Swedish version


"Foam no.5"
Text & Photo: Niclas Andersson

A different mayfly where the shape,
silhouette and impression is the most important.


Foam no.5, by Niclas Andersson
A Heptagenia sulphurea, tied according to my basic recipe.

My home waters should no doubt be classified as one of the more difficult places to fish, considering it’s crystal clear water, often inviting to sight fishing for nymphing brown trout in the shallow, slow streams. And to top it off, it’s not just any fish in these waters; wild, butter-yellow and beautifully patterned brown trout, weighing 600 grams to 2 kilo, and totally imprinted on insects, seem to dominate. It may sound too good to be true, but this stream is probably so good because almost all anglers catch and release in a correct and responsible way. This yields results!

My favourite time of the year for fly-fishing is during the early summer, when the stream offers hatching of different Baetis, yellow and brown Heptagenia's and a number of other interesting small mayfly species. A while later, when it’s getting warmer, I relinquish from fishing here, because then the brown trout may find it more difficult to survive if it’s caught and released in warm water.

The early summer’s plentiful mayfly hatching soon makes the fish in my home waters selective. On top of it all, sometimes fish just a few meters away from each other can be selective for different types of mayflies at a mixed hatching. This naturally will cause problems. Many times it seems as valuable time is spent more on switching flies than for actual fishing.

I started to think about what the selectivity depended on. During the last two fishing seasons I have experimented with a mayfly pattern in foam, a pattern that can imitate a number of different mayflies and eliminates the constant switching of flies. Of most interest to me, considering all types of imitations fished on or at the surface, are the shape, color and impression. I rather immediately understood that exact color or exact looks mattered less. Many times I fished for brown trout that evidently were feeding on certain newly hatched mayflies and I then chose to fish with an exact imitation concerning color, burnt wings and other details - without getting the fish’s attention. But after having switched to one of my experiment flies in foam, where only the size, but not the color, was right, the brown trout immediately took the fly…!

What’s the secret? Well, my conviction is that we often imitate the wrong things and look at the flies through human eyes. When I tie my foam flies, I nowadays concentrate on two things where I strive for nearly hundred percent accuracy; namely the shape of the flies seen from the fish’s angle and the impression on the water. All insects floating on or in the water surface make an impression in the form of "air reflections" around the parts resting in the surface - it’s the surface tension that makes them float. Primary two parts of Mayflies rest on the water and form the characteristic light pattern from the impression in the surface. The first part is the legs that make the front body raise up from the water surface, and the second is the rear body's imprint on the water surface just at the point where it raises up from the water. It’s this pattern, combined with the characteristic silhouette that I try to recreate with my mayfly imitations made of foam bodies.

Photo: Niclas Andersson
One of the "brownies" that helped me with my experiments

The fly, named "Foam no 5," I tie on hooks of all sorts from a thin-wire streamer hook size 10-12 (Ephemera Vulgata and Ephemera Danica) down to a regular dryfly-hook of size 18 (Baetis). I use only four colors of foam (beige, black, yellow and brown) and four on the hackle capes (grizzle, brown, medium down and cream). Only these two materials, except hook and tying thread in matching colors, are needed for creating mayfly imitations with the necessary attributes. Today’s modern fly-fishing maybe has gone too far in its ambition to create exact imitations. Instead of thinking from the fish’s point of view, we have a tendency to look at our flies with "fly-tying eyes." We should probably instead look at the overall impression and also remember that the impression made of an insect in the water surface probably is what’s most characteristic for that insect - and that we can’t see with the fly in the vice!

It’s obviously difficult to get the right perspective of how a newly composed fly’s impression looks from below; the way the fish sees it. One way is to dive under the water yourself to study the fly from below. For example Gary LaFontaine did this. But that requires special equipment, hence it’s quite complicated. A much simpler alternative is to place the fly either in the water out in nature or in a large glass bottle, and then angle a small hand-held mirror into the water so that you can see the fly’s silhouette and impression in the mirror.

Always remember that you see the through human eyes - not through the trout’s - and that you must see the overall impression and not stare yourself blind at details. Artists squint to get a better view of their picture - this is a little hint.

It’s very important to believe in the flies you fish with. If you don’t, you’ll be ineffective and unenthusiastic…

1. Choose the thread by the body color and wind around the hook-shaft.

2. Attach a tapered foam strip at the hook bend and then wind the thread frontward.

3. Tie down the foam strip, cut any excessive material and wind a seat for the hackle.

4. Attach and wind the hackle. Notice the diameter of the hackle so that the fly will be seated right on the water.

By looking in a small hand-held mirror you can check the silhouette and impression the fly makes in the water.


© Text & photo: Niclas Andersson 1997
Translated into english by Ulrika Lindfors Davis



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