I have so much junk in my fly boxes. I have a collections of odd flies I have tied that have never been used, and unless I have a chance encounter with a trout that is fond of the works of Salvador Dali, it is doubtful that I will ever use them. Most of these freak show oddities were tied at the end of a late night when I was tired; and it shows. Flies tied with every type of material known to man, these missing links contain bits of Care Bear fur, Parakeet feathers, even some puffy stuff that fell off of one of my kids shirts. Like I said, these things are odd.
But occasionally, when the fishing has been so exceptional that it really doesn’t matter if I hook another, I will tie on one of these flies from The Island of Misfit Toys. And once in a very blue moon…one of them will actually catch a fish.
Case in point. I was on a trip to the Nantahala Gorge in western North Carolina and the fishing had been epic. Nearly every cast brought either a fish or a good natured attack. I had pulled the Nantahala Hat Trick (Brown, Bow, and Brook), and it was getting late in the day. As with most trips that I take with my friends, the point in the afternoon had been reached when the conversation started to override the need to catch anything. So, I tied on this ugly fly that was made with black Ostrich and hot pink marabou from a Barbie evening gown (the advantage of having three daughters) with a crystal flash beard and red rubber legs. Honestly, it was gaudy and gross. As I recall it was tied on a size ten hook. No weight.
I couldn’t keep the Brook Trout off of it. I guess they were trying to induce a mercy killing. Strikes prompted by pity. The fish hit it so hard, and so often, that by the end of the day it looked more like something that had been coughed up by a very sick cat than a fly. As a matter of personal principle, I did not tie another one. Actually, I don’t think that I could duplicate the thing. Sometimes when you play Dr. Frankenstein at the vise, you only get one shot.
I have a few other knick knacks in my box that have worked quite well. One is called a redruM (those who saw The Shining will get it) Black marabou tail, red wire body, black marabou at the head. That fly saved me from getting skunked on the Caney Fork River two years ago, and later on that year it hooked the largest brown trout of my fishing career (26” but who’s counting). People all around me were casting to these monstrous Browns with no success. I cast maybe three times and got the hook up. When they say that sometimes it is better to be lucky than good…they speak truth.
Then I threw together something that I called The Church Fly. I really don’t feel comfortable saying I came up with this pattern because it no doubt has other names and I have seen variations on the theme in fly fishing catalogs from everywhere. It’s nothing more than a soft hackle zebra midge using starling as the collar. This fly caught fish for me on a day when no one was catching anything. It was so successful that a gentleman came up to me on the river and asked me what I was using. I gave him a couple. He caught the heck out of the trout too. Several months later my buddy Brad called to tell me that some guy was in his fly shop asking for Church Flies or if Brad knew how to tie one. He laughed, told the gentleman that they were not a stocked item, but he was kind enough to provide the man with everything he needed to tie his own. Now my Church Fly is legendary, even if I can only take credit for the name. I first used it while fishing in front of a church on the Clinch River in East Tennessee. Not very creative in the naming department, but, for me at least, it fits. With this little fly I have pulled trout from nearly every tailwater in my area and in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Proof is in the pudding. I always have a bunch in my box. The odd thing about this fly is that I have experimented with different types of soft hackle material and not one time have I caught fish on anything but the original. If you are going to tie one, you must have Starling. If not, you might be in for a long day.
A local angler has a pattern he calls the Smoky Mountain Blackbird. He guides throughout East Tennessee and at some point in the trip, he’s bound to tie one on for his customer, and it isn’t often that they fish it without success. This fly uses the same theory as the Church fly, but still a different and unique pattern of its own merit. This gentleman is a master at the vise and he has created more original patterns than I could fish in a lifetime. The Blackbird and the Church fly both use Starling, it is in the application where the two diverge, but the premise is basically the same.
T-Dub, one of my fishing friends, fishes with flies he has made up almost exclusively. He will be catching fish like crazy and if you ask him what he is using, he won’t be able to give you a name. There are beautiful little twists in his tying that make them his own. The one fly that he has made legend is called the Pink Harlot and it is without a doubt one of the wildest looking fish attractors I’ve ever seen. Hot pink, body made of glass beads. Looks more like it should be hanging from a spinster’s ear as she sits in front of a slot machine in Vegas than in a mountain trout stream; catches some big fish though. He wisely maintains that as much pressure as the trout streams in the Southeast receive, you almost have to show the fish something it hasn’t seen before. T-Dub is an exceptional fisherman and I have watched him take these flies and absolutely rock the socks off the river.
The purist in me wants to fish only with tried and true patterns that are tied with the utmost of skill; flies that have earned their place into nearly every fly box in the known world. The purist in me wants flies that are proven and no matter where you are, if the water is cold and trout are on the prowl, you can take it to the bank that these age old fly patterns will work.
The Pheasant Tail nymph, The Hares Ear nymph, Adams dry, Blue Wing Olive dry, Elk Hair Caddis. If you were to go right now to your fly box and inspect its contents, I would venture to guess that you have some form of each one of these flies in stock, and in a variety of sizes.
The Nonconformist in me however, loves to have fish in hand, spectator close by, and engage in the following conversation…
“Nice fish. What do you have tied on?”
“Size 10 redruM”
It is at this point in the discussion that I free the fish and show the fly to them. I have heard the following statement several times on the stream.
“What in the world is that?”
I now have several fishing buddies who have redruMs and Church Flies in their boxes, which is something that brings an odd feeling of pride. It’s kind of like having a dog with three legs that is an expert at catching a Frisbee. It is doing what countless other dogs do…it just looks a little odd in the attempt.
In a recent discussion with some friends about our fly boxes and what we use the most, I commented that if I could boil my box down to what I use the most, I would have nothing but Pheasant tails- weighted, unweighted, soft hackle, Sulphurs- soft hackle and comparadun, Zebra Midges, Church flies, Adams and Elk Hair Caddis and a few redruMs. There are situations where I might wish I had something other than the aforementioned, but year in and year out I use these patterns more than any other.
I may, by this writing, imply that I am a traditionalist who does not deviate from the established form of historically productive patterns, but no matter what, I will always have the few odd balls. Who knows, one of those unfished oddballs may someday get rid of a skunk or become a local legend.