silver doctor fishing flies

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Kiss your flies, Fishing & fly tying

There are many things in life that we can over complicate. Fishing & fly tying is one of them, if we are not careful, to the extent that we lose the fundamental of the thing in unnecessary addendum. Now please do not get the wrong idea, I like detail, and I work to a couple of principles, the first being that there are only two ways to do a job …. “Properly or not at all”. However, where I have enjoyed successes within my work-a-day life these have often been achieved after applying a second principle to them, the “KISS” principle …. ‘that is; “Keep it Simple Simon” [you could tinker with the pneumonic yourselves].

I can get carried away in a spirit of enthusiasm and then have a tendency to over complicate some things, so I regularly have to remind myself of this. When making fishing flies I have found it is extremely useful to apply both principles …..

Do a fine job, keep it simple.

I consider some specific underlying fly tying principles to be my guide with anything I make to fish with, and these fall within the following headings:

Get these about right and your well on your way to fishing with something that you can have confidence in. Get them absolutely perfect, and well, the results could be staggering. One, because you’ll want to fish it more frequently so that you have a greater chance of catching with it, and the two, when you do, because it is so successful, you’ll want to fish with it more. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy, and it leads to favourite flies, some of which are then given away to friends to become even more successful?

Bearing in mind that the deductive capacity of our quarry is relative to the size of their brain you might think that achieving success would be really easy. But that, as we all know is only a part of it, because firstly you have to achieve the confidence factor to use the thing in the first place, and know that it is likely to work because all of the above guiding principles have been met.

I am now just reminding myself to carry on keeping it simple, but before I do;

Many sports push back the boundaries, and test new ideas. Some of these fall to the side but some find their way into the mainstream of the sport, be it design of equipment or techniques etc. Examples include those practioners in the higher echelons of their sports, Formulae One racing drivers, Pro Golfers and similar. Their ability to do something better than most in their individual achievements can enable us in the majority to do, what we do in our aspect of the sport, just that little better. Because of the funds available, and the time that they have to devote to it, results evolve. These are sometimes complex or tricky, but with work and usage they become easier and more mainstream – often simplified. How often, for example, have developments with Formulae One Racing, or Top Flight Rally Driving found their way into commercially available vehicles – probably too many to mention. However, they would have never been discovered or ultimately used by the majority because in their early stages they lacked the purity of simplicity. Vis a vis, not many would use a Ferrari race ready car for the school run or the weekly shop. The same thing can apply to fly design, you can take the vital bits from a complex fly and incorporate them into a simplified version with very good effect, a dash of twinkle here, and hint of boar bristle there, and so on.

Now returning back to the plot, we need [even enjoy] folk who push back barriers and introduce new ideas, but we also need to rely on simplicity for the bulk of our fly dressing in the same way as we do in many other areas of our life. I have been described as an obsessive fly fisher [just ask my wife], and I occasionally enjoy the metaphorical ‘track day’, testing new ideas within my fly dressing. Occasionally they work, but given that my obsession for the sport is not matched by the equal availability of time to pursue that obsession, something has to give. What gives for me is ‘chance’, and I try to convert that chance to some certainty. To achieve that certainty with a fly pattern or fishing technique I rely on the above fly dressing principles to guide the bulk of my fly dressing production, and this is how it works:


Does the thing you are making look like the thing you are trying to imitate in the

water? If it doesn’t, you are failing at the first stage. However, it probably doesn’t have to be a carbon copy because of water clarity, speed of flow, movement by angler, fish eyesight etc; and, you’ll never truly know until it is wet and fish have taken it. All of that said it should look more-or-less like the thing you want to imitate. With Salmon & Sea Trout Flies since the thing you want to create has to aggravate or trigger a reaction, you have to ask yourself, will this profile be likely to do so?


If you want your artificial to blend in with the other million plus food items of a similar nature, make yours the same size. That should reduce your chances of catching success to below sporting principles – very commendable. If in fact you might like to raise the odds a little more in your favour, make your version a little bigger [or different]. It’s a bit like this, if you want a prawn and on your plate and there is a teeny Atlantic Shrimp next to a huge Pacific Prawn, which one would you go for? So if my natural insect is equal to a size 14 – 16, I fish a 10 or 12 version [occasionally bigger].


Whilst shape and size go together, they have to be applied to a fly in proportion. Many of the commercially available flies are totally out of proportion to the item they are trying to represent. So even some basic, practiced and applied fly tying skills can be used, with a little thought, to produce some very acceptable balanced and proportionate artificials. Squat, tubby nymphs with stacks of dressing just do not look right and I imagine the fish know it. Nymphs should most often be skinny, light, and frugal in their dressing and convey agility, life, just like real food.


Colour is an odd thing, because an artificial can look just perfect at the fly bench, but in the water it looks completely different. Water quality, light, the different properties of materials can all play their part with this. So it can be awkward to get it right for every circumstance. To get around this conundrum I try to make my flies from flecked and semi translucent materials. In that way the effect of the light through the water almost becomes part of the artificial, and again, hopefully instils the illusion of life into it.


In many instances the movement required can be derived from the water and the angler need do little more than present it to the water in a logical manner. In other instances it may require a little more effort, but this need not be over complex. However, it has to be proportionate and appropriate. For example, a shrimp will not travel in a long steady pull for 10 feet, they do not do that. So a retrieve for a shrimp should be jerky, perhaps slightly erratic. A Blue Winged Olive [BWO] Nymph might drift in the current or slowly and gently travel in the water, so the retrieve; the conveyed movement should emulate that.

These are all not difficult principles to grasp and practice, but they are the ones that I believe can make a huge difference to your catching abilities. Applying them all in how we fish can mean the difference between doing the job properly or wasting our time. Back to that principle again, do the job properly, or not at all.

I hope that has kept it simple ….. Just kiss your flies!

Pearly Pheasant Tail [A great olive imitator]

Hook:                          12 to 14

Thread:                        Dark Olive

Body:                           Light coloured cock pheasant tail – 2 to 3 strands

Tail:                             Tan to chestnut brown cock hackle fibres

Legs:                           Tan to chestnut brown cock hackle fibres

Thorax:                        Pearl Lurex or similar

Thorax cover:             Light coloured cock pheasant tail – 2 to 3 strands

Deer Hair Sculpins [Not all ‘in profile’ flies have to be small]

Used to imitate Bullheads

Hook:                          Mustad 79666S Keel Hook Size 6.

Thread                         Black and strong

Under body                 Weighted with square lead around the head & collar area

Tail                              Two Chickabou Feathers

Rear Body                   Rear two thirds natural rabbit fur

Front body                   Tan sculpin wool

Rib                               6lb Nylon coloured brown olive with a permanent marker pen

Upper over body         Dark brown mink strip

Lower under body       Lighter brown or grey mink strip

Head                           Spun Deer hair [I like to use black]