Now, a fly for every angler's eye

OUTDOORS

April 25, 2004|By CANDUS THOMSON

Woolly bugger. Woolly bugger. Woolly bugger.

Admit it. It's a great name. Fun to say. Fun to type. Fun to fish.

It owes its start in the fishing world to that Great Dame, Juliana Berners, who may or may not have existed, but why quibble over details.

True believers say Dame Juliana quilled a book, A Treatise of Fysshing with an Angle, which begat a movement called fly fishing and proved you don't have to be able to spell to be a writer.

FOR THE RECORD - A story about fishing lures in Sunday's editions misspelled the name of a teacher and fly tier at Fly Fishing University in Connecticut. His name is Jim Krul.

Or maybe she didn't. Some folks swear she's nothing but a 15th century Bigfoot, minus the grainy home movie.

Regardless of the author, the publication kick-started fly fishing. But that didn't give us the woolly bugger right away. The good stuff takes awhile and I'm just warming up.

Her "fysshing boke" told ye old anglers how to catch "troute, samon, and perche." But, carpe, ahh, carpe were beyond her: "and I were lothe to wryte more then I knowe."

A fisherman not having an opinion? Another first.

Shortly after her boke came out, people started wrapping and twisting feathers and leather and other glop into lures, or what Miss Speller called, "baytes." These days we call them adult novelty items.

And that, my friends, is when the fun began. For by the 17th century, Dame Juliana's 12 original fly patterns had multiplied to 65.

Today, there's a fly for every soup. You can't name a color or shape that isn't covered. But that's nothing compared to the names.

"In the beginning, fly tyers pretty much named them what they were - what they were imitating - or after a person," says Sara Wilcox of the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Vermont. "Getting clever is a fairly recent phenomenon."

So we went from ants and gnats to the Royal Wulff (named for its inventor, innovative fly tyer, master angler and writer Lee Wulff) and the Hendrickson (invented by Roy Steenrod in 1915 and named for the man he fished with, A.E. Hendrickson).

The Mid-Atlantic region has given us two of the great ones. Lefty Kreh's Lefty's Deceiver, and Bob Clouser's Clouser Minnow. Can't decide which to use? Try a Clouser-Kreh Half and Half. Like its inventors, it fishes the pants off the competition and tells really bad jokes.

In recent years, the name game took off.

"I'm sure marketing played a part of it," Wilcox says. "When a fisherman goes into a shop, he or she is confronted with rows upon rows of flies. If you're trying to break into the market, the name is really the only way to do it, and you're pretty much left with funny or clever."

So bring on the Unibomber and the Giggle Nymphs. Sell me a handful of Uncle Dickie's Dace and a Justin's Mother.

"Everybody's ego is attached to this," says Jim Kurl of the Fly Fishing University in Danbury, Conn. "There's a lot of craziness."

Tyers take a pattern and jazz it up, sometimes to imitate local conditions, but sometimes just to make a statement, he says.

I love the Egg Sucking Crystal Leech, not because I fish with it, but because it reminds me of my college boyfriend.

Kurl tells of a fly fishing show where two fly tyers - one from the East Coast and one from the West Coast - showed up to tour their latest creation, only to find out they had created the identical ball of fuzz.

"You can't keep up with them," says Kurl. "Heck, I can't keep up with my own."

Take the ant family. In just one catalog there are foam ants, CDC ants, fur ants, transparent ants, power ants, parachute ants and let's not forget the Chernobyl ant, which has a half-life of 800 years.

Of course, fly guys and gals don't have the corner on the market. Look at any rack of lures and the names are just as zany. There's the Atomic Wedgie, the Slick Willy and the Medium Beer Gut.

Kurl says there are some rules, however: "A Hendrickson will always be a Hendrickson. An Adams will always be an Adams. There will never be a Candy Adams. You can add a fluorescent butt to it, but it won't be an Adams."

No, I won't be brightening my backside anytime soon, I tell him.

Trying to cheer me up, Kurl offers, "There's a Candy Eel tied by Bob Popovics. It's long and slender with big, beautiful eyes."

"No," I tell him sadly, "That's not me, either."

With more and more synthetic materials on the market, the inventory of flies has surpassed anything swarming around a garbage truck.

"Tyers are trying to attract the fish's eye, but they're also trying to catch the fisherman's eye," says Kurl. "You can hear him say, `Oh, I've got to have it. Look at it, it's got to catch fish.'"

Wilcox, who keeps track of these sorts of things for the museum, warmed to the task of digging through fly-tying magazines to find quirky and whimsical names.

There are two saltwater flies called "The Thing" and "The Other Thing." For those looking for an out-of-this-world fishing experience, there's the "E.T." and the "U.F.O."

One of Wilcox's favorites is "The Usual," a dry fly. "You can just hear the `Who's on first" routine," says Wilcox, laughing and acting it out:

"What are you fishing with?"

"The Usual."

"Yeah, but what are you using?"

"The Usual."

Finally, Wilcox says, there's a tyer in California who celebrated the Anaheim Angels' 2002 World Series win with a salmon fly called the "Rally Monkey."

Let's get to work there, Orioles fans.

But to go back to where we started, there's always the woolly bugger, origin unknown. Comes in black, olive or brown. Equally effective for trout, bluegill, crappie, bass, just about anything with gills. With liberal substitution, it can turn the 1965 Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs hit "Woolly Bully" into a decent fishing tune.

Maybe I don't tie flies, but I feel I just made a contribution to fishing.

Carpe Diem, folks. Seize the fish.

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