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River Valley Outdoors
For me, tying flies is kind of like reloading my own rifle cartridges – I get to put meat in the freezer with something that I’ve crafted by hand.
For several decades now, I’ve taken bear, deer, and moose with rifle cartridges made at my reloading bench. Even though I return most of the fish I catch back to the water, I still take an occasional fish home for dinner.
Using a fly of my own creation adds so much to fishing with a fly rod. In tying flies, an angler almost automatically has to learn about the actual life of the insects that he or she replicates.
In studying aquatic bugs alone, called entomology, a fly-tying angler will have a lifetime of things to learn. Learning something new keeps life interesting, and the immense world of aquatic insects keeps intrigued fly tiers in a close and continual relationship with the natural world.
Aquatic insects can be broken down into three categories; Mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies. One look at the huge variety within each category helps anglers understand the bigger picture. Within each category there are an amazing number of separate species; mayflies have 2,000 individual species, caddisflies have an amazing 12,000 different species and stoneflies come in with 3,500 various species.
In my own aquatic bug studies, I know I’ll never learn all there is to learn about every bug – even if I study continually for the next 50 years. I will enjoy studying at my own pace, for the rest of my life.
With each discovery in the bug world, there will be an imitation to be crafted at the fly-tying bench – something to match the real thing.
Each of the bugs have something in common, but individual traits and habits become apparent the closer an anglers gets to figuring out the complete life of each individual insect.
When anglers take an intricate look at a single species of insect, they learn more than how to tie an imitation – they start to learn how to pattern their fishing techniques to further imitate the selected insect.
Knowing how an insect travels in the water dictates how an angler moves the imitation through the water. Finding out where the adult flies drop there eggs teaches anglers valuable lessons on where to find fish – when the eggs hatch, the fish will be there to feed on the newly-developed flies.
The mating rituals of aquatic insects might sound like a “nerdy” kind of study, but knowledge of this behavior helps anglers separate each category of fly, and also gives clues to further breaking down each separate species from other flies within that category.
Let’s take caddisflies – with 12,000 separate species in this humongous category of aquatic bugs, it gets real difficult to tell one bug from the next.
Recently, I fished with Peru angler, Reggie Wing, on an undisclosed pond near Rangeley Lake. Days before we got to the pond to fish, Reggie had emailed me several pictures of the flies he had seen hatching on the surface of the pond.
After listening to Reggie describe the flies and seeing the photos, we thought the flies might be a caddis fly called the “slow-water caddis.” Once on the pond I noticed the wings of the fly in question seemed to fold flat on the back, indicating a stonefly of some sort.
We couldn’t catch a single fish that day with the caddis imitations, even though we saw fish rising to the little green flies all day. I got lucky and threw out a huge mayfly imitation and caught a nice 12-inch brookie – the only fish of the day and sheer luck.
Some folks wouldn’t want to return to a pond where they didn’t catch fish readily, but I can’t wait to go back and give it another try. I feel like I have to solve this fishing puzzle. I’ve tied up a bunch of stonefly imitations that resemble the green bug we thought might be a caddisfly, and I feel like this next trip to the pond will be different.
I feel kind of silly mistaking a stonefly for a caddisfly, but that’s just part of the learning curve – one that lasts a lifetime. Learning about aquatic insects, tying imitations and then attempting to hook finicky brook trout produces some memorable moments and provides numerous humbling experiences.