NOW HEAR THE LORD OF THE FLIES
Dave Whitlock of Bartlesville, Okla. comes as close as anyone in this country to laying claim to the title of Lord of the Flies. Seven years ago, when he was 35, Whitlock took a gamble by quitting his job as a petroleum chemist for the U.S. Bureau of Mines to devote himself to artificial flies. The patterns that he devised, such as Whitlock's Sculpin, created so much excitement among the swelling ranks of flytiers that he no longer ties commercially. Nowadays he is the fly-tying editor of Fly Fisherman magazine, contributes both articles and illustrations to such books as Art Flick's Master Fly-Tying Guide and Doug Swisher and Carl Richards' Fly Fishing Strategy and holds fly-tying clinics in this country and abroad. The U.S. Information Agency has twice sent Whitlock to Europe to lecture on flies.
Whitlock and I were co-editors of a new book, The Fly-Tyer's Almanac, from which the flies shown here have been taken. The book is the first of a series of almanacs that will appear every two years to note new patterns, materials and techniques in a fast-changing field. The almanac is not for beginners but for the advanced fly freak.
As Whitlock says, "Fly tying is in a new era, like the start of a new art movement. Five or 10 years ago, a flytier would just turn out standard patterns like the Black Gnat or the Quill Gordon. But now that's changed. Tiers are beginning to think for themselves and devise new patterns to fit specific situations. There are obvious reasons for this, and travel is one. Very few persons now fish just home waters. But even if they do, there are more species of fish to catch because of introductions. Here in Oklahoma, in addition to largemouth bass, I can now fish for striped bass and brown trout. We're no longer strapped by tradition. Flytiers are using new tools and new materials and there is almost total acceptance of synthetics plus an upgrading of certain natural materials."
October 3, 1976
Whitlock tied the Eelworm Streamer—shown on page 46—as the fly rodder's answer to the spin fisherman's plastic worm. The shank of the hook is weighted with lead wire to get it down into the weeds, and the bead chain eyes, which add weight to the head, permit the streamer to be fished so that the six narrow saddle hackles undulate enticingly through the water. Besides largemouths, the Eelworm has caught its share of pike, muskies, brown trout and striped bass.
Another Whitlock tie is the Damsel Wiggle Nymph shown on page 47. The body is a half and half blend of beaver belly fur and Orion, a petroleum product softer than lamb's wool. The legs are pheasant or partridge hackle tinted light olive, and the eyes, which add weight, are a pair of chained beads. The main trick is matching the seductive wiggle of the real-life nymph. To accomplish this, Whitlock hinges the rear half of the nymph to the front half with a loop of piano wire. "It turns on big trout like crazy," he says.
The concept of the Matuka Streamer—shown on the opposite page—comes from New Zealand. The Matuka differs from the standard American streamer in that the wings are tied down along the top of the body to simulate the dorsal fin of a baitfish. Just as important, the wings and tail of the Matuka will not dogleg around the bend of the hook when the fly is cast. According to Whitlock, Matukas are most effective when tied with thickly dubbed bodies. The pattern has proved itself with trout, black bass and various saltwater species. Indeed, Harry Darbee, the professional Catskill tier who is revered by Wall Street types for his orthodox Atlantic salmon flies, has shocked the traditionalists by using his own version of the Matuka for salmon in Nova Scotia. Darbee calls his pattern, which has a body of fluorescent orange chenille, "the Horrible Matuka." Darwin Atkin of Porterville, Calif. has surprised West Coast anglers by devising a line of steel-head flies, known as Mari-Boos, that are tied with marabou feathers that pulse in the current.
Bill Monahan, a college student and protégé of Swisher's and Richards', devised the midge patterns shown at left. Midge fishing may call for an angler to use size-24 hooks—as small as the letters printed on this page. The ties shown represent the larval, pupal, adult and adult flying stages. The body is polypropylene, another petroleum derivative, and if fishing for midging trout is infuriating, tying these patterns can be even more so.
