It is a question that I hear at least a half-dozen times daily at the shop. Friends calling in, customers at the fly bins and our guide staff all want to know what pattern has fish biting.
But, as simple and straight-forward as the question may be, selecting – and more importantly, fishing – the right fly is not always easy.
When a customer asks me which fly or flies they should get, my first question is, “How do you want to fish?”
The reason I ask 'how' is that we have reached a point in the evolution of fly development where clear distinctions have to be drawn.
The angler set up to throw Woolly Buggers, Chernobyl Ants and Muddlers will not be well-served with a suggestion (correct and honest as it may be) that Eric’s Area 51 in Bighorn Colors is what they should have.
The big, articulated flies preferred by many require special lines and rods to fully utilize their fish-catching attributes. If an angler doesn’t have a Wulff Ambush, Rio Outbound Short or similar fly line, and a stout seven-weight or larger rod, they will not be able to get the fly anywhere near a fish.
Similarly, the angler who enjoys throwing such large fare is likely looking for a different experience than the fisherman wanting to drift a large Royal Wulff past logjams. While all flies have the potential to catch large fish, some are designed to target them exclusively. From a practical standpoint, this means that the angler fishing things like a Sex Dungeon, or D-Series fly, is making a conscious choice to pursue trophy-sized fish at the expense of ringing up large numbers of fish.
For bass anglers, such distinctions are not new. For many years, I separated out my largemouth and smallmouth flies into separate boxes – because the largemouths like to eat bigger fare, and I knew that going after them in a dedicated manner would require my eight-weight and a bass bug taper (BBT) line. I also had an early and late-season box for smallmouth, with weighted leeches and big Clousers in the early section, and dry flies and modest Woolly Buggers in the late box.
But, for trout people – who generally settled on a five-weight rod as the universal tonic two generations ago – it is a brave new world.
To be considered a serious angler these days, the troutist must have a four-weight rod for dry fly angling, a five-weight rod for all-around fishing, a six-weight rod for all-around fishing with an eye toward streamers, and a seven- or eight-weight for dedicated streamer work. His lines must run the gamut from gently tapered weight-forwards or double-tapers to aggressive intermediate- or sink-tipped brick-chuckers. And that’s before we even start talking about switch rods or spey fishing.
So, does all this mean the end of casual angling?
But it does mean that when we consider the question, “What’s the hot fly?” we need to know the proper language in which to deliver the answer.