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What is a fly, What is Lure?
By Richard Carter


Is the definition of a 'fly' based on historical reasons, the materials used, the prey source imitated or is it just a representation using inert materials of something alive or even inanimate? After that we have the question, why does a fish take a fly? Any answer of mine to those questions will definitely cause a few ruffled feathers. So I will not attempt to give them a definitive answer. I don't think anybody has them - unless they can talk to the fish to get their opinion but then you would be really worried about their sanity, let alone their opinion on fish reasoning.

It's a fly to me as long as I can cast it on a fly rod and fly line combination. As you can see I am very free in my guidelines as to what consists of a fly and what does not. As long as I am having fun and enjoying myself whether the fly I am casting is a fly or not to someone else doesn't matter either way, but there are some concoctions we attach to our tippets that raise this question more than others.

Many saltwater and Australian native fish species are hooked only due to the fact something small was in the large fish's space. For example in the past when I did lure fishing for cod in the Murray River. We used a side scan sounder to find underwater caves in the cliffs of the Murray river and then just jig a large Halco trembler in front of the cave till a cod that may have been within got pissed off with this noisy thing at its front door. Sometimes it would take 15 - 30 minutes but eventual the cod would charge the lure and get hooked on the outside of its head as it flared its gills trying to scare the tiny intruder away from its place of slumber. You also can do the same to eastern cod in the granite boulder strewn rivers of NNSW as they hang out under the overhang of the boulders. This type of lure fishing is very boring indeed.

Bass too get in an aggressive state at times where they will charge any lure or fly passing their holding space. Whether to just plainly fill their stomachs, to defend a good food gathering spot in the stream or a 'king of the castle' type psychological fault in maintaining a certain spot in a snag on a underwater hill in an impoundment. They maybe just bad tempered for a few moments, especially the ones in impoundments because they don't get any sex. Most of those big bass over 50cm are females with a lot of P.M.S. to deal with having never been truly satisfied, but isn't that the same with most women - nothing will satisfy them, regardless of how much you try.

Who knows (we're back to the fly fishing now), does it really matter as long as they take the fly, the reasons why they attacked your fly do help you better apply your art but most fly fishers who are starting out just want to catch fish not over analyze the whys, when and the ethics of it all, that can come later after the first few fish.

Having said all that, I do enjoy it more using 'match the hatch' type flies, but this article and the flies talked about are just an interesting diversion. For the last several months I have been experimenting with "Lure Flies", those concoctions we sometimes tie to our tippets that readily raise the 'lure or fly' question. Most have origins in articles I read about in the various US fly fishing and tying magazines I subscribe to or in the books I am always ordering from book stores. Then my mind has taken leaps of faith in all sorts of directions as to materials, design concepts and tying methods, I am quite enjoying myself. What follows are some of those flies I have ended up with that have impressed me with their uniqueness in either structure, action or just that I like them for reasons unknown, they just have that something.

I am sorry I haven't mentioned all the names of the original tiers as I just see an image of a fly and off I go trying to tie it, not always taking note of the originator. But then my flies never always look like the original due to a change of materials or other factors. If any tiers should be mentioned it would be innovators like Jay "Fishy" Fullum or C. Boyd Pfeiffer. Both are US tiers/writers, who always seem to always have something new whether it be materials, design concepts or tying methods. I take on their suggestions and thoughts applying them to Australian species, prey sources and flies for such combining that with a few ideas of my own. Sometimes taking them a step further or in a different direction. I hope you do the same with this article and then get back to me with what you come up with. Keeping at the cutting edge of fly tying so to speak and keep the knowledge growing and spreading.

The first one I messed about with was the Spinnerbait fly. Spinnerbait lures are at the moment one of the hot lures for bass lure anglers. So I thought about making a fly version of the popular lure. On talking to a friend about some items on the subject, he told me about a Umpqua commercial fly tied like a Spinnerbait lure. I had to try and tie some just to see how they would go. With a mate from the Newcastle Fly Rodders (Dave Quayle), we started testing different materials we might be able to use. None we perfect in my mind, so I ordered some spinner bait skirts from Bass Pro and things started to start to look good, though the 'Bomber Woolly Bugger Spinnerbait' shown here is far easier to tie and works just as well.

Working out the effects of the flash wing representing the willow leaf blade and the lead eye weight replacing the jig head on the swimming action was a little trial and error as the flash wing causes drag which causes the fly to ride wing up regardless of the placement of the lead eyes. Tying the wing as a weed guard and placing the lead eyes on the opposite side was the design we ended up with. It proved to be highly snag proof and a very effective pattern for impoundment and stream bass. The basic premise in tying a fly like this was if Spinnerbait lures catch fish why not make a fly with the same traits. A bit on the far end of the scale as pure fly fishing goes (Issac Walton is now rolling over in his grave), but still lots of fun and they do catch fish

Another lure-fly I researched a lot to find ideas to imitate was the 'Mr Twister', flathead lure No 1 for most lure casters who are big lizard chasers. I have used the actually Mr twister plastic tails for flies but found it not durable enough, even for casting. Witchfuzz and Zonker strips work well as does 'Bugskin' which is hard to get but a great material for this type of use. Used primarily as a substitute for crayfish and shrimp carapaces and claws but cut to shape it also makes perfect Mr Twister tails. A large beadhead, so large no trout fly tier would ever think of using it, adds the jig action needed. The original fly I cloned for this use was the 'Befus Wiggle Bug' that some US anglers use for carp. I found this new variation not only useful for carp but Bass, Redfin, Golden Perch in the fresh and most saltwater estuary predators seem to like it too, especially flathead - my largest fly caught flathead of 87cm was caught on a chartreuse version of this fly.

For a radical moving tail on a flathead fly, dip a long chartreuse saddle hackle in Softex or thinned silicone. Lay down on one of those glass chopping boards (or a piece of glass or marble). Lay down in a 'J' shape or like a Mr Twister tail. Once dry scrap off the glass and add to conehead or lead eye woolly bugger type fly. For a similar effect and use on trout streamer type or even small saltwater flies, cut a 'J' shape from a orange or red balloon and have ready to slip onto the hook bend (poke hook point through a double layer of the straight part of the "J" shaped tail). Looks fantastic in the water, a very seductive waggle. (thanks to Peter Hayes for the starting point ideas)

For several years I had also been tying spoon flies for mangrove jack, trevally and flathead of SE QLD and lately for impoundment species . Mainly as replacements for the metal jigs sometimes used for redfin and Bass. Even made a few lure ones for baitcaster use for a mate who swears by them for bass holding on the sides of submerge hills in the middle of impoundments like Somerset Dam in SE Queensland. But on the original if you didn't get the Mylar just the right shape when covering with epoxy the lure/fly would spin too much and kink all sorts of knots into your leader and tippet. So after another US article on a similar subject, I started to use false fingernails for the spoon body instead of shaped Mylar. You only have to get the false fingernail to sit straight then the fly usually works quite well until like the Mylar/epoxy based spoon. Far easier in fact.

I have recently started to use smaller false fingernails as they offer more subtle action than the large fingernails I first used. With various coloured nail polish you can even represent any favourite Manns 5+ bibbed lure you want. As a word of warning buying false fingernails and fancy coloured nail polish will get you more than a few weird looks from the young female chemist sales assistants.

Once heading down this lure/fly track I found it a little fun working out fly versions of successful crankbait, soft plastic, spinner and metal lures. I know this is against the other thing I am always preaching that there should be more "Match the Hatch" but I could stop myself - it's a bit like carp fishing, great sport fishing but you don't tell many that you do enjoy it.

With one of my favourite bass flies, the Black Peacock Conehead, instead of all black materials it is now has variations made with hot pink fluoro deer hair with black marker pen black dots and also in the 'tiger lure' colourings (green back, yellow middle and orange belly with black dots down the sides). Popular lure colours in flies instead of matching some of the local food sources (drowned cicadas). Well the lures work, why won't flies in the same sort of colours, given also I can keep the flies in the strike zone longer. Still testing this idea, not too bad results so far. At least not any less captures then the all black version, which serves me very well in local dams.

I did think of starting a "Lure Fly Swap" but didn't think anyone else would want to participate in such heresy (I had enough trouble with the Carp fly swap on my web site).

We have such a range of fly materials available to us in these modern times as compared to pre-19th century fly fishers. What did early fly tiers do without the bucktail of the 'new world'. They too must of looked upon bucktail when it became available as fly tiers before 1940 looked with horror upon plastics and synthetic hair we use today.

Pre-formed mayfly bodies, rubber legs, synthetic skin and wing materials, Velcro tabs, plastic in so many types it is mind boggling, epoxies, hot glues, silicone. Not to mention all the various foams, I have just finished reading Skip Morris's book on tying foam based flies. It has revolutionized my trout dry fly tying. I shall never have another dry fly sink on me again. How I hate tying those little pissant flies, the micro dubbing, thread so thin it ALWAYS breaks with these saltwater fly experienced fingers and expensive dry fly hackles etc doesn't thrill me at all. Nymphs, terrestrials OK if I have to but dries ugghh!. Let alone midge patterns under #18.

Thank the fishing gods for the quality commercial tiers who I buy my small dries off.

"And there's more" as DEMTEL would say.

This one is the 'Corsair Minnow'. Very basic but effective pattern. Lead on shank (toward front), marabou tail tied on to a nylon body tube, hook inserted, prism eyes and head epoxied. Simple, quick to tie and very effective on 'whitebait' eaters. Almost see through in the water, but a firm enough body to keep its shape with a spongy feel to mouth of fish. Nothing any dry fly purist would tie onto his leader! Or maybe they could use the marabou tail justification to use it? Aside from it catching fish of course, that maybe important too! At least it looks like a food source compared to some of the flies in this article, if built with material that might be considered inappropriate for fly fishing by some, but definitely not me.

Then there is the 'Propeller Head Garfish' pattern shown above which is a favourite of mine, with the large Yellowtail Kingfish of South Australia loving it too. I recycled old Heddon torpedo surface lures for the propeller on the nose, but you could just as easily make them out of aluminum cans. It sits against a gold beadhead so it spins freely. The body is Corsair body tubing. A stick on eye, a few marker pens and you have a gar fly with an added flash of the propeller, probably some sonic benefits too. This is a two hook rig I have previously used for Spanish mackerel in south east Queensland, minus the propeller way back then. This one again is just new ideas applied to old successful flies.

This propeller head style is really stretching the 'Is it a lure or a fly?' question, or is it? We use marabou kick tails in some nymph patterns to simulate movement why not a metal or plastic propeller blade. It all depends on your point of view and how far you're willing to stretch things from a lure/fly perspective or ethics wise. Or maybe you just want to catch fish!

Having fished a lot of dirty water like in the estuaries in south east Queensland (caused by the vast mud flats and large amounts of tidal movement) I like flies for this dirty water with rattles or flash laways with a pulse action. Combining these features with my favourite tropical fly the 'Pink Thing' ( I believe originally created to represent a mantas shrimp) and some other tiers ideas I ended up with the two following flies.

The 'Double Clicker' is a standard pink thing tied on a long shank hook (Mustad 34011) but towards the rear of the hook shank. On the front of the fly instead of bead chain eyes it has a large fixed bead head. The front half of the long shank hook has only another large bead head which due to a 'violent strip then pause' retrieve slides the beadhead along the hook shank clanking on the hook eye and the fixed bead head creating audible clicks and clacks which attract the predators in dirty water.

The 'Spinner Thing' is just that, a standard pink thing with a spinner blade hanging off the front which does two things. The first is the blade flashing and wiggling on the drop and the second, if the fly is retrieved fast enough, it sends out an attractive vibration. Both have easily rewarded their development time with successful outings.

You could apply this style of rattle and flash to almost any standard saltwater or impoundment native species fly.

Well, I hope the patterns mentioned here might send you down a intriguing path. There are always more new materials to experiment with and try to incorporate into a fly. Even if only one of a concept fly gets made, they make good talking points when fellow fly fishers come around to your tying desk or who peek a view of your fly box on the water. They sometimes make comments that can help make that test fly into a killer fly or take you down another unique path of material use and fly design. Enjoy the journey, experiment a little and push your fly tying and fly use boundaries. Who knows you might enjoy yourself!


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