If It Looks Offensive, Fish It!

11 comments / Posted on / by


By Justin Pickett

Does a trout fly have to “be something?”

I was once approached by a man on a local stream after I had brought a nice male Rainbow Trout to the net, and immediately he asked the age old question, “What’d he eat?” I removed the fly from the trout’s kyped jaw and held it up for the older gentleman to see. The look of shock and awe… no… make that shear terror… on his face was priceless.

“What the hell is that supposed to be?!” to which I replied,

“I dunno, but it works!”

The fly in question is the brainchild of a good friend, and colleague, of mine. He fishes it all the time, and has lovingly named it the “Trout Brain.” It is a large, ugly, bulky, pink, flesh-like pattern tied on a partridge hook with a bright, fluorescent orange, tungsten bead. To look at this thing, you’d think that there is no way any self-respecting trout inhabiting the lower 48 would eat it. Hell I’ve had clients and other fishing buddies downright refuse to tie it on their rig. I’ll admit I had my doubts at first as well.

It is definitely a far cry from what you would consider a “traditional” fly pattern, but it has proven to be very effective. Do I know why they eat this damn thing? Nope! All I know is that this fly has caught lots of fish, primarily trout, in just about every type of water, including Common Carp in the Huron River, and even Bonefish in the Bahamas!
So what makes a trout eat something that is so obviously not a normal part of their diet??? I have no idea. Is it a case of “curiosity killed the cat”? Or does it piss them off to the point of eating it just so they don’t have to look at it? Why would they eat something so stupid and gaudy?

I highly doubt that this male rainbow mistook it for an emerging BWO. Maybe he thought it was Double Bubble. We’ll never really know. What I do know is that flies like this are a staple in my fly box. Why? Our public, and even some private, waters are constantly pounded with the usual fare of mayfly, stonefly, and caddis patterns. Trout are basically seeing the same patterns over and over again, day after day. Yes, there are variations of patterns that attempt to be different, but when it all boils down to it you can put them all in similar categories.

So what point am I trying to make?

Every once in a while you just need to throw something different for crying out loud! Think a little further outside the box. When everyone else has fished through a section of water with princes, copper johns, and woolly buggers, give these guys something else to look at. Something leggy, flashy, hairy, bright, etc. Think big. Think exaggerated. Think grandiose, and just plain gross looking. Patterns like “The Mop”, “Trout Brain”, or “Coach K” to name a few.

Not comfortable throwing something big and gaudy? Try adding legs or some flashy materials to one of your favorite flies. For example, the “Dirty Politician” and “Psycho Prince” patterns are colorful variations of already successful patterns. If you tie, get crazy at the vise and do some experimenting.

Still not feelin’ it? Too much of a traditionalist?

Fair enough. It’s not going to appeal to every angler, and that’s cool. It doesn’t have to be the first fly you reach for once you’re streamside, but when you’ve pulled out every fly in your box and nothing has worked, what do you have to lose???

Justin Pickett
Gink & Gasoline
Sign Up For Our Weekly Newsletter!

Follow Gink & Gasoline on Facebook:

11 thoughts on “If It Looks Offensive, Fish It!

  1. Amen brother! Great success can be found by stepping outside of the human boundaries that we create for “acceptable” and “unacceptable” flies. Hope its a great day for you.

  2. “Most of what a trout eats, is 3/8 of an inch long, brown, and fuzzy .”

    “A hungry fish sees what it wants to see.”
    – Scottish proverb

    Everything has potential to work somewhere, sometime, anywhere, anytime.

  3. Correction:
    “I look into… my fly box, and think about all the elements I should consider in choosing the perfect fly: water temperature, what stage of development the bugs are in, what the fish are eating right now. Then I remember what a guide told me:
    ‘Ninety percent of what a trout eats is brown and fuzzy and about five-eighths of an inch long.’”  
-Allison Moir

  4. Its hard to imagine any fish turning down a meal of MEAT. Meat that has lain in the water for a while bleeds out, resulting in something that resembles your “Trout Brain”. A number of years ago I watched a video of a friends moose hunt. The bull fell half in a stream and as my friend and his partner butchered the bull a sizable school of grayling gathered just downstream to snatch up any meat pieces that drifted free. My friend picked one out of the water – a 20 incher. He said most of the fish were of a similar size.

  5. Great post Justin. I know it’s on rewind……but I just got off a plane from fishing the Arkansas river in Colorado and can tell you infaticly they eat purple squirmy worms and mops. I live and fish year round in North Carolina.

  6. Huge fan of using and tying unique flies. Fish will eat a potato chip, so it’s pretty safe there is latitude in the patterns fish will eat. To your point, a compelling argument that the odd fly will get some attention.

    Tie and fish a pattern and get to “know it”. Then modify things based on observations. A Zoo Cougar is a wonderful base pattern. I tie varieties for bass with long hackle instead of a mallard wing and a larger, denser head. Often adding rubber legs. Varieties for trout are typically tied with pheasant feathers for the wing, they look cool, and red marabou gills add some pop.

    There are no rules (that have to be followed).

  7. Great essay!

    This is a topic I continually contemplate stream side…Do ANY FLIES truly imitate insects, etc?…I have my doubts…To prove the point, I’ve actually caught fish swinging a bare hook! Who the heck knows what (literally) motivates a fish?
    But I guess that’s the essence of fly fishing…It’s a mystery that I haven’t solved to my own satisfaction…

    Fun read

  8. Pingback: If It Looks Offensive, Fish It! – Cheap Fishing Equipment

  9. Each year, upta camp, we have a clown-fly contest. Most fish or largest fish wins the five dollar prize.
    Of course, the winner never gets paid, but, that’s camp!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Captcha loading...