Should You ALWAYS Be Using Flash on Flies?
Updated: Jun 30
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. It may not matter to some, but I'm a firm believer in adding flash to some of my flies for specific scenarios. I know it helps get a few extra bites at times, but at other times I also feel it can be a turnoff. And let's be honest—there are times when it probably doesn't matter. Of course, I'm not a fish, so I can't tell you precisely what they prefer on any given day, but I do consider the following variables altogether when deciding if I should start with a fly that uses flash or not.
Sunlight- The brighter the day, the more brilliant flash will shine. It may seem like flash would make the most sense to use only on sunny days, but I've also caught plenty of fish using it with overcast or low-light conditions overhead. Flashy materials can still give off some enticing shimmer even when the light isn't as bright as it could be. With more sunshine, however, I'm inclined to go easier on the flash, but that decision ultimately depends on the following factors on this list.
Water Clarity- The clearer the water, the easier light can penetrate. Of course, the more light that can penetrate, the brighter the flash will be able to shine, and the deeper in the water this can happen. Generally speaking, the clearer the water, the less emphasis I place on flash. In gin-clear, shallow, calm water, I often lean towards going with little or 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 tiny fly pattern may be more challenging for the fish to find, regardless of water or weather conditions. Putting some flash on a little fly can add an 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 exceptionally touchy, anything more than minimal flash can be an absolute 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 must 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 various weather and water conditions. Now, if I 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 the ideal amount of flash. Different flash colors can also be used based on the conditions; bolder, like gold or red in dirtier water, or more subtle, like a translucent pearl color for very clear water.
In my opinion, I never say there are any hard and fast rules when it comes to using flash; only factors like those above that 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 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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