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Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #32 — Fly fishing is not complicated . . . seriously

March 4, 2018

Fly fishing seems complicated. And that creates an artificial barrier to both new anglers and the casual fly fisher who just wants to get a little better at something. “Where do I start?” They ask. “Fly fishing is so complex.”

No it’s not. It certainly doesn’t have to be.

There’s a lot of ways to enjoy this game. Some of us are obsessed with exploring unfamiliar waters and new tactics, others are trophy hunters who don’t mind going days without landing a trout as long as the next one is a whiskey or a namer. Another faction of our ranks enjoys tying flies as much as fishing them, and their creations are impressive works of match-the-hatch realism that my own results at the vise will never equal.

Some tyers care a lot about the number of tailing fibers on a dry fly, or they mix a specific dubbing blend and talk about the exact shade of yellow on the abdomen of Ephemerella Invaria at the end of May. Invariably, it seems that fly tyers who spend time at the vise matching and imitating these details are the ones who also believe that it matters to the trout — a lot.

And why wouldn’t they? When you dedicate loads of time and energy toward a goal, you want it to mean something, so there becomes a belief that trout are finicky and picky eaters, that perhaps we need three types of emergers for a Blue Winged Olive hatch and four different sizes too.

Sometimes, maybe we do. In fact, I’ll admit there are days I walk away from the river wondering if having another BWO pattern would have changed my luck.

But I’m just a dirty fisherman. I don’t know the scientific names of the hatches I fish over. Oh sure, I’ve accidentally learned the Latin equivalent of a few, like the aforementioned Ephemerella Invaria — it’s a Sulphur! I also know about Isonychias, but that’s only because the name is on the bins at the fly shop.

So here’s my point: it doesn’t matter.

You can go out there with a lineup of Adams Parachutes and match every hatch that comes at you this year. Will it be a perfect imitation of every mayfly? For every caddis hatch? Hell no. But you might have more fun by not worrying about those specifics, and I dare say you might catch more trout with your line in the water more often, by putting every ounce of belief and determination into that Parachute Adams and working it hard — because that’s the fly you have.

Alright . . . so . . . maybe carry an X-Caddis as well. A March Brown, tied Catskill style, is a good one too. While you’re at it, some RS2’s in a few small sizes might turn around a slow day over stubborn riser. And maybe add a set of Comparaduns in both light and dark shades. And if you’re planning to work over some pressured trout then you should probably stock up on . . .

Yup, that’s how things get complicated.

Photo by Zach St. Amand

Truthfully, I wouldn’t go out there with just one style of dry fly — but I used to. I got into fly fishing with just two flies — an Adams and an Elk Hair Caddis. And I can say with certainty that I had as much fun on many of those days as I’ve ever had with all the patterns I now carry. And fun is pretty important, right?

Fly fishing does not have to be complicated. You don’t have to know Latin or even know the difference between a Hendrickson and a Quill Gordon. Just go out there and fish. If the trout are rising, pluck a mayfly dun from the water’s surface, or take a look at the caddis that lands on the brim of your ball cap. Then dig into your fly box and find the size of Parachute Adams that’s kinda close.

It’s a good place to start. And if you feel overburdened with your fly selection this season, then it might be a good place to go back to.

Simplify, friends.

Enjoy the day
Domenick Swentosky


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Nice piece, Domenick. Most of my fishing is done with just a few simple soft hackle patterns. But I’m absolutely guilty of grand experimental moments at the bench. 99% of which never see water and are at some point stripped of their materials and sent back to the hook box. It’s fun. Trying to create the perfect Tup’s dubbing is fun, I’ve gone so far as to shave a little nut fur off a bull calf that was trapped in the headgate awaiting his emasculation. Fish like it’s fun. Tie like it, too.

I wanted to prove this point one year by fishing only a white wooly bugger all year. I was too chicken but I know it would have worked more than expected.

Gary Lafontaine fished the Muddler Minnow for an entire season. He fished it, in a variety of sizes, as a dry, as a nymph, and as a streamer. He kept the wet versions in a plastic bag sandwiched between saturated paper towel. Gary claims that he caught about 85% of his trout totals using the Muddler compared to previous years using a wide variety of flies.

Domenick Swentosky

Hi. I'm a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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