Movement Life and Food

by Steve May - Originally published in Real Fishing Magazine - January 25, 2010

Every year at winter fly tying shows I am amazed at the artistry of realistic fly tyers. Some consider a pattern a success if someone whacks it with a fly swatter. The realism that is possible in these mini bug sculptures is incredible but I judge success with the most important critics... fish. They don’t need that level of detail.

Let’s face it. A fish has a pea sized brain and they don’t go around counting the scales on the lateral line of a baitfish or the number of segments on a mayfly spinner. The survival instincts of a fish look for things that don’t seem right. A tiny bug skimming across the water at light speed when the rest are drifting slowly with the current or a minnow that swims upside down straight at a predator are red flags for even the dumbest fish. Whether a fly has two or three tails... or has a hook hanging out its butt, does not seem to register as a problem. Fish are looking for an excuse to eat your fly and they can be easily fooled by something that moves naturally and looks “close enough”.

Most successful fly patterns can be boiled down to simply “MOVEMENT = LIFE = FOOD”.

Using various feathers, furs and many new synthetic materials with movement allow you to be a modern aquatic Dr. Frankenstein building “life” with a hook in it. With the slightest breath of current these offerings come alive with natural motion. Life giving fly tying materials like marabou, rabbit fur, hackles and many synthetics can do what heavier pieces of wood, metal or even plastic cannot duplicate. Let’s face the facts, life like fly tying materials have been fooling fish long before precision moulding and holographic paint jobs were used in fishing lures.

If it looks alive, vulnerable and the fish thinks it can wrap its lips around it, you are in the ball park. If it close in terms of size, profile and action you are looking at a hot fly. The woolly bugger is a prime example of this, but the Adams dry fly, hares ear nymph and Clouser Minnow are other real winners because they resemble both the look and action of a variety of fish food items. These are the types of patterns that continue to end up stuck to the lips of a lot of fish.

Proper movement can be affected by the person holding the fly rod or the fly itself. Having flies that can do the lion’s share of this fish fooling is what I search for. Good fly action simply makes it easier for you to fool fish.

For a dry fly, floating properly on the surface is important, for nymphs getting to the bottom efficiently may be the ticket. Streamers have swim like a minnow, preferably an injured one. Learning how to make these baits act like food is easier if the fly is designed properly. But, without that natural motion you really do have to work a lot harder to get fish to swat your offering.

So, this year at the tying demonstrations take a bit more time to examine flies that might take on a whole new look in the water. Some of the ugly flies you are seeing might just be the “critics choice” winners on stream.

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