Adding Triggers to Fly Patterns: Subliminal Messaging for Trout

Updated: 3 days ago

If you look at the majority of fly patterns fished throughout the western United States, you have to admit they are mostly designed for specific tasks. We've embraced the challenge of trying to develop flies that look exceedingly realistic to specific stream-side insects. The armada of PMD imitations are all focused on looking like PMDs and not much else. Most caddis patterns are meant for caddis hatches, etc...

Now compare this approach to the Euro-nymphing world where precise imitations aren't the preferred approach to fly-tying. Euro nymphs embrace nondescript, albeit sometimes flashy, generalizations. The focus is squarely set on the weight of your flies and their presentation; a stark contrast to what I see as the accepted western method of identifying and mimicking insects that are active in the water system that you're fishing. Obviously, this is not always true; we do fish attractors out west, but generally, the focus is on matching the hatches. But is hatch-matching more productive than flashy attractors? Well, you don't see the competition guys trying to excessively match hatches — they carry a broad swath of flies for all situations.

I'm sure by now you've seen plenty of jigged Euro-nymphs across Instagram or in fly shops. Like me, you've also probably thought, "How the hell do these catch fish?!" But, is it possible we western US anglers are so steeped in "match the hatch" lore, that we've forgotten how to broadly instigate trout takes?

You might be reading this and thinking that I'm nuts, but think about this:

You're on the stream bank and notice caddis flies bouncing on the water's surface and in the stream-side vegetation. So you grab an Elk Hair Caddis to match the hatch. You catch fish, possibly quite a few, which reinforcing your belief that the Elk Hair Caddis works well during a caddis hatch. DUH! Then, next time you're fishing and there are no caddis flying about, you might not reach for the Elk Hair Caddis. But, can you honestly tell me that the Elk Hair Caddis is a realistic caddis impersonation? Seen from below, I'd argue that an Elk Hair could be used for many different situations. Interestingly, the Adams was originally tied as a caddis imitation. I bet you mainly fish it for mayflies now though... But we are so ingrained in assigning certain patterns specific roles that we forget about the general "buggy-ness" that entices trout in the first place.

This scenario explains how we've become overrun with fly patterns to consider. Too many different patterns have been developed and broadcast for specific imitations of specific insects, even for specific rivers. On any fishing report, you'll see a dozen recommended patterns and only know half of them by name. Then compare those recommended flies to another site, my guess is that you'll see a dozen completely differently named patterns for the same stretch of water. Yet, i