Monthly Archives: April 2012

An Experiment in Realistic Fly Tying

Daily Gazette article
Thursday, April 12, 2012

By Morgan Lyle
Photo of I’ve been experimenting with rather complex, realistic flies, and I’m enjoying making them more than I expected to.

This is odd, because in recent seasons, I’ve been using simpler and simpler flies — sometimes nothing more than some yarn wrapped on a hook — and catching lots of trout on them. I’ve been pretty convinced that impressionistic flies work better than replicas of insects.

Now, here I am, using a doohickey clamped in my vise to build an extended body of closed-cell foam, cutting out and tying on veiny wings printed on cellophane, and using pre-fab sets of anatom­ically correct rubber insect legs for nymphs.

Fly-tying has a very old set of informal, but very clear, standards about what is authentic. Every time someone violates them with an “unnatural” material or procedure, he or she is accused of cheating. Ask Joe Blados down in Long Island, who initially took some grief at the fly-tying shows for his mostly-foam Crease Fly.

The thinking seems to be that you might as well buy a bag of plastic insects from a toy store and lash one to a hook. “Real” flies are made of feathers, fur and thread, like our primitive ancestors made them.

That’s a mindset the people behind the J:son of Sweden fly-tying system have to overcome. The company sells an extensive line of foam for fly bodies, rubber legs in different sizes for mayfly, caddis fly and stonefly nymphs, cellophane prints of insect wings and nymphs’ shells, and the tools used to assemble them.

I know a fly shop owner who asked his guides to tie up some flies with this stuff, and they objected — too much like model-making instead of tying. But the person who suggested I give J:son a try is Bob Mead, one of the best makers of ultra-realistic flies in the world — who insists on only using traditional materials and methods in his own unbelievably lifelike mosquitoes, ladybugs and praying mantises.

“Don’t you think if the Dettes and Darbees had things like this, they would have used them?” Mead said, referring to the famed commercial fly-makers of the Catskills in the early-to-mid 20th century.

After all, man-made materials have been part of fly-tying from the start. Tinsel for ribs, gold beads, artificial materials like Krystal Flash — all are now perfectly acceptable. The Crease Fly was long ago welcomed into the family of must-have patterns. Maybe the J:son materials and techniques will be accepted the same way.

Making the J:son flies takes some practice; I suspect it’s challenging enough to amuse the average fly-tier. You also have considerable leeway in customizing your flies. The parts that aren’t pre-fabbed come out the way you make them, and many employ old-fashioned dubbing and hackle. There’s a fair amount of coloring with waterproof markers (again, nothing new to fly-tying.)

Once you get the hang of the mat­erials, as I’m starting to, the flies look pretty darn cool.

Will their realistic looks make them more effective than the gazillion kinds of flies we already have? I don’t know, and I’m not sure it matters. There has always been some doubt about whether ultra-realistic flies were good fish-catchers. And big wild trout are caught all the time on Green Giant Niblets, so there is a risk of taking these things too ser­iously. Almost any fly will work at one time or another.

Then again, the time may come when a pool full of fussy Delaware River browns won’t take anything except mayflies with long, slender abdomens and tall, veiny wings, and the J:son flies might prove to be just the ticket.

In that case, I would recommend tying one on and catching some fish. You can have a philosophical discussion about whether you were cheating later, over a beer.

Morgan Lyle’s commentary appears regularly in The Daily Gazette. Reach him at

Competition for Good Causes

Daily Gazette article
By Morgan Lyle


Fly-fishers with a competitive streak, or those who just enjoy seeing people try to out-fish one another, have a lot to look forward to in the next few weeks.

There are at least three fly-fishing competitions coming up — two that have become well established and a newcomer.

The action begins with the Friends of the Upper Del­aware River’s One-Bug contest April 27-29. It’s a two-day affair that works like it sounds: You select one fly, and that’s the only one you can use all day. Lose the fly in a tree, to a fish or snag on the bottom, you’re finished.

(You’re allowed to fish for fun after that point, but your catches won’t count.)

The entry fee is $2,400 per team — and it’s sold out, with 17 teams planning to compete. The One Bug is the FUDR’s main fundraising event, with the money going to conservation and stream restor­ation efforts.

“The event really connects the community to the rivers and generates a substantial and much-needed economic shot in the arm for the local businesses that have struggled through the long winter,” FUDR executive director Dan Plummer said. “Our restaurants, hotels, shops, and other businesses all benefit from the folks that come for the weekend. All One Bug proceeds stay invested right here in our area and help with all the work FUDR is doing to protect and benefit our resource.”

