One August afternoon on a southern Colorado river, my guide handed me one of the more godawful dry flies I’d ever seen—an abomination constructed entirely of foam, rubber, and synthetic fibers. Although hardly a purist, I do appreciate at least a nod to fur and feathers in a fly, and this thing looked like a science project. Seeing the look of horror on my face, Jason assured me that the fly was his favorite hopper pattern for the water and a pattern on which he had taken some real monsters. One of the important lessons I learned when I was a guide was “Always trust your guide,” so I didn’t argue.
For the next hour, I worked upstream, casting that monstrosity into every pocket, along every cutbank, and next to every seam, without a single hit. It was inconceivable, really, that the fly wasn’t producing under such prime conditions. There had to be trout in these spots, and they should be looking upward for a big, tasty meal. Finally, unable to take it any longer, I clipped off the foam pattern and tied on a Parachute Hopper—a fly I use to great effect from July through September on the freestone mountain streams of Vermont.
On the third cast, a gorgeous cutthroat smacked the fly, and as I brought the fish to hand, I felt vindicated. The rest of the afternoon was a bonanza. Cutthroats and cuttbows in sidechannels and along the banks eagerly attacked the Parachute Hopper, to the point where the savaged fly had to be retired to a place of honor at the center of the fleece patch on my vest.
Surely this was a victory for natural materials, time-tested patterns, and the traditional prejudices of the intellectual East, right?
Nah. The failure of the Foam Hopper was probably my own fault. I didn’t have confidence that the fly would work, and that turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy. The rationalists among us will pooh-pooh this notion as overly superstitious, but there’s just too much anecdotal evidence to ignore. How many times have you seen your luck change when you tied on one of your “go-to” patterns?
The only explanation I can come up with is that it’s not the fly at all, but the fact that you fish better with a fly that you believe in. You cast more carefully, allow the fly to drift longer, and are more prepared for a strike that you expect to come at any moment. There are certain flies in my vest that just feel more right than others in a given situation. Had Jason fished that foam nightmare over the same water, I bet he would have caught just as many fish as I did with my parachute version. It’s just another way that fly fishermen can all enjoy the same sport, yet each makes it his own.