Earlier this year I wrote about the fly box I’d assembled for the coming season. While I’m not done fishing for ’22, the Wisconsin trout season is closed. I’ll be fishing way less for a few months because I’ll have to go to Iowa to do it instead of popping out my door. Its a good time to look back on the flies I used this year and consider if the ideas behind their selection held up.
As the “philosopher” Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” So how did my plan for this box go when the season punched me in the mouth with the reality of real world tenkara fishing?
The majority of wet patterns that were left in my box were these two. Neither the Shakey Bakey nor the Blonder Wulf proved to be very productive, even when fished under conditions I thought were ideal for them. I’m not going to bump them out of the box just yet, however. To be fair, they didn’t get a lot of chances to show their stuff, as I had a lot of success on other wet patterns. When things are working we don’t tend to bother changing patterns, right?
Since I almost always started with one of the 3 wet patterns listed below, I usually didn’t move onto one of these 2 unless the situation was already a bit off. They’ve yet to receive a solid test, so I’ll keep them at least until I feel they have.
Save for enjoying a few kebari gifted to me earlier in the year, I spent all of June, July, and August fishing these two patterns. The Pass Lake did what it always does – catch lots of trout. When I ran out of those I subbed in the dark bodied Adams Trude and saw zero drop in catch rate. They both have a similar look in the water so in retrospect, I’m not surprised. Dark body, dark hackle, white wing. One light tail, one dark. One with futsu hackle, one with jun.
Both produced the same, so my thought was that the key factors are those 3 similar points = dark body, dark hackle, white wing, (jun, futsu, sakasa to your visual liking ‘cuz the fish don’t seem to care). In any case the trout crushed these things all summer! Wet fly tactics like the ones discussed in the Getting Specific and The Out of Sight Drift posts generated a lot of catches with these flies. A LOT. I fished them both till I ran out.
Running out of the two patterns I’d been so successful with all season left me in a quandary. I was out of wet patterns that had the “dark body, dark hackle, white wing” that had been so effective all summer. I’d either have to make something else in my box work, or do something drastic like buy some more flies…or maybe even, out of sheer desperation and existential terror, tie some!
Luckily no extreme action was necessary. The Orange and Partridge came out of the gate strong and proved to be exceptionally productive up until the very last day of the season come mid-October. It’s only drawback is that its less easy to see in the water than the Pass Lake. Seeing the fly is a big part of successful wet fly fishing, in my view.
Note: The O&P has a lighter body and light hackle, vs the dark/dark/white scheme of the Pass Lake and Adams Trude. This blows a hole in my theory about dark body/ dark hackle/white wing being key. Or maybe the lighter hackle on the O&P presents similar to the white wing? The trout aren’t saying.
It seems closer to the Shakey Bakey than the two known performers, so I’m still curious as to what I could make the Shakey Bakey do if I put some time into it. Ultimately, I’ve a strong suspension I could strip my wet fly selection down to a duo of the Pass Lake and O&P only.
Barely touched them because I didn’t have an occasion to use them. Most water I fished this year was relatively normal levels, calmer, and lower gradient. It was a tool I just didn’t need all season, but it might find some work when winter catch and release begins, or if I cross over to Iowa to target stocked rainbows. Ripping a black or white streamer like this across the top of a pool with rainbows in it is usually going to get a strike, if not a fish in the net.
I didn’t do a lot nymphing last season, but when I did, these 3 were all equally reliable choices. The Blowtorch did well with its bright tail in stained or flooded conditions. It did better without the tail when the water settled down and cleared up.
Contrary to most anglers who focus on smaller nymphs, I’ve had a surprising amount of success moving fish on bigger, high profile patterns. The Big Ugly was about as productive as the 3 listed above patterns, but I find it more fun to fish. Give it a good dead drift on the first pass then fish it like its a streamer and you’ve just drank 10 pots of coffee. Get back to me with the results but I bet you’ll pleasantly surprised!
Overall, the selections in this box worked well. Conditions were good for wet fly fishing all season and I took advantage of that to focus on my favorite aspect of tenkara.
As much I like the idea of having a good spread of fly patterns, I’m really starting to see that I don’t have much need for that. Whittling down my selections until I have one or two patterns I know I can make work most places is the ultimate goal. Perhaps one weighted and one unweighted, both the same pattern. Forced to choose only one pattern, I’d still pick the Pass Lake hands down. I’d do a range of size #6 to size #16, half of them with tungsten beads. I’m confident that would be sufficient for 99% of the situations Id encounter. Maybe next year?
So how did your season’s fly selections go? What worked, what didn’t, what surprised you? Let us know!
Matt purchased all of the flies in this article from (and images were provided by) Big Y Fly Company.
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