Evolution of the Fly

The evolution of the fly in fly fishing started when the use of a fly to capture fish was first recorded in history at the end of the second century by a Roman called Claudius Aelianus.

He was a prominent naturalist of his time and in one of his writings he described seeing anglers on the river bank fastening wool and feathers to a hook to catch fish.

Getting on for two thousand years later here we are doing the same thing, but how much has the fly changed?

I got thinking about this subject a few weeks ago when I came across an old fly box from about 30 years ago when I used to do a lot of reservoir fly fishing and when I opened it up I was met with the sight of the usual suspects of the day like a baby doll, sweeny todd, jersey herd, viva and some buzzers. What amazed me most of all was how primitive these flies looked compared to modern dressings using the latest tying materials.

So did these flies work? Too right they did! So the next question is have I had progressively more success over the years as fly patterns have evolved? This is a question I have never thought about too much before and would like to think my success has improved more due to my greatly improved watercraft skills and the honing of different fishing techniques rather than the fly on the end of my leader. I guess one real way to find out would be to use some of the modern techniques but with the old flies to see if my success rate remained on a par…..now there’s a challenge!

I’m sure a lot boils down to confidence aswell, have a good looking fly tied on your leader and you will fish more confidence and subsequently catch more fish, rather than a sub standard dressing that plays on your mind in the fact that this might not be quite the right fly choice.


So now I’m wondering what will my fly box look like in another 30 years and how far can fly patterns evolve and still remain a fly as we know it today? The arrival of modern fly tying materials have made our fly boxes look the way they do today, not I am sure, to the approval of some of our great fly fishing ancestors, but how far can our fly patterns evolve until they are no longer a true fly as we know it? You only have to look at some magazines where the readers submit some of their latest fly designs using all manner of materials bar fur and feather. Some of these imitations look more lifelike than the original they were designed to represent!

So have we reached the limit with fly evolution or will today’s flies look positively primitive in another 30 years time when I open my fly box? I will look forward to finding that one out.

I would also be interested on hearing any other views on this topic, so if you have any thoughts please feel free to drop me a line.