On Retiring Flies

The hackle fibers are usually the first to go on store-bought dry flies. They unfurl and twist like ribbons on birthday presents. If that doesn’t happen, whatever they use to make ribs (I’m guessing something related to toilet paper) unzips and the dubbing spills off. Nymphs are a little tougher, but look worse; even when they’re still sitting in their bins at the shop.

My buddy, who doesn’t tie flies, will occasionally bring me his store-boughts and ask me to doctor them up. I’ll put cement on the knots, I’ll whip some thread around the heads, but it only ever buys him maybe an extra hour on the water.

One of the first flies I ever tied was a size-16 Purple Haze. It had a moose-hair tail and grizzly hackles. I caught more fish on that single fly than any other. I think because it was one of my first flies, I embedded it with sentimentality and a superstition that produced fish. When it snagged in a tree, I wouldn’t just yank hoping that it would come down. I would exit the river, reach high and try to pull down branches and, occasionally, trees to retrieve it. And the fish. I don’t remember them all, but it caught palm-sized brookies, gnarled big browns and everything in between. First the tail fibers fell out. But that was somehow OK because the dubbing brushed back around the bend making the body almost look like a comet. Then I bent the hook when I extracted it from a fish that sucked it down deep into its mouth. With my hemostats, I bent the hook back, but it was never the same. Nearly any fish that gave me a fight or that foul hooked would result in a bent hook. Eventually it couldn’t stay dry even after a week off the water. The hackle fibers became brittle and looked like split ends on over-styled hair. Even though I stopped fishing with the fly, I kept it pinned to the top left corner of my flybox for months.

One of the appeals for tying my own flies is that they aren’t permanent. That unknown expiration date keeps a constant flow in and out of my flybox that ensures nothing grows stagnant. If I was Buddhist I would say something about the importance of learning about impermanence. I would talk about the monks who construct elaborate sand mandalas only to destroy them (sometimes by dunking them in a river) when they finish. But I’m nowhere near a Buddhist–just a dude who tries to find the beauty in an unraveling thread.

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11 thoughts on “On Retiring Flies

  1. paracaddis says:

    That unravelling of parachute flies is SO annoying. Not much that can be done for the commercial patterns but I hope you won’t mind if I bring to your readers attention a couple of ideas which might help them with more durable parachutes if they are tying themselves.

    The first is a free download eBook “Who packed your parachute”. It discusses an improved way of tying parachute flies, why the old systems don’t work and what you can do about it. The book is available for free from https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/17437 using the methods described you will NEVER have the hackle unwind up the post again.

    The second resource is a video clip showing the way that I tie parachute flies, the clip is actually linked to another eBook “Essential Fly Tying Techniques” but I provide the link for free as I hope that it may assist your readers in not having to retire their flies quite as quickly as otherwise may be the case. The video link is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=II0e7PTa2Dc

    Thanks Tim

  2. ShesaManiYak says:

    I just recently started tying and dedicated most of my time to particular flies I had been informed I would need for my mid-July trip to Montana. So sad to say I haven’t tied a fly since I got home from that trip but with the cold winds blowing into KY right now, I’d say it’s time for me to get started again. Maybe I’ll do some experimentation this time.

  3. Parker James says:

    Everything unravels eventually. The wise man goes with it. The foolish struggle with it. The old man who is a little of both does the best he can to make it graceful while using it.

  4. Brian Davis says:

    I did some fishing in Montana for a week last summer. The Purple Haze was the ticket! We fished 14’s, sometimes in tandem with a #10 or #12 Brindle Chute. I have a great fondness for the Purple Haze.

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