In modern fly tying, the trend that comes to my attention is to pile on materials, brushes, and heavy on color and flash. Using my own taste in flies as an example, I don’t like flies that try to do too much. What I tie is oftentimes very simple, almost numbingly so. Much of what I tie is a little more than bare bones, maybe doing a little more than is necessary - just enough to really look like something, and enough to spark my own interest in throwing it. I hate when flies look like they are trying to do too much, and even worse, when they fail to accomplish their job because the vanity of the fly tier gets in the way and interrupts the point of the fly - to swim, and ultimately catch a fish. Contemporary fly tying, or what I see of it, tends to try very hard to do too much.
Oftentimes, writers are given prompts by their peers, teachers, and close friends to try and challenge their imagination and walk outside the bounds of their comfort zone. I am under the impression that fly tying should not be any different. In the age of the Instagram celebrated ‘lego builder fly tyers’ as I heard on a podcast once, it is important to remember the roots of what makes fly tying pretty spectacular - natural materials and using them to their full potential. My fly tying prompt/challenge to anyone who reads this, is to use one material, for the whole fly. I do not intend to ask you to build a complete profile with one single hackle feather. However, using one material, you can stretch the boundaries of what is possible for that material.
In case you are stuck on where exactly to go from here, I have included three of my favorite “one material” flies that you can tie in large quantities, work like a charm, and will test your understanding of what naturals can do. So don’t just go straight to the brush section of the fly shop next time you go in. Take a gander around at the naturals and get out of your comfort zone! Remember that fly tying can be used any way you want it, so if it benefits you to make pretty flies, do it. If all you need is a few things scraped together, then do that. Either way, no judgment from me, as long as you are getting out on the water and testing them out.
Marabou Tarpon Flies
A marabou tarpon fly is a great fix to picky fish, and when one marabou feather stands alone, it can be a great one material fly for people to experiment with seeing exactly how much one material can take you. I enjoy placing one color marabou tip out the back of an SL12s Short, with a different color, longer this time, on top. Wrapping your feathers together in a post style, you can then palmer a feather around to create a very interesting concept or, if you are feeling fancy, strip the plumage off the feather and throw it in an evenly spaced dubbing loop. This way, each part of every feather you have gets put to good use, and it looks amazing in the water.
Arctic Fox Bonefish Fly
Bonefish are a curious fish, and when they are presented with a well-placed fly, there is a decent chance they will reward the angler with an eat. That being said, they do not require a fly that does too much, but something bare bones enough to swim correctly, land accordingly to the depth and capacity of the fish, and get eaten. Although arctic fox is a very versatile material, I like to think you could substitute this prompt for many materials, like Polar Fiber, or Craft Fur. Think about how much can be done with trimmings and the excess that we often put into the waste bin. The only issue, that those flies are hard to replicate because the proportions of the materials are some that cannot be replicated. Using the trimmings of fox or craft fur to throw in a dubbing loop, we can make an even tapered body that puts us in the driver’s seat to make a lot of great things happen with our fly.
Hackle Wing Tarpon Fly (Check out flies like the Seaducer or Semper Fleye)
The best part about this fly is that it can be tied in many different shapes and forms, all from one pack of feathers, or one saddle hackle. We sell a selection of feathers here at the shop, all from the wide range of Ewing Hackle, which kills two birds with one stone when it comes to flies that need hackle for wings and hackle palmered, as this one does.
A tarpon fly with hackles is beautiful, but it relies heavily on the correct hackles for the job. I like using a strung saddle, or the hackles off a grizzly cape, because the person tying the fly can often find some that are close enough in size and shape that they will cooperate in the water.
Allowing one pair of hackles to go on the left side of the hook shank, and the other pair (four total) to go on the right side of the hook shank, you create a V shape - if looking at the hook from above - that facilitates a lot of vertical moment in the water. Following this step, which can be as complicated or simple as you'd like, take a webby hackle and wrap it forward. Using this method, continue to add palmered feathers until the entire hook shank is covered, all the way up to the eye of the hook.
You have now created a great tarpon fly, that definitely pays homage to the original tarpon and snook flies from back in the day. One article that I read online states that Homer Rhodes developed this pattern in the 1940's, so the versatility of this fly is really impressive, and has obviously stood the test of time.