What is that magic ingredient that makes a
fish want to eat an artificial fly? Is it
size or color? Does the way a fly floats or
the shape of the wings have anything to do
with it? Is motion or lack of motion a selling
point to the fish? What magical ingredient creates
the proper illusion that makes a fish want to munch
on your particular offering at that particular time?
Sometimes motion is the key. Motion means life, and
fish often drop their defenses when a fly is presented
with the proper motion. It might be the erratic motion
of a crayfish or the pulse-pause-pulse motion of a
dragonfly nymph that sets their hearts to thoughts
of feeding. Maybe it's the flash of a fleeing
minnow that your fly presents which keys a response,
or the illusion of something edible. Could it be
the skittering motion of a caddis imitation the
fish are waiting for?
I'm a firm believer in the idea of triggers in a fly.
By that, I mean the features of a fly or group of
flies that trigger a feeding response in the fish
we are trying to fool. Those triggers could be
size, shape, color or a certain flash that convinces
our quarry that the imitation is the real thing.
It might be a combination of those things or just
one or two key items that sets our imitation apart
from the rest. If we want to be more successful,
we must discover those triggers and concentrate
on those features in our flies.
Several of the flies I have designed that are very
successful were designed with those triggers in mind.
One example would be my Shrimpf pattern that fools
bonefish very well. When I designed it, I didn't
have any real bonefish experience, but I did have
a lot of successful bonefish flies to examine. I
looked for common features in those bonefish flies
and extracted what I believed to be the triggers
that made them successful. Then I put them in a
fly that is easy to tie and easy to fish. It worked.
Elk hair caddis and stimulator flies have a lot of
hackle on them. That hackle allows the fly to be
skittered across the surface of the water. The
insects those flies imitate lay their eggs by flying
low above the water and laying their eggs on the fly,
or by doing stop and go egg laying. The flight is
usually in an upstream direction. While fish will
take one of those flies as it drifts downstream in
the classic drift, they usually grab it much faster
if it is skittered across the surface the way real
insects move. In this case, motion is a trigger
How does that apply to hackle? Why do some types
of hackle seem to be more productive than others?
For instance, why does grizzly hackle seem to be
more productive in flies than plain old brown
hackle? What is that secret ingredient in grizzly
hackle that triggers a feeding response in fish?
Could it be the illusion of motion? Does the
hackle look like the beating wings of an insect?
When you look at a classic dry fly, something about
the hackle seems to create the feeling of motion.
This is especially true if the feathers used to
hackle the fly have a dark band in their center
of if the feather has broken bands of color in
its length. Take a good look at a fly that was
created with badger hackle or cree hackle and it
will look more alive than a fly that has a single
colored hackle wrapped around it.
The mix of colors in an Adams dry fly hackle looks
more "alive" than it would if the hackle were only
brown. A golden badger hackle on an elk hair caddis
looks more like it is moving than a ginger or brown
hackle would. Why do you suppose we cherish cree
hackle with its multi-colored appearance so much?
I think it is the illusion of motion that sets our
hearts on fire, and I also think the fish sense the
same motion we see.
I'm not advocating anything radical here. I just
want you to think outside the box for a minute. Is
it possible that your dry flies might be more
productive if the hackle you use on them looked
more like the motion of beating insect wings?
Could you maybe add a hackle or change a hackle
to create a better illusion of motion in your fly?
Am I totally off my rocker?
For a moment, just one tiny moment, consider the
idea that your hackle could provide the extra illusion
of moving wings. Now consider that a slight change
in materials might increase that illusion. It might
make all the difference in your catch rate on those
tough days when fish are feeding on everything but
your offerings. Would a furnace hackle be more
productive on your Royal Wulff fly? How about
changing the hackle on your Light Cahill to a
badger instead of a cream. Would that increase
the illusion of motion?
Like I said before, I'm a firm believer in the idea
that every successful fly has something in it that
riggers a feeding response in the fish. That trigger
is a feature that creates the illusion of life to
the fish. If you can concentrate on the trigger
mechanism in your artificial flies, I'm convinced
you'll catch more fish.
Next time you look at a fly you just finished tying,
look at the possibility of improving the illusion
of motion in the next fly you tie. If you do that,
you'll eventually know if I'm nuts or if there is
a better way to fool a fish.