I am sure its a stage many new fly tiers go through… The imagination runs wild, new fantastical, weird, ugly and downright strange patterns fly off the vice one after the other. No two flies alike, the unconstrained imagination of the newly minted artist, excited at the world of possibilities now open to them. As time goes by, this revelry in the new and wanton disregard for “patterns” fades. The realisation that most of your fantastic creations aren’t all that fantastic. The proportions are out, it doesn’t swim like it should, or more simply, it doesn’t catch fish. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes one of your weird and wonderful creations catches fish, maybe just maybe one of them deserves a place in your fly box alongside more proven patterns. There is a catch though, you only have one of them and you’ll be hard pressed to remember how to tie that one in 100 pattern that worked again once you get back home.
As time goes by, less and less of these patterns hit the water, they retreat to cold, not often seen corners of draws and boxes. Sometimes if you run out of hooks you will find them, maybe reclaim a few with a razor. Sometimes, one of the many creations catches your eye. The thought runs through your head “that one actually has potential” and for a while it gets a run in your box. However, the tying focus has changed, now its about slavishly re-creating “old” patterns, patterns that work, that have been tested by thousands of anglers. Repeatability becomes the aim, not indulging the wild half mad wanderings of the imagination. Tying 5 or 10 of the same fly and trying to get them as the same as possible provides a far far sterner challenge.
It is at this stage that I find my fly tying. While I am still pretty rubbish, I’ve moved from mad creation to trying to gradually improve and tie actual working repeatable flies. For most of the 8 or so months I have been tying flies I have been a fantasy fly tier. My imagination has run wild and its been fun- but its time to kick the addiction. It was a worthwhile endeavour (for a while), I learnt a lot about techniques, the limits of materials, but that was really about it. I long ago moved well and truly past the point where fantasy tying was doing my fly tying any good. For a long time now, its been holding me back.
What I am left with is a draw with all my failings. Looking through them is both joyful and just a little depressing. An air of lost innocence comes over me when I open the draw. “What might have been”. So recently, I have tried to kick the addiction to fantasy fly tying. I have started down the road of trying to tie repeatably and consistently. I’ve moved to far simpler patterns tied neatly and repeatedly over more complex patterns tied slap dash with improvisation abounding. When I do fantasy tie, I tie up at least half a dozen of the same pattern- which these days is usually a pretty conservative variation of a proven pattern anyway. If I am going to let my imagination run wild, I should at least have a few extras, just in case the fly is actually any good… Nowadays, I get far more joy out of getting half a dozen flies, even of the most simple pattern, coming off the vice as “indistinguishable” copies of each other. I still have a long way to go, but I am getting there. My flies are now more “boring” but they are getting a whole lot better. So even if I am a long way off being a competent fly tier, I am at least now on the right track. Seeing the incremental improvements in my flies each time I sit at the bench, doesn’t bring with it the joys of endless possibility that fantasy tying did, but it does provide the deeper, more lasting rewards of a job done “right”, of slowly improving, of creating something that is actually useful.
Hopefully, in a few years, when I can tie basic patterns well, I can return to fantasy tying, this time with a solid understanding of what I am actually doing, what I am trying to achieve. No longer a toddler excited by finger painting, this time as an “artist”, with vision and purpose. Creativity heightened by and not limited by constraints. One day…
So my advice to anyone starting out fly tying, go wild, fantasy tie for a week or two, maybe more, but remember, its a trap. Eventually you will need to kick the habit and learn what you should have at the beginning. The basics. I’ll leave you with a few more flies from my fantasy period- at the very least, some of them are good for a laugh.