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  • Writer's pictureBrian Lansing

Confidence Flies

In last week’s post, I mentioned “confidence flies” a couple of times. What are they? What’s their purpose? Why are they important? What makes them so special? They are all great questions, so let’s get right to it.

Each angler has their own confidence baits, lures, or flies. I’m no different. Confidence flies are the ones that I tie the most of, use most often, reach for first, and reach for when all else fails. Simply put, they are flies I have the utmost confidence in to put a fish in the net. I know how they fish in different water types and how to fish them. Each time I tie one of these flies on, I’m confident in my drifts and I’m confident I can generate a strike. I’m comfortable with them and know what to expect from them. When times are tough, I make them work.

I’m a believer that fly anglers should really get to know their flies. Not all of them fish the same. Some are better served to trout in the summer, while others are better served in the fall. Some flies perform better in fast water. Some flies require being rolled along the bottom and some flies are best suited for drifting suspended in the middle of the water column. Getting to know your flies and fishing them in different situations builds an understanding and confidence of when, where, and how to use them. Finding success with those flies, time and time again, builds the confidence and trust.

I should note, having confidence flies and patterns isn’t just a trout thing either. I have my select few baitfish patterns and colors for the saltwater that I grab first as well. They are what I tie on if I’m not seeing bait around to match. They are patterns that I’m confident I can throw and make a fish eat. The same can be said about baitfish patterns for walleye or bass as well.

Why are confidence flies important? While I’m a believer in matching the hatch and giving finicky fish what they want, I find it extremely important to have confidence in the fly you’re flinging. I can’t think of many times where I’ve tied something on and thought, “this looks like total garbage and I’m probably not going to hook any fish”, and then proceeded to successfully hook a bunch of trout. If there’s no confidence in the fly tied to the end of the tippet, putting trout in the net is going to be a challenging endeavor. I find myself fishing a pattern more thoroughly and effectively if I have a lot of confidence in the pattern I’m throwing. I’m confident, more precise, and laser focused with my drifts. There’s the old saying that’s muttered daily and you’ve probably heard 1,765,34 times, “confidence breeds success”. While I’m confident the person who initially coined the phrase probably didn’t do so with fly fishing in mind, the phrase can certainly be applied.

Confidence flies don’t happen overnight. It takes repeated use, struggles, slow days and, finally, success to build that trust and confidence. I have flies I’ve found success with all over the country that I have the utmost confidence in. I always like my chances when tying these flies on my line, but it wasn’t always this way. I had to build my trust in them. Some patterns in my box are still new to me. While I know other anglers throw these patterns daily as their own confidence patterns, I have not used them enough to be a “go to” pattern for me, yet… Fly patterns grow to become confidence patterns. There are days when I fish and try new patterns, always taking note of what’s working and how or what’s not working. Fishing eggs is an example. For years, I didn’t use eggs as I had no confidence with them. However, I made it a point to work them more. With each trout fooled with an egg, I gained more confidence in the fly. The tipping point was fishing to a brown I could see in a feeding lane chowing down, but refusing every bug I tossed. When I switched to an egg, the brown moved up to smash it as if it was the last meal it was going to see. I am at a point where the egg pattern never leaves my box and is in the top two or three winter patterns I use. Yes, I have confidence patterns for each time of the year. Many of them are the same or similar, but some are season specific, like the egg.

Fly tying.  A pile of my confidence flies and patterns.  Eggs, jigged buggers, pheasant tails, caddis larva and pupa
A pile of my winter confidence flies. Eggs, jigged buggers, pheasant tails, caddis larva and pupa are all some of my main confidence patterns.

Each angler should have at least a pattern or two they have confidence in. It’s a baseline and a starting point. It’s a comfort zone. There are times to step outside our comfort zones as anglers, but when we need a strike and need a “go to” or reliable pattern, we need confidence flies. Think back to your school days, specifically the days you needed to choose a partner or group to work with and you wanted to get a good grade. Aside from the times you tried to partner with your class crush (the pretty and flashy fly), didn’t you try to partner with the kid you were comfortable with or the kid you were confident you could work well with (the fly you catch fish with)? Not many ever picked the new kid nobody knew anything about (the fly in the corner of your box someone traded you on the stream). Perhaps a better example would be picking teams in a pickup baseball, basketball, or kickball game. If you were a team captain, didn’t you always pick the kids that had played well in the past and the kids you were comfortable with? In fly fishing, we partner with the flies that have done well for us in the past and we trust to get the job done. Those are confidence flies.

One of the neat things about confidence flies or patterns is that they can come with some kind of story. There is a reason why each angler has designated those patterns as their confidence flies. There might be a trophy fish behind someone’s confidence pattern. There could be an epic day where fish ate nothing but that fly. Maybe it’s a fly variation that the angler created on their own and has worked well. My confidence fly that caught me thirty trout in a day might not be the same fly that has caught someone else thirty trout in a day. I can give reasons or characteristics why I think my fly works and another angler can offer their perspective on why their variation works. In the end, both of us are probably right. Confidence flies tend to be pretty personal. I strongly feel having confidence in the pattern being thrown makes a difference in how an angler fishes and whether a fish winds up dancing on the other end of the line or the angler walks home skunked and out of beer.

Thanks for reading. Stay warm and do some tying this weekend. I'll be checking out the ice on the lake. Have a great weekend!


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