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> > Realism or Impressionism?

Summer_dougFebruary 8th, 2018, 3:38 am
Detroit, MI

Posts: 56
Hello all,

I am new to tying flies, but I am quickly discovering its addictive qualities. With two young ones, I only find time to tie one or two at a time in between naps or after bedtime (at that point I'm usually too exhausted to tie!).

Anyways, I was wondering if I could start a debate in the hopes of stealing some of your knowledge. If you had to pick tying realistic flies or those that are more impressionistic, which would you prefer to tie? I understand situations dictate these choices, but I'm interested nonetheless.

Also, if forced to rank by importance the qualities of flies, where would proportion, profile, color, overall size, or other characteristics fall in your estimation?

From Michigan
TaxonFebruary 8th, 2018, 4:01 am
Site Editor
Plano, TX

Posts: 1337
Hi Doug-

The answer to your question depends on what you intend to do with the flies you tie. If your intent is to fish with them, then impressionist is certainly the way to go.
Best regards,
Roger Rohrbeck
PaulRobertsFebruary 8th, 2018, 6:48 am

Posts: 1776
I love Roger's answer. There's a lot underneath that.

I've written quite a bit on this on here. Wish I had the time to go back and dig them up. I suppose a number of my posts on tying address this at some level. Nearly all my own ties are self-designed. I'm not afraid of those fish.

In short, flies do not look, or maybe more importantly, behave, the same to the fish as they do to us. If you can give the appropriate impression to the fish, and add some nifty eye-candy realism, great! Best of both worlds.

Fly designing works this way: Have an epiphany, whip something up that gets your adrenaline flowing. Throw it on/in the water. Woooops! Water and air are different mediums. Hmmmmm.... back to the drawing board. Repeat. Perseverance, with a borderline-healthy splash of obsession, replaces adrenaline. Until... you hit the holy grail. Yes, it will happen; More and more as you gain experience with this process. The result is... something better and much longer lasting than adrenaline -whatever it is that underlies pride and satisfaction. Serotonin perhaps?

Some more direct practical advice: After you have presentation down pat (no small challenge), flies matter. It's not all how it looks as much as the mental impression it gives the fish, and water conditions weigh in heavy. In broken water, say, fish are easier to fool (for a number of reasons). In flat calm water fish are much more difficult to fool (for a number of reasons). I have a post on here in the Fishing Reports section in which I -as I remember it- fish a more "impressionistic" pattern (quick-n-dirty tie) in the turbulent areas of that mountain stream. But I have to switch to a more realistic "impression" to get fish to complete their rises in the flatter spots. Some of those were small -some fishers might have overlooked the difference- but gave the trout more time for a better look.

I'm a versatile mutli-species kind of guy, and I find the same thing with other species too. Even in stillwater.

How "realistic" does a fly ever need to be? That's still an open question. But realism to the fish is what matters, and theres some work required to start chipping away at that. Enjoy it. It's great work. :)

Hope this helps get you pointed in the right direction.
Summer_dougFebruary 8th, 2018, 9:14 am
Detroit, MI

Posts: 56
I really appreciate both answers!

Thanks for the in-depth response, Paul. I especially enjoyed reading, "Fly designing works this way: Have an epiphany, whip something up that gets your adrenaline flowing. Throw it on/in the water. Woooops! Water and air are different mediums. Hmmmmm.... back to the drawing board. Repeat. Perseverance, with a borderline-healthy splash of obsession, replaces adrenaline."

I actually started tying flies before I ever had the chance to fly fish. For a project, I was tasked with learning a new skill and, for some reason, fly tying spoke to me. I stumbled upon tying some flying ants (which really looked nothing like ants) and the first trout I ever caught was on that crazy pattern.

Since then, the borderline obsession has been growing! With that, I have noticed all of these fancy flies, but, in my very limited experience, it has actually been some of the more basic flies which have brought the most fish. Reading the foam hopper vs. natural hopper discussion really pushed me to think more about what qualities a fly should have.

With the crazy snow we are getting, I am now excited to hit the vise!
From Michigan
PaulRobertsFebruary 8th, 2018, 9:55 am

Posts: 1776
Ah! This thread is well timed, a great way to usher in the cabin fever season.

