Paul Adams – The traditionalist and his dry fly.

An Essential Part Of The Library

Different varieties of quill and hackle, dyed if necessary, cater to variations in colour. Our typical olive hatches are replicated on hooks sized #14, 16, and 18; early and late season might require a #20; and #12 represents a very passable grasshopper pattern. I could enjoy a rewarding and successful season fishing with no other patterns.

For more than a century, Frederic M. Halford (1844-1914) has been recognized by his literary angling peers as “the father of modern fly fishing’. His fame rests in part on his study of insects and their equivalent artificial fly patterns, but more so for his forthright opinions on fishing tactics. He was an advocate for the upstream casting of a realistic imitation to a rising fish. Not one of these conditions, but all three. No ambiguity there! It was surely a grudging concession when he offered:

‘Those of us who will not in any circumstances cast except over rising fish are sometimes called ultra purists and those who occasionally will try to tempt a fish in position but not actually rising are termed purists’. (My emphasis).

His philosophical adversary was the much more pragmatic G.E.M Skues, who advocated the use of wet flies and nymphs when trout were feeding below the surface. The feud between these two fishermen and authors played out on the banks of the Test and the Itchen, in the sporting papers of the day, and at The Flyfishers Club in London. It should be noted that the more inflammatory language in this debate was attributed to their respective supporters, not the two main protagonists. Correspondence between the two displayed little personal animosity, just staunchly held and opposing philosophies. Halford wasn’t questioning the efficacy of Skues’ flies and tactics, merely asserting that – well – it wasn’t proper.

Before leaving Halford, I’d like to recognize his other claim to fame. Angling literature has long embraced the author’s pseudonym, a tradition that TPR&F proudly upholds. But with all due respect, few can match Halford, who wrote in periodicals under the attribution Detached Badger.

Colorado’s Tarryall Creek lends itself to the dry fly, at least for the half of each year when it isn’t ice-bound or roaring with the full force of spring snow melt. Through summer and autumn, the water is low, falling, and clear, with one to two feet of depth being typical. Insect hatches are steady rather than prolific. Vegetation crowds most of the banks, so terrestrials are a steady supplement to this piscine diet. Winter and run-off are a severe challenge, so the resident trout are hungry and unselective when conditions eventually improve.

Without a prolific insect hatch to zero in on, small and medium-sized brown trout – up to 12 or 13 inches – will strike a wide variety of flies, both imitations of natural insects and the flashier attractor patterns. Bigger fish may be a little more selective, especially in slower water where they are afforded the opportunity for careful inspection.

I avoid attractor patterns and fish at least passable “realistic imitations”, though nothing that would earn Halford’s blessing. My preference is for a dry fly, but I will happily use emergers in the surface film or lightly weighted nymphs just below if the conditions dictate. My fly selection matches the natural hatches approximately rather than fastidiously. Aesthetics is more important than a precise grasp of Latin genus and species.

On these mountain streams, I firmly believe that presentation is the most important consideration. The dry fly must be buoyant and visible in faster riffles, and one’s line control must avoid drag on the fly for the critical few feet where you know or anticipate trout to be holding. As for the fly, size and profile are more important than precise colour or hackle and wing configuration. One style of fly satisfies these considerations – quill-bodied parachute olives. Fine, stripped quills produce a segmented body and are wonderfully buoyant. The short, parachute post of white fur serves as the simulated wing and provides a beacon of visibility. The hackle is wound around the post, parallel to the stream surface, to simulate legs and allows the body to sit on or in the surface film, not above it as does a traditionally tied hackle.

Different varieties of quill and hackle, dyed if necessary, cater to variations in colour. Our typical olive hatches are replicated on hooks sized #14, 16, and 18; early and late season might require a #20; and #12 represents a very passable grasshopper pattern. I could enjoy a rewarding and successful season fishing with no other patterns.

Now for a confession: Do I tie these flies myself? “No”. I can and have; the quills break, parachute posts are misplaced and mis-sized, hackles unfurl. A couple of hours will yield four or five deformed specimens, the very antithesis of a “realistic imitation”. The dry flies I use and illustrate here come from the vice of A. K. Best, a world-class tier and author who retails through the shop of cane rod-builder Mike Clark in Lyons Colorado. Three of his patterns meet all of my needs, again to my standard of passable realistic imitation: Eastern March Brown, Biot Gordon Hendrickson, and (Blue-winged) Olive Quill.

My fly-tying skills find their natural application and limits with small nymphs, emergers and ‘spider’ patterns. A much lower bar. A slim, dubbed body; a turn or two of soft hackle; a small bead head if appropriate; whipped eye; finished. Ideal for late summer when the water is low and trout are feeding below the surface. Then these small, simple wisps of a fly will not go unrewarded.

Writing & Images Paul Adams – Colorado February 2022