The Big Fly Threshold
I’m a big fly guy. I love tying them, I love fishing them. We (fly fishing community) are constantly testing the boundary of big flies, and rewriting the definition. I remember years ago when I thought a 4″ Madonna was big fly. Now, I would consider it a small fly. But is there a point where big becomes too big? I think there is…
Let me first address a disclaimer with big flies. I hear a lot of people say, and/or assume, that you need a big fly to catch a big fish. That is entirely untrue for anything I fish for. I fish big flies to avoid small fish. That, and the fact that I love tying and fishing big flies. But I know I can catch a big fish on small flies, its just not as fun to me. I always want to test how large a fly a fish will eat. Predator fish have always intrigued me. Even as a youngster, fishing for pike was one of my favorite things to do. Testing a fish’s predatory instincts with a large meal is somehow fun to me. It just is.
Back to the original question…can big be too big? I think the biggest reason is action. As the size of a fly reaches a certain point, then you begin to sacrifice action. Depending on the pattern, that point could be 8″, or it could be 16″, or whatever that point of diminishing return is. At some point you will begin to lose the enticing action of that specific pattern or fly that makes it successful. I’m not speaking of natural movement when the fly in the water, but your ability to manipulate the fly. Fly manipulation is incredibly important when streamer fishing. Is it worth sacrificing that?
If a fish is looking for a bigger meal, I believe it has a threshold for what it considers “big”. Using trout as an example, will a 24″ trout (I would consider a brown trout of this size a “predator” fish) try to eat a 12″ trout in the right situation? Absolutely. If that 24″ trout was in the mood for a bigger meal, would it still eat a 8″ trout? I believe so. I would still consider an 8″ streamer a good size fly for trout. I can cast an 8″ fly easier, and manipulate it better, so in theory the 8″ fly would be the better big fly choice. Fishing the 12″ fly doesn’t necessarily mean I will catch more 24″ trout. Fishing the 8″ fly might, though. I think all big fish have a “sweet spot” when it comes to meal size.
With all that said, I will still continue to test the boundaries. Its just what interest me. I will throw a fly bigger than I think is the optimal size for a specific fish, just to see what will happen. In a world where bigger is always better, I don’t always think it is…although I will constantly try to find out. And even if I conclude it can be too big, it doesn’t mean I will stop doing it. Yeah, I’ve got problems.