by Scott Sadil
About the time I concoct my own variation on Del Brown’s old yet timeless permit fly, and it looks so good I consider naming it the N2MNG, short for No More Mister Nice Guy, I figure it might also be time I take a break from the vise.
After all, even though I’m headed to Belize, I have no idea if crab patterns really work, what one bonefish fly has to recommend it over another, or why a fly to throw in front of a tarpon should look any different from what you would cast to a roosterfish.
Shows you what I know.
To set the record straight: I’ve never done any kind of genuine flats fishing. I catch plenty of small bonefish in Baja California’s Magdalena Bay, but those fish are usually hooked when I’m swinging and stripping minnow patterns in the troughs formed by tidal currents, where I’m just as apt to catch corvina or halibut or broomtail grouper. I also have stories about genuine Pacific permit – but, again, these fish are caught while fishing “blind” in likely water, in this case a deep channel, right against shore, with Clouser-type flies pitched up-current and allowed to sink and creep through the trough, sort of like high-stick nymphing.
In fact, the only true sight fishing I do in and around Mag Bay is for roosterfish charging through the surf, a kind of wild, hyper-athletic style of fishing that seems as far removed from bonefish and permit on the flats as fishing for Alaska rainbows with flesh flies is from casting to resident browns sipping mayflies on the River Tweed.
But what do I know?
When I find a ride offshore, of course, there are usually dorado to spot and cast to – and, no doubt, striped marlin, now and then, if you are so inclined.
My point is, however, it can get kind of whacky tying flies for fishing you’ve never done before, especially if you’re the kind of tyer who easily grows bored following someone else’s patterns, who just can’t bring himself or herself to crank out a dozen identical examples, no matter how many times you were told, by those in the know, that this is absolutely the pattern everyone uses who catches fish at the lodge.
But what about this?
I recall with deep fondness what it was like, way back when, tying flies for the Baja surf. We didn’t have anybody in front of us. Most everything written about saltwater fly fishing came from Florida and the East Coast; about all we gathered was the importance of putting together a lineup of Lefty’s Deceivers. Finally, however, we stumbled upon a copy of Russell Chatham’s Striped Bass on the Fly, published in 1977, the first thing we read that offered genuine insights into what it was like to fish in the Pacific surf, as well as giving us permission, so to speak, to tie whatever moved us, as it was clear that the fly on the end of your line was the last thing that really mattered.
I still sort of feel that way. Which is saying something for a writer with a new book of fly patterns and tying instructions on its way. So be it. Yet I just can’t believe, deep down, that it’s going to be my fly that’s the problem when I send the bonefish scurrying, when my cast makes a permit vanish as though somebody switched off the camera and then turned it back on again, a jump cut that finds us staring suddenly at an empty screen.
But I have to say, my crab patterns are looking good: subtle, seductive, sublime. My Crazy Charlies and Sili-Legged Gotchas? Dialed. The Fleeing Shrimp is right up there with my own Surf Shrimp, although maybe it needs a little more sparkle in the body to give it just the right touch of fear pulsating through the critter’s veins, a sure trigger to a fish’s impulse to strike.
Or at least the right yumminess to prompt me to tie it to the end of my line.
Gray’s Angling Editor Scott Sadil has trouble imagining how much time in his life he’s spent at a fly-tying vise, much less the reason why.