The Heretic’s Guide to Fly Fishing


We’re at that in-between point of this angler’s year, a time of taking stock of the year that was, and of scheming flies and trips for the year that will be. It’s in the spirit of looking forward that we bring to you  a smattering of ideas to get you thinking outside the box, both for when you sit down at the vise and start to plan new approaches to familiar water. The techniques and approaches listed below have only one fundamental thing in common: their cross-over or hybrid nature.

#1 Sink Your Dries

It’s a fact that trout can be awfully ignorant of fly fishing’s rich didactic history and all the rules we’ve invented to corroborate our theories of fish behavior. If you’ve ever had a wild brown take a whack at your fluorescent pink indicator, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Sometimes it can be fun to throw caution and culture to the wind and start sinking something other than a nymph. If you fish small baetis and trico hatches, then you already know the merits of getting your smaller “dry” offerings beneath the surface of the water to avoid microdrag. But we can go deeper than just below the film. The success of flies like the RS2, an emerger/spinner hybrid most often fished as a nymph, is proof that trout respond to a variety of different shapes throughout the water column—not only the ones we anglers feel comfortable with.

This tying season, experiment with tying some of your spinner and emerger patterns on heavier-gauge nymph hooks. Or, better yet, try building their bodies with wire and deploying soft hackles and marabou instead of traditional dry fly hackle and CDC.

While you’re at it, it might be worthwhile to think about what other traditional dry patterns might be effective when fished down deep. How about ants? Anyone who’s spent serious time on ultra-technical spring creek sippers has had an ant pattern come to the rescue at least once. And ants aren’t exactly great swimmers. Come to think of it, neither are hoppers. See where I’m going with this?

#2 Try a Jack of All Trades

For our next cross-over item, how about a surface fly that works just as well sunk and stripped? Two all-purpose patterns from Wisconsin’s golden era of fly tying (did you know that Stevens Point was once the fly tying capital of the world?) are the Pass Lake and the Hornberg. Both come from an era when you didn’t tie on a new fly when you wanted to change the way you fished, you simply changed your presentation and retrieve. You can dead drift these flies, twitch them, swing them, and strip them back subsurface all on the same cast. If you’re a newer angler who spends more time casting and tying knots than fishing, working with these two Dairy State classics can help you keep your fly in the fish’s face longer. For more advanced anglers, these patterns are great for exploring new rivers, especially when caddis are present.


Golden pheasant fibers, peacock herl, calf tail and rooster hackle complete the Pass Lake’s ensemble of natural materials.

#3 Miniaturize to the Max

Our next outside-the-box idea involves taking traditionally large patterns and tying them in the miniature. If you fish muskies, you know that large, multi-shank flies with plenty of reverse-tied bucktail and saddle feathers swim like eels and push a ton of water. And if you tie these flies yourself you know that the sheer amount of material affords interesting options when it comes to stacking and combining colors. So how about we try downsizing those big Bufords into trout- and bass-sized portions? Our early forays into mini musky flies are indeed telling us that these flies have a place on the end of your 7 weight.

While we’re downsizing, take a look at your streamer box and ask what other patterns can be significantly downsized. A mini Sex Dungeon for spring creek trout and Great Lakes carp? A pine squirrel Krakken? What about a tiny Murdich minnow or the smallest feathered Game Changer of all time?  You may need to tinker around a bit with balance and proportion to get the right action, but once you do, fishing these smaller flies might give you a leg up on the competition, especially in the spring.

#4 Spey the Night

In number four we look at bringing a variation of our two-handed swing game to bear on brown trout fishing in the dark hours. That’s right: we’re asking you to spey the night. A lot of night fishing tends to revolve around the mouse, for the obvious electricity of the surface eat. But the reality of the situation is that alpha brown trout are primed to eat at night wherever their food might be found, and that is usually subsurface. This spring, don’t be too quick to stash away your tied-in-the round intruder-style steelhead patterns. Like mouse patterns, they offer a meaty silhouette. Also like mouse patterns, you can fish them slowly on the swing. Unlike many mouse patterns, however, the hook is right where it needs to be for fish that like to pluck and play with their food (night-time browns are notorious short strikers). Fish these flies with a tapered sinking tip like RIO’s Versileader series on a 6 weight switch rod or an overlined single-handed 7 weight and you’ve got a new system for dealing with subsurface night time browns. You may not be able to hear your eat, but getting your arm yanked in the middle of the night is a different type of heart-pounding altogether.

#5 Stay Weird All Winter

FusionLast but far from least, we’ll leave you with the most outside-the-box read of the winter season: Greg Senyo’s Fusion Fly Tying. (We profiled Greg about two years ago; you can read it here and here). If you tie steelhead flies, you know Greg as the brains behind many of Hareline’s brilliant synthetic materials, the latest of which are featured alongside natural materials all throughout Greg’s ouvre, and all throughout this book. Fusion Fly Tying is a trip through the mind of one of fly fishing’s most eclectic tiers—the type of book that will give you new ideas for updating and upgrading just about any fly you currently fish.