The mayfly is the honored insect of dry-fly fishermen. The pattern shown opposite, a no-hackle "Double-Wing Sidewinder" by René Harrop, a professional tier in St. Anthony, Idaho, is tied on a hook invented in 1973 by Peter Mackenzie-Philps, then sales manager of a British chemical company and now chairman and managing director of a tackle concern. Bored during a business meeting, Mackenzie-Philps was doodling mayflies when he realized that he might be on to a new and easy way of making extended bodies. The shank of his patented hook extends beyond the bend so that the mayfly's abdomen and tails appear real to a trout.
Dan Blanton of San Jose, Calif. specializes in streamer imitations of saltwater baitfish. His Needlefish, Bay-Delta Eelet and Sar-Mul-Mac (sardine, mullet and mackerel) patterns were inspired by the ties of Bill Catherwood, a brilliant but reclusive flytier who lives in Tewksbury, Mass. Many saltwater fly fishermen believe patterns should be simple, because the fish will strike at almost anything, but as Blanton points out, some species are more selective, and "realistic simulation," as he calls it, will work better than old standbys like Joe Brooks' Blondes.
Although Blanton believes in simulation, I believe in absolute realism, perhaps harking back to my days as a smelly bait fisherman. The Grass Shrimp shown opposite is modeled on Palaemonetes pugio, a brackish-water species of the Atlantic coast. The transparent body is wound with strips of plastic sheeting ordinarily used to protect typewriters and furniture against dust, and in place of regular tying thread I use see-through Dyno thread, available in sewing shops. I originally tied the Shrimp for striped bass, but it has taken smallmouth and large-mouth bass, yellow perch, brown and rainbow trout, weakfish, bluefish, mackerel and Atlantic salmon. Fly freaks are not always earnestly realistic or grimly serious. While I was editing the almanac with Whitlock, I attributed a couple of flies (a Quill-Bodied Mylar Minnow and an Old Hat Dragonfly Nymph made from a Brooks Brothers fedora) to Whygin Argus, the AKC name of my black Labrador retriever. In the obligatory note on contributors, I wrote, truthfully enough in its way, "Whygin Argus, a descendant of stock that settled colonial Newfoundland, moved to the Hudson Valley at an early age. There he pursued nature in the raw in wood, field and river with vigor sufficient to prompt notice in...Field Trial Retriever News. A bachelor and an enthusiast of aquatic life, he has made field studies in Lake Superior, the rivers of New Brunswick and the Gaspé, and the Chesapeake. Now middle-aged and prematurely gray, he expressed no interest in being photographed...."
I thought no more of it until Whitlock sent me one of a dozen copies of the book he had signed for contributors. In the accompanying note, Whitlock wrote he had been unable to find the address of "this guy Argus," and he asked me to present the book to him. I whistled Argus into the living room, and as he sat there, brown-sugar eyes staring at me, I read Whitlock's inscription aloud: "Dear Whygin, We would like to present you this first edition copy as our token of our deep appreciation for your fine help in making this premier volume such a wonderful book for so many fly fishermen." As Whygin Argus trotted back to his kennel, I made a note to pluck some hairs from his tail for the antennae of a new realistic stonefly nymph I was tying. Genus Pteronarcys, of course.
Inspired by new tools, new materials and species of fish that have been newly introduced in waters throughout the U.S., fly-tying freaks are devising novel patterns—like the Eelworm Streamer (left) and Damsel Wiggle Nymph (below)—that are just the ticket for bass, trout, salmon and denizens of the deep
Clockwise (from top right), the flies shown here are the Double-Wing Sidewinder; Atkin's Pole Kat Mari-Boo; the brackish-water Shrimp; Whitlock's tie of the Matuka Streamer from New Zealand; Whitlock and Monahan's life-stage ties of the midge; Dan Blanton's Needlefish Streamer fly.