Matt’s Fly Tying Complexity Rating

Matt’s Fly Tying Complexity Rating

Matt Klara | Sunday, 26 February 2017

I’ve been doing a lot of fly tying this winter and, as a result, I’ve been thinking a fair bit about fly tying. I’ve been thinking about techniques to some degree, but have also been thinking philosophically to some extent. Today’s FP was born of one specific philosophical trip down the rabbit hole.

Quantifying the relative complexity of the flies that different anglers prefer to tie and fish.

Before I too deep into today’s FP ramble, let me first explain that I tie a lot of flies for my own use (where I am the one dictating how and what I tie), but I also tie a lot of flies for others through custom fly orders (where I do not necessarily dictate how and what I tie).  My observations of how and what I tie for myself compared to how and what I am asked to tie by others, along with my observations of how and what my friends tie for themselves,  support my conclusion that individuals prefer flies of a certain level of complexity, more or less across the board.  But different anglers may have extremely different preferences in complexity in general.

As an example, the guy/gal who loves tying and fishing steelhead Intruders with complex composite dubbing loops, a list of materials a mile long, and a topping of jungle cock, also seems to gravitate towards complex trout nymphs with tails, who colors of wire, rubber legs, soft hackle, and an epoxy coated flashback shell.  On the other hand, there is another guy/gal who will happily swing the most basic single strip of black rabbit (leech) for steelhead, and who carries a trout box full of Ultra chenille San Juan Worms and Sawyer’s PTs.

I have always had a sense that I trend towards more simplistic (but no less effective) flies for my own fishing.  Over a decade ago I spent a summer fishing versions of commercially available patterns that I’d continually remove parts from just to see how simple I could make them and still catch the same number of fish.  Never mind that there were times when the simplified versions worked wildly better than the commercial versions.  That’s a topic for another FP.  Recently I started mentally assessing the complexity of many of my “standard” fishing flies that I fish the most for trout, bass, steelhead, bonefish, and more.

As a basis of comparison, I invented a simple metric for fly complexity.  The fly receives 1 “complexity point” every time that a new element of the fly is lashed to the hook during tying.  Attaching the thread itself does not count as all flies presumably use thread.  Also, adding a bead head doesn’t count in my system as it is so quick and easy to do.  Wrapping a base of lead wire for weight does count as a separate “attachment” however. 

So, for example:

  • Bead Head Woolly Bugger.  Score (4).  Marabou tail, wire rib, chenille or dubbed body, hackle. Adding strands of flash to the tail adds a point and brings it up to a (5).

  • Clouser Minnow.  Score (4). Dumbbell eyes, bottom bucktail, flash, top bucktail.

  • Mayfly Sparkle Dun. Score (3). Trailing antron shuck, wing, dubbed body.

  • Royal Wulff. Score (7)! Moose tail, wire rib, rear peacock, red floss, front peacock, calftail wings, hackle.

  • Zebra midge. Score (1). Wire rib over thread.

  • Basic string leech. Score (3). Braided line loop, bunny strip, marabou or bunny collar.  Add flash and dubbed body brings it to a (5).

I went through my own favorite flies mentally and found that most of the flies that I use score only a (3) or a (4)!  For every favorite fly that is a (5) I was quickly able to think of another favorite that scores (2). For the rare fly that scores (6) in my boxes, I could also think of a (1).  With this system, I figured my average was around a (3.75).  Maybe a little closer to (4).  Maybe exactly (4). But this is Sexyloops, so there is no (4)!

For the flies that I tie for others, the average score was about a full complexity point higher.  Since I don’t tie full dress Jock Scott’s for ANYONE, I don’t know if the average score for what I tie for others would ever go above (5.5).  I also preach simplicity and bugginess over complexity in the unique patterns that I offer, so I may be artificially lowering the overall complexity of my custom fly orders.

So, that’s it.  What a ramble.  Maybe some of you have thought about this as well and I am not alone in my madness.

Before you go to bed tonight, think of your own flies, and your complexity preference.  How do you rate??

Perhaps the next step of this mental exercise is to score the most common flies sold at my local fly shop and see how the “typical” fly rates in complexity compared to what I’m tying and fishing for myself and for others.

Take Care and Fish On,


PS - Pic of Day is a custom order fly for Golden Dorado in Argentina.  Score (7).

follow the dicussion on the board - - cheers, the administration