Fly Fishing for Coastal Gamefish
In general, I think fly tying strategy can be broken into two types – impressionistic and imitation. Both strategies can be effective, and often a mixture of impressionistic and imitation yields the best results. I move back and forth between these two camps, but put myself more to the side of impressionistic fly tyers, even more so as time passes. Into each fly pattern I try to incorporate the prey characteristics that cause a gamefish to eat, whether or not the fly actually looks like the prey. Size, action, profile, and color are the main factors I use in creating and tying flies.
I also must admit that I like to tie simple flies. I like tying flies, but I prefer to be on the water fishing those flies, so more often than not I tie with a purpose. My preferred patterns are those that I can tie many flies at one sitting, stocking the box for the next day of fishing.
Another key component is that flies are castable and fishable. They are not overburdened with materials. Even flies that appear large are not tied large. Sparsely tied flies tend to ‘breath’ better, thus giving additional motion to the fly. And sparse materials mixed with flash materials on baitfish flies create a translucence that, when viewed in the water, gives the impression of light reflecting off scales. Dave Skok is an expert at this skill.
I also tie flies based on the prey groups they represent rather than the standard, which has always been to tie flies based on gamefish species beong targeted. After all, a lot of fish eat shrimp, so why not design and use a shrimp pattern for a variety of gamefish?
If I post a fly that I know to be originated by another, I’ll certainly credit the originator. However, many tiers think alike, and create similar flies at the vise. Many, myself included, have had the experience of creating a fly pattern they thought was unique, only to see the same pattern had been independently ‘created’ by another tier. I have also been shown a ‘new’ pattern by a fellow angler, and had to inform him that I’d already seen the pattern in use by someone else. Sometimes the originator of a pattern is a topic of dispute, and other times a pattern is given a new name even though it appears to be just a variant of an already existing pattern. I think most tyers realize that only the rare fly pattern is truly independent and unique, and that most patterns build upon previous patterns. In any case, the fish don't care.
I also pay a lot of attention to local differences in prey availability and gamefish prey preferences. Large bonefish in the Florida Keys, for example, like to eat toadfish, while crabs appear to be more important in many of the islands in the Bahamas, and green reef crabs are high on the menu of bonefish at Turneffe Atoll, Belize.
I like to tie flies, and over the years I have tied and used many different patterns – some standards, some of my own creation, and some taught to me by others. By nature I like to experiment with new patterns, and to try new patterns in new situations. I’ve also been accused of changing flies with abandon on days that fishing is difficult. I also tend to find new favorite patterns every so often, so patterns continually cycle through my box – more because of my own changes in taste than the success of the patterns. This means that I've gone through a lot of fly patterns over the years. This is a good thing, and one of the nice things about fly tying and fly fishing.
The Fisherman's Coast approach focuses on how coastal gamefish interact with their habitats and prey. The more you know about the gamefish you pursue with a fly rod, the more often you'll be in the right place at the right time with the right fly making the right presentation. It's about catching more fish.
Our sister site Tribal Bonefish is all about conservation through responsible fishing. Tribal Bonefish shows you how to become a better steward of our coasts to protect our fisheries today, and ensure future generations get a chance to experience these fisheries.