A Basic Guide to Saltwater Fly Fishing in Southwest Florida

C 1996, Don Phillips

Chapter 7 - Flies and Fly Tying

To the beginner, the number of fly patterns available can be intimidating ----there are probably over 1000 different patterns used for saltwater alone. Fly selection is not a science and it will probably never become routine. Although a particular fly may catch a dozen fish today, there is no assurance that the same fly will produce tomorrow, next week or next year. Tides, barometric pressure, wind, temperature etc can affect both prey species availability and gamefish inclination to feed. No one has yet to derive the equation that produces results for all these permutations and combinations. Thus, fly selection is a craps-shoot; sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. What I hope to do in this chapter is to illustrate the different types of flies that can be effective, list the patterns that seem to be the better producers, and perhaps get you interested in fly tying.

In listing the various types of flies, there is a natural inclination to categorize them by the fish species they were designed to catch. Unfortunately, this doesn't work out well, since many if not most of the more popular flies will catch multiple fish species. Similarly, categorizing them by the types of prey that they imitate is not useful since many fly pattern designs are generic. I have therefore decided to group our saltwater flies into a dozen categories which loosely define the tying "style" or the materials used to construct them. The following paragraphs attempt to describe these groupings and include a pictorial of a typical pattern.

Of course, the above categories are not all-inclusive. Other styles such as worm flies, tube flies, offshore flies etc. have not been included since they are of lesser importance to our backwater fishing.

The popularity of specific fly patterns seems to ebb and flow as our fly fishers gain more experience and as our fly tiers continue to innovate and refine designs. Following are the patterns that currently seem to be receiving the most kudos from our ultimate critic, the fish:

Streamers - Hopkins Snook Fly, Mangrove Snook Fly

Bucktails - Platinum Blonde

Deceivers - Lefty's Deceiver (White, Yellow, Chartreuse), Lefty's Favorite, Cockroach, Glades Deceiver

Tarpon Flies - Black Death, DT, Cactus Baby Tarpon Fly (Purple/Black)

Seducers/Whistlers - Yellow/Red Seducer, Red/White Whistler, Blanton's Finger Mullet

Inverted Hook Patterns - Clouser Minnows, Bendbacks, Copper Liz, Redfish Threat

Deerhair Patterns - Muddler Minnow, Dahlberg Diver, Fugly, Tabory Snake Fly, Huff Backcountry fly

Wool Patterns - Woolhead Finger Mullet, Sea Devil

Rabbit Fur Patterns - Tan Mangrove Bunny, Bonito Bunny, Buck 'n Bunny, Phil's Hare-Ball Shrimp

Poppers/Sliders - Fluter

Molded Flies - Everglades Snook Fly

The above flies are generally available from our local fly shops, but if you want to fully experience the joys of fly fishing, tying your own flies puts the icing on the cake. I still remember catching my first trout on a fly that I tied, in the mid-1960's. As I recall the fly was pretty primitive, but the feedback from the time spent at the tying bench was a real adrenaline rush! Fly tying has since become an important competitor for my leisure time. It's a pastime that fits very nicely into bad-weather days and especially evenings when TV programming is not worth a full measure of concentration. It's also an art form that permits considerable creativity, for those of us that can't paint or draw with any degree of proficiency. When I was in my thirties, I regularly tied and fished flies down to sizes #18-24 and even smaller. With my current level of visual competence, these diminutive flies would surely be difficult. On the other hand our usual sizes of #8 to 3/0 for southwest Florida are a breeze for tired eyes and fumbling fingers.

Fly tiers generally fit into a wide spectrum of approaches. At one end of the spectrum, there are the tiers who tie reproductions of established patterns; at the other end there are the tiers who try to create exact imitations of a particular specie of prey. Most of us fall somewhere in between, starting with established, popular patterns and then making modifications (improvements, we hope) to increase their fish appeal. When you consider hook size, tying style, material, color, proportion, weighting, degree of flash, etc you can see that there is literally no end to the opportunities for creativity and improvement.

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Fly tiers who seek exact replication of a particular specie of prey are individuals who must spend many hours gathering specimens, setting up aquariums, taking macrophotographs, tying prototypes, examining their underwater behavior and then fishing them. Most notable among these individuals is Carl Richards, who collaborates with Doug Swisher in writing best sellers forfbait.jpg - 6.3 K the fly fishing community. Carl lives in Michigan, but he spends several weeks down here each year perfecting his craft. Note Carl's renditions of a crab and baitfish in these color photographs. Still photos like these really don't do justice to these flies; only when they are under water, in motion, do they fully illustrate the fly tier's art. Carl Richards' new book Prey provides additional insight into the details of his techniques. If you might think that the field of prey imitation is by now mature and fully codified---think again! The following lists the more common prey families in our waters:

Baitfish - herring, anchovies, sardines, silversides, pilchards, pinfish, mojarra, mollies, gobies, toadfish, hardheads, eels, tilapia, halfbeaks

Crabs - mud, blue, reef, porcelain, spider, fiddler, mole, stone

Shrimp - mantis, swimming, snapping, sponge, mud, shore, grass, lobsters

Other - sea urchins, marine worms

The above list doesn't cover all of the many species existent in these families, nor does it consider the juveniles of grunts, ladyfish, sheepshead, sail catfish, needlefish, ballyhoo, snappers, grouper, etc which are prime targets for our larger gamefish. And so, there is plenty of room for creativity and experimentation to develop more effective flies.

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Next Month - Fly Fishing the Tides

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