Most fly patterns are created to help fill a need or a void in your box: something that floats insanely well, incredible visibility, floats right under the surface consistently, and of course, an imitation of a particular bug, etc. Let's be honest though, with the creation process millions of incomplete, flops, of fly patterns sit in mental (or physical) trash cans of fly tiers.
It is rare that the first fly pattern you create yourself is absolutely perfect and performs exactly how you want it too. The more common routine is: adjust, adjust, adjust, tweak, tweak, and tweak a little more and one day you end up with a fly pattern that does what you wanted and actually works well. Seeing the finished product in your vise is great, but the joy is deepened when you land fish on that pattern.
There is a simple guide to creating and tweaking patterns I find helpful:
1 - Fill a Need
2 - Brainstorm (Draw It Out)
3 - Tie
4 - Try
5 - Diagnose Problems
(Repeat steps 3,4,5 until you are either happy or finished)
Finally, rejoice or trash it.
There is one pattern I finally perfected this summer that took a year to tweak. It may be a good example to show you what these steps look like worked out in my own creation process.
1 - FILL A NEED
I started off asking the question, "What is missing in my box?"
Well, a highly visible, low floating, but consistently floating fly seemed to be hard to come by. I wanted a pattern that was maintenance free so I could hand one to a beginner and they wouldn't have to worry about floatant and incandescents. I wanted that person, or myself to be able to see this fly incredibly easy too. Essentially, I wanted a pattern you could pop out of the box, tie on and it would fish with no physical maintenance all day. With that mindset this fly also needed to be durable, and quite obviously, it needed to work.
So my checklist was:
- fish well
- float well
- good visibility
2 - BRAINSTORM
One of the primary ways I was going to have a fly float all day was if I made it of synthetic material, particularly, foam. So that is where I started.
Of course there are many, many foam patterns out there already: Hippy Stomper, Chernobyl Ant, Knuckle Head, Foam cicadas, hoppers, beetles, and ants, all good stuff, but I wanted something a little more generic. Something that could pass as a grasshopper, cricket, beetle, cicada, or whatever else had the tragic luck to fall into this death trap we call water. I needed to imitate something "buggy."
Now, one problem I had before with foam was, the material twisted on the hook after a few fish or it twisted right off the vise.
The second problem was, the lack of visibility. Foam sits pretty low on the surface, which imitates terrestrials well, but makes it rather difficult to see. Put a little splash of hi-vis material and you can see the fly easy on flat water, but in the rushing current of a small stream you aren't going to see your fly that easy. In small streams, and for a beginner, if you can't see your fly you will miss fish and become more discouraged than happy (I know because I have seen it happen a lot). High visibility is what I was after, in almost any situation.
I remembered watching several videos online about tying with foam that gave me one trick, by tying a small strip of chenille directly underneath the foam it would help the foam stay put. As well, if you don't put thread wraps around all of the chenille it gives the thorax some life-like coloration, depending on the chenille, thread, and foam color.
I found the magical material, Bonnie Braid, this year. A polypropylene rope material that sheds water incredibly well, it is quite stiff, and handles flotant well. Make one or two false casts and almost every drop of water is completely out of the material. After finding this material, I have purchased and used a plethora of colors. This material could solve my visibility problem. If I used the material as a large wing it would serve as a highly visible post on the fly, help stabilize it, and provide a natural appearance of a fallen insect.
After the "possible" solution of these two problems I had to sit down and tie something up.
3 - TIE
The first fly looked like crap. The Bonnie Braid maintained its original crooked shape when I tied it on. I thought at first I could straighten it out, but no, it shot off like an L to the right side of the fly. The foam looked weird, and I hadn't thought about covering the tips of the Bonnie Braid with foam so they laid out naked and exposed and ugly.
Perhaps it would be best if I showed you a photograph of the first one...
Anyways, I didn't need to fish it to know there were a lot of flaws.
I pulled out another hook and started to tie again. One thing I wanted to focus on first was figuring out some way to make the wing look a lot better. My first solution was to completely cover the tie in location in thread wraps - ugly.
Then I remembered the "Knuckle Head" and how the foam rolled up back over the fly. I put a new hook in whipped up the fly and tried securing it with the knuckle head, head - eureka!
4 - Try
I got out on the water the next day to try out this new pattern. I crafted three of them, one for me, another for a friend that was out on the water with a fly rod for the 3rd time, and one just in case. We put the little fly in the morning and managed to fool a lot of native brook trout without every changing flies. In fact, we never changed patterns. Except to put the 3rd one on, we sadly lost one of ours to the trees.
The fly fished very well for one day, but one day is not enough to truly know if a pattern is successful. I inspected the flies at the end of the day and diagnosed a few problems.
5 - Diagnosing Problems
1) The wing was loose. I tied it in tight, but after a few fish, pieces (or the whole wing) would fall out when you pulled on it.
Solution = super glue.
2) The legs would move/ rotate on the fly.
Solution = super glue and more thread wraps.
3) The Bonnie Braid would lay down if it was a too wet, which meant you couldn't see the fly very well.
Solution = include a miniature dam that made the wing material shoot up off the fly. (Thanks Fly Men Fishing Company for the idea with your body tubing material for musky/pike). In other words, put in a piece of foam that would cause the wing material to shoot up nearly vertical, and why not make that visible, yellow perhaps.
The end result became what I term the "Fantastical Fly."
After a few more times I got all the problems out, and the end result is this little foam fly that lands with a splat or can fall softly if needed, almost always lands hook side down, can support a pretty heavy nymph for a dropper rig, and actually catches fish. It's fantastic because it actually works!
I can tie it my fly rod or a friends on a good summer morning in a small stream and leave it on all day!
So far, I personally have caught smallmouth and largemouth bass, brook, rainbow, and brown trout, and a host of panfish not to mention chubs, fallfish and many other species "lesser desired" on this pattern.
If I quit after the first failure it wouldn't exist, but because I took the time to tweak the pattern she's here to stay!