Fly of the Year For 2006

• By Jason Hansen • Empirical Analysis

One of the simple-to-use features of Fish Swami is its basic statistics page where it breaks down the number of fish you caught in a given year according to month, fish species, location, or pattern. Although the numbers are fun to look at, they don't tell you much aside from some basic information about how you did fishing in a given year according to some simple groupings. I'm going to discuss my top fly for 2006 and attempt to explain why it worked and what factors influenced its relative productivity. The following is my table of top 10 flies for 2006:

PatternNumber Caught
Pheasant Tail BH95
Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear75
Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear BH44
Pheasant Tail35
Green Rockworm27
Clear Wing Spinner21
Copper John20
Elk Hair Caddis19

A quick analysis of the numbers shows that nymph patterns constituted 6 of the top 10 patterns for me, while two nymph patterns in particular -- the Pheasant Tail and Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear along with their beadhead counterparts -- comprised 59% of the fish caught (249 out of 420) by the top patterns. Apparently, I did a lot of nymphing in '06.

Before I go and proclaim the Pheasant Tail as the greatest fly of all-time, I need to think a little more about these numbers and consider some key reasons why I caught more fish on the Pheasant Tail than other flies. By answering some questions about the usage of the fly, I should be able to formulate a theory on why the fly worked so well. These questions will be centered around the basic interrogative constructs of "what", "when", "where", "how", and "why".


Here's where we start digging deeper into the mystery of the top fly. The "what" question could be asked of multiple things, but for this article the question will be: what are the various fish species caught by the Pheasant Tail in 2006? This is where Fish Swami's "Fishing Log Empirical Analysis System" tool can be used to do more complicated searches and computations of fish catch data. The following is the fish species breakdown of the number of fish caught in 2006:

Fish SpeciesNumber Caught (PT - Other)
Bluegill10 - 4
Brown Trout18 - 94
Carp8 - 3
Crappie0 - 7
Cutthroat Trout64 - 228
Gold Trout0 - 15
Largemouth Bass0 - 1
Mountain Whitefish6 - 23
Rainbow Trout24 - 109

The species of fish I angle for largely dictate the type of patterns I fish with, