If It Looks Offensive, Fish It!

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

  1. I noticed that rubbery worm patterns kill on nearly every stream or lake but I’m also a firm believer in the fact that presentation beats pattern nearly every time.

    When I switch to my tenkara rod I tend to catch much, much more on small streams no matter what pattern I tie on. If you get the fly directly in front of their mouths they usually just go “Oh what the heck.. ” and gobble it right down.

    After all we’re trying to outsmart a creature with a brain the size of a pea here 😉

    • I can completely agree with your view on presentation being most important. regardless of the fly that’s tied on, I always try to make sure to present my flies properly to give myself the best chance of hooking up. However, on the other side of the fence, I’ve seen fish move 6ft to eat flies of this variety. That’s one of the reasons why I wonder how these work so well, as why I fish them often.

  2. Great point, JP! I was fishing midges, p’adams, stoneflies, p’nymphs….nothing was working on the Sun in MT. I took out my 6# and tossed a 6 inch caucasian sex dungeon. Next thing i know, I’m pulling out a 20 inch rainbow. No spectacular color pattern. If you asked me earlier in the week if that would have worked, i would have pushed you in the drink. Like Quatto says, “Open your mind.”

  3. Jeff in OR here:

    I come up with streamer patterns that are NOT going to win any points with a traditionalist. However, they work. I long ago realized that yes color plays a part depending on the light and water conditions, but if what I am swinging has the action and the profile of what a fish eats, you are going to have success.

  4. Maybe it has something to do with how the light reacts/interacts with the color or pattern. I don’t care what it looks like as long as it works. 🙂

  5. Great article. Fly patterns have come along way in the last several years and continue to evolve I with all the UV, sparkle this and that because they have to catch the fishermans wallet first. Sure I love getting into seeing all the newest quad articulated streamers and flashy nymphs but find that sometimes the most ridiculous looking fly will out fish them all.

  6. Curious but under what conditions and what time of year are these being fished? My mind could grasp off color water and winter or brown rainbow sucker spawn, but if this yields success on low selective water I would love to fish something I can see drift through the water.

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