The One Bug kicks off with cocktails Friday night at the Old Capitol Theater in Hancock, followed by two days of fishing with guides. More information can be found at

One bug not enough? Head north for the Ausable Two-Fly Challenge in Wilmington, near Lake Placid. This competition is usually des­cribed as laid back, a good thing, since wading the rushing, boulder-studded West Branch of the Ausable can be anything but relaxing.

This year’s Two Fly is scheduled for May 18-19. The fishing should be good, considering the mild cond­itions this spring. The entry fee is $75 for adults and $25 for anglers 16 and younger. If you want to attend the banquet only at the Hungry Trout restaurant, it’s $30.

An application form can be found at

And then there’s Trout Power, a tournament June 9-10, designed to promote the West Canada Valley by focusing on the trout fishing of West Canada Creek. Organized by Jordan Ross, founder of JP Ross Fly Rods, Trout Power has a $60 entry fee for each two-person team and a $1,000 grand prize for the most trout in total inches, documented by the angler with a digital camera and measuring tape. Check-in is 6 a.m. Saturday. Fishing starts at 7. Fishing resumes Sunday morning, concluding at 10:30 a.m.

It’s not a fly-fishing tournament — all tackle is welcome, as long as no bait is used and lures or flies have only one hook. All fish are to be released.

Renowned fly-fishing photographer Brian O’Keefe of “Catch” magazine is scheduled at attend a meet-and-greet in the area Friday evening.

Part of the goal of Trout Power is to show Brookfield Renewable Energy how its policy of pulsing water from its dam at Hinckley Lake discourages anglers from visiting the area. The fluctuating flow makes fishing difficult, if not impossible, and maybe even dangerous. Brookfield has shown some PR savvy by signing on as a sponsor of Trout Power. Encouraging? Time will tell. Information can be found at

Some people turn up their noses at fly-fishin contests, but events like these are usually heavier on camaraderie than competition, and they’re all for good causes.

Tenkara is Definitely Not Dapping

Tenkara USA and its fans have been sensitive from the beginning to tenkara being characterized as “dapping.” They object because the term suggests tenkara fishing doesn’t involve casting. It does, of course – true fly-casting, with the line traveling in tight loops and the fly just going along for the ride.

T-USA has even sprung for magazine ads with the headline, “Tenkara Is Not Dapping.”

That’s truer than most people know. Real dapping is done with a telescoping rod typically 17 feet long, fitted with a fly reel, a center-pin reel or even a spinning reel. (Tenkara rods are also telescoping and long, but not that long.) The running line is 10-pound-test mono, which snakes up through the core of the rod and out the tip. (Tenkara lines are affixed to the rod tip.)  The mono is attached to several feet of blowline, which is an ultra-light floss that sails in the breeze. On the other end of the blowline is a tippet, and tied to that is a fly. The whole rig may weigh two pounds.

There is no casting. You let the breeze take the blowline and lower the rod when you want the fly to fall to the water. It’s usually done from rowboats held perpendicular to the wind on lakes in Ireland and Scotland.

I learned all this in a superb book called “Dapping” by Robert H. Boyle, a former writer for Sports Illustrated, stonefly expert and lion of the environmental movement who has been instrumental in halting awful ideas on the Hudson River and now, at 83, is helping lead the opposition to fracking in New York.

“The fly is carried by the wind, and in response to the dapper’s movements of he rod, gently alights, sits with feathers and fibers twitching, tantalizingly dances and prances across the surface, and if no strike results, takes to the air where it seductively hovers before landing again to start the cycle anew, its antics exactly like that of a living creature doing what comes naturally,” Boyle writes. “No fly caster, no matter how gifted, can make a fly put on such a performance.”

Of course, you can dap with a tenkara rod, sort of. If it’s real windy, just lift the rod and let the wind grab the line. In fact, if it’s that windy, you may have no other choice. But you can’t cast a dapping rod.

What most people in the U.S. think of as dapping is really just the short game that all fly-fishers, with or without reels, have always played: flicking your fly to nearby spots without using much line.  You can definitely do that with a tenkara rod – and much more.

“Dapping: The Exciting Way of Fishing Flies that Fly, Quiver and Jump” is published by Stackpole Books and retails for $24.95. It’s a delightful and fascinating book about a form of fly-fishing most Americans know nothing about, and I highly recommend it.

ImageMorgan Lyle