Maintaining possession of the same fly for eight hours on a breezy, snag-filled river and during repeated presentations for it to be munched by molesting trout is a pure challenge.
Try that all by yourself sometime and see how it goes.
Chances are your fly doesn’t make it.
In the 33 years since the early September Jackson Hole One Fly event first floated off on the Snake River, much has been gleaned about successful angler and fly longevity.
To begin, not just any fly is suitable for this torture test. Cutthroat trout aren’t exactly piranhas at shredding artificial patterns. Yet repeated encounters with our fine spotted’s pointy jaw and vomer teeth take a toll on thread, tinsel, feather, hair and foam. After repeated catch-and-release cutthroat experiences your fly may appear usable and then poof, one false cast later there’s little surrounding your hook.
Enterprising local fly peddlers have engineered how to wrap various foam, feather, hair and synthetic materials into tasty trout frauds that they label bombproof. Zap-A-Gap glue, Teflon thread, epoxy and Secret Service-tying tricks elevate these custom bugs to weapons-grade invincibles.
Civilian anglers choke when hearing the price tags embraced by team captains and members for a guaranteed supply of One Fly treasures. The event raises money for trout-involved conservation and also for creative fly-building entrepreneurs.
Furthermore, to be One Fly-approved, all patterns must be tied upon “barbless hooks” which in the past meant quality fly hooks with even the micro barbs bent down.
The emergence of specialty barbless competition hooks by Tiemco, Umpqua, Saber, Kona, Hanak, Firehole, outdates patterns tied on standard fly hooks.
Foam spoils floating
Put simply, the majority of floating fly patterns anymore employ some aspect of foam material in their construction. To improve a fly’s floating potential usually requires an entire body of one or more layers of colored foam or at least a micro foam underbody below dubbing of a standard dry.
The relentless buoyancy of these marvelous floating creations encourages the viral lazy angler trend of “power plop-casting.” Witnesses to the Snake’s daily boat parade are treated to endless examples of unsinkable foam flies (and inglorious strike indicators) gurgling back to the surface after being pounded 3 inches underwater on every downward cast.
That terminal situation creates a growth boom in casters that cannot hope to allow a Parachute Adams, Pale Morning Dun or Kaufmann Stimulator fly pattern to land delicately and float properly. Regardless of how well they’re constructed, standard flies can’t survive this latest foam-pounding tactic.
It’s tragic that, after forking over meaningful sums for custom secret flies, most end users of pricey bugs never test their treasures for balance, visibility and float-ability before competition morning.
The cumulative One Fly boating and guiding talent assembled on the Snake and South Fork is substantial. Yet those men and women are not magicians who can help their charges cast, see and manipulate fly patterns of which neither may be that familiar. Even the best-tied dry flies refuse to float regardless of gallon-applications of Aquel, Gink or Fly-Agra.
What’s worse is that a slight imbalance may prevent an untested contest fly from landing or riding properly. And despite the flytier’s promises and reputation, a new user unfamiliar with even the finest pedigreed fly pattern lacks inner confidence that accompany flies of proven personal track records.
Confidence is the most important lure or fly in every tackle box or vest.
No single fly tackle regimen surpasses the growing capacity of the latest leader materials. For example, reported strengths of some 3X (0.008-inch diameter) have increased from a once paltry 3-pound test to nearly 10-pound-test in the period of my memory. Abrasion resistance and knot strength of the newer polymers are nothing short of amazing. And neither are prices of those materials. Pairing compatible leader tippet diameter, length and knots to specific fly patterns are all factors that require careful attention.
One Fly morning sees contestants slapping on brand-new one-piece 7 1/2- or 9-foot leaders and attaching their secret pattern, with a favorite knot. Leaders and fly lines both need water immersion before they begin to work properly. Adding an untested fly to a brand-new leader is chancy, especially when the user is unfamiliar with any part of that duo.
Watch the knots
Better to attach a new leader a day or so earlier and test a variety of secret flies to insure proper tippet fit and fishing compatibility.
The biggest One Fly blunders consistently involve leader knots and lackadaisical users not cutting back and retying flies after every hour or so of rigorous casting. Experts and novices alike will continue to be victimized by this error.
“Don’t worry, Paul, this new leader material I’ve got is really tough” was the refrain I regularly received when suggesting a retie. Invariably I had to question, “Where is your fly?” more often than I ever wanted to.
Lengths and loops
By the time of the year that the One Fly arrives, everybody who has been fishing over the summer usually has decided on their favorite leader materials and tippets for specific-sized flies. Realistically, for most floating flies of size 10 and smaller a sturdy 3X leader with careful attention to retying is doable. Larger foam flies and streamers may earn 1X and 2X, depending on bulk and weight.
Long ago I discovered that my float fishing clients benefited from extra-diameter leader insurance achieved by incorporating a good loop knot. Looping 3X to small dries rather than 4X, still allowed them to float and swing naturally on the water but successfully permitted yanking them from adjacent brush. Using the same technique allowed beefy tippets to support large foam flies and bulky streamers.
All that was well and good until I apparently retied a bad loop in a Red Berrett’s Mutant Stone for Jerry Rankin and his fly disappeared right after lunch. Loop knots take care and patience and work especially well in solid monofilament material like Maxima. This German leader is the gold standard for larger patterns and especially with lead. It’s double tough.
Another memorable leader situation happened when Stephen Vletas joined me in the Snake River Canyon for an early One Fly trip.
“I’ve got our Westbank Anglers traditional Lime Trude or I tied a Muddler Minnow that I know you like down here,” Stephen began.
He felt the Muddler would probably stand up to canyon rocks and billowing whitewater we’d see. In the end I gave him a Jay Buchner-tied size 8 Muddler that I brought, just in case.
I shortened Stephen’s 9-foot, 2X leader substantially, and we fished hard for an hour with little to show. Something was wrong, and it wasn’t the angler’s fault. I added about 18 inches of 2X tippet, and suddenly cutthroat wouldn’t leave the Muddler alone. I’d trimmed the leader too short for the fly to swim properly.
A final One Fly day suggestion that pays big dividends for many friends and clients is that whenever the fly isn’t being cast, it should be firmly clenched in its angler’s hand. It’s hard to lose a fly when it’s safely in your fist.