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Flies, flies !

”With good reason, one could say that he who never has had the opportunity to experience the pleasures of fly angling, has not gotten the most out of life.” The quotation is from an article in the periodical “Från Skog och Sjö” (1909) written by cavalry captain Rudolf Hammarström. The article is probably the first one in Swedish, which in an instructive way conveys knowledge of fly fishing as a sport, as an art, and as a way of life. Fly-fishing, although not unknown when Hammarström wrote his article, it was a most unusual method. “Sameflugan” proves that some form of fly-fishing was practiced as early as the 18th century.




Åke Bodén, known for ”Åbosländan” (a dry fly) inherited the fly in 1902-04 from his father Levi Bodén, who in his turn got it from Lars Piitsa, a Laplander who lived 30 km upstream Övre Soppero on Lainio river. This particular fly, already known to the Piitsa family for at least three generations, and created no later than 1790, was probably tied around the middle of the 18th century. Hook, from reindeer antlers decorated with cormorant feathers, “tying thread” of reindeer tendon, fastened with resin or wax.




From the 19th Century, we have a more extensive documentation, and know that during the Swedish agricultural era angling with some kind of fly was an established method in parts of the country. The usual equipment was long fishing pole with the line tied to the tip. The breakthrough for a more modern form of fly-fishing came around 1814 when an English aristocrat and sportsman, Richard Hutchinson, visited fishing spots in northern Sweden. With him came British made flies - and the fly reel.


Still, in the 1960’s when I became interested in fly-fishing, the British influence was almost total. My favorite shop carried only flies of British origin. Exotic patterns like Connemara Black, Hardy’s Favourite and Silver Doctor crowded the shelves. After Hutchinson and far into modern times British traditions dominated Swedish fly-fishing and unfortunately gave it the reputation as an upper class sport.




Much water has passed under the bridge since the 1960’s, and today fly-fishing has become an every man’s sport. Along with rising interest, information about fly-fishing has expanded tremendously. The study of insects and their imitations has become a passion for many fly-fishers. No doubt, it was easier to select a fly in the sixties, when weather conditions and the time of day often were regarded as more important than insect activities.




Nowadays, most fishing and sports shops offer a confusing multitude of flies. In addition, amateur tiers around our country produce thousands of flies. The chance of creating a new fly pattern is practically non-existent.




What do fish think about our flies? Probably they do not think at all. A fish functions mainly through reflexes and genetic behavior, although it seems to have a kind of “food memory”, which to a fly-fisher may appear as the result of a logical thought. 




Roughly speaking, there are two separate categories of flies. Imitations, which are more or less exact replicas of the real thing, and lures, which actually do not resemble anything edible, but still catch fish year after year. Here my friend Jonas, a competent fly tier who, like most of us, like most of us, does not care about conventions, but allows his imagination to soar.




Counted as a lure, this ”Tjernobyl Ant” is made of polycelon and has a number of rubber legs that leave magical patterns on the water when retrieved in short jerks. A mutant, although strange looking, has a strong attraction to fish.  




This is an imitation beautifully tied by one of my talented friends. The hook itself has a shape suggesting the curve of a mayfly’s body, giving the wings a natural slant and the “legs” the right angle towards the surface. Fortunately, you do not have to achieve an academic exam in entomology in order to tie a fly that works - there are easier ways. See below one of my favorite dry-fly patterns.



I call it the minute-fly, since it seldom takes more than a minute to make. The tying thread is grey, hackle and tail Blue Dun-colored, hook No. 12, 14 or 16. I tie in the hackle feather just behind the hook eye, wrap the feather 3-4 sparse turns toward the hook bend, then 3-4 turns toward the hook eye through the previous turns and then tie off. The fly floats well and, although not an imitation, gives an illusion of a mayfly riding high on the surface film.  




Insects are not developed to suit the hunting and eating habits of fish. Rather, they have, according to the laws of evolution, developed in such a way to make them hard to catch. To succeed, logically we should try to make our imitations more visible than a natural insect. Consequently, it is understandable why fish during a heavy fall of ants often prefer our clumsy imitation, even if there are hundreds of naturals on the water.




When constructing a fly I have always believed in a slight exaggeration, here illustrated by a gang of rabbits. The long ears are in drawings often made extra long since they are so typical. In short, we make a more distinct picture of the original. We immediately identify the drawing as a rabbit, not because it is true, but because it accentuates a typical characteristic. I imagine that a fish reacts in a similar way. Where a perfect imitation is just one among many, the caricature gives an immediate and positive impulse.



An exaggeration may be that of a particularly profuse hackle, emphasizing a special color, extra sheen to the fly body, or an overly marked segmentation, as shown in this balsa fly. When it comes to streamers, a protruding pair of eyes may give a tempting signal. 




Articles on fly-fishing often claim that a streamer is meant to copy a small fry. Personally, I have never been altogether convinced that a sharp-eyed trout actually would confuse a streamer with a small fish, even if the imitation is cleverly made. Most of our streamers, like Appetizer, Whiskey Fly, etc., actually do not represent anything at all, but have qualities that attract the fish. The trout in the picture fell for a Mickey Finn, a streamer where a bright red band between yellow fields apparently affords a strong incentive.



All living creatures have a relation to eyes. An eye may induce fear but, depending on situation and circumstance, may also be alluring. During one season, a group of fly-fishers made an interesting, if not very scientific test. All were given three types of streamers. One without eyes, one with painted eyes, and one with eyes made of glass beads. At the end of the season, they put together a statistic on the amount of fish caught on each type of streamer. See result below.





Cross-stream is the usual way to fish a streamer, always staying in contact with the fly, making sure the curve of the line is not too wide and letting the fly swing towards the bank. The strike often comes when the line comes to a halt downstream. In slow current, it might be better to retrieve the streamer in the ordinary way. And in the test? Well, the streamer with no eyes came in third.




In still water, “the countdown” method applies, since it gives you an idea at what depth the fly moves. The moment it hits the water, you slowly count to three before you start to retrieve, knowing that the streamer is moving near the surface. At the next cast, you count to five seeking the fish at a somewhat deeper level, etc. By the way, the streamer with painted eyes came in second.



The streamer with eyes of glassbeads was, according to the statistics, the best by a certain margin. However, as mentioned before, this experiment was not particularly scientific. Naturally, the success of a fly is dependent on many other factors, not least how the fisher handles the line. Using your fantasy is highly recommended when fishing a streamer.




Finally, many fly fishers, including me, are overall incredibly conservative. On a special occasion, we have had a good catch on a certain fly, and stubbornly keep on trusting this particular pattern year after year. If, by chance, we try a new fly, it is usually on a very hopeless day, when the fish show no interest in anything at all. The untested pattern seldom gets a chance to prove its potential when conditions are favorable.

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