I have often wondered when the original art of fly tying will finally be replaced by its modern incarnation, as fuelled by social media and the fly fashion show: fanatically dressed lures for fishing on fly rods. Much as I admire modern ingenuity and engage in hours of toil behind the vice in order to finish a single, complex fly, I much more often feel like simply “tying a quick one”. No stick-on eyes or prefab parts. Ditch the bling, for heaven’s sake. Give me feathers and fur, some thread and a hook.

A strip nymph, stripped: the first bare-bones fly pattern

About five months ago, the desire for a simple fly was replaced by a real need for it: the end of the world as we know it had me wondering when I would ever be able to stock up on fly-tying materials again. A small problem on the big ship, I know, but we were all stripped to the bone and more than a little bit worried. Notwithstanding the fact that a fishing trip was also nowhere near on-the-cards, abandoning fly-tying would have only one result.


“Hope, if you didn’t know, is the one thing that will remain when all of us and the world we live on, is gone.”

It’s not as though I wasn’t close enough already. It would be akin to the abandonment of all hope. Hope, if you didn’t know, is the one thing that will remain when all of us and the world we live on, is gone. I had to make a plan – for survival.

Three left-over hackles and a bit of thread

And so it started, innocently and logically enough: I’d tie some flies with minimal materials in a time of uncertain supply. But then it morphed into something more. The X-flies, wrapped in conflicted suspicion and deep-fried in paranoia, then coated ever so lightly in sweet, sweet hope. It became my first outing in post-modern fly tying (and no, I am not a post-modernist, per se) and at least to me, somewhat symbolic. As I’d expected, some understood and some did not. But inadvertently, it became a timestamp. An expression of the now, if you will. As the series of flies developed, I questioned beauty, convention, necessity and survival. Despite a lack of answers and an uncertain future, an overarching reality revealed itself: you don’t need much if you take care with what you have.

fly tying
A bare-bones para-damsel
Nymphs for yellowfish and trout

All the flies were tied with a few simple rules in mind: I’d use only one or two materials, leave all or most of the hook-shank bare, and if required, aesthetically, would add some coloured accents made of thread and superglue. Some brand-new patterns emerged, and old favourites were undressed and re-imagined for both fresh and saltwater fishing.

fly tying
Egg-laying para-mayfly
Near-naked bloodworms

Now, as restrictions on our lives are slowly being lifted, opportunities to test these things beckon. I have already enjoyed some success fishing bare-bones nymphs on my favourite trout streams. In fact, a would-be fishless day was saved by them. Who knew?

Signs of the times

Follow #barebonesflytying on instagram to see more current and future patterns tied in this style.

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