Fly fishing is an interesting sport with a growing number of people participating. When people start out fishing they usually just buy all of the gear that they need, including their artificial flies. Once people get hooked on fly fishing though they often start thinking about making their own flies as a way to stay involved with the sport during the off-season months. While some flies can be tricky to make others are actually well within the abilities of the average fly fisher. Even children can learn to tie artificial flies and this is an excellent way to get them involved in the sport.
The earliest description of tying artificial flies dates back to the 2nd century. Macedonian anglers, fishing on the Astraeus River, had devised a method of fly fishing using artificial flies. These Macedonian fly fishermen started with a hook and then tied red-dyed wool around the hook. They would then tie small feathers onto the red wool to complete the artificial fly. Apparently these fishermen were quite successful with their primitive flies.
18th century American fly fishermen took the design of flies to a new level while studying the trout streams of the New York Catskill Mountains. These fishermen discovered that their success with fly fishing could be greatly improved by designing flies that mimicked the native insects around the stream. These artificial flies successfully fooled the trout into thinking that a real insect had landed on the water. This knowledge gave rise to studying insect hatches to determine which fly would be most successful. Different artificial flies are successful on different water at different times.
Flies were originally made using natural materials like feathers, fur, wool and similar materials. Most artificial flies are now made using synthetic materials. Another recent development in artificial fly design has been the use of the barbless hook. Many fly fishers practice “catch and release” and extracting a barbed hook from a fish after landing it can be quite difficult. While barbless hooks make it somewhat more challenging to keep the fish on the hook they are easier to extract – from the fish or the angler!
These flies are now made in thousands of designs and styles. The number of choices can be quite overwhelming to new fly fishers. All artificial flies have certain basic characteristics though and, despite newer materials and more choices, the basics of fly manufacturing has not changed much in two thousand years of fly fishing. All flies start with a hook. The hook is then disguised to resemble an actual insect that the target fish eat or to attract the target fish with color, motion, etc.
The materials that the hook is decorated with have changed over the years but some of the classic designs have not. Wool, fur and feathers were once common choices for artificial flies. Newer materials include plastic, mylar, foam and metals. These materials are either tied or glued onto the hook in special patterns to attract fish.
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