** This post is from contributing author, Pat Burke. **
Rich Strolis is known around the fly fishing community for his innovative patterns. There is a long list of flies that have his name on them: the Ice Pick, Busted Stone, Hog Snare, Rock Candy Larva, Cellar Dweller, Headbanger Sculpin, Shimmer Stone, and many more. In his new book, Catching Shadows, Rich goes into great detail describing how to tie and fish these patterns, and he provides an in-depth discussion on how these flies evolved and what makes them so effective.
The book covers a wide range of patterns — from streamers to dry flies and everything in between. It serves as a great reference and teaching tool for tying Strolis’ patterns, and helps build the foundation needed to create your own patterns that will work on your local waters. I appreciate Rich taking some time to answer a few questions about the book.
Burke: Congratulations on finishing your first book, and thanks for taking the time to do this interview. I, for one, have been looking forward to the release of the book since I first heard of it. What was the motivation for writing this book?
Strolis: Thank you for having me and for the kind words on the book. The book motivation; boy, there was a bunch of things that motivated me to do this book, actually. I always knew that someday I would write a book(s). I honestly didn’t anticipate this happening at this time in my life, but the timing was right, looking back on it. The overall goal was to share some of the lessons that I had learned on the water and at the vise over the last three decades. I hope that each and every person who reads it gleans something helpful from it. Honestly, I had a couple of other ideas for books, but after speaking with my editor, we agreed that this was the best format for a first book. It is a mere handful of some of my patterns. There are many more that I could write about.
Burke: Just skimming through the book, the photos and the details describing the patterns and their applications are great. What was the biggest challenge for you in writing your first book?
Strolis: Believe it or not, the writing was actually the easiest part for me. I am fairly certain that my other career and my formative years in school attributed to that greatly. The biggest challenge, by far, for me was the step-by-step photography. I learned through a lot of trial and error, help from some of my more camera savvy friends, and my editor Jay Nichols. Jay had the faith that I could figure this out on my own, and in time — after countless hours shooting and re-shooting steps — it all kind of came together. In hindsight, it was a very beneficial experience that has helped me convey the steps in the design of a fly through photographs while also improving my overall photography skills. It was quite the experience, but I got the hang of it rather quickly.
Burke: Your patterns are among the most innovative modern flies designed. The headbanger sculpin is a pattern that I personally have had tremendous success with, and I have yet to find another streamer that moves big fish like this pattern does. Would you mind going through the thought process of a master tier and fly designer when developing and testing a new pattern? And, at what point do you give it the gold stamp of approval and release it to the masses?
Strolis: “Most innovative. Master tier” Thanks bud, but I don’t look at myself that way. If anything, I’m an obsessed and passionate fisherman who likes to experiment. Without letting too much out of the bag from the book, I talk about this, in each section, in detail as well as the introduction, but it boils down to a few things. Good patterns aren’t good by chance. They are well thought out ideas that come together over time — sometimes very little time, and others with a great deal of refinement. In short, once I have devised something a little different, it not only has to accomplish the task at hand — whether it matches a specific hatch, moves a certain way in the water column, or is tied in a manner that it is fished in a specific part of the water column — but most importantly, it’s gotta catch fish. If the pattern I have come up with doesn’t pass the test with the fish, then it is back to the drawing board. With each type of fly comes a little different stamp of approval. A dry fly, for example, may only have a short window of effectiveness because the limiting factor may be that the insect you are imitating may only be available for a very short period of time. Streamers, on the other hand, might require more time (at least for my own personal tastes). More often than not, I want a streamer pattern that will produce under a variety of conditions and seasons more than a pattern that will work under a very specific time and set of conditions. Most, if not all, of the streamers that I have put out there have at least an entire year or more under their belt spent testing, refining and fishing. Sometimes those flies will continue to be refined until I feel that they cannot be refined anymore. At the end of the day, you gotta remember, sound presentation and technique, hands-down, outweighs fly selection, but tinkering with new stuff is always fun. Well, to me it is anyway.
Burke: So, as a production fly tier, what are some tips to speed up the process and become more efficient at tying? All of us mortals who only tie a handful of flies in a sitting are looking for some pointers.
Strolis: Well, to be honest, there are several tips out there that can help, I did a piece for Partridge a few months back that details a few of them that work well for me at times. You can check that out here:
To go hand in hand with that piece, I would definitely say that one of the most important things you can do as a tier to make your sessions more efficient is sorting your materials out ahead of time and staging them in sequential order. In other words, take the time to sort through the natural materials you are going to use in a pattern in advance; set them aside, as you will spend less time ,in the end, tying said pattern. For example, whenever I am tying streamers that use marabou, I go through every feather in advance, discard the unusable ones, and prep those that I will tie with. I will also stage all the materials in the order that they will be affixed to the hook. Believe it or not, once you’ve prepped the materials in this manner, the tying process goes much faster.
Burke: You are certainly well known in the fly fishing community for your creative streamer patterns, and the book does a great job covering all of them. What I was most surprised with, when reading the book, was the number of nymphs, dries, and emergers you’ve designed (many of which I’ve not seen before), and I’m anxious to try those too. I don’t want to go through all of the patterns and spoil anything for your readers, but I do want to mention the Rock Candy Larva, which I had success with during the grannom hatch last year. What are the characteristics of this pattern that make it so effective, and what are your favorite color combinations?
