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Book Review: Simple Flies

Simple Flies: 52 Easy-to-Tie Patterns that Catch Fish
Simple Flies: 52 Easy-to-Tie Patterns that Catch Fish

While fly fishing can be as simple as tying a general-purpose fly to your line and trying to hook a fish,  a lot of people geek out and tie different flies for different seasons and stages in the life-cycle of the insects that fish eat. ‘Matching the hatch’, as it’s called by fishermen, is a way to increase the number of fish you catch by presenting them with a bug that matches the real insects they’re eating on the specific stream and the specific day that you happen to be fishing. There are literally hundreds of different fly patterns (like dress patterns) that you can tie to mimic these insects, but there’s still the lingering question whether it’s really worth it or not.

What is a fly? It’s basically an artificial insect, reptile, or bait fish made using thread, feathers, hair, yarn, and other materials, designed to look and move like an actual creature that fish like to eat. Built on top of a hook, fly fisherman use flies as bait when they go fishing.

On the flip side, you can take a traditional Tenkara-style approach and fish one or two general purpose fly patterns that don’t match any specific insects but that fish will try to swallow anyway. Tenkara flies are very simple, easy to tie, and surprisingly effective considering that they aren’t species specific representations of insects. There’s no need to learn the complexities of stream ecology, insect anatomy, or the craft of tying flies, although doing so can be a lot of fun if you are so-inclined.

The book Simple Flies approaches the great fly tying debate by taking a middle ground, presenting recipes for 52 simple to tie fly patterns that have proven very successful for catching trout, primarily in the US, but in all regions of the country and not just the western half. If you’re familiar with Chris Stewart, the Tenkara Bum, the approach presented in the book basically mirrors his particular fusion of Tenkara casting techniques mixed with more traditional flies.

Tying flies is a fun and challenging hobby
Tying flies is a fun and challenging hobby – Simple Tenkara Fly tied with Partridge and Thread

Despite its title, Simple Flies isn’t a beginner book about how to tie flies and I wouldn’t recommend that you start with it, even if you’ve been tying simple Tenkara flies. The book assumes you have a well-stocked set of fly tying supplies, good tying tools, and that you’re adept with a variety of standard fly tying techniques such as dubbing, ribbing, hackle tying, hair stacking, wraps, and so on. I’d suggest working through The Benchside Introduction to Fly Tying if you don’t have experience with these traditional fly tying techniques or materials. That’s an awesome book and will complement watching YouTube video demonstrations.

But if you have at least 6 months of traditional fly tying experience under your belt and you have a good place to buy additional fly tying supplies, Simple Flies provides an excellent set of “simpler” and in some respects “minimalist” fly tying recipes that you can teach yourself how to tie with a little practice. These flies are simpler since they require fewer materials to tie and can be completed in under 5 minutes, compared to many traditional dry flies, nymphs, and emergers, which can turn into major projects since they require so many different components. While much of the book’s emphasis is on trout flies, the book includes patterns for bass, salmon, and saltwater fishing as well.

Although the fly patterns in Simple Flies are relatively “restrained” in their complexity, there are definitely more than a few that are tricky to tie, require additional skill development, or the acquisition of materials that you might not have handy. Advanced tiers will still find a few of the flies in the book challenging to tie or as a good basis for further improvisation.

Killer Bug tied with yarn, thread, and red hobby wire
Killer Bug tied with yarn, thread, and red hobby wire

Simple Flies – Book Fly List

Here are all of the fly patterns covered in the book, which includes detailed, step-by-step instructions and photographs of each major step in the fly tying recipe.

