Fly Fishing: Natural Flies
Entomology Related to Angling
For hundreds of years fly-fishing in Britain was an elementary sport, in that anglers were aware of only two or three of the commoner water-flies. By about 1850 observation, experiment, and the development of the fly-dressing art had extended the original few flies to well over a dozen.
The early fly-dressers, having the acuteness to realize that they couldn’t imitate the natural exactly, used their wits and dexterity in order to simulate or suggest. Towards the end of the last century, however, new influences spread from the southern chalk-streams. Pocket-lenses, manuals of entomology, and tools for removing the contents of a fish’s stomach became part of the angler’s kit. Every known water-fly was catalogued and artificials were produced aiming at exact duplication.
Today, the tide has long turned. Although entomology for its own sake is an interesting hobby it is rather pointless to mix it up too much with fishing. Minute knowledge of every stage of each insect’s life-cycle is not an indispensable requirement for the catching of fish. Some of us feel that the schools of exact imitation of the last century were really cults of bluff and magic designed to impress the uninitiated. To that extent they did real harm by frightening many people away from fly-fishing.
Some good, however, did come out of this excursion into the study of water-flies. Anglers gained a clearer image of how insects live and develop. The fanatical collection of specimens showed that many flies vary widely, even among individuals of the same species, which of course made exact imitation even more fatuous. In reaction, most common-sense anglers took to using artificials which suggested an average fly of any given species. Thus was the bubble of exact imitation pricked.
Flies of River and Stream
It is a traditional, and sound, practice for anglers to fish differing flies according to the month. In the past, Welsh anglers used to differ their patterns according to which wild flowers were in bloom. This was good reasoning because the flowering of plants is a much surer guide to the weather than a date on the almanac, as we know to our cost in Britain’s climate. Like plants, flies need moisture and warmth.
Some anglers and writers use the Latin names of natural flies for more exact identification. Although essential for scientific purposes, this practice can easily become pedantic, and a pedantic fly-fisher is well on the way to becoming a bore.
The flies of chief interest to river anglers divide into four groups :