Sea-trout flies’ key elements;
Size and Silhouette
I’m struck by an affliction the same time every year, October. For I know the remedy to my ailment will not run again for several months, well, not in this hemisphere anyway. Being born and raised 10 minutes from the River Teifi and 15 minutes from the River Towy, I have learnt to endure such hardships, but never appreciate them. One consoles oneself with memories, tales, and thoughts of what will be and what could have been. As the months progress, with the reds now deeply buried, and the nights drawn-out, the mind advances creatively towards its mild sedative; the vice. Killer patterns are assembled, or botched together, which invariably turn out to be hoaxes. The supply is replenished, and battle is ready to commence – alas, prematurely. A discussion that I always relish at such times and one that is often asked is; what makes a successful sea-trout pattern?
When discussing sea-trout patterns the colour scheme rarely deviates from a short spectrum on the artistic palette. Why? Largely due to confidence, but variables such as; colourations that resemble food items, tried and tested colour combinations along with knowledge passed down from the forefathers of the sport are contributing factors.
Rather than reinventing the wheel, colours such as; black, red, blue, and silver are usual tangents explored within the vast majority of sea-trout fly concoctions, with the ones in my box being no exception. And why not? They work, don’t they?
Where marked changes appear these are usually accountable to product development rather than a change in thinking. New products emerge on the fly-tying scene to lure gullible soles into parting with their sterling with an alarming frequency, with many fads coming and going with greater regularity than the Armani’ autumn to winter collection. However, indulging in such ‘candy’, as is the case with many fly-patterns, is somewhat of a roulette as an equal proportion exist to catch the angler as exist to catch the fish. Some are written or reviewed to have been used to great success, although, I wonder how much of this relays back to the confidence issue? And would the same fish have taken the same fly without the added ‘calories’? These will, I fear, remain rhetorical.
So why is it that certain colours work best? Silver and such metallics are used for their refractive properties, which, depending on light-levels, may act as an inducement. It comes as no accident that black appears in the majority of sea-trout patterns. Granted, its initial usage may not have been based on any scientific reasoning, however, the development and mutations of these patterns and new patterns undoubtedly are.
However, let me set it to you that, in regards to night fishing in particular, fly colour should not be your overriding factor in fly design or fly choice. Inputting factors in fly design that will hold you in greater stead would be; size and silhouette – these should take precedence over all else.
Granted, there are times when fish will approach from behind, or from the side where the silhouette would ‘dampen’. However, I would still endorse the fact that silhouette should be held in greater regard than colour, especially on the darkest of nights. Moonlit nights are the exception, when light can penetrate the water and refract or give definition to shades. This is why, I believe, additions are made to the ‘base creation’.
A simple experiment that can be undertaken to assist in giving you an accurate perspective of silhouette is as follows; put a fly up to a light source, such as a light-bulb. At first the fly will appear all but black. Slowly rotate the fly away from the light source towards an even keel with the eye and watch how the colours mutate and become more prominent towards the latter end of the experiment. Repeat the experiment but this time wetting the fly before offering it to the light source, this will display its ‘true’ fishing silhouette – flowing water and retrieving will alter this silhouette somewhat, of course.
Black is the colour that will give, or retain the strongest silhouette. Black will give strong, pronounced edges and is the colour best seen from below in darkness, ironically. Try repeating the above experiment with contrasting flies, i.e. one with a black wing and one with a white wing. You will find that the white wing does not give as strong a silhouette, and somewhat loses its definition, which makes for a more sombre pattern – particularly effective on well-lit of moonlit nights.
Seldom does light penetrate water on a vertical keel, especially on rivers where flow, obstructions, and gradients – to mention but a few – bounce, bend and distort light. This again dictates how some shades may become somewhat prominent underwater, and therefore seen by the fish. However, this definition would be largely lost when fishing at depth where light fails to penetrate as intensely, much the same can be said for coloured water.
By taking the above arguments into consideration and viewing them in their entirety we can deduce why certain colours predominate, or fish better than others.
Size plays its tangible role too, especially when expressed in conjunction or with consideration for water speed and depth. Or, perhaps more important are the resulting variables, such as; a fish’s agility to intercept the fly, and the fish’s vision at varying depths. Although not being wholly dependant upon, as very little can be in angling, generally; the faster or deeper the water fished the larger the size of the fly that should be chosen. This highlights the need to carry a range of sizes, or lengths of flies to combat changeable situations.
When studying the vast array of fly permutations at our disposal, confidence becomes and overriding factor in personal fly choice and helps form our tailored collection, in addition to the occasional oddity that makes an impromptu visit to our boxes. The success of one pattern is often viewed at the demise of another, with this helping to shape our aspirations in a fly-pattern. Everyone has their ‘black-buzzer’ patterns, i.e. patterns that you wouldn’t go fishing without, with the following being a couple of mine.
Generic patterns should be carried in a variety of sizes to cover all foreseeable and unforeseeable eventualities.
More often than not I will fish two flies at night; if the point fly has red in it then the dropper will have blue in it, and vice versa. Not all of my flies will have red or blue in them, of course, but the same rule would apply – I always try and fish two very different patterns on the cast, varying the size, colour, and profile. For example, the Talysman may be dressed in tube form and fished on the point, whereas I would look for something quite different for the dropper, such as the Deuoni.
The Deuoni, which is a play on a Welsh word, daioni, which means; to do you good, is a firm favourite of mine, and seems to be able to winkle sea-trout out like no-other. Due to the palmered body, the Deuoni does fish relatively high in the water, but is predominantly fished on a slow sink tip or with a small tube on the point to help prevent drag. However, saying that, it does fish well as a small surface lure – a successful variant incorporates a CDC wing instead of the squirrel to exacerbate this characteristic, and is given a small head hackle of spun deer hair to increase its buoyancy.
Tying list – Deuoni.
Hook: Ken Sawada LD2 (Silver Fiesta) size 6
Body: medium silver tinsel
Rib: silver wire
Body hackle: white cock hackle, palmered
Wing: black squirrel
Head hackle: dyed blue grizzle schlappen
These are patterns that have worked for me, and I hope will inspire you. However, place the wrong fly in the right hands and a transformation occurs. Conversely, the right fly in the wrong hands may as well be fished without a bend – as most of us will have experienced at some stage in our fishing careers, at times, to much distain and perplexity. The secret is to think why.
Reprinted with permission of Steffan Jones.