BTW: You can get a jump on water testing ideas in the bathtub. ;)
MartinlfFebruary 8th, 2018, 10:08 am
Palmyra PA

Posts: 3173
For some more information on the realism/impressionism question, you might look at Lloyd Gonzales book, Lloyd ties some relatively realistic ties, but he always field tests them to be sure they make a good impression. I have tied and fished some of his flies, and like them generally, but I'm too lazy to fish them exclusively. However, I learned a lot from the book, and it sparked my own ideas more than once. By the way Paul has some amazing ties; I'll try to find them and bump them up.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
MartinlfFebruary 8th, 2018, 10:11 am
Palmyra PA

Posts: 3173
OK, they were in photobucket and have expired. Perhaps Paul will repost with a little prompting. If he has time.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
PaulRobertsFebruary 8th, 2018, 1:08 pm

Posts: 1776
Yeah, Photobucket suddenly decided that being a free site with ads just wasn't lucrative enough. And, maybe it wasn't. So, they surprised us all with a $500 fee to keep our pages open. Wonder how that'll work out for them. Felt kind of like ransom to me. But I wasn't that heavily invested, so I opted out.

Shame not to have images with my posts. If posts come up that need images I'll re-post images.

WbranchFebruary 8th, 2018, 3:58 pm
York & Starlight PA

Posts: 2727
Very annoying about how Photobucket now does not permit 3rd party sharing of photographs. That was the primary reason I had my Photobucket account so I could DL pics from there to fly fishing forums. It was though a nuisance to use and very slow. I still have all the originals on my PC and backed up on an external hard drive. However it isn't very easy to DL big mega pixel files to fly fishing forums that typically don't allow pictures larger than 300K.
Catskill fly fisher for fifty-five years.
PaulRobertsFebruary 8th, 2018, 5:42 pm

Posts: 1776
For posting, I re-size them to 800pixels wide, and then rename them with an "800" -like, X 800.jpg.

I've always kept good track of my images, bc I've always loved photography. And I've been at it for a long time. I still have archive discs in CD and Zip Drive. Got rid of the 3.5, and 5.25's a while back now. :) But I still have an old print album, and binders full of 35mm slides that, some day, I'll go through and digitize. To handle my video work now... wow, I'm using a 2TB internal drive, an 8TB (RAID 0) external "working" drive, and a 16TB (RAID 5/"mirrored") external "archive" drive. And still it's possible to lose stuff. What kills me is, those old prints will most probably outlast all the digital stuff.

TimCatFebruary 8th, 2018, 6:26 pm
Alanson, MI

Posts: 121
Hey Doug! 313!

I remember a few years ago after my first summer fly fishing, I was so itching to get out during the winter here in Michigan. I couldn't wait for spring. I also lived in your neck of the woods during that time. I read a book by Bob Wyatt that winter called "What Trout Want: The educated Trout and Other Myths".

I don't want to go into details or the debate too much. But I recommend it. It will also give you some confidence with tying your own flies. I don't care how bad you are, if you can present it ok, you'll at least do ok! I suck at fly tying. I can make decent comparaduns, decent pheasant-tails, and decent soft-hackle spiders. That's basically all I fish for trout. Seriously. I just have different sizes, and some slight color variations.

My own personal opinions of importance:

1)presentation (drift/depth/movement)
4)every other detail...

Hungry fish eat things.
Scared fish don't.

"If I'm not going to catch anything, then I 'd rather not catch anything on flies" - Bob Lawless
PaulRobertsFebruary 9th, 2018, 5:04 am

Posts: 1776
"Hungry fish eat things.
Scared fish don't."

No argument there! :)

I haven't read Wyatt's book, only excerpts from it. He's on to something, but how much explanatory power it has -how far it goes- is the next question. Guess I'm going to have to read it.
WiflyfisherFebruary 10th, 2018, 3:24 am

Posts: 649
"What The Trout Said" by Datus Proper is an excellent book and worth a read.

Behavior, size, shape, color

All that matters is what the trout think and we have been debating that for centuries. :-)
John S.
Summer_dougFebruary 11th, 2018, 5:37 am
Detroit, MI

Posts: 56
Thanks for all the recommendations! I’ll check out those books too - anything to get through winter. I’m getting very anxious for nicer weather and risers but here in Michigan that’s months away!

In this dead period, of sorts, I’ve also picked up supplies to build a fiberglass rod. My first attempted build.

From Michigan
WbranchFebruary 11th, 2018, 7:35 am
York & Starlight PA

Posts: 2727
Hi Summer_doug,

In this dead period, of sorts, I’ve also picked up supplies to build a fiberglass rod. My first attempted build.