Strolis: Funny you mention this. I guided on a rather high-pressure fishery for more than a decade (plan on doing that full time here in a couple years), and day in and day out, you have to be a versatile guide/angler to have continual success. To put things in perspective, the Farmington River Catch and Release area receives in excess of 125,000 angler hours a year — on a stretch of river less than 5 miles long, I might add. Can you say pressured fish? Tying your own helps, as you can fine-tune your bugs. As for the Rock Candy, this particular fly is an absolute workhorse pattern; its quick to tie, can be weighted rather heavily, is extremely streamlined so it sinks quickly, and is about as close to bombproof as it gets. The body material makes it roll and bounce the bottom like a super ball, so you rarely hang up, and it is super durable. It is, in my opinion, a really good, quick tie that can resemble any variety of caddis larva you can encounter by simply changing the colors of the materials you tie it with. It is no wonder you did well during the grannom hatch. I suspect you tied the ole standby in bright green with a black bead and collar? Hands down, that is my top producer, but the same in a copper bead with brown collar works well, as does an olive bodied version with the same color beads, and a honey version with a brown bead as well. Check that one in the book; there are some other great details in there on that one.
Burke: When it comes to streamer fishing, the craze the last few years for many guys has been to fish the largest streamer possible. What size pattern do you use most often when fishing your local waters, and are you one to be pushing the boundaries on streamer size?
Strolis: Although I get an absolute thrill out of catching fish on rather large streamers, I gotta tell you, there is definitely a specific size range that is most effective on any given piece of water, and more often than not, if you want a continuous bend in the rod, the average sized single hook streamer is most likely the target size to employ. I often beat to the tune of a different drum, however, and will prefer to fish articulated versions over single hook imitations as I typically try to locate and catch the larger/largest fish in a given stretch of water. The byproduct may indeed be less fish, but it often yields a much higher average fish size, which is essentially what I am after. For me, a streamer in that 4-5 inch range seems to be the ticket, keeping the fish interested while also putting fish in the net at just the right consistency to satiate my appetite. There are days when I can go larger or smaller to keep things interesting, and the water conditions are typically the deciding factor in that respect. There definitely is a push out there in some circles to go bigger and bigger, but for most trout fisheries, there is a distinct cut-off where bigger can be overkill. Let your fishery dictate that; it may take some trial and error but you will figure it out for yourself.
Burke: Fly fisherman are known for evolving the more years they fish. Whether it is moving from back-country brookie fishing to hunting trophy trout, to leaving the trout realm altogether and pursuing toothy critters. Where are you at right now in your fly fishing world and what is your passion?
Strolis: I still love chasing trout. No matter what I do, I always find myself migrating back to a trout stream. But, I will tell you, the last 4-5 years I have grown ever so fond of northern pike. They are, without a doubt, an absolute treat on a fly rod, and one of the most vicious predators, and what they do to flies is just nothing short of awesome. My addiction has grown so much that, this past summer, my good buddy, Mike Schmidt, and I booked a trip to Alaska for northern pike. The trip was ridiculous, to say the least. I am still mind-blown by that experience. If you like throwing streamers for aggressive fish, it doesn’t get much better than chasing northerns, in my opinion, as they attack their prey with pure ruthlessness.
Burke: I’ve seen many great photos of you and your family. Would you mind taking the time to tell us a bit about your family? What are the odds of your daughters growing up to be hopeless trout bums?
Strolis: Well, my wife Megan is a busy body like myself, seems like all we do is go, go, go. Its a good mix though, she works a full-time career and is quite the super mom. To be honest, I don’t know what I would do without her. She definitely picks up the slack in the many areas that I need work on, so I guess you could say we are a good team. My girls are growing at an alarming rate. It’s truly scary. Tessa is going to be 8 this March, and Nora will be 6 in February, they too are busy bodies like their parents. To be honest, I have no idea if my girls will end up being trout bums, and I am truly OK with that. Meg and I let them do a little of everything and let them decide what it is they want to pursue. I will say this though: they are definitely outdoor types, no matter what it is, they enjoy being outside playing, fishing, hiking, kayaking etc.. This year should be really interesting, as they enjoyed our camp experience last summer so much that they asked for a family-sized tent for Christmas. Looks like we will be doing some family adventures this summer — fishing related too, I might add.
Burke: So what’s next for Rich Strolis? Do you have any more books or publications we should be looking forward to, or will you be strictly back on the vise for a while?
Strolis: To be honest with you, I have a lot yet that I still want to do. But, a needed break from writing for a few would be nice. I definitely would like to write more books, but I will cross that bridge if and when the opportunity presents itself. An article or two here or there would be fitting, and I think that is a definite. My heart is set on getting back into guiding again. As I said earlier, I am in the last quarter of my other career (law enforcement). I’ve been lucky enough to satiate my teaching void from guiding as an instructor in that line of work, but if anything, it has fueled the fire to get back out there and teach our craft. I miss that team bond that I had established with many of my clients, and I honestly can’t wait to get back out there and live vicariously through my customers again. I will inevitably be on the vise regularly, but less for orders and more for fly development — not to mention, I have a whole bunch of new bugs that I have been playing with since 2013 that have made the grade, so to speak, and I want to get them out there for everyone to tie and fish. Oh, and lastly, keep your eyes peeled in the next year for my library of patterns with Montana Fly Company which will be growing even more.
If you’d like to learn more about Rich’s new book, you can find it at http://www.catchingshadows.com.