“Nice fly,” he said. “Can I keep it?”
I flinched a little when Bruce asked the question, because those damn Full Pint streamers take half of a Zepplin album to tie. (I often measure time in Spotify playlists.)
But Bruce didn’t seem to notice my awkward pause, and he kept holding the fully-dressed streamer between his fat thumb and forefinger, at head level, gazing past the two sharp hooks and straight into my eyes, just daring me to say no.
“Uh . . . yeah man, sure. I don’t care,” I lied.
Not only do I feel a loss of invested time when a fly goes missing, there’s something deeper too. I get attached to my streamers. After all, some of the long flies in my box carry enduring memories of big trout and happy times that flood back just by looking at them. Because a well-tied streamer can be around for quite a while if you don’t mind climbing some low tree branches or dunking your whole arm into the icy depths to save something special. I don’t mind.
“Great. I have some ideas on how to make it better,” Bruce said flatly.
That stung a little too. What improvements are needed? I wondered while Bruce stashed my beloved streamer into his fly box. I watched until the end, until the shadow of the closing lid engulfed the mallard flank, and the glint from the copper conehead was no more. Farewell, good friend.
Seven days later, Bruce sent me photos of his “improved” version, noting that he’d substituted white for tan marabou, changed the collar dubbing to something “with necessary flash,” and added opal tinsel to the tail. “The fly just looks bare without it,” Bruce assured me. Accompanying the pics and descriptions of what he changed, Bruce ended with the following: “This spruced up fly gets a lot more attention!!”
Now how the hell does he know that, I wondered. It’s only been a week.
Some anglers habitually employ substitutions to flies, leaders, rigging and tactics. They change and tinker incessantly, for better or worse.
And I’m all for experimentation. Hell, I’m the captain of Team Variant. (I made that up.) But I branch away from substantial things and for thoughtful reasons, rather than chopping everything down and growing a whole new tree.
I know some anglers who’s substitutions get in the way of their own progress. They change so much, so soon, that nothing in their system remains proven. They’re in a constant state of experimentation with lines, leaders and flies. And while experimenting is at the heart of their enjoyment, there’s also something to be said for the tried and true stuff. Community consensus, sometimes, happens for good reason. And you can save a lot of time and testing energies if you start with the standard and deviate only after that standard is understood and assimilated.
This is how I limit my own substitutions. When I tie and fish a new pattern, I make a point to tie it exactly as the original pattern calls for, because I assume there are good reasons (and seasons of testing) behind the creator’s final form. I take the same approach with leader and tactics — spending significant time learning the strengths and weaknesses of a system before I begin meddling and cobbling together a list of improvements.
At his best, the substitution guy finds success pretty often. With his relentless desire to change everything, he stumbles upon some great ideas. But the real trick is to recognize those quality developments and stand pat — know when to stop the substitutions and recognize a winner.
At his worst, the substitution guy looks for anything to change, rather than looking for what might be an improvement. He varies patterns, rigs and tactics for the sake of novelty and not by following logical steps toward any end goal.
Change some things. Change not everything. And make change for good reason.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N