I have built dozens of fiberglass and graphite fly rods over the years and if you have any building, wrapping, or finishing questions you can ask me anytime.


Catskill fly fisher for fifty-five years.
Summer_dougFebruary 12th, 2018, 2:21 am
Detroit, MI

Posts: 56
Thanks so much Matt. I'm sure I'll have some questions to pick your brain once I obtain everything I need. I'm going lightweight, either a 2 or a 3 weight, for some farm pond panfish and small Au Sable trout in the summer.

If I go lightweight should I wrap with thread size A?

Thanks again for your willingness to help!

From Michigan
Jmd123February 12th, 2018, 11:34 am
Oscoda, MI

Posts: 2545
Impressionism - most definitely! Impressionist flies are simpler and easier to tie than exact imitations, and since they generally work just as well, that's what I stick with. My favorite flies to tie and fish with are the simpler patterns, as you can tie a lot of them quickly and lose them just as quickly without getting too upset...or feeling like you've wasted too much time at the tying bench to have that magnificent imitation you just created get stuck in a tree on your very first cast!!

Re: Elkhair Caddis, Adams, Joe's Hopper, my KBF, most Catskill-style dries, etc. None of these look exactly like what they're supposed to represent but the give the fish enough cues to get them to want to taste it! Of course, that brings me to a question about my hopper imitations: do fish eat them because they really think they ARE hoppers, or is it just the action (I almost always twitch them) or the fact that they have red and yellow in them? The fish won't tell me...and if they did talk, all they would say is, "Put me back in the water you idiot! I'M SUFFOCATING!!!"


P.S. Welcome Michigan Boy!!!!
No matter how big the one you just caught is, there's always a bigger one out there somewhere...
PaulRobertsFebruary 12th, 2018, 1:56 pm

Posts: 1776
do fish eat them because they really think they ARE hoppers, or is it just the action (I almost always twitch them) or the fact that they have red and yellow in them?

Well, I have seen enough of what I feel I can call evidence, or robust observations, to believe that trout can recognize certain food items.

Jonathan's post reminds me of a great bite on the Hammersley in C PA. I was spin-fishing with spinners (Mepps, PM, etc...) and there's often a good bite fishing this way if you are adept with them. It didn't take long to realize that the PM with the bright yellow tail fly was special to those trout. As soon as the little yellow tailed lure hit the water, trout would rush to grab it. They didn't stay in their lanes, they came running -and some were "big ones" (The Hammersley is a little creek). We kept several to eat for the evenings and I killed one large brown -a 14"er- that had a cut gill. All had little fluorescent green inchworms in them, the 14er was nearly packed. They knew what they were looking for.

This type of thing has happened enough times for me to firmly believe that trout can develop a powerful search image.
WbranchFebruary 12th, 2018, 5:41 pm
York & Starlight PA

Posts: 2727

If I go lightweight should I wrap with thread size A?

I have never used a thread heavier than size A in all my years of rod building, even on rods as heavy as line weight #10. If you were building really heavy blue water fly rod for a #12 and heavier line weight and big strippers and snakes, or all ring guides, you might want to use size D winding thread.

Do you have a thread spool tensioner? It is a gadget where you mount your thread and it has a spring with a wing nut and you can loosen, or tighten, the wing nut to control thread tension. It clamps to your work table.

When I didn't have one I would get a stack of hard cover books and put the thread with the middle of the bottom book and add books on top to provide more weight (tension) then you put the spool into a coffee cup so it doesn't unravel and get out of control as you wind the guides on.

Once you start the thread wrap the faster you rotate the rod blank then nicer the wraps will lay down. I always wrap so the thread is on a slight angle away from the blank. Kind of hard to explain. Instead of the thread coming off perpendicular to the blank it is on an angle. That is how I did it maybe you will develop your own tricks.

Like I said if you have any questions you can send me a PM and I will try an answer it for you. I strongly recommend you getting a rod building book like this little paperback by Flex-Coat "Start to Finish Fly Rod Building".
Catskill fly fisher for fifty-five years.
Summer_dougFebruary 15th, 2018, 3:51 am
Detroit, MI

Posts: 56
P.S. Welcome Michigan Boy!!!!

Thanks! If you ever want to join a quick trip to the Rifle (I have a soft spot for this river) or Au Sable, I'll let you know when I'm heading up. Always looking to form new friendships over fishing.

From Michigan

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