By: Matt Grajewski
In “Under the Influence”, I wrote about tiers that have influenced my own tying. Often in the fly tying world, its easy to take credit for something another has done. It can be both intentional and unintentional. Over the years, you can pick up on little things and forget where you saw or learned them. Influences can be both direct and indirect. You can learn a pattern, design, or technique from a tier that was influenced by another tier. Fly tying is a copycat activity in which we often forget to pay homage to those that have inspired us. So for Part 2, I wanted to be more specific in relation to the patterns I tie and sell.
The devil dancer uses the deceiver platform, combined with aspects of creating a large profile and little bulk. Like with any bucktail baitfish pattern, Lefty Kreh always comes to mind. When it comes to larger baitfish patterns, Bob Popovics and Mark Sedotti are two of the first I think of. I am a freshwater angler from the upper Midwest. While we know of these names, there wasn’t a lot of great information available outside of books in the early 2000s. Especially pre-social media. I never had an interest in reading fly fishing or tying books. I am more of a learn-by-doing student, but I eventually learned how all three of these tiers have indirectly influenced the devil dancer. Feather tail and reversed tied bucktail are the foundations of this fly.
A good friend of mine, Eli Berant, was tying what he calls the Great Lakes Deceiver. It is a beefier version of Lefty’s Deceiver. I would consider Eli a student of saltwater baitfish fly designs. Using their knowledge to adapt baitfish patterns to our region. I was not tying much with bucktail back then, so Eli sent me a few. This started me down a path of love and affection for bucktail. A staple material for large toothy fish for a number of reason. I would consider Eli my greatest direct influence in what would become the devil dancer.
The Yard Sale is a fly that is most near and dear to my heart. The story of how it came to be, the waters it was tested on, and the things it would teach me about fly design are just a few reasons. My parents purchased a cabin in northern Michigan in 1985, near the famed Au Sable River. It was here I first saw large streamers being fished for trout. My first memory of this came from the boat of Kelly Galloup. My brother and I were wade fishing when Kelly floated by with two clients, throwing large white and yellow streamers. We were immediately intrigued, as the flies were larger than anything we had seen used for trout. Eventually we stopped into the shop Kelly owned in Mio, Michigan to get a closer look.
Having now seen some of Kelly’s flies up close, there were certain aspects I would mimic. One staple would be the use of schlappen feathers as a tail material. Whether Kelly was influenced by another in this aspect, I do not know, but it was the first time I had personally seen it back in the 90s. Again, keep in mind I didn’t consume books and there was little info available online. Another very important part how the flies were articulated These two things can be seen in the Yard Sale today.
During an annual fishing trip to our cabin, I lost a double deceiver and didn’t have another in that color. That night, while attempting to tie another, I realized I hadn’t brought any bucktail. I searched through my materials looking for a substitute. Thats when I discovered some Flash n’ Slinky hidden away in a bottom drawer. When my daughter was 2, I began taking her to the fly shop with me. I would often let her pick out a material or two. Flash n’ Slinky was low on the wall and at eye level for her. Therefor, I ended up with several colors of the material.
I removed it from the package to inspect it a little closer, eventually deciding it would have to do. Using the design aspects I had learned when working on the double deceiver, I was able to produce a fly with similar profile and swimming action. It was success the next day and would become a staple pattern for a number of different species. I rarely leave home without it.
Kelly was definitely a direct influence for me when it comes to this fly. I would learn in the coming years about the large influence Mark Sedotti had on our trout streamer fishing here in Michigan. As well as Walt Grau. I am a fan of history, so to discover indirect influences is always interesting to me. Mark and Walt had a large influence on a number of tiers here in the Great Lakes region, who then influence others.
Slip n’ Slide
This pattern has easily become one of my favorites for pike and muskie over the years. It is heavily influenced by Nick Granato. Nick and I become virtual friends as forums grew in popularity. We had very similar tying styles and thoughts around both tying and fishing. We would often spend hours on the phone (before texting was really thing…yeah I’m getting old) discussing a variety of topics. Nick’s El Chupacabra had a profile I thought would work well for muskie in the lakes of southwest Michigan. Crappie and juvenile carp are common prey for them. I made some tweaks to fit what I was looking for, and eventually formed an articulated version. This fly has taken many large muskies for myself, my brothers, and clients. If you are unfamiliar with any of Nick’s patterns, he’s a good one to lookup.
Jumpin’ Jack Flash
For any serious pike fly fisherman, its easy to pick out a tried and true aspect of this fly…the flash tail. The Flash Tail Whistler was the first pike fly I remember using. To my knowledge, Dan Blanton is the man credited for this pattern. As my pike and muskie fly fishing progressed, I wanted a larger version with a bigger profile. If you are familiar with the conventional side of muskie fishing, you know the Cowgirl is a very successful lure. There are times when something very flashy is what does the trick. This is how the JJF came to be. It has a flash tail and bucktail body like the Flash Tail Whistler, extra flash throughout the body to mimic the massive amount of flash put off but off by a cowgirl, articulated to increase size and action, and a larger head to encourage the side kick action.
This one is easy and the name points that out. Russ Maddin. The Circus Peanut is the first articulated fly I ever tied. The commercially tied verson was the only one I knew of at the time (if you’ve ever seen Russ’ original version, it is noticeably different from the commercial one). I had a lot of success with the Circus Peanut for both trout and bass. Eventually, I wanted a beefier version. A good friend and guide in Michigan, Jeff Hubbard, has a very effective pattern for steelhead called the Firecracker. It uses polar chenille palmered through a rabbit strip. This gave me the idea of palmering polar chenille and schlappen to create a larger body. I also used two articulations to extent the fly. In fly fishing, big fly equals big fish is more about big fly doesn’t equal small fish, for me. Large trout can be caught on small flies, but I want to discourage small fish from taking the fly.
Two other people that are important to mention are Larry Dahlberg and Bob Braendle. As a kid, I remember watching Larry build lures in his garage on Saturday mornings. His use of strategically placed weight to create action was something that stuff with me. All of the flies I listed above use weight to create action.
I worked with Bob at a local fly shop when I was in my 20s. Bob taught me a lot about creating profile with the least amount of materials. Mainly, using base materials to prop up lighter or longer materials. It is a staple in my larger baitfish patterns.
There may be more indirect influences I’m not aware of, or haven’t stuck in my brain. At some point, we have all been influenced, and it’s not a bad thing to recognize.