In the last few years I have begun to explore the allure of an art about which I have been curious for a long time. It is the art of tying flies. Many people tie flies as part of their love of fly fishing, especially during the winter ‘off season’ in northern climes. Others, who might never be found stream-side waving a stick, pursue this art for its own sake.
Traditionally, while developing fly fishing skills, many fishers have sought a basic knowledge of entomology, the study of insects. This usually involves learning about the life-cycles of insects that provide food sources for fish. “Match the hatch” has been a common way to commend presenting ‘flies’ to fish based upon the insects that are observed or thought to be present in a particular situation. For those who fish according to this approach, fly tying involves seeking to mimic as closely as possible the appearance of these insects.
Another approach to fly fishing, and therefore to the preparation of flies for it, is less interested in imitating the actual appearance of specific insects that are observed or anticipated. Instead, this alternative approach aims more generally to suggest characteristics of the appearance or behavior of feeding material that might be found in such waters. In line with this second approach is the traditional Japanese art of fly tying and fly fishing known as Tenkara, about which I hope to share more in the future. A remarkable exponent of this lack of concern for ‘matching the hatch’ is Dr. Hisao Ishigaki, who advocates using one fly for almost every situation. He ties these flies with ordinary black sewing thread from a dollar store along with some cheap brown rooster feathers, and is very successful fishing with them.
For the moment, I would like to express my appreciation for an American approach to fly tying that has an affinity with the historically Japanese approach. The fly depicted above is a ‘Pale Olive Flymph,’ tied by Pete Hidy. It took me some time to appreciate this hybrid creation. For Hidy blended features of a traditional surface dry fly with those of a sinking nymph imitation, thereby creating a ‘flymph.’ Flies of this kind are intended to be presented below the surface, to attract the interest of fish feeding in the lower level of a stream ~ just as a Japanese Tenkara fly might be fished.
Having discovered this photo a few years ago, and then having used it for my iPhone screen background, I have looked at and reflected on Hidy’s fly for some time. Eventually, when wanting to try and tie the same fly myself, I began to search for where I first found it. This involved writing to several fly magazine editors and fly shop managers. And then, I remembered where I had encountered this image ~ in Morgan Lyle’s book, Simple Flies.
It was this book (and one or two others) that first drew me to begin to explore and learn about various aspects of fly tying. It is an humbling art, while yet being immensely rewarding for the newcomer. The fly depicted here, in overly large detail, is actually quite small, probably well under an inch all around. And yet, notice the detail, the sensitivity to light, color and texture. One might be a committed vegan and still seek to tie flies like this, never intending to tempt fish with them but only to admire their beauty. For the beauty of such flies reflects not only the skills of a practiced fly tyer. They reflect the handiwork of the Creator from whose ‘hands’ come all that delights our senses.
With increased sensitivity to our impact upon the beauty and order of Creation, it is worth noting that most fly tiers and fly fishers now choose to buy and use ‘barbless’ hooks (differing from the one depicted above). This creates more challenge for the fisher and likely less injury to the fish that choose to ‘bite’ such flies.
Depicted above is a ‘Pale Olive Flymph’ tied by Vernon S. “Pete” Hidy, in my photograph of one by Lance Hidy. The original is found in Morgan Lyle’s interesting book, Simple Flies, which helps introduce fly tying and Tenkara. If you sense an interest in this art, and especially what I describe as a Japanese approach to it, I recommend Daniel Galhardo’s very accessible introduction in his book, tenkara: a complete guide… (widely available, and on his company website, tenkarausa.com).