The Anatomy of Fly Design

A breakdown of the creative process in designing a pattern

There's a certain mantra in fly design that basically says "it's all been invented, so you're basically just ripping off someone else's pattern". To an extent that is likely true. We all attach crap to a hook and it's called a fly. So at a high level, the first dude to ever do that, is likely sitting on his cloud laughing at us all for ripping off his idea.

At a more realistic level, I think you can borrow techniques and aspects of a given fly design and incorporate those into a pattern you are designing. Who's to say what constitutes a "new" pattern? Is it a small change in color or a swap-out of a few materials? That's a judgment call, but if someone wants to change the color of my Fripple and call it a Stripple, then have at it. But whatever you decide on in your design, it may not be new or revolutionary, but it's part of a creative process that every fly tyer must go through when they decide to create something new or newish. In other words, they're not following a recipe.

On a somewhat related note, there are also the naysayers that comment "A hare's ear or pheasant tail are the only nymphs you really need. Why re-invent the wheel?". In other words, why create a "new" pattern when the current ones work well already? By that logic, why not just fish with a worm on a hook? For me, I tie flies as part of a creative outlet that is also very therapeutic.  So even if my "new" pattern didn't catch any more fish per se, I'd still put in the time at the vise in design mode.

But I digress...this post is about the process of new fly design. So the other day, I sat down at the vise and went through my "to-tie" list. I keep notes after most every trip, or just when ideas come to me, regarding patterns or ideas I'd like to try out. The genesis for this pattern was a situation where I was throwing an indicator rig with some chironomids. Only problem was the fish were a bit spooked by the indicator or just didn't want chironomids. So I took the indicator off and went with a small beadhead generic stillwater nymph pattern. I still didn't get the results I was looking for as the fly seemed to just sink a bit too fast for the fish to take notice. I switched flies a few more times. As it turned out, the ticket turned out to be an unweighted simple pheasant tail type fly on a floating line that could sink very slowly, thus maintaining more "face-time" with the fish as I stripped it slowly through the water just below the surface. I realized I didn't have many small nymphs that fit the bill, so I jotted down the need to have an unweighted very sleek and slender mayfly imitation (callibaetis or baetis etc).

I'm basing my new pattern, somewhat on my previous Aero-Baetis in that I wanted something sleek (gotta have the CCG) but unweighted. With that in mind, here I begin my design process...

First pass: 
I'm never afraid of messing up a few hooks during the first pass. This is the rough draft, I'm looking for some proportion checks and whether all the materials will fit as I had hoped. This specific first pass really sucked, but I changed my mind on some proportions for the second pass. Note I left out the legs and tails because I'm not focusing on those areas just yet.

Second Pass: 
After the first iteration, I decided on a more chironomid shaped thorax (maybe a dual purpose pattern) with some flash. Got done and realized...yup, it's a chironomid. Next...
Third Pass: 
Back to the thorax. I made it a bit more mayfly-ish and finally added some legs. I also used some Montana Fly Co. Skinny Skin for the wing-case (I liked it better than mylar) and some brown Hun for the legs.  Getting closer.

Fourth Pass:
Now that I have the overall shape and material list dialed in. I work on proportions and tying steps. I didn't like the tail as it was too long and I also changed up how I built-up, tied and coated the thorax area with the CCG so that it didn't gum up the legs.

Final Version: 
I shortened the tail, tweaked the CCG coating sequence again and adjusted the legs so they came out at a more level angle with the body (as opposed to the previous step where they hung down a bit more.

So that's a little breakdown on how I go about designing a new or different pattern. I chucked a few iterations into the round file, but ended up with something I think I'll really like.