  • Simple Wet Flies
    • stewart black spider
    • partridge and green
    • partridge and hare’s ear
    • the starling and herl
    • small soft hackle
    • march brown flymph
    • Ishigaki kebari
    • takayama kebari
    • utah killer kebari
    • stewart stone
    • cdc sulphur emerger
Brassie tied with copper wire, thread, and Peacock Herl
Brassie tied with copper wire, thread, and Peacock Herl
  • Simple Nymphs
    • killer bug
    • sawyer pheasant tail
    • frenchie
    • frenchie (jig hook version)
    • the hare and copper
    • walt’s worm
    • peakcock herl nymph
    • al’s rat
    • improved montana stone
    • girdle bug
    • green rock worm euro nymph
    • brassie
    • green weenie
Simple Ant tied with dubbing, rooster hackle, and thread
Simple Ant tied with dubbing, rooster hackle, and thread
  • Simple Dry Flies
    • wingless quill gordon
    • hacke-wing rusty spinner
    • haystack
    • compara-dun
    • sparkle dun
    • cdc & elk
    • dear hair sedge
    • deer hair emerger
    • griffith’s gnat
    • simple ant
    • foam ant
    • foam beatle
Takayama Kebari tied with thread, Peacock Herl, and Partridge
Takayama Kebari tied with thread, Peacock Herl, and Partridge
  • Simple Streamers
    • seaducer
    • seabugger
    • seaducer jig
    • two-feather seaducer
    • choco’s maribou madness
    • high-tie streamer
    • killie
    • bunnie leech
    • simple striper
    • bucktail deceiver
    • ray’s fly
    • black-nose dace
    • soft-hackle streamer
    • simple woolly bugger
    • sunray shadow

Why Tie?

I tie flies because I find it doubly rewarding to catch trout using flies that I’ve tied myself. I enjoy learning about insect and fish ecology and in learning the traditional techniques for tying flies regardless of their origin. But fly tying is not for everyone, and there’s no real financial reason to do it when you can buy perfectly acceptable flies on the Internet for 89 cents a pop.

But, if you’ve been “bitten by the bug” and tie your own flies, Simple Flies, provides a very accessible way to expand your fly repertoire. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s the last fly tying book you’ll buy or that it’s the only one you should buy, or even that the most of the flies covered in the book are unique to it.

But having a “minimalist” Tenkara orientation myself, I like the fact that Simple Flies focuses on the features of flies that are the most likely to trigger a response from a fish without burdensome complexity or impossible-to-find materials. To each his own, but Simple Flies fits my tying sensibilities well and I refer to it often when I want to tie something new.

Disclosure: The author purchased this book with his own funds. 

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  1. Phillip, in case you aren’t already aware of it, the late Sylvester Nemes’s “The Soft Hackled Fly” is a book you’d likely enjoy. Nemes boiled down the flies he carried to maybe a dozen and a half simple patterns, most tied with Pearsall’s silk, readily available furs, and game bird and hen hackles (a few of the game bird hackles are now difficult to find in the US and the UK). Soft hackle are typically tied on a stout hook; you want them to sink. But if you tie a pattern using light-wire dry fly hooks and then apply floatant to fly and tippet, you can fish the fly “damp” on or hanging from the surface to imitate an emerger or a spent fly, thereby cutting the need to carry numerous dry fly patterns. And this seems to fit the gist of your words: find a handful of patterns that work for you, tie them in different sizes, and know when to use them by observing what’s going on in or under the water.

  2. Yeah, simple flies are best. I agree, a dozen to two dozen flies of all the thousands of patterns take 95% of the fish I catch. Hares Ear, Pheasent Tail (weighted and unweighted,) elk hair caddis, ants, some humppys and Wulfs for swift water, etc. Rarely anything bigger than a size 14. Though some streamers work well in deep pockets (Mickey Finn, Grey Ghost, Muddler-small and larger.)

  3. “I tie flies because I find it doubly rewarding to catch trout using flies that I’ve tied myself. I enjoy learning about insect and fish ecology and in learning the traditional techniques for tying flies regardless of their origin. ” – Right on! Philip, you are officially hooked!

    Fly fishing is a great way to slow down and learn the subtle nuances of stream ecology which in turn helps us appreciate bigger environmental picture. A good trout fisherman understands the importance of water quality, temperature and other topics necessary for healthy trout habitat. Fly selection and fly tying is another extension of this lifelong passion.

    That said, It’s good to explain that fly tying and fly fishing doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive. Anyone can enjoy fishing with some basic equipment and knowledge. Give it a tie…try!

    Tight lines!

  4. Add some marabou to that killer bug and make it a killer bugger. It will catch many fish.

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