Cognitive dissonance: My obsession with tying huge baitfish

I’ve been tying flies since I was twelve years old, and haven’t gotten much better since.

I started tying as a kid in Ohio at an Orvis shop in the middle of nowhere. It was on the way to my dad’s fishing buddy’s house, and my dad, brother and I stopped in out of curiosity one day.

Soon after, my brother and I started taking fly tying classes at this random fly shop, literally hundreds of miles from any trout stream.

Frank, the old guy who owned the place, had fly fished all over the world, and somehow wound up with a fly shop in Ohio, a german wirehaired pointer, and a huge library of fly fishing books.

A younger guy named John who dressed like an English professor taught the fly tying classes and he smoked a pipe. I still get nostalgic at the smell of dubbing wax, head cement and pipe smoke.

My dad wasn’t much interested in fly fishing, but he took my brother and I to these fly tying classes every week and watched us struggle over wooly worms or big spindly monstrosities that were supposed to be dry flies. I’m sorry to say, my dries pretty much look the same now as they did then.

I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but somewhere during the fly tying lessons the focus shifted to stacked deer hair bass bugs, which surprisingly turned out better than our trout imitations.

At twelve and nine years old, Nate and I were stacking and shaving up passible deer hair divers. My guess is that Larry Dahlberg’s earliest fly fishing for pike videos were what pushed us over the edge. See, my brother and I were destined to tie big bugs.

It’s not that I can’t tie small trout flies at all. I can stock a fly box with passable soft hackles or possie buggers. Or even simple dries, like a deer-hair wing sparkle dun — I can manage them if I stick to the pattern, trying a few dozen over the course of a few nights, and the last six will look slightly pregnant, but fishable.

But when I’m tying big bugs — giant streamers for trips far off in the future for fish that probably don’t care about what they eat , so long as it’s slightly smaller than them and moving — I’m in my element. I’d even say masterful.

I can experiment with materials, techniques and colors, and even my most impressionistic bizarre patterns at least look like something I did on purpose.

But this causes cognitive dissonance. I tie giant streamers because I like them, but should be tying trout flies because I need them.

I’ll spend a week on the vise cranking out purplish perch-shaped baitfish, and someone comes in the shop and says “The BWOs are going off!” and I’ve got a dozen barracuda baits.

Writing this now, I’m coming off a couple weeks at the vise tying trout flies and I’ve got a fly box full of nymphs, inadvertently crippled march browns, green caddis tied by friends, and golden stones tied by kids in Asia. So I’m covered through spring.

But I’m not done tying, so I’m going back to the big baits, experimental shad patterns tied with silvery nutria fur and yak wool. We’ve got plans to fish some Pacific NW tiger muskies in Central Washington, Pike in Idaho this summer — so the bait can at least see a little action.

But I’m still trying to figure out what to do if I decide to follow my gut and keep tying giant baitfish patterns. I mean, how many can I use? Leave me your suggestions in the comments. -MS

This entry was posted in Fly Tying. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Cognitive dissonance: My obsession with tying huge baitfish

  1. Simon Graham says:

    I know how you feel.Have been tying like a madman this week for the spring time here on the Baltic sea off Finland’s west coast. Its been a long winter and am itching to get stuck into some Northern Pike here.
    Nice read anyway

  2. Keep tying giant baitfish patterns and sending them East

  3. Rob Lewis says:

    I’m sure we can coax something in Oregon to eat your large streamers Matt! So keep on tying!


  4. Stevie says:

    Toss one in the Met.

  5. Daniel says:

    I am also infactuated with tying giant flies. Up river from me there is a hatchery who on fridays plant 14″ rainbows. These fish are distributed throughout the lake where the hatchery is located. Well this part of the U.S has the largest concentration of 40lb+stripers in the west. These stripers feed on these trout as they venture out into the lake and since I noticed this even I have been developing a very long rainbow trout imitation to fish for these stripers. When I get them made I plan to go fishing on Friday and use a floating line I have a 13wt with a GLoomis IM6 graphite 12- 13 wt and the reel is a Finor#4. This fishing outfit is overkill but if I plan on casting these very large flies I will need to use it. the flies body is going to be made of holographic pearl tinsel that I purchased from Walmart several years ago after the holiday.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *