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June 04, 2008

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When's a Fly Not Really a Fly?

I remember bumping into legendary fly developer Rene Harrop in the A-Bar, near Idaho's Henry's Fork, one evening, about 10 years ago. The fishing had been typically tough in the "Railroad Ranch" section of the river that day, but I had managed to catch one particularly nice 'bow on a giant, gaudy, foam Chernobyl ant. I showed the master the bug, and he snickered.

"Indian jewelry," he said.

Which still has me thinking ... when is a fly not really a fly? I've seen those "spoon flies" that folks throw at redfish in the Gulf, for example. C'mon, that's a lure you happen to throw with a fly rod, isn't it? Gummy minnows? Soft plastics for the surf. But is a foam hopper a faux fly or a faux pas?

Does a fly, by definition, have to be constructed almost wholly from materials that were once part of living animals (fur and feathers)? Or is a fly, by definition, any "bait" that isn't, well, live bait?

What say you, Fly Talkers?



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Its not a fly if its a plastic bead...or a rubber fish...or has a spinner blade...or if its a spoon...or if you add scent...
Foam? that's a little tougher, but ya gotta admit, they just look wrong...
Hard one Kirk... but I do know for sure that - just because its tied to a fly line doesn't make it a fly.. and just having a fly rod in your hands doesn't mean you're fly fishing... As in anything else, we all know in our bones when its cheating and when its not... like bobbers and slinkys for instance.


If it's legal in the water you're fishing who cares?! The Pistol Pete has been around forever. Guys can throw "flies" off a spinning rod with a float. If it makes you happy screw'm.

As far as i'm concerned there is no cheating as long as you're within the law. Why should i care how you catch fish? Unless I'm not catching any, then i would really care to know.


Just a quick addition. Everyone can draw their own lines but if someone wants to comment about the way I fish i'd like to ask them how natural those plastic lines and rods are as well as those space age metal reels and fluro leaders. Shouldn't all purists be fishing bamboo, silk, catgut and wooden reels?

Now Wait a Minute

I'll qualify anything a fly if it's sold in a quality fly shop. Yeh, you can throw a rapala on a fly rod if you really want to, but you won't find many guides recommending it. But find me an good Montana Outfitter that doesn't have foam bugs...they're not easy to cast on a spinning rod, which makes them flies in my eyes.

I would say spoon flies and gummy minnows are more innovation in technique and material than anything else. Aren't we always trying to tie it better. Deeter, if The gummy material is no go, then so should be anything synthetic


I say it just has to be tied together to be a fly, foam or not. If you glue it, it's not a fly.


perhaps it's time to rename the sport and the definition of 'fly' fishing. really the only thing that separates 'fly' fishing and spin fishing/baitcasting is that in 'fly' fishing, the weight of the line delivers a relatively weightless lure/bait/fly. in other forms of fishing, the weight of the lure/bait is cast, and the line follows. in situations where you don't want to spook fish with a heavy splash, fly fishing was the method of choice. in the old days, fly lines were cast to deliver live baits such as real hoppers.

the heavier the fly relative to the mass and diameter of the fly line, the more inefficient it becomes. with conehead woolly buggers or size 6 weighted stonefly nymphs on light lines, it becomes less 'fly' fishing and approaches spin fishing, as the weight of the 'fly' is what is actually being cast. a lead-eye clouser minnow is basically just a bucktail jig, approaching weights of 1/4 ounce, depending on the size of the eyes.

who cares what constitutes a 'fly' in terms of material or design. there are more variables that define the sport than just the lure or terminal tackle. in the old days, 'fly' fishing was given that name because trout were being fished to and insects ('flies') were what were being imitated, and it made sense to throw weightless 'lures' or flies using this system of a weighted line.

anyway, who cares, it's all fishing. fly fishing is exploited too much these days as a way for people to snobbishly differentiate themselves for involving themselves in something they perceived as superior.


Well spun, Joey (I was with you up to that last line). But the real question then becomes ... is corn on a hook a fly?!

Alex Pernice the fly rod winner

Lol joey Deeter is right, i was expecting a corn joke or something directed towards me.

Evan V

A fly is a fly if it is light enough to be needed to be casted with a fly rod. And you also put thread and a hook into the fly, thats not from a living animal. :p
And if its not live and not on a fly rod, its called a "lure."


Blind caster and Joey are right on. If you want to restrict yourself to naturals and bamboo or dries only, that's your thing and that's cool, but I'm going to continue to fish foam poppers and streamers tied with super hair and epoxy heads, and gummy minnows in the salt and be more than content that what I am doing is fly fishing.

Scent? That's crossing the line.


hey, corn isn't a joke. corn on a hook isn't much different than an 'egg' imitiation with a plastic bead. or how about a copper john, just a hunk of metal on a hook.

as far as that last line goes about fly fishing, think about it. how many times do people (you and i included) say 'i'm a FLY fishing outfitter/guide, or yeah, i like to FLY fish', as if it was that important to the average random person to make that distinction. (come on, admit it, we all think it's cooler to claim FLYFISHING as opposed to just FISHING)

then we conveniently throw that all out the window when making 'fly' choices that help us catch fish (egg flies, conehead JIG flies, etc), not to mention split shots, indicators and a whole host of other crap that is effective but counter to purist principals of fly fishing.

Blue Ox

Fly fishing, spin fishing, noodling, it's all fishing in one way or another. As long as you're enjoying what you're doing, whose to tell youse it's wrong?

Anthony Bartkowski

First thing - Deeter is on a slippery slope in Colorado again. It's run off back there.

Joey - I saw the post earlier today and was going after your explanation when I got home. Niceley done.

Then the corn on the hook is the virgin form of an egg.

As for needing thread to make a fly - that is not true. I use hot glue guns with colored sticks to make egg patterns - or in Joey's case - corn flies.

As for foam - I can't believe you actually tossed that out there. It almost caused me to respond with a full page of THROW FOAM OR GO HOME!!!

I love foam for flies. All foam puts the fly into the crazy ass late night drunk tying sessions guides get into. However when guiding and the client sinks dry after dry after dry - I can guarantee you that the smart guide is pulling the foam panel of flies out to save floatant.

Plus it is now summer - and it is time to toss big uglies!!! Create a false hatch and enjoy the rest of your day in the swift moving water.

Fly fishing needs to be defined as using the line to cast the fish attractor - foam, corn, egg, feathers, thread, flash, cork, deer body, and whatever else you want.

Fishing - casting and spinning - the lure does all of the work as long as you point the tip of the rod in the right direction.

Blue Ox - As long as you are out in the water chasing after a species of fish and happy then who the hell cares. Since we are on the slipper slope of Deeter world - we might as well say that beer is not really beer if it is in a can. Beer is only real if needing a fish shaped bottled opener to lift the cap and swill it from the icy cold bottle.

Alabama flygirl

"Throw foam or go home!"

Anthony - I WILL give you credit when I use that line! Classic!


what i really want to know is if my Patagonia Retro-X is really a jacket, because it's made of polar fleece, not reel wool.

Anthony Bartkowski

AlaFlyGirl - I have an order in for some foam frogs. I am just waiting for them to come in to use down here in the south for some bass. I will let you know how they do.

If you are throwing foam - make sure to rope up the tippet as the fish will crash it hard. If you use that thin stuff expect to spend more time twisting tippet than fishing.

Anthony Bartkowski

Tomorrow's post will be:

Indicator vs. Red & White Bobber

I say Tomatoe vs. You say Tomato

I am amazed we have not done a battle of the big pond - America vs. Scotland yet.

What is holding you back?

fly fish chick

normally I like to stay out of dicey conversations such as this. I watch the passion volley back and forth as I sit squarely on the fence minding my manners and sipping a cocktail

but I'm gonna have to jump in here -- pls pls pls don't take away my foam hopper

come july in montana...foam is home

ok. now should we talk about something lite and easy like the race for the white house or where real BBQ comes from?....Texas Beef or Southern Pork, which is the real deal?


real bbq = texas!! no sauce and real hardwood!!


From the slippery slope, where it is, indeed, expected to snow above 9000 feet tonight.

Ox, yeah ... it's all good.

Anthony, you already sold out on me, bubba. What was it, a week? C'mon ... foam is a fetish, you don't tell close friends about it, and you certainly don't comment about it on a blog. That's a private matter.

Alabama Flygirl already thinks I have a bee in my waders ...

Fly Chick, you can say whatever you want, cocktail/foam or not ... we missed you dearly.

And Joey, we finally have something we can agree upon 100% ... real BBQ=Texas, and believe me, I've tried them all.


real football = what we call 'soccer', a sport where you actually use your FEET.

trust me, i'm watching Copa Libertadores semifinals with Boca Jrs. (ARG) and Fluminense (BRA), this game is unreal...2-1 Fluminense midway thru the 2nd half.


I'd rather watch cow-tipping.

Just kidding ... that was a thinly-veiled reference to a lead I had for a story (Carp Crazy) in F&S a couple months ago.

A-Train ... beer indeed comes in bottles. I'm from Milwaukee. Jeez.

Alabama flygirl

Way to stir the pot FFC (I like your style)

Real BBQ = dry rub ribs from the Rendezvous in Memphis

and while we are stirring (only because Joey brought it up)

Real football = SEC football


Oh boy ... don't go there with football, Alabama flygirl. I mean, I think the SEC is no doubt the action conference ... and my own little brother played for the Georgia Bulldogs. But I, myself, am a Michigan man ... and we're 23-5-1 all-time v. the SEC. So it just doesn't register. The SEC is our insurance policy to make sure those Buckeyes crash hard to the ground (after we gag) when they get full of themselves. Bless y'all for that. Texas too. Any Gators wanna talk about this?

Alabama flygirl

I know Deeter. FFC just got me all stirred up...I couldn't help myself. I will even give you a Go Big Blue! I just love college football in general. My dad hauled us all over the SEC when we were kids so it is ingrained. My husband said this afternoon only 66 days til kickoff! woo hoo

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