© Wolf Avni September 12, 2003

THE RIGHT FLY

A FISHERMAN’S PRAYER

“Lord, if I should die, please don’t let my wife sell my fishing tackle for what I told her it cost us!”

If I were to tell you that there is a ‘sure-thing’ fly - one that no trout can ever resist, what would you give?

 Mull the question over, and make a note of whatever you think the information is worth.  We will come back to your answer later, Think carefully before answering  and keep in mind that things are not always as they seem.

The question as to what flies an angler should carry in his fly box has been the subject of an unrelenting debate that has continued, unbroken for  almost 2000 years.  It was in AD.170 that Aelian  penned a memorable account, in his “The History of the  World “, of how the Macedonians would, where the  Astraeus disembogues upon the Adriatica, “fish for fish of a speckled hue”, using an imitation of a fly they called Hippurus. His account comes complete with a description of the fly and tying instructions.  He is quite adamant that no other fly will do, it is the Hippurus, or nothing . 

What has changed? From time to time, and from place to place, fierce and very public  disagreements have arisen between dissenting experts with diametrically opposing views.  Still today, they endure.  The Skues/Halford debate of the early 20th Century is a clear example. 

Skipping through  my collection of back issues  of glossy fly-fishing magazines,  every now and again  coming across an article listing the ‘ten best flies’ for trout, or yellowfish,  according to one or  other expert, one cannot help but be struck at how little they agree.  By the time you have rushed out and acquired the ‘ten best’  lists of any  half-dozen authorities, you have bought yourself some sixty odd patterns. Each pattern has to be obtained in a range of sizes, say  8's to 16's. That gives you  roughly three hundred flies, at about R5 or R6  per each. You have just spent a quick R1500.  Add to that the cost of the melange of flies bought on past fishing trips  - and on past forays into your friendly local fishing-tackle emporium.  My guess is, the value of an average  fly collection is substantial enough that it is likely to show up on an inventory of assets of any  fly-angler who might land up in a divorce court.

Some years back, the “Alexander and Yellow”, was regarded as such an effective fly, that some still water fisheries in the British Isles and Europe banned its use. Here, there is no such restriction,  but somehow, the fly is no longer fashionable and it hardly raises a mention. Perhaps our trout are more erudite than their northern hemisphere brethren.

 I  began  tying my own flies about twenty five  years ago, when it dawned on me that many bought flies are designed to catch fisherman, not necessarily fish. You walk into your friendly, local fly shop, push  you money across the counter and take your chances. Half the flies have already caught all that they ever will.  Some can barely swim, never mind catch fish.  

Selwyn Marryat, a French fly-fisher with an awesome reputation used to say, “It’s not the fly, it’s the driver”.

His point was simply that the particular subtleties in the fishing style of any expert angler,  were far more relevant than the mere fact of whatever particular fly they might have tied to their tippets.  

Many serious anglers fish their flies in tandem combinations. For instance, fishing in winter, one might try a DDD (Duckworth’s Dargle Delight), or perhaps a Rat-face McDougal   at point, and a small black Buzzer, or a San Juan worm  on the dropper.     

To get back to my opening question, anyone who pledged any amount should score themselves ten points.  You will,  of course,  be out of pocket. To fulfil my part of the bargain all I need do is to tell you that “there is a ‘sure-thing’ fly - one that no fish can ever resist”.   Well , consider yourself told!  While some might call you gullible, I prefer to think of it as proof of a boundless optimism. That alone is all the qualification one needs to become a real fly-fisher.  For the rest, there is nothing so  wrong with your fly-fishing  that it cannot be sorted out naturally - by  three or four decades of unswerving and unstinting  application. 

Conclusion? Two thousand years of uninterrupted research proves that the right fly is the one with which you caught  your fish.