So here we are with yet another year behind us. For many, like me, this is a time to reflect on the year past and figure out just what can be learned from the successes and mistakes. For example, not too long ago I climbed down from my perch above the engine of my skiff to tie on a new fly for a client who'd just busted off a redfish on the hook-set. As I looked through my fly box, it dawned on me that I had essentially been fishing with almost the exact same fly for over a year. Obviously I do not mean "the" fly that he had just lost, although that would make for quite a story. What I mean is that every pattern in my box was almost exactly the same. That got me thinking: Is it possible to basically cover every scenario presented in saltwater fly-fishing with just a handful of flies tied out of the same materials? My conclusion is yes. Well, actually, almost would be more appropriate.
Before I get to the flies themselves, I should discuss what materials are available that make this feasible. What I noticed was that almost every fly I used started with a white craft-fur tail and a body made with a white Enrico Puglisi dubbing brush. That is it! From there the flies had various tweaks that in most instances involved a permanent marker and the addition of eyes, whether they were mono, bead-chain, lead or stick-on. After that, the only difference was the inclusion of some bleached deer hair or Aunt Lydia's poly yarn.
After 20 years of tying flies, I have to say one of the most versatile materials I have ever incorporated into my tying is craft fur. I love the stuff and have used it in a lot of patterns; however, I fell in love with it all over again a few years back when I discovered extra-select craft fur. It overcame one of my only complaints about the original doll hair, which was that it was too short overall. The extra-select variety is anything but stubby. It's long, subtle and, most importantly, breathes in the water when it's manipulated. As for the EP dubbing brushes (I prefer the Anadromus and Shrimp Dub styles), to put it simply, I think they're the best things since someone put the ice in ice cream. Talk about a product that really brings some ease and enjoyment back to fly tying.
Keeping It Simple
One of my favorite patterns, which I use on a daily basis while guiding, is what I call a Simple Shrimp. It's simply (pun intended) a craft-fur tail with a dubbing brush wound forward over mono eyes to create something that resembles a synthetic Seaducer. To complete the fly, take a gold, brown, pink, peach or chartreuse permanent marker and bar the craft-fur tail. Or just leave it plain, and a Simple Shrimp becomes a Simple Baitfish. If you want to dress up the Simple Baitfish, use a permanent marker and color the dubbing to your liking.
When tied on different-size hooks, the Simple Shrimp can be fished for tarpon, snook, redfish, striper and seatrout with great success, but it sinks relatively slowly. So if you are fishing deeper water or need to get the fly down to the fish in a hurry, substitute the mono eyes with some bead-chain or lead eyes.
What if you want the Simple Shrimp to fish higher in the water column? Simply take fewer wraps with the dubbing brush, leaving the upper shank of the hook bare to accept five to six strands of poly yarn, which effectively turn the fly into a long Toad or a weightless Kwan. The prefix poly in the marine world might as well mean floating, and it is that very property, coupled with the fact that the yarn is tied in horizontally, that slows the sink rate of the fly. To float the fly even higher and have it push water on or near the surface, add a clump of deer hair to the top of the shank and trim it to create a Muddler-type fly. Baby tarpon love Muddlers!
Floating or Sinking
To really take this fly to the next level, add a strip of foam to create a Gurgler. This by far is one of my favorite versions. The simple modification makes the fly skitter and pop high on the surface and has produced numerous heart-stopping moments in the shallowest of waters as I've watched snook and redfish rush to eat the fly.
It truly is amazing how versatile this fly is, but it has one flaw. It rides hook down, which usually means a weed guard is required to effectively fish skinny water. However, with another modification or two, the fly can be turned hook up. The easiest is to take the Toad-like version and add weighted eyes and a tuft of kip tail to flip the fly. From there the only thing left to do is to turn the Simple Shrimp into one of my favorite inshore saltwater patterns of all time.
I once asked Tim Borski what gave him the idea for the Bonefish Slider. His answer was, "I just took a Muddler, turned it upside down and added some weight." That is exactly what can be done here. If you take the Simple Shrimp and add eyes, whether bead-chain or lead, and then add a clump of deer hair to fill the gap of the hook and trim to shape, you will have a very sexy Bonefish Slider for your fly box.
So there you have it - one fly (sort of) that does it all. Almost, anyway. I still have not figured out how to turn a Simple Shrimp into a crab pattern. Now if I could only decide what to do with all the other stuff that clutters up my tying desk.
Bonus Tip 1
While I prefer to use white to start most of my flies, I have also been known to use cream or tan. One of the things that make this fly so versatile is that both the craft fur and the dubbing brush will receive the marker, so having a lot of different-colored materials really isn't necessary, although it doesn't hurt.
Bonus Tip 2
While markers are a wonderful thing for the fly tier and a big part of what makes this method of tying so great, they do leave a strong odor. I try to make sure that flies on which I have used a marker get a chance to sit out in the sun and wind a good while, allowing as much of the chemicals to evaporate as possible before putting the flies into service. Another thing that I like to do is to take some mud or substrate from the bottom of the area that I am fishing and work it through the fly to mask any less than natural odors.