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Ronan's report

Thursday 20th November, 2008

One of things I like about flytying is that it gives the me the opportunity to tie up some weird flies and see how they go. For the most part these weird flies are foreign ones, and it's difficult to come by them in NZ. Speaking about trout flies, NZ does have a few unique styles of it's own, Matuka and Killers for example, but in general our tradition tends to the drab. That's not to say it's conservative, there are certainly some innovative fly tyers here, but colours tend to be pretty low key and natural. The main areas you're likely to get a splash of colour are in the bodies and hackles of lures and streamers, where it's quite common to have bright yellows, reds and the like. Of course I have a feeling that NZ sees the highest use of Royal Wulffs per capita as well, not an especially subdued fly.

For me a weird fly is generally one which uses bright colour in an extravagant way. Some flies are structurally weird, but there's usually a pretty good reason for it. An example of this is Roy Christie's Avon Special Emerger. While this is a weird fly in terms of its structure, it's a very sound idea and I would happily fish one (mental note - tie some up). Stu Tripney's flies are different, but not all that weird. In any case, an oddly constructed fly doesn't make me pause so much as an oddly coloured one. I realise that in most cases the colours are simply something which stimulates an aggressive response in the fish. While odd colours might not weird a fish out, they certainly weird me out! It's probably because they seem unnatural and not the sort of thing a fish would be looking to eat. The fishy mind obviously works differently to the human mind, and it isn't always easy to think like a fish. Some flies must even make fish go "WTF?!?" and the only reason we hook them is they don't have hands to pick up a stick and poke it with.

Having confidence in your flies and the situations they're used in is an important part of the mental side of flyfishing, and I really have to push myself to use weird ones. Why do I do it? I don't really know, I suppose it's curiosity. Will a NZ trout take something which works well for a UK stockie? I don't usually pull out the weird flies until I have a few fish under my belt on more normal flies. This is because then I know I can actually catch fish that day and I'm not completely useless at fishing!

For me there are two main schools of weird flies. One is from the UK, particularly the reservoir and stocked fishery scene. The other would have to be Pacific Northwest steelhead and salmon flies from North America. I'm only familiar with these schools second hand, so forgive me if my interpretation is a bit off.

The UK reservoir scene and in particular competition angling on those waters has given rise to a very creative bunch of tyers, and a search for the "hot new fly" which spans not just structure but also a wide range of materials and colour palette. From various UK magazines I've read it seems like things come in and out of fashion pretty quickly. This is mainly where I've first heard about things like UV materials and daylight fluorescent floss. There are hotspots in the head, thorax and/or tail. Flashy synthetic body materials get longer and longer as well as brighter and brighter. Another thing which is fascinating to me is the seeming propensity of UK fisheries to ban flies which are deemed to be too effective, it gives certain flies an extra edge of mystique.

One of the first weird flies I tied up were some pretty big red and orange Boobys. I had already tied more naturally coloured Boobys, and would fish these without hesitation. The action induced by the bouyant eyes makes a lot of sense to me. I'd seen a lot of people say that orange flies don't work here in NZ, but then I saw something from El Presidente saying in certain situations they did. I haven't yet caught anything on an orange one or even one of the more subdued ones, but a very nice 4.5 lb rainbow took a red one at river mouth on a lake last winter. I'd now feel better about fishing it again.

Another weird UK fly I've had success with is a Viva streamer of some sort, see the POD. I forget the exact name and can't find the pattern, but Viva is often used to describe a black and chartreuse fly. This one has a dubbed rabbit body, marabou wing and overwing and a rabbit strip wing tied in at the bend and eye. Black flies, no problem, but it was the big chunk of chartreuse which really made me think "weird". This fly is a perfect example of the transformative powers of water and why you shouldn't judge a fly until you've seen it wet and preferably moving. When it's wet it slicks back into a very sleek fishy shape, and the chartreuse becomes a thin accent stripe. This fly was weird until I saw it wet after the first retrieve, after that I fished it happily. It looks great wet.

Like the Booby, the Nomad is a fly which only truly becomes weird once colours come into play. The basic idea is fair enough. A weird version of it is chartreuse with an orange head. I tied this fly up because I was interested in playing with hotspots. I'd heard from a few different sources that orange hotspots had been doing the business at a local lake and I wanted to try it myself. It's proven popular with the feisty little fish around at the moment. These fish are probably stocked, but I think they're released when pretty small (judging by the schools of minnow sized fish I've often seen at certain times of the year) so perhaps the reputed silliness of stockies isn't a factor.

