Dave Micus, Plum Island Sound

October 4th, 2004


By Dave Micus

"Perfection is finally attained," observed Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, "not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away," and lately I'm thinking this is applicable to a lot of things, but especially fly tying. I came to this conclusion after a frantic day of blitz fishing, where the striped bass ripped my meticulously tied feather wings to shreds, and, with nothing else in the fly box, I caught just as many, if not more, on what was practically a bare hook with a few wisps of bucktail that probably took 30 seconds to tie.

It won't be easy to change my evil ways, though. I don't tie sparse flies for the same reason I don't cook a decent dinner. I always feel like the recipe requires just a little more, and many a good meal and fly has been ruined by an extra pinch of salt or fur. I just can't help but add a few more feathers here, some flash there, a couple of eyes, and before I know it I don't have a fly but a feather duster. Maybe I find it counter intuitive that less can be more, or maybe I add hair as a subliminal reaction to losing my own. No matter. I chuck big flies at fish believing they prefer a big meal and this explains in large part why I'm not a very good trout fisherman.

I'm lucky that I tie salt-water flies, large long things that are easy to tie and can absorb my additions without too much of a negative impact. And, unlike the tiny dry flies where an extra turn of hackle can be the difference between catching fish or catching skunk, the saltwater fly, at least the striper fly, relies on profile probably more than anything else. There are still those who, fly fishers being on the whole an obsessive/compulsive lot, insist on precise imitations, but I've never been in a situation where bass are hyper focused on a specific baitfish pattern, the one exception being a clam worm hatch, and even then you can catch fish on the fringes with a pattern other than the clam worm.

For the fly fisher the vise is the pallet where the creative juices flow, and this is especially true of the salt-water tyer not bound by the conventions of tying that haunt your freshwater perfectionist. I've modified quite a few patterns to suit my own aesthetic needs without insulting the originator or the fish. For example, I add prismatic eyes to almost any pattern I tie because eyes are a trigger to bass. I eliminate peacock herl toppings from patterns that call for it as I find that the herl, heavier than the wing material, will usually foul at the hook bend, but instead use a darker bucktail to give a profile. My favorite fly this season has been a Thunder Creek style flat wing streamer, a marriage of the thunder creek streamer and feather-winged patterns, that I credit as my own design though it probably isn't. And after the experience with the blitzing bass, I rushed home to tie some simple blonde patterns, but after only one the fly metamorphosed from a simple streamer to a baby bunker:

The extra effort and materials are usually for naught, as the bass don't seem to appreciate how much time I spend on a fly. When they do I have inevitably only tied one example, and, if it rides off into the sunset in the lip of a large fish, I'm not only without a replacement but also lacking a model for tying more. So it's back to the tying board and more experiments.

I doubt I'll change, though. I realize that I'm not tying to catch fish. Free of the constraints of instructions and limited only by my imagination, I tie big, colorful, weird flies that you'd never find at Orvis. Fortunately, the striped bass don't seem to mind... ~ Dave

About Dave:

Dave Micus lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts. He is an avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer and instructor. He writes a fly fishing column for the Port City Planet newspaper of Newburyport, MA (home of Plum Island and Joppa Flats) and teaches a fly fishing course at Boston University.

Previous Dave Micus Columns

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