In the second part of Ted Gordon's seminal article on flies, he talks about many important developments, particularly as they concern trying to break away from the mold of English flies because although so many insects in America resemble British counterparts, they are different in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I also found of great interest his discussion on fish hooks.
One day last June I would have (cheerfully) paid $2 for just one more fly. I had tied only one, as I fancied it too dark for the season, and the hackles were too rare to waste. However, there was a tremendous rise of these dark caddis flies. Many were hatching out. while older insects were laying eggs and doing stunts in the air over the water. All the water and the air over it seemed full of excitement and the trout were crazy. I broke my hook in extracting it from the hard roofing of a big trout's mouth, and there I was, with the fish rising under my nose. I tried pattern after pattern and did kill one trout with a very dark hare's ear, but that was all. I put on the broken fly by way of experiment and rose six large fish one after another. We do not have these opportunities often in a season. but I shall not stock up with this fly. Its period is too short, as next day the show of fly was not great, and I had difficulty in finding the good fish. They had dropped down on to the shallow water while I was patiently fishing the pools. However, I found them before dusk and killed three, every one of which made a grand rush for his pool the instant he felt the book. After leaving the water the dun (sub-imago) does not move about much after finding a good resting place, sheltered from the wind and sun until it undergoes the transfiguration into a spinner, or perfect insect of the Ephemeridae, and the latter will often remain at rest for a day or two.
I have had them under observation at large and also in boxes. The caddis flies are perfect insects when they rise from the water and the stone flies remain among the stones for some time while growing their wings. Many queer insects appear from time to time, but they are not usually of importance to the angler. If he fishes at night he may want a few big flies. The moths and large brown caddis flies are often about, but for daylight work rather small flies usually kill best. On the high water, when the trout had fed well, I made the mistake of fishing flies too large and lost a couple of fine fish by it. I discovered that the trout were not hooking well and changed to much smaller flies with satisfactory results. The fish were probably a bit shy and indifferent, as the first conspicuous fly put up was refused by two trout. Yet many had been taken with the same pattern earlier. When the stone flies are growing wings, one may find the trout close in shore in water that will scarcely cover them. When a man takes to the floating fly, it is well for him to have had much experience of wet-fly fishing, not only with lures, but with small imitations of nature. He will not be apt to affect or feel superiority, as he knows that there is a science of the wet-fly as well as of the dry.
Big trout are at times averse to breaking the surface, and ill waters where they feed almost entirely upon minnows, the floater may only tempt the small fish. A man who confines himself to fly-fishing on free waters should be proficient with the wet, dry and even the sunk fly. If there are very big trout about, you want one of them, and there is this to be said for the artificial purist. He develops all that is inherent in the fly. Small wet flies and imitation of the nymphs are being used to some extent on the chalk streams of England; the home of the dry-fly for a great many years. If the trout are feeding just under the surface upon immature insects, why not meet them there? The larva and remains of grub cases will often be found in their stomachs. We fish the dry-fly because it is most interesting, not because [it is] superior. There have been some wonderfully clever men with the wet-fly. If a man is excited when casting a dry-fly to a large trout, he is apt to strike too quickly and too hard, pull the fly away from the fish, or leave it in its mouth. Fine gut will not endure being jerked, yet will bear a steady strain.
Fishermen should be considerate of each other and remember that other men are following them. On a big stream in a full water the trout are not so easily seared, and I have had a good day after nine men had preceded me, but a careless or indifferent angler can spoil sport for hours on low water or in a small stream.
We are greatly interested at present in the problem of providing sport on free waters for the rapidly growing army of anglers. Much can be done by restocking with fingerlings or larger trout, but probably still more by saving the streams of rapid descent, checking the terrific forces of the water and rolling stones in time of flood, and providing safe harbors with deep waters for the larger trout during long drouths. If this work is skillfully done, the cost need not be very great. Trout can go without food for a considerable time, but feed freely when the water rises. In floating flies much depends upon a well-shaped hook, and for small flies nothing seems to be better than the Hall. Big hooks may spoil sport when not well taken, and with tiniest midge hooks one is apt to miss or scratch a good many fish. I have fussed over hooks for many years and spent time and more cash than I should in the pursuit of perfect hooks, only to arrive at tile conclusion that several bends are good when well made. Also that fine wired hooks are best for fine fishing in a low water, but that stout wires are required where the trout run large. On the back cast the fly is moving at high speed, and any hook may be broken if it touches a hard object. Plenty of expensive salmon flies have been ruined in this way, even when dressed in the heaviest O'Shaughnessy or Pennell hooks.
While we have a wonderful variety in insect life, and many more large flies than are found on English waters, we also have many flies that approximate British species in size and color. For instance, we have lovely little red spinners, jenny spinners, yellow and blue duns, big spring browns and many others. We have whacking big red spinners and many caddis flies different from any described by English writers. Even when one finds insects that are very similar in size and color, they are not quite the same.
I found a lot of small Ephemeridae that appeared to be dull Jenny spinners, but saw that they were duns (sub-imagos). After shedding their coats they appeared as lonely little spinners with clear glassy wings. The markings at the tail end and thorax were similar to the English Jenny. A similar but larger fly had only a touch of color below the wings.
When insects are plentiful upon the water or have been so recently, imitation may be of great importance, but when the trout are in position to feed, they may be quite ready to accept any natural appearing fly if it is presented attractively. Theories are interesting, but of little value unless they have been tested on the stream. We can theorize as much as we please and fish as much as we are able during many years, but there is always something new to learn; some fresh difficulty to be conquered.
-- Dr. Todd