About Trout Fly Presentation and Fly Impression

by Tony Orman

BC Rainbow trout.jpeg

One of the most practical, “down to earth” books on trout fishing,  was written by Bob Wyatt, who began his life long journey into fly fishing for trout in the Canadian state of Alberta in the 1950s and now lives in  Middlemarch, “a semi-ghost town” as the book’s dust jacket describes it, situated on the Taieri River in Otago.

Bob Wyatt’s book “What Trout Want -The Educated Trout and Other Myths” was published by US publisher Stackpole Books in 2013 and recently I was kindly given a copy. His earlier book “Trout Hunting”  just oozed sound, practical advice without the  confusing complexities that other trout fishing authors can indulge in.

Bob Wyatt doesn’t pussy foot around. He writes boldly and  often takes on the role of myth buster. He puts a bomb under often fancied theories such as intelligent, educated trout, trout feeding selectively and pursuing the impossible dream of tying an exact imitation of the natural insect.

He describes himself as “a hard core presentations and impressionist.”

In other words, it’s not fly pattern that is important – or even vital – in most situations but the way the fly fisher presents the fly. Stemming from that is that since  fly pattern is of much less importance than most fly fishing books and 90 percent of anglers doggedly think, only a few patterns are really needed.

Complementary is his allegiance to a policy of a fly giving the impression to the trout of food rather than a futile attempt at exact imitation, Bob Wyatt’s patterns exude simplicity.

Take his No-Hackle Deer Hair Sedge (DHS) for example. It is tied on a size 8 to 16 light-wire dry fly or nymph hook, has an abdomen of hare’s mask or seal’s fur, a rib of tying thread, a wing of medium deer hair and a clipped deer hair buts to form a semi-Muddler shape.

Or a quick glance at his Wee Hare Emerger tied on a 14 to 20 short shank, wide gape dry fly hook. Its body is hare mask fur tapered from the head and with a rib of tying thread or copper wire. That’s it.

Consequently Bob Wyatt carries just a few patterns of dry flies and nymphs, instead of dozens of patterns..

This book is a beauty. Based on over fifty years of fly fishing Bob Wyatt is adamant a few simply designed flies will cover almost any fishing situation. And he has unchallengeable confidence that in most cases will catch fish better than specific intricately designed patterns created for what conventional thinking terms ‘selective trout’.  

The logic is based on how limited a trout’s brain is.  The  basic fly designs depend on what ‘triggers’ a trout’s to accept the fly.

The “trigger” is nothing new. I wrote about the trigger response in my book “Trout With Nymph” published in 1974. But I hasten to add, it wasn’t my idea, I was just the messenger, for the theory was that of an exceptionally skilled fly fisher Jim Ring of Nelson who introduced me to nymph fishing, for which I’m eternally grateful. Jim who was a scientist teaching at a Nelson college, termed it “the super normal releaser.”

Jim Deserves Credit

Bob Wyatt credits me in his book with “the super normal releaser idea” but in all honesty, the credit goes to my friend Jim.

However the idea of impressionistic rather than exact imitation fly patterns with the emphasis on presentation to the trout, goes way back before Bob Wyatt and myself.

In the 1950s as a teenager I avidly read the Amercian “Field and Stream” magazine and one writer by the name of Ted Trueblood was a regular columnist. His articles were practical, knowledgeable yet modest. He virtually became a “living legend” and received many awards. Although a dedicated conservationist, a beloved writer and fly fishing expert he remained a humble person who didn’t consider the recognition any big deal.

I recall Ted Trueblood favoured dubbing nymphs that suggested trout food rather than trying to imitate it . He maintained some fly tying materials had an “insectedness”, i.e. suggesting an insect and they were important in triggering a trout to take a fly.

 His Otter Nymph was primarily made out of seal and otter fur.

The philosophy of impressionistic trout flies and just a few in the fly box has been advocated by other practice, successful fly fishermen over the decades

Englishman Franks Sawyer write a classic book  “Nymphs and the Trout”. 

In his self-deprecating style, Frank Sawyer like Bob Wyatt and Ted Trueblood gives valuable practical insight into fly fishing.  One tribute said “Frank Sawyer always caught fish, and on only 3 or 4 patterns that he created himself.”

Frank Sawyer used only four nymph patterns – the Pheasant Tail, Grey Goose, Killer Bug and Bowtie Buzzer – not 104 or 44, just four!

All of the four flies are basic, very simple creations. The Killer Bug for instance, is  heavily weighted with a double even covering of wire and the body simply darning wool of a pinkish – fawn shade wound around the hook.

The Pheasant Tail, well known in New Zealand is simple to tie made from just two materials cock pheasant tail herl and copper wire.

And you can go further back even before Sawyer, to find successful anglers using just half a dozen patterns. Most notable in New Zealand was Captain G D Hamilton who about 1900 fished the Manawatu River at Dannevirke. He used just five flies which incorporated only “three colours of feathers and dubbing.” In 1904 he wrote a book Trout Fishing and Sport in Maoriland”.

The good Captain’s favourite spider pattern of the five was simply made of a hare fur body and brown partridge hackle.

I’ve given up trying to the intricate patterns that can frustrate ten thumbed fly tyers like me. The Hare and Copper nymph is both easy to tie and ultra-effective on any ever, stream or lake.

Even within the bounds of simplify you can be innovative. One nymph of mine is a tail of a few yellow whisks, and a body of wallaby fur, ribbed with thin copper wire. Another Sam’s Fancy is a tail of red whisks and a body of thin copper wire ribbing around dark possum fur.



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4 Responses to About Trout Fly Presentation and Fly Impression

  1. J.B. S. says:

    I could not agree more. Five flies is better than 55 or 105, because one spends too much valuable casting time, changing flies instead of fishing.

  2. "March Brown" says:

    Good advice. All of the Masters – Frank Sawyer, Charles Ritz, GEM Skues and others, years ago, advocated presentation before pattern. This is timely, practical advice. Bob Wyatt’s books are very good practical advice.

  3. "Green-heart" says:

    I began fishing with a green heart fly rod using little wet flies like Peveril of the Peak and Hardies Favourite, just two patterns. As youngsters we did well. But somehow one gets trapped into collecting a host of fly patterns and end up with too many. A good reminder to stick to a few.
    Also on fly patterns, direct imitation is impossible. Who ever saw a natural fly with a hook sticking out of it. LOL.

  4. Bud jones JonesQSM says:

    I stumbled quite by chance on my standard woolly nymph,which just looks boggish enough to have taken, [without s diary count up,probably , 5000+ trout. Just a simple50/50 rabbit /hare grey sheep’s wool dubbing on a #12/13 longish shank open gape hook,soft red hen hackle, later added a section of grey goose wing pulled over as a phony wing sack attractor.a 4 spikey deer hair tail. Just seemed a never miss so stuck with it for 50 yrs. Wind of lead wire under a must.
    Also an accident was my dry from an American caddis book.#14 open gape hook big bushy grade A rooster red cocky bondhu hackle Deer spikey tail easy to spot in abouncing ripple.
    That’s it, no more if they fail, I just move on skunked!

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