I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Bud Bynack for California Fly Fisher magazine; & Bud asked some pointed questions which got me thinking about my roots & those who have influenced me, & how that affects my ideas about fly design. And we also talked a little bit about the influence of the internet on fly design, & if there might be the possibility that influence could adversely affect the progression of tradition & the development of regional, or what Scott Sadil calls ‘indigenous’ fly designs.
The internet… well, there is everything from A to Z. If one tends to wade more online than in real water holding real fish, then I can see the chance one might lose perspective & balance & be carried away on the market-driven waves of trends. But there have always been & always will be trends. The authentic usefulness of trends eventually find perspective & a place in tradition, or not. I don’t figure it’s my place to judge good or bad & I don’t. We each find our own pleasure. Tradition is the vast archive of what worked. And the internet holds the archive in a fairly convenient location, where we might easily access its useful elements.
As a native New Englander & early constant companion of my grandfather who was deeply acquainted with the Northeast tradition &, already a flyfisher when I was transplanted to the West Coast at a fairly young age, I’ve found that my approach to fly design reflects both East & West. Yet – and most importantly – it’s not the dictates of tradition that determine what I tie & fish, as that would be inhibiting & self-defeating. My primary goal is to hook & fight fish. So of course, to meet that goal, we must let the conditions & the fish dictate what we tie & angle with. I let the useful things learned from tradition inform my fly designs & the variants of classic designs I tie, yet never dictate them.
Authentic tradition, by my own definition, is an organic & ongoing process.
It is the useful forms taken from tradition that assemble into good fly patterns. That is a thing Ken Abrames, a fellow Yankee, understood as he approached the challenge of developing more effective striped bass patterns. Abrames, familiar with the tradition of his region, was well aware of the effectiveness of the old Nine Three (the creation of Dr. J. Hubert Sanborne of Maine) & other early flatwing or 'biplane' designs, developed & fished in the Northeast since the 19th century, meant to simulate freshwater smelt, the primary baitfish of New England lakes. The Yankees are a practical people, not given to foo-foo or excess – only the practical enters into the
tradition, which has its roots in the British Isles. That the flies are beautiful is secondary to their function. And we see
in the flatwing designs all of the sound, fish-attracting elements of
soft-hackle design: the nuanced colorations of natural materials, motion,
obfuscation, relative simplicity.
We find housed within tradition, & the internet, the archive of proven fly patterns that have survived generations on their merit as getters, & the Mickey Finn streamer (the creation of Quebec tier Charles Langevin, sometime in the 19th century, & rechristened 'Mickey Finn' by outdoor writer John Alden Knight sometime in the 1930's or '40's) is a perfect example of that. And as well, the Mickey Finn serves as an example of an indigenous pattern that has proven universally productive. It is a simple lure, elegant in its killer yellow & red dress. The Mickey Finn is a good streamer on the UC, but also good stripped, mooched or trolled on the
NE Washington lakes I fish. Though many tie their own
variants, it’s hard to improve on the original Mickey Finn. But of course, never being content to leave well-enough alone, I thought the action might be improved tying the MF as a flatwing, & am satisfied with
the result. This one is easy to tie, & a good choice for those interested
in learning to tie the flatwing style.
Mickey Finn Flatwing
Hook: I use a #8 steelhead-style, or TMC 200R, which I like better than a traditional streamer hook for freshwater flatwings, as the heavy wire hooks with drop-bends keel the fly, keeping it from rolling
Rib: Oval silver tinsel (metallic rod-wrapping thread, size D, is good)
Body: Silver tinsel (I tie some with gold, & a copper version seems to work best on my home water)
Wing: Pinch of yellow bucktail (choose the finer hair from near the tip of the tail); a couple of turns of red dubbing to create a pillow, to bed a single red saddle hackle tied in flat, concave side, down – while holding the hackle in place, wrap the tying thread loosely toward the hook eye until it comes off the hackle stem, adjust the hackle with your thumbnail, then wrap back to the tie-in point at normal tension; top with a pinch of yellow bucktail; add jungle cock nail eyes (optional) – & finish.
Flyfish NE Washington with Steven Bird: http://ucflyfishing.blogspot.com