THEORIES OF IMITATION
©Wolf Avni 12/6/2006
The weather is turning ugly now - and aside from the television film-crew that I promised to take fishing on Friday, I do not plan on spending too much early-morning time out on the water these next few weeks. The reason is the same as that which motivates me not to run Comrades again this year, just as I did last year, and the year before...
I figure that there is more than enough real trouble out here - the unavoidable sufferings of living - and the world sure as heck doesn’t need any gratuitous contribution of recreational anguish from me. It is not that there are no fish to be caught in the belly of winter. It is just that I get all I need of fish and frostbite and freezing fingers down in the hatchery where we are busy spawning out the best part of a couple of tons of fat trout. Any trout fishing that needs doing at this time of year can get itself done in the balm of late afternoon, in the wash of a weak winter sun where conditions get downright bearable. Not for me that hoar- frost which forms on one’s every exhalation, rod guides that clog with ice and body-extremities half-crippled with hyperthermia.
Indeed no! At this time of year, with the morning sun barely in the sky, I can get all the fishing I need off a library shelf or in front of a fly-tying table, which is another thing entirely and brings us to the issue at hand; the conceptualisation and production of the imitations that are the core and essence of this whole fly-fishing gig.
You get two basic kinds of fly-fishers; those that do, and those that don’t... tie their own flies, I mean. Those that don’t can fish themselves into the very mouth of the grave with flies that bear names like ‘Walker’s Killer’ or ‘Percival’s Pantihose’ and will never know what they don’t know about the wide world around them.
Among them that do, there are a number of schools of thought into which the enquiring intellect of the fly-tier might immerse, each of which advocates its own approach. Fundamentally all flies are tied within one of four broad conceptual categories. These are;
This is a style that is satisfied in depicting the characteristics of the natural foods in the broadest and roughest of terms. It is the natural starting point of fly-tying. It produces flies under the assumption that the sensory equipment of fish is in every respect primitive and unsophisticated. It couldn’t be more wrong and though suggestive flies catch their share of fish, it is a nursery from which any serious angler soon graduates.
This is the most pragmatic of approaches. Recognising that the physiology of the fish’s eye differs somewhat from the human, and that while they might perceive colour in a way similar to our own and further, can visually detect contrast variances under exceedingly low light-levels, beyond anything we humans could even contemplate, they do not focus with the same precision that a normally healthy human eye might. And so, though they can discern the smallest of movements in the faintest of lights, there is no way that the trout can visually resolve all the subtle visual nuances of textural detail, or the infinitely specific embellishments in the items of their forage. The impressionistic fly-tier attempts no more that to approximate the broadest generic keys or triggers in the anatomy of the item being mimicked. Basic projection of shape, size and colour are all that he aims for in construction, though somewhat more care and detail may be paid to texture as the sensitivity of touch in a fish is well developed. Overly hard, rigid or inappropriate materials may produce a fly that a fish will pick up readily, but it will be spat out even faster. We want the fish to hold onto the fly it has engulfed, mouth it confidently and maybe suck on it for a while - at least long enough for the angler to set the hook. The thing is, just about all of the most potent-working patterns fall into this category. While containing little of the delicate precision or craft that is the hallmark of the Exact fly-tier, these flies are most certainly not artless, and more; they are not only easy to tie, but make up for the fly-tying competitions that they do not win with the fishing contests that they do.
This is a style of tying that imitates specific insects and other creatures, where not only texture, but also the major physical characteristics of size, shape and colour and are more closely approximated. It combines the best of impressionism - its practicality - with elements of exactness. It is the mark of many good fly-tyers who are also more than competent anglers.
The exact ( also known among the crude as the ‘2tits-&-an-arsehole-school’) approach, which of late has grown popular; it seeks to produce precise mirror images of the naturals upon which the fish feed. Its creations are immaculate, aesthetic beyond description, with every nuance and delicate detail of physical geometry copied to the highest possible degree of accuracy. The most incidental of textural subtleties will be crafted into the fly. Complex techniques of multi-colour body weaving, layering, shaping and shellacking are employed, all requiring hours of patience. Co-ordination and imaginative precision are the tools engaged by the ‘exact” tier. The end results are often exquisite. They are individual works of art. These are the flies that stand out in fly-tying competitions and carry off the laurels, but often, unavoidably, they are far too precious to be tied on to the end of a tippet where they risk not only random loss to that big wide world, but also the certainty that the teeth in the mouth of any half-decent fish will ravage them as completely as a legion of Romans raping Thrace... thrice! To the exact fly-tier, it is almost as if fly-tying is the end unto itself.
1. Wolf’s Wonderful weighted wooly worm.; impressionism at its pragmatic best.
Blurring the lines between Realism and Exact
2. Keith Wallington’s yellow fish caddis pupa; tits ‘n all.
Masterful fly construction.
3 & 4. Different versions of realistic dragonfly nymphs tied by Grant Holl.
5. Grant Holl’s woven body dragon nymph
6. Impressionism verging on the realistic.
Pink Prawn. A killer fly for grunter and other estuary feeders.