Martyn White | Thursday, 5 May 2022

What is creativity when it comes to fly tying? I don't think it's what most people seem to think it is. I certainly don't think it's swapping out a colour of material, or using a similar but slightly different wing or hackle material. For me it's doing something that makes a functional difference to the fly or solves some kind of problem.

Recently I encountered a couple of examples of what I mean that I think are illustrative of something. The first was a baetis nymph that someone had tied, it was a nice fly but little more than a Juju baetis with a synthetic tail and no epoxy covered flash over the thorax. Definitely a fish catcher but nothing new or particularly interesting really. I mentioned that it looked very Charlie Craven inspired, only for the guy to tell me he didn't rate Charlie Craven because craven just ties other people's patterns with a slight twist and puts his name on them- something I don't agree with- while claiming he had devised this "new" fly and claiming it was some original work. Wee tweaks and variants are great most of us make small changes to patterns, they may be cosmetic, they often give us a bit of confidence but ultimately aren't great acts of creativity or design.

The other was Stan Headly-who really should know better- posting a picture of a fly he considered absolutely outrageous; a clan goat muddler except he had used a both blue and black deer hair in the muddler head rather than the standard black. That's it, matching the hair head to the guinea fowl hackle behind it. the interesting thing was how many people commented saying they'd have total confidence pulling it through a wave for loch seatrout and salmon, much to Stan's chagrin. I reckon there are 2 things happening here, the first being someone making a very small, purely aesthetic change (no actually new colours were added to the fly overall) to a pattern but believing it to be incredibly significant and detrimental change--it's neither. And the second being a large number of people having slightly different tastes showing it for the nonsense it is.

So what examples of recent creative fly design are there? We probably all know about Bob Popovic's flies which all have a problem to be solved at their core. One thing I really like is how Bob included failed design in his second book, it shows the process and aknowledges the thing that actually make a difference to the fly 's performance.
Blanced flies for indicator fishing in stillwaters are a good example from the trout scene, they look pretty similar to a conventional leech but they have a cleverly constructed weighting which allows a static, horizontal presentation that you don't get any other way. Balanced flies also perform excellently when retrieved, probably being the best fly rod version of the spin fishers jig. These flies are a good way of showing how changing the hackle or whatever don't constitute a development because you can easily tie the same pattern in both balanced and unbalanced versions- it's the balancing that is the creative step.
Another that you might not be aware of is a warmwater fly is the triangle bug, a simple little topwater fly that is much cleverer than it appears at first glance. It has a profile that is easy to cast, allowing a size 4 to be comfortably cast on a 2 weight for panfish. It's made of readily available materials and is designed in such a way that smaller warmwater species can't take the fly deep, solving the problem of difficult/usuccessful releases of these greedy little beasts. It's also pretty flat so even in small sizes doesn't fill up the hook gap. It can be scaled up to very big sizes for bass and pike too.

So keep fannying around with colours and a couple of strands of flash, it's a good thing to do and definitely generates confidence at times. But if you're looking for something that's really new and interesting, you probably need to find a problem that can be solved by changing something fundemental in the fly.