Commentary

Is your new fly really new? What makes a fly original?

on
June 5, 2018

When is a fly original enough to deserve its own name? And do a few material changes result in a new fly or simply the bastardization of an existing pattern?

“That’s just a Woolly Bugger with flashy chenille, bigger hackle, rubber legs, and dumbbell eyes. Oh, and it’s two of them hooked together.” That’s the first comment I heard about Russ Madden’s Circus Peanut. And to that I say, sure it is. But aren’t there enough material and form changes there to be a unique fly? When we think Woolly Bugger does it really look anything like a Circus Peanut? No, not really. So I’d say the Circus Peanut deserved a name, and it got one.

I have a similar fly stored in my own meat locker. I call it a Water Muppet, but it’s mostly a Circus Peanut. I tie it smaller, dub the body instead of wrapping chenille, and I use a tungsten bead instead of dumbbell eyes. And while I have my own name for the pattern that amuses me, it’s pretty much a Peanut.

Allow me to first get this disclaimer out of the way: I’m not here to install myself as the authority or arbiter of what fly might genuinely be new. Honestly, I just think this topic makes for an interesting commentary piece, and I’ve had the conversation with a lot of fishing friends. I’d like to hear your thoughts too.

Likewise, we all know that none of this really matters. The trout don’t care what we call the fly — they just eat it because it kinda looks authentic (or it’s crazy enough to draw unusual interest).

But I think there’s a genuine desire on the part of many fly tyers to get this right. We want to give credit for inspiration, because we know that all good ideas stem from somewhere. At the same time, we’re proud of the material or form changes we’ve made that catch more fish in our own rivers. And sometimes those innovations define a genuinely new fly pattern that deserves a unique name.

Let’s address this trouble by taking a look at three of my favorite flies, a few patterns that really get the job done for me.

BHPT

One of my favorite nymphs is a simple Bead Head Pheasant Tail. I tie the streamlined fly on a scud hook, with a copper bead and no appendages for legs. I guess I’ve been tying my Pheasant Tails this way circa 2001, when I learned it from Steve Sywensky (owner of Fly Fisher’s Paradise in State College, PA). A few years later, as euro-nymphing flies gained popularity, I added a red collar of 8/0 Uni-Thread and never looked back. From sizes #14-18, it’s arguably my best producing fly.

But when people see it these days, they often call it a Frenchie. And I’ll admit, that bugs me a little, because Lance Egan’s original Frenchie has a Coq-de-Leon tail and collar of flashy dubbing. (I don’t think Lance would like my BHPT being called a Frenchie either — and I’ll get to that in a bit.)

To my eyes, my simple Bead Head Pheasant Tail looks a lot different than a Frenchie, with the only transferable elements being the pheasant tail body and the bead. And there’s nothing new about it, so it gets no new name: bead, pheasant tail, copper rib, red thread. Done.

Bead Head Pheasant Tails with a red collar.

Moto’s Minnow

A few years ago I stood streamside with a friend, and he handed me a Moto’s Minnow. I held it in my palm, and as soon as my eyes met the fly I knew what I wanted to change. Let me explain . . .

When I was a boy, my uncle showed me a streamer pattern that his uncle tied for him. He called it a Spook. And while the Spook stirred up enough trout to keep it a constant presence in my box, I tried for years to transfer the effective elements into a slightly larger fly with more bulk. With the Moto’s Minnow in my hand, I knew it was the perfect vehicle for those elements.

My fly is a dull brown, slightly yellow streamer. The tail is tan marabou, and I keep the Moto’s peacock herl for subtle, natural flash. Instead of wrapped partridge feathers for the body, I substitute the key material from the Spook — mallard flank feathers that are dyed a wood duck color. And I often stack bunches of the feather around the hook shank instead of wrapping them. I also omit the hen hackle collar, and I use a copper bead instead of gold.

That sounds like a lot of changes, right? But when I hand clients this streamer on a guide trip, they often ask its name. I tell them it’s a Moto’s Minnow.

I’ve come to wonder this, though: Maybe Moto Nakamura (creator of the Moto’s Minnow, sometime in the 1990’s) wouldn’t like the changes. Maybe he would not be happy with my simple nod to his own creation. Maybe he’d look at my fly in his own palm and shake his head, saying, “That, Sir, is not a Moto’s Minnow.”

See the dilemma?

 

Moto’s Minnow?

Bread-n-Butter

There is a certain magic in the combination of some materials. And I’ve come to believe it about the Bread-n-Butter nymph.

My friend, Austin, calls my Bread-n-Butter nymph the Troutbitten Hare’s Ear. And as I wrote in the article about the fly, its origins were indeed a Hare’s Ear with a bead. That blended into a Fox Squirrel Nymph, took a turn through the Hare and Copper and came out looking the way it does a few years later because it works best that way (and because it fills a niche in my box).

The form of the B&B is a good one to imitate. I did that myself: tail, dubbing, rib, collar, bead. It’s a standard form, used for a lot of successful nymphs.