One weird fly I haven't quite brought myself to try yet is a Blob. It just seems too ridiculous. I love the thought that fish somehow take an orange one for daphnia, whereas it seems to me it's just an out and out attractor pattern without any relation to anything natural. It's like saying an orange Booby is taken as daphnia. I think my objections to it are purely on aesthetic grounds, and the fact I'd have to order Fritz from overseas (I'm so slack).

Pacific Northwest steelhead and salmon flies are mainly weird to me because of their colours. A PNW flybox must often look at best like a spectacular sunset and at worst like an accessory set for milady's boudoir. Often the form of the flies is pretty conventional, but the various shades of pink, purple, blue, red, yellow, orange, white and chartreuse are what raise an eyebrow. I'm sure many of the colour schemes are more to do with what looks nice together, dare I say "pretty", rather than strictly because that's the fish like. No doubt certain colours work best at certain times, but overall I definitely get a sense of colour coordination for the sake of it more than anything else. Nothing wrong with that, many flies are just as effective at catching fisherman as they are for fish, regardless of being bright or drab.

Early this year I tied up a bunch of Alaskabou style flies, in various shades. There is so much marabou floating about it looks like an explosion at Mardi Gras, as someone said to me recently. Either Brazilian or Sydney would be apt. I haven't had a chance to fish the more lurid ones yet, but a smaller drab version which looks like a bully or sculpin has done well for me and I've recently tied up some in white and grey to use as baitfish in the salt. This is another type of fly which doesn't really make sense until you see it in the water. When dry they look like powder puffs or an escapee from a feather boa. When wet they slick back into a great fishy teardrop shape which you can give a nice action in the water. I'm still to be convinced that the very lurid ones will work here, but I'm sure the black and red/yellow and white/chartreuse ones will do the business.

One weird fly I just had to tie is a Fat Freddy. It's basically an immense Globug with veil. I have no idea what fish take it for, but obviously it piques their curiosity. I still haven't decided when and where to fish it. The thing is, going for salmon on flies here in NZ isn't common and a bit of a challenge. People go for years without catching one even using spinners, and just landing one would be a good day. It makes it tricky to try the "catch one, now use a weird fly" system. Perhaps I'll try it out on the obliging rainbows in the nearby lake.

My favourite weird fly at the moment is a brown and red gold bead San Juan worm. I have no problem with San Juan worms in general, plenty of wormy things in the water, but this particular pattern looks so bizarre. Whenever someone sees me fishing it they can hardly believe it. It's a great fly-of-last-resort though. I've caught a number of fish on them after having everything else I've tried refused. A memorable one was my first decent sized brown, still one of my largest fish at 5 lb. It was sitting at the bottom of a deep run up against a big rock. I'd tried big flies and little flies, various combinations of weight and depth, really concentrated on eliminating drag and had hardly a blink. I really had to go, but I decided to have one more cast and try the San Jaun worm. The first cast had the fly coming down the run not very far below the surface and the fish suddenly sprung to life, rocketed up a good 4 or 5 feet and nailed it. That was the day I stopped putting brown trout, which I hadn't caught many of before then, on such a pedestal.

A weird fly is not one I would normally start the day with, but trying them out is fun. It's always a pleasant surprise when something actually works, and it makes me think differently about what to tie and fly design. It helps to open up possibilities and to take a step away from more conventional thinking. For sure you can have a box full of black and brown woolly buggers, or PTNs and H&Cs, but experimenting with new flies adds some spice to things.

Funnily enough I'm much more accepting of weirdness in salt flies, probably because they're mostly pretty weird and they aren't backed by such a long tradition of drabber hues. Salt flies are almost a license to try anything, and there's so much in the sea to draw inspiration from. A bright green Toad is the nearest thing I've seen to weird, because it looks like something vegetative which would float by a fish ignored. On the other hand, trout go for chartreuse flies so why not sea fish? The movement must be a big part of getting the fish to pounce.

No doubt people find different flies weird for different reasons, and it would be great to hear what your weird flies are over on this thread on the Board, especially if they have turned into a fly you use regularly.


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