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
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