Voices from the river

Voices from the River: Cheap and Easy

By Mark Taylor

I have a friend who is an artist at the fly-tying vise.

I mean, literally an artist.

His creations don’t end up in the water, let alone in a fish’s mouth. They go into shadow boxes.

Other friends actually fish their fancy flies, including articulated streamers that can take an hour each to tie, or cost as much as $18 — yes, $18! — to buy.

My approach to flies tends to be much more pragmatic. I enjoy tying and will occasionally try to get creative. But, generally, tying is a means to an end. Fish are that end and I’m happy getting there as quickly and inexpensively as possible.

It doesn’t get much cheaper and easier than the Woolly Bugger. I’m not a fast tyer and can still whip up a Bugger in about three minutes, even less when I tie them on a lead-head jig.

I’ve never crunched the numbers but I think my cost is probably about 50 cents each, an amount that means I’m never asking the guy on the oars to row back upstream when I hang one up.

Cheap and easy doesn’t matter if the fly doesn’t work. But Buggers work. Stripped. Swung. Dead drifted. Whatever. They work. You know it. I know it. Everybody knows it.

We also know that simple nymphs are tough to beat.

When I first got seriously into trout fishing I used a bead head hare’s ear nymph about 90 percent of the time when I was fishing subsurface. Even as a noob I caught a lot of fish on that fly.

My new favorite, at least for prospecting, is even simpler. It’s a grubby, caddis-looking thing on a curved hook. And even though it’s really simple it’s still a fly/nymph, unlike some even simpler things like a mop “fly” or Green Weenie, both of which are total abominations. (That happen to work damn well, so I’m told….)

If I’m tightlining, I’ll usually use one with a tungsten head and sometimes even some added lead. I like to fish it in often ridiculously large sizes (6-10) in tandem with something smaller like a Zebra Midge, Brassie or Copper John. The Copper John doesn’t qualify as a really easy fly to tie, at least for me, but it works so well I make an exception for it.

I realize that being creative at the vise is a big part of the fun in this for many people. I would never fault someone for having different tastes or desires. And I think it’s great that people like my friend Blane Chocklett will sit at the vise and come up with innovative and effective creations like the Game Changer.

That said, when a friend recently lost one of those $13 Game Changers in a tree and let out a blistering string of expletives, I admit I couldn’t help snickering a bit under my breath. Disgusted, he switched to a Bugger. And, no surprise, it worked.

Mark Taylor is Trout Unlimited’s eastern conservation director. Based in Roanoke, Va., he’s happy to fish expensive and complicated flies as long as someone else is buying them or tying them.

By Mark Taylor. A native of rural southern Oregon, Mark Taylor has lived in Virginia since serving a stint as a ship-based naval officer in Norfolk. He joined the TU staff in 2014 after a 20-year run as a newspaper journalist, the final 16 as the outdoors editor of the Roanoke Times. A graduate of Northwestern University, he lives in Roanoke with his wife and, when they're home from college, his twin daughters.