I buy my flies. There you go, I said it. Aaaaa
I see how you recoil in horror.
I’m just about, almost but not quite, discerning about the flies I fish. I’m not terribly certain how to explain this other than to say that I know what constitutes a good fly and I overwhelmingly prefer to fish the best tied fly that I can. This isn’t to say that I don’t own a bad fly and it shouldn’t suggest that I don’t fish a bad fly – I just don’t fish with truly terrible flies.
There’s something about a good fly that is as clear as the nose on your face. A truly terrible fly is like a zit on the same nose.
I cannot abide this kind of fly, but at least they’re really easy to spot. They have the close, buttoned-down look of a Sunday morning part time real estate agent in a cheap, shiny, too-small suit, a necktie like a black 1X tapered leader and reeking of Aqua Velva. They look nothing like what they purport to be. Hell, they’re not even close.
Apart from how they look, a terrible fly performs badly. This is as a result of too little (or ironically too much) dressing applied badly or far too quickly. Grab one in your finger tips and lightly turn the dressing and the hook in opposite directions. The dressing will easily turn around the fly.
Now take another and pull the dressing either forward or backwards and see how it slides on the shank. You will by this time also notice various bits falling off it, thread unwrapping, etc. Set this one aside and grab yet another. Pin the hook into the counter and pull at the eye. I guarantee you that it will straighten or snap. Do it with a few dozen flies, the results will not vary by much.
It is around this time that you’re going to develop the understanding that a terrible fly is both a visual and a mechanical abomination. You can point this out to the tackle shop jock; by now he’s standing over your shoulder pointing at his sign that says “lovely to look at, lovely to hold, but if you break it consider it sold”. Without a single bit of irony you can tell him that you refuse to pay as the crap that he’s selling is neither lovely to look at nor is it lovely to hold and that you didn’t break them as much as subject them to a mercy killing.
No, a terrible fly is like actually meeting the woman on the other end of the phone sex line. No matter how they described themselves they’re always going to look like your emaciated grandmother – but in a cheap suit, with a lurid grin and stinking of a lifetime of failure.
On the other hand, a pretty bad fly looks just about right and is a tempting buy. It’s fault is that it’s proportionally wrong in the way that those slightly chubby ladies in the tight dresses and skyscraperesque heels are proportionally wrong. They’re wearing the right labels in the right places but they somehow don’t seem to pull it off very convincingly and sort of wobble along with a bulge that appears here, disappears again and then pops back out where you were least expecting it.
When you look at them in dim light, with less than full concentration or after a drink or two they appear to be the real deal and you snap them up. When you wake up the next morning and have a half-good look at them you realize that your judgement was a bit off and that you’ve got to find a way to shake them off without having anyone’s feelings hurt too badly.
We all own more than a few pretty bad flies. I’m fortunate enough to have not tied these myself and I dispose of them by giving them to my son (his skills are improving and he’s putting me in an uncomfortable place by starting to reject my gifts) or simply throwing them away. The guy who invested hours into filling his box with flies from his vice and realizes that many of them are pretty bad doesn’t have the luxury of simply and merrily throwing them away.
No, having tied them himself it’s like actually having spent a great deal of money wining, dining and softening up that chubby lass in the ridiculous heels. When he wakes up next to her the next morning he’s regretting his poor investment and wondering if there’s a slim chance he’ll recover some of it. Some of these guys will hang on in this relationship for a remarkably long while as they try to at least extract some conjugal dividend from their mistake but, in the end, they have to reconcile with the fact that they are, ironically, fucked.
I suppose that my personal aesthetic doesn’t require perfection. I’m quite happy with workaday flies that get the job done. Let’s face it, there is no thing as the perfect fly. If there was there’d be no new patterns or techniques. Take, for instance, vintage flies. These things were the heavy, nerdy farmer brown of trout flies and yet they accounted for thousands of fish over generations and with the average size of these fish being bigger than those of today.
I’ve owned some flies tied by seriously competent tiers that fished better after they fell apart.