In essence the artificial fly is an illusion that, coupled with the technique of fishing, will hopefully deceive a fish to take it. I, for one, have never been of the mind that three tails, six legs, and various other adornments, not to mention close copy imitations, will result in more effective fish catching fly patterns. In fact l would go so far as to say you will be barking up the wrong tree if you follow that train of thought too closely.
All tied fishing flies, no matter how great of a representation they are of the fly tier's art, or how scruffy they look, will at some time or other catch a fish. The regularity that they do so is the crux of the matter at the end of the day. Even a bare hook can be used to deceive a fish at times! If you form a more generalized view of food forms available to the fish, and those that the fish is more likely to see on a regular daily basis, and couple that with artificial fished in the correct manner, then you will almost certainly catch a great many fish.
There are, of course, times that various food forms are more abundant such as specific hatches, terrestrials, and so on, that it makes sense to fish such fly patterns that represent those food forms at that time, though not always. Take a look at this scenario. If, for example, you well know that a large abundance of scuds exist in a given body of water, then it makes sense to fish an artificial that represent this food source. A bright pink yellow scud is by no means a representation of a natural, as those colors do not exist in naturals, but they may well catch you fish. As a general rule of thumb artificial of this kind will have a very inconsistent rate of success.
The irony is that you never really know how many fish actually see your fly when you are fishing. It is a percentages game. You may catch 1 in 5, 1 in 10, who knows. The only real exception to that is sight fishing to a fish you can see. You will clearly see what is going on, and can alternate accordingly to deceive that fish or not.
I have had more than 45 years of my life fishing around the world for trout and have learned a number of lessons that l will never forget. The first is that there is no such word as never when it comes to catching fish, like no fish is ever going to take that, or that will not work and so on. You will likely be proved wrong. The next is this, never ever become stereotype in your approach to catching fish.
I will never forget the time l was fishing on Loch Corrib, a huge limestone lake found on the west coast of Ireland, way back in the 1960s period. Fish were seen rising all over the lake to the Danica mayfly. l cast all manner of artificial that to my eyes would do the trick. Not an offer did l get. Within sight of me was a fellow in a boat catching fish on a regular basis.
As you would guess l managed to catch up with this fellow as he started to leave the lake and asked him what he was using to catch those fish. He had a great bag of wild browns some of which were in the 3 to 5 lb class. To say the least l was amazed when he showed me what he had taken those fish on, and he gave me some of those flies. To my eyes they bore no resemblance at all to the naturals by way of size, color and all else you can think of. To the fish's eye they looked good and that is the simple reason why they took them.
From that day on the lesson l learned well is that you never know how a fish sees what it does. The flies that he used are known as traditional style wet flies. Patterns that had been around for a very long time but more to the point, those that deceived the eyes of a Brown trout, no rainbows to be found in these lakes.
There are, of course, other factors that come into the act of deception to catching fish. One of the most important of those is the interference of man and his methods, which will inevitably cause the fish to become used to over a period of time. Take for example the White river in Arkansas where l guide. I know the river well and know how to find fish in any given water level that exists at that time.
Take one of the White River trophy zones for example. I know for a fact that in certain zones a great many fish are to be found, related to depth, current seams, and other influential factors. If you are the first to fish the zone you will do well but even then the catch rate will slow down. Therefore, you will need to change tactics a number of times to maintain a catch rate, likewise the flies that you are using. Once fish have become aware of your routine you will not catch them so easily if at all. I firmly believe that fish have some means of communication, and to a large extent that factor has been proven in scientific tests.
One prime example of that would be this. A number of fish that can be seen are given an item that resembles a food source, one that they would naturally reject. Not all those fish will check it out. At first a number will, and very quickly, become disinterested. Within a very short period of time the rest of the fish will totally ignore the same item without having touched it. Trout in the stream or lake will do exactly the same thing. If you think otherwise then you are kidding yourself.
You will have to change your means of deception and illusion to get some further interest, but the fly is not always the answer to success. The continual means of fishing in the same manner will also wise up those fish. For example dead drifting over the same zone, swinging wet flies or streamers will likewise keep those fish tuned in to your game.
A case in point. A friend and l were fishing a larger reservoir in the UK. At the time a great emergence of large chironomids was taking place. The water was subject to great fishing pressure from fly fishers using floating line tactics fishing chironomid pupa. The normal way would be either to cast out and allow wind and wave to move the artificial, or to recover the fly back very slowly to ward you. To say the least the hook ups were slow. l know that the flies could be seen by those fish but, so too, were a number of other factors like leader material, surface wake, and so on.
If you are fishing to a rise of surface feeding fish and catching nothing then you are either doing something wrong or the fish have wised up to what you are doing. The deception is not working. The option l chose at that time was to set up with a wet cel 1 slow sinker and fish a large black streamer lure called an ace of spades. Bingo! In as many casts l caught the legal limit of 8 trout, and so did my companion by the same means.
What possessed those fish to chase and take that fly that way, you tell me, when they could continue to head and tail and eat all the midge nymph they wanted. Show them something different. That’s the name of the game. It's a lesson l have learned well over the years.
Much of the fun of fly fishing is related to figuring out what to do in a given situation. Of course, years of experience will enable you to come to the conclusion of what to do by a process of elimination. Even the best of us will still be caught out at times. My advice to you is to always keep a open mind. Most of the time there is a answer to be found, if you have the time under the prevailing conditions.
Simple things like changing the tippet size, changing the fly to a smaller or larger, fishing a different way, changing your angle of approach say from upstream to across or down. Showing the fish your offering a different way can often be the answer. So, too, taking time out on the bank, giving the fish a rest period, is something l will do often, particularly when after a trophy or in smaller confined fishing zones.
Fly fishing is not an exact science and never will be. But, there is, overall, a qualified reasoning that you can approach any given situation. After all, remember, it is that act of an illusion and deception that fools the fish.
Tight lines for now.