Tying for the Moon

Alphlexo Crab

by Scott Sadil

I still remember, with a vividness I appreciate more each year, the first time I saw bugs on the water that matched flies I had tied without ever having seen the insects in question.

More telling, still, I was so new to the sport, and from such humble training, removed from the territory of trout and the waters in which they swim, that I couldn’t have told you the difference between a caddisfly, a mayfly, and a stonefly.  These were fly patterns, not actual insects—and when I first began to tie flies, in anticipation of fishing new places, it was all an abstraction, sort of like thinking about sex, as a grade-schooler, without really knowing how it all went together.    

Take your pick

That was a long time ago.

Yet even today, preparing to head off into the unknown, I often find myself tying patterns meant to represent bugs or other critters I’ve never seen before, relying on online videos or word of mouth to fashion “killer” flies that can seem more pipe dream than plausible fare.  Believe me, I’ll try anything.  But when it comes to patterns that prescribe the exact size and color of the eyes of a crab I can only picture in my dreams, I feel myself beginning to resist, wondering about the diversity of life, the adaptive range of any species, and how kids in a high school English class, say, will display a spectrum of attributes and characteristics as broad as though exhibited by different breeds of dogs.

(“I didn’t call you dogs,” I used to tell my students.  “I said you were like dogs.”)  

Still, I do like to tie before I set off to new places, especially in search of new or, for me, unusual species.  I’m amused, as well, by my selection process, based on—what?  Fifty years of tying will shape and affirm prejudices, a sense of what’s necessary and what’s not, while also pointing out, over the decades, that new patterns and new materials can, on occasion, make a world of difference.