Valuing the Old
Spend enough time observing the sport of fly fishing, and one starts to realize that while the gear and flies and tactics we use are always evolving, these evolutions are sometimes circular, rather than linear, leading us back to concepts and principles that had once been common decades or even centuries ago, but have since fallen out of usage.
An example of modernity echoing the past is “Euro nymphing” with thin monofilament line. The gear is twenty-first century, but other than relying on flies with superheavy titanium bead heads, it’s not much different than how Izaak Walton fished four hundred years ago with a long wooden rod and furled horsehair line. The basic approach then, as now, was to flick out a cast and then hold the rod upward at a steep angle, keeping the line off the water and taut to the fly.
The evolution of trout flies is another area where we seem to be coming back to principles that were in place long ago. After, oh, sixty years of “match the hatch” philosophy, when we focused on trying to imitate closely the appearance of the things fish feed upon, competition nymphers have recently been proving that a bit of bright, unnatural color in a fly pattern — a “hot spot” — will likely draw more hits than if a pattern is merely, dully, imitative. This isn’t much different than the practice from long ago of placing a tinsel tag or a bright wire rib on wet flies, and one can still buy old-timey patterns, in use for many decades (and thus presumably successful), that rely on nonbuggy colors such as red, orange, blue, or bright yellow.
This isn’t to say that improvements over time are irrelevant, only that we sometimes get caught up in the notion that what’s new is best. Perhaps keeping an open mind as to what works is the surest way to up our game as fly fishers. The dustbin of history can at times turn out to be a pretty rich compost pile.
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