Should You ALWAYS Be Using Flash on Flies?
Updated: Nov 3, 2020
Flashy fly tying materials come in several forms ranging from thin tinsel to gaudy Flashabou.
Fly patterns can incorporate a tiny bit of flash, a modest amount, a whole lot, or often none at all. It may not matter to some, but I'm a firm believer in adding flash to some of my flies for certain scenarios. I really believe it helps get a few extra bites at times, but at other times I also feel it can definitely be a turnoff as well. And let's be honest — there are times when it probably doesn't matter one bit. I'm not a fish so I can't tell you exactly what they prefer on any given day, but I do consider the following variables altogether when deciding if I should start out with a fly that uses flash or not.
Sunlight- The brighter the day, the brighter flash will shine. It may seem like flash would make the most sense to use only on sunny days, but I've caught plenty of fish using it with overcast or low-light conditions overhead as well. Even when the light isn't as bright as it could be, flashy materials can still give off some enticing shimmer. With more sunshine I'm inclined to go easier on the flash, but that decision ultimately depends on the next factors on this list, too.
Water Clarity- The clearer the water, the easier light can penetrate. Of course, the more light that can penetrate the brighter a fly's flash will be able to shine and the deeper in the water this can happen. As mainly a streamer angler, generally speaking the clearer the water the less emphasis I place on flash. In gin-clear, shallow water that's on the calm side, I often lean towards going with little or even no flash at all. Flash is meant to catch the eye of the fish, and if the conditions already offer outstanding underwater visibility I tend to keep my flies more conservative...at least to start.
Fly Size- A very small pattern may be tougher for the fish to find regardless of water or weather conditions. Putting some flash on a little fly can add extra glimmer to help it stand out among its surroundings and give it just a hint of added enticement. Even a tiny nymph stripped through a calm, clear lake may benefit from a bit of flash given off by even something as simple as a bead head.
Spooky Fish- If fish are particularly touchy, anything more than minimal flash can be a real no-no. In this case, getting the fly to the fish in the most subtle, stealthy way can be the only way to go. This is also common in sight-fishing situations when casting to fish in clear, shallow water. When fish immediately spook at the sight of the fly or keep tracking it but never eat, try the same pattern but with no flash and maybe even in a smaller size. Tweaks like that can make shy fish commit.
Wind/Current- Drifting or swinging a fly in river current means the fish often need to see and intercept it pretty quickly before the fly goes by their holding spot. A touch of flash can give that fly a little glint to help it stand out among things like river rocks or weeds. Wave action from the wind is another time I don't mind some flash. Anytime the water's surface is broken up and stuff is churning around down below, fish get less touchy and a little added attractant like flash can look more appealing and help them find it faster.
When it comes to flash, keeping it basic works too. Rather than deciding if I should tie a fly with it or not, I sometimes just use a sparse amount of flash in my patterns. That way, the fly will be more appropriate for a variety of weather and water conditions. Now, if I really have a familiar fishery dialed-in and know exactly what to expect when I'm there, I'll get more specific and tie my patterns with more flash or even none at all. Different shades of flash can also be incorporated in regards to the conditions you're facing; more bold like gold or red for dirtier water, or more subtle like a translucent pearl color for very clear water.
In my opinion, I never say there's any hard and fast rules when it comes to using flash; only factors like those above to help influence my initial fly selection. Although I think flash does help at times, there's often really no way to truly tell. Based on my past experience, conditions, and gut instinct, I start fishing with whatever seems best to me and instills the most confidence. Despite this, sometimes the "rules" or what I believe in goes out the window. Always keep an open mind regarding the use of flash and let the fish ultimately tell you what they do or don't want on a given day!
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