“Match the Hatch”
The first thing to consider is, what are the fish feeding on? It doesn’t make sense to create a fly pattern that looks like something that a fish doesn’t eat. The more important questions is, what do the fish feed on the MOST? Trout feed on minnows, sculpins, other trout, all different types of insects, crayfish, leeches, etc. Redfish feed on different size bait fish, crabs, shrimp, etc. What I’m getting at here is to correctly match the food source, you will have to carry hundreds of different fly patterns. We like to focus one or two food sources that are always around while finding a pattern that fits the bill there. This is why the woolly bugger can be fished year-round. It matches the hatch for leaches, bait fish, hellgrammites, stoneflies, and more. Find a pattern that represents a food source that is always on the fish’s mind.
The imitation game is better that super realistic…I’ve tided some bait fish patterns that look like real fish, but they don’t have the characteristics to be anything else. The woolly bugger is so effective, because it imitates so many different food options. The same could be said for a clouser minnow…is it a shad, silverside, anchovy, pinfish, mullet, shrimp, or just some hair on a hook? It can be tied in so many different colors and the fish only sees something that could be a food source. Tying a fly that imitated more that one food option opens your chances by tenfold.
I believe the imitation game starts with profile. If you are fishing for selective fish, you have to match the profile of the prey item. The colors we see are not the colors a fish sees due to water clarity, UV light getting down to depths, etc., but profile stays the same. So, picking patterns that have the profile similar to what you are going after is key. This might sound silly, but hear me out…Pull up a picture of a stone fly nymph, hellgrammite, and a leach.Now squint while holding up a wooly bugger beside the picture. That fly has the same profile and three dominate food sources for trout. Worry about matching profile (size/shape) versus color and flash.
Once your fly has the right profile you are looking for, think about materials that create movement without you moving the fly. For example, Henry Cowan created a fly called the something else (small clouser with polar fiber) due to the fact that buck tail under 2 inches does have a ton of movement. The same goes for other patterns. The intent is to create a fly that “breathes” without having to move the fly. If you can barely twitch a fly and it moves, great. If the fly has movement in the current, great. Use materials like rabbit strips, CDC, marabou, silly legs, hackle, polar fiber, EP sparkle brush, dubbing brushes, squirrel dubbing, etc. To me, movement is key.
The last and probably most overlooked part of this equation is hook selections. You don’t have to go out and buy the best hooks in the word or the specific hook the fly was tied on originally, but buy quality hooks and make sure they stay sharp. True story, I bought these new hook…not going to say the brand…and fished with the fly all day. Only to find out the hook broke at the shank! It must have hit on a rock or something, but it shouldn’t have broken. They were expensive hooks and extremely sharp, but they were designed for bonefish, not the rocks of the Northeast. So, buy nice hooks that stay sharp and buy a hook sharpener to carry with you.