Realistic flies are not only for the display case. As Steve Thornton shows us, realism can also be applied to practical and effective fishing flies. Trout and grayling beware!
Flies and photos by Steve Thornton
Like most trout fishers, I've done my share of turning over rocks and catching bugs in my hat, for it is these bugs that offer us a clue to what a trout may be eating. While it is true that trout will eat things other than what is naturally available to them (the dreaded cheese ball
and canned corn hatch, eh), part of the fun of fly fishing for trout is trying to figure out what they eat and how they eat it. Once determined, the challenge is then to create and present flies that will fool the trout into thinking it is their natural food, and thereby hooking a few.
Steve Thornton, of Lincolnshire, England, is a professional advertising and editorial photographer by trade. He makes his living by creating images of products that will appeal to consumers. In a sense, that is exactly what he does with his fly tying - the consumers in this case being the trout and grayling in his favorite rivers and streams. He creates images of natural food items out of hooks and threads and bits of material, hoping he can convince a few fish that this is the dinner they had been waiting for.
His skill as a photographer directly applies to his fly tying. The task is not simply to replicate the details of the subject, but to accentuate those details that are most appealing to the consumer - the shine and gloss of a bright red apple, for instance, or the fluttering gills of a caddis larva.
Steve's flies are realistic - of that there is no doubt - but they remain fishing flies first and foremost. As he says "All of my flies are easy to tie. Anyone can tie them, as long as they follow the step-by-step procedures. And they are great fish catchers." So much so, in fact, that his Ammonite Nymph has circled the globe, from Russia to Japan, New Zealand, and across the United States, catching fish along the way. "When I am doing flytying demonstrations, it is amazing how many fly fishermen and women come up to me and say the Ammonite Nymph is their favourite pattern".
"I love to fish fast water. It's the first place I head for. The Ammonite is just great at searching for fish. I once pumped a trout in Mayfly time on a river called the Wye in Derbyshire. It had been working on the top and bottom and its stomach was full having eaten six or seven different species of food such as adult caddis and mayflies (Danica), hydropsyche larva, danica nymphs, shrimps, alders, and rhyacophila.
I put this selection in a specimen bottle along with an Ammonite Nymph and wow - the Ammonite just disappeared. The overall colours,
translucency, shape, silhouette, and segmentation made the Ammonite Nymph blend so well with these naturals that it finally convinced me why it was such a good searching pattern".
"My second favourite is the CAM Emerger. This, like the Ammonite, has all the triggers or trout food signals, but works on the surface. The CAM Emerger can raise a fish when nothing is breaking the surface. This pattern, like the Ammonite, I tie in large #8's for fast water down to #18's for slow glades and back eddies. It's a relaxing pattern to fish with, gazing at its high Mohican wing dancing with the stream can be quite dreamy until the eventful take awakens me".
When Steve started tying realistic fishing flies, he grew frustrated from the lack of suitable materials for such flies. So much so that he started designing and creating his own materials, eventually leading to the formation of his company, Virtual Nymph (http://www.virtual-nymph.com/). The intent of Virtual Nymph is not to sell all things fly tying to all fly tyers, but rather to target that niche of tyers who prefer to create patterns that closely mimic naturals. Obviously, his materials are tuned to his tying techniques, but clearly are limited only by the inventiveness of their users.
The first material he invented, and most likely his most popular product based on its worldwide sales, is Nymph Skin. "The problem with Nymph Skin was the minimum amount I had to order, one ton. Then I had to send it to Germany to be cut into the required width and thickness. Naturally, I needed shops to sell it for me, but like any new product the shops seemed to decline on stocking it when it was ready to launch. So, hence, Virtual Nymph." Since the introduction of Nymph Skin and the formation of Virtual Nymph, he has developed several unique fly tying products and continues to introduce new products as fly tying techniques are refined and developed. As a popular demonstration tyer at shows in Europe and the USA, and an instructor of fly tying course, Steve has become adept at teaching his tying techniques and showing fellow fly tyers how to tie his favorite patterns.
It wasn't long before he combined his skills as a photographer and his desire to teach by offering step-by-step instructions for his flies on his web site. The natural progression of such work was his CD-ROM "Masterclass Flytying" which was followed up by his recently completed book "Listen to the River".
I recently learned that Steve will be coming over to the US to fish some of my home waters in the Catskills. From what I've seen of his tying and heard about his fishing, I'm pretty sure he's got some fun days in store.