The first time out, a fly needs a good showing

by | Jul 10, 2019 | 5 comments

“What’s this doing in here?”

I plucked the oddball fly from its slot on the backside of a swinging leaf in my nymph box, from a place reserved for trial runs and rarely used once-or-twice-a-year kind of stuff.

Holding the flashback fly between my thumb and first two fingers, I shook my head.

“No, you didn’t quite make it into the lineup, did you bud?”

I should tell you this: The solitude of my favorite trout river provides me the freedom to talk to myself. And it’s become a habit — not often enough to consider me too strange, I wouldn’t think, and certainly not loud enough for streamside starlings to hear me over the breaking currents. I only comment aloud on the remarkable things, and I do so somewhere above a whisper.

But I like to speak the questions. Because these thoughts seem to command more answers when they resonate aloud.

That last question needed no reply. It was obvious. And I’ve known it for a while now. The first time out, a new fly has to make a good showing. It needs to run strong out of the gate. If any die-hard angler is to lend his fragile confidence to a new fly pattern, it takes more than the adoring recommendations of a friend or some well strung sentences of persuasion in a magazine article. No, a new fly has to show up at the first dance. It must make a good impression. It has to put fish in the net.

And this is how confidence flies are found.

I stashed the odd flashback thing on the scrap side of a small foam box — a place reserved for retired flies, rusty things that I find in the low hanging branches and some of my own flies that have run their last lap. For some of them, I strip the hook with a razor blade and re-tie with new materials. Others find the trash bin. This flashback thing will no doubt make it to the wastebasket, in part because the hook was just unlucky.

I flipped my box’s inner leaf over and scanned my few rows of go-to patterns. Every one of them has a story about their first time out. And as I tied on a #14 Walt’s Worm (copper bead, orange collar, mono rib) I thought about what happened with that flashback fly. I easily remembered the day and the details, because fishermen don’t forget the fishy things.

“Probably not really fair,” I said aloud. “It was a slow day all around. But,” I reasoned, “I still caught a handful of fish on the Bread-n-Butter and a BHPT.”

No, that flashy fly didn’t get it done. And I won’t complicate my selection process by keeping any hangers-on. Turn ‘em loose. Let ‘em go.

“I keep a clean box,” I said as I tucked the #14 Walt’s into an upstream pocket at twenty feet. “And you, Mr. Flashback Thing, just didn’t make the cut.”



Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

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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  1. Lol, sounds like Bill Belichick in waders. Ruthlessly culling the herd, feelings and sentiments be damned. I have a small wallet of mixed grill confidence flies; from the bottom of the column to the top. These are flies are my Grail flies. I have another box of semi reliable back benchers whose productivity is just enough to keep them in the game, albeit seldom. I have a jar, not unlike yours, that is reserved for those flies who saw the light of day just once, only to hear “Oh, hell no!” Born only to be fed back into the machine: fly tying’s version of Soylent Green.

    • Bill Belichick in waders. That’s hilarious!

  2. After a disappointing start last Sunday in the driftless I more or less said wtf and gambled on a Coulee Scud nymph recommended by the Driftless Angler Fly Shop. I quickly caught a nice Upper Midwest Brown and then several more in three hours.

    I’m now crazy about the Couler Scud.

  3. Oh yea. I probably need to trash over fifty flies from when I started tying about a year and a half ago. I have that Italian disease of accumulating things that should be in a landfill somewhere. I’m happy to say that my last invention to come out of my mad scientist laboratory performed brilliantly the first and second time out. If it does good again on my next outing, Saturday or Sunday, I have no other choice but to name this fly DAMAGE INCORPORATED. Please God don’t make it rain too much tonight.

  4. It’s alright to talk to yourself.
    It’s alright to talk to yourself and answer yourself.
    The time to start worrying is when you talk to yourself, answer yourself, and then ask, “What did I say?”


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