near the rear of the head.

Never trim fur bodies with scissors and use Velcro to scruff the body. If you only scruff the top with a fly such as the Shipmans it will float low in the surface.

Don't use Genetic Hackles on dries, use cheap slightly oversized ones and tie them in backwards – ie tip first – and fold the fibres into themselves. This way they'll end up scruffy and the right size with the profile funnelling backwards. And when you gink, flatten the bottom ones so the fly sits in the film.

With Stillwater dries tie them with only just enough fluff/foam to float the hook, flies that float well won't give a good strike rate with sipping trout and you'll get less takes.

Don't build flies. They're lightweight insect imitations designed to catch fish, not to last a lifetime.

These are just my thoughts by the way. You may have come up with something different. But if you don't tie flies you won't know.

Many of my flies can be found in the Members' section by the way. In the past 18 months they've evolved. My river nymphs in particular are considerably better. I'll add these shortly.

Scruffmaster Paul

PS Pubic hair is great.

Essential Bush Skills

The start of any flytying good flytying sequence involves squirting The Light of Apgai on your polyprops
Both alarm and curiousity set in when the polyprops start melting
Putting the lid back on the jar to stop *that* happening again
The flytying proper is underway
Notice the composure, that's true class that is
A difficult bit, you can tell that from the vacant expression
Essential bush skills: the third hand
Notice my hat here, it's quite daring
Snip, snip
I'm not quite sure what I'm doing here, but it's cool
Trimming an oversize hackle that appears to have become trapped in the whip finnish manoevre
Delicate precision work, the hallmark of any good flytyer
A sexy catch...

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