Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Ugly Flies

I just disassembled the rear section of an articulated streamer I was tying. It's a Wooley Bugger sort of thing and the hackle was all wrong; much too long, thin, whispy and just generally ugly. I couldn't stand to look at the thing much less join it to the other half of the fly. Out came the knife and it's back to a bare hook.

Do over.

I have some ugly flies in my fly box and on my tying desk. The ones on my desk are generally early tying experiments and while they're horribly homely, they remind me of how far I've progressed in the art.

I've also been given some ugly flies over time. You don't want to refuse them, cause it's like calling someone's kid ugly, and you put them in your box and you may even fish them. I don't ever recall fishing someone else's ugly fly and being amazed by its effectiveness. It may be that they're really not very good. Or maybe it's because I've rarely had a fishing trip where amazing amounts of fish are caught.

One fly that's been lurking about my fly box is one that I obtained from an Adam's fly swap. This was several years ago; my first swap. I think I tied a Parachute Adams for the swap. It was my first stab at a Parachute fly and while it wasn't fly shop quality it wasn't half bad either. I didn't keep any in the Homely Fly Collection so I must have impressed myself enough to send them all along. But this ugly fly remains in my fly box, unfished.

Ugly, misshapen Adams
And that brings us to a question: Do ugly flies catch fish? I know that flies that are chewed upon after a day of catching fish sometimes catch more fish the more abused they get, but does something that's ugly right out of the gate work?

The Test
This evening I went out and fished an ugly fly on purpose. I took the hideous Adams that I got in the swap -- think Kindergarten craft project -- and I vowed to fish it until it caught something or darkness swallowed it.

I started at a little bend in a wild trout stream that's held fish before. I like to fish this standing on a flat boulder midstream but the floods late last year moved the boulder downstream so I waded out and cast a bit. Not even a look.

I moved down to a plunge pool that I refer to as "sure thing" pool. Again, not a look in all the usual places.

I saw a little rise in a tiny eddy along the far bank under an overhanging willow. The first cast was in the wrong place but the second landed smack in the middle of the eddie and there was an immediate slashing rise. A tiny Brown came to hand. Ugly flies can catch fish; at least small fish.

I fished down a bit and back up nymphing. I managed to hook a few but none stayed on long.

Duped by an ugly fly
The Dark Hole
Walking back to the car in the gloom I passed by an S bend in the river. The lower portion of the S is a series of riffles but the upper portion is a slow glide against a deep bank. Three dimpled rises marred the otherwise unruffled surface of the pool.

I watched if for a bit and the fish seemed to be on something at or just under the surface. It was too dim to see well but I figured it was worth a shot. I moved up to where a trickle of a feeder stream comes in above the bend and watched for the fish again.

They were down. My approach or some other thing had put them off. So I waited.

Eventually one fish started working tight against the bank and while it was a long shot I let a Rusty Spinner drift downstream feeding line as it went. And it went to the wrong place. I retrieved it slowly to avoid spooking the pool.

Again I waited.

A ring manifested itself midstream and my Rusty Spinner went down in search of trout lips. This lane was an easier drift and while I couldn't see the fly in the dim light it was well past where the trout had risen and there was no rise.

So again I retrieved the fly slowing stripping in line in long slow pulls. And the line went tight. And the rod tip bent deeply and the throbbing of a shaking trout head was telegraphed to my hand. Very lucky and very satisfying.

The fight was short. I let a bit of line inadvertently slip through my hands and either the slack or whatever it is that causes hooks to be spit caused the hook to be spit and it landed just upstream of me.

If there are signs, I think this was one of them.

I went home.

The Dark Hole


  1. Often, I want the "ugly" ones to not work, so I can get them out of my box. However, they always do. Blast...

    1. That's the quandry - they're revolting and are a blemish on the community of crisply tied fish enticers. Yet they work. Damn them!

  2. As Jay fair told me a while back, doesn't have to be perfect, just look buggy.


    1. Yup, fair advice. I like buggy and sparkly -- every fly could use a little flash.

  3. The fish will tell you what they want. Or they could if they could speak. I hear the fish. I listen to their words. Their words are the water. Rocks. A cast between 10 and 2 o'clock. Oatmeal.

    You have progressed far in the art. Now, listen to the fish you must. Hear them, you will. And then they will fear you.

  4. A lot of the flies on the water are injured as well. Broken wings, legs, etc. fish love them! Why would they only eat a perfectly tied fly?