Welcome to Just Old Flies

Welcome to 'just old flies,' a section of methods and flies that used-to-be. These flies were tied with the only materials available. Long before the advent of 'modern' tying materials, they were created and improved upon at a far slower pace than todays modern counterparts; limited by materials available and the tiers imagination.

Once long gone, there existed a 'fraternity' of anglers who felt an obligation to use only the 'standard' patterns of the day. We hope to bring a bit of nostalgia to these pages and to you. And sometimes what you find here will not always be about fishing. Perhaps you will enjoy them. Perhaps you will fish the flies. Perhaps . .

Part Thirty

The Magic in Fly Design

By Ken Abrames

I think of flies as pieces of art, as feelings first, as simple wonderings, as ideas next and finally as questions seeking solutions. the solutions are interesting but they are not the goal, only part of the process of discovery.

The feeling always comes first. It may be sparked by the flick of a baitfish next to a rock or the sight of a seagull or tern or heron turning in mid-flight and landing. The feeling may trigger a memory from my boyhood or a story I have heard. It comes somehow and I am glad when it does. It opens me to creativity and I welcome and savor this. Sometimes I hold the feeling back, not allowing it to focus just yet. I let it grow in a hidden way waiting for it to unconsciously develop and burst forth and bud and perhaps bloom. I like this feeling of holding back and waiting for the right time. When it does come it holds many gifts.

I know the fly, the fish, the presentation, the color, the colors, the quality of light and I know what it is I am looking for and I know how to form it and fish it and all of this comes in a flash without words. Then as I follow the feeling, words come. The materials are first reached for and then named and shaped and I look at the fly, perhaps I will see another dimension to it or several and I play with the theme. It may grow to be a fly that resonates with the insight that formed it from my feeling, or it may not. When I fish it, the fish themselves will answer the question. The worth of the fly is only that to me, and I leave it behind and move on to the next question. This to me, is the essence of fly design.

If the idea of the fly holds and I can feel the adventure of discovering something, then I will try to refine it to its most simple form. The essence, or the idea, of the fly is much more important to me as the source or root of an expression or question than a single taxonomic image could ever be. A fly should work even as a non-exact or non-taxidermic reproduction because it has to imply more than what a light-reflective image can reproduce. It has to embody ordinariness, dimensionality, translucency, harmony, being and be dynamically balanced and integrated with the natural energies it is part of.

This has been my observational and practical experience when tying flies to fish with. It is true for me. And yet, I know that this view is true in some form for all fly fishermen who tie flies for fishing even those who hold to the interpretations passed down within tradition and also for those who try to mimic nature through exact visual duplication. I know that they are attempting to portray the elusive look of life within the creature and they often do.

To capture the look of life through exact imitation is a perfectly reasonable approach to take, and when the definition of "exact imitation" is expanded to include the unknown and unexplored possibilities of that which any definition can never fully contain, then the probable and practical solutions become limitless. The imposed boundaries of fixed definition have no place in creative exploration. The boundary of a bent pin with a feather fastened to it had to be crossed before the Jock Scott could be imagined.

I seek the essential core first. Then, because I have an understanding of what idea is basic to the fly, I can add form and detail to it rather than starting with the focus on detail and blind faith that the fly will contain that essential spark of life I seek. Sometimes the essence of a fly may be only a touch of color, perhaps orange with a touch of blue flash. That's it. A detail that is also the core. What can you do with something as vague as that? A great deal. ~ Ken Abrames

Stay tuned, concluded next time!
The previous is an excerpt from The Perfect Fish; Illusions in Fly Tying. Published by Frank Amato Publications, Inc.
P.O. Box 82112, Portland Oregon 97282 Phone: 503-653-8108,
email Frank Amato Publications

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