But when a fly has only 4-5 materials, I think that substituting half the elements with something else results in a different fly. And for the Bread-n-Butter, if you sub pheasant tail for the coq-de-leon, beaver dubbing for the Hare’s Ear body, Ice Dub for the collar, and you change the gold bead to silver, then I dare say you’ve not tied a Bread-n-Butter nymph. And I might stand there like Moto Nakamura, staring at your pattern in my palm and shaking my head.

See what I mean?

Bread-n-Butter nymphs

Who knows?

I’m not really sure what constitutes a new fly. And I don’t know that anyone else does either. Fly fishing has been around long enough that it’s easy to believe everything’s already been done. It’s true, in large part. And maybe all that’s left are variations on a theme. Or maybe the advent of new materials allow for some fresh takes on old ideas.

Regardless of their origins, new patterns crop up every season and they take hold among the community of anglers only if they’re effective.

And if a fly hangs around for more than a decade, you know it’s a good one, because fly fishers are a skeptical, moody, bitchy bunch of anglers. And that won’t change either.

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

Click here for details.

 

Commentary

Read More Troutbitten Commentary

TAGS
RELATED POSTS

9
What do you think?

5 Comment threads
4 Thread replies
5 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
6 Comment authors
  Follow the comments on this article.  
Notify of
Justin

Like it. In the discussion I have within my own little brain, I think there are two questions here: The obvious ^ “What makes a fly original?” And the less obvious “Why name a fly in the first place” It shoukd be possible to make at least a half decent attemp at the former using some kind of objective formula – where a beyond a certain, arbitrary, number of material types placements and tying-in techniques it becomes a new fly. Also proportion and fishing properties. If fly B uses the same materials as fly A but looks completely different and… Read more »

Rev. Les Bouck

Adding to all this, is the fact that many flies with varying characteristics share the same name. For example, the Russ Madden Circus Peanut that you cited (a wet) and Will Dornan’s Circus Peanut (a dry). I’ve had great success with the latter on western streams on rainbows, Westslope cutts, and browns, and have taught the fly in my club’s fly tying class.

Dom, My CET style mayflies (all species) are truly unique, after all who else ties a dry fly/emerger with thread only for the abdomen and cemented tails…. and polypro for an upright divided wing. The Crippled Emerger Transformer is so called because I transform it from a crippled dun into a spinner just by pulling the wings down. I have been fishing them for 15 seasons mostly on the “j”, but in many other streams east and west and I have taught hundreds of people to tie them…..when they tie them right, they get excellent results. http://www.troutboomer.com for a photo… Read more »

I’ve thought about this many times. I think more people want a fly to be their own out of ego than reality. Most flies are just small variations of patterns before them. They aren’t that original.

“New” fly design should be categorized; name it what you want but try to leave the ego out.

> Original style: brand new form/no apparent descendant (Klinkhammer)
> Cross/Blend: combination of two or more existing styles or descendants (CET)
> Makeover: different materials for one existing style (Sparkle Dun)
> Variation: spin-off of an existing style with one obvious descendant (Comparadun)

Did this quick, not sure I got the examples just right but you get the idea.

Domenick Swentosky
BELLEFONTE, PA

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.

STICKERS
STICKERS
TAGS
Wild Mushrooms Industry Stuff split shot Wild vs Stocked Peace net nymphs How it Started Central PA friendship Headbanger Sculpin Boat Resources tips Sawyer Gierach dry flies mono rig big fish backcast BES indicator nymphing Fifty Tips Aiden home-stream fall fly patterns Night BadMoFo rules Whiskey Drinker knots silence tightline Dylan bite windows science matters front ended PSA Christmas Lights Baseball DJS DIY Buggers rookies camera Stockies Tippet Rings Memories fly tying patience streamside Spring Creek wading dog DHALO spawning PA Gold Grobe fighting fish flies backcountry bar boots last cast time Fly Casting etiquette mud winter fishing George Harvey wild trout montana One Great Tip favorite Dry-Dropper Float Fishing Fly rods PFBC reading water Wild Brown Trout conservation History Pennsylvania catch and release Backing Barrel Ask an Expert mousing brown trout droppers marginal water Davy Wotten gear Rich Floating nymphing Trout Unlimited comp fishing winter fly fishing Sighter tenkara solitude wet fly fishing Whiskey skunked brookies public land fishing tips casting summer Joey brush fishing Fly Fishing Burke simplicity dry fly fishing boys family suspender fishing trout bum cookout musician thunderstorm Big Trout Streamers Quote club fishing fly box Weather fishing with kids friends rigs winter philosophy walking mistakes angler types photography Galloup wet flies beadhead wading boots fly line Little Juniata River summertime fishing George Daniel Fish Hard giveaway stinky bass Press tracks tiny flies dead drift tippet Presentations ice nymphing tips the Mono Rig wildlife Streamer fishing Camping It's just fishing spot burning stocked trout hiking Night Fishing float indicator fishing explore Troutbitten Fly Box Oakiewear Euro-Nymphing night-sighter Grandfather Bad Mother travel tight line nymphing tight lining small streams dorsey yarn indicator Jeff efficiency leaders Orvis carp Dad poetry Trust Mystery TU Namer Discovery big brown trout regulations come on man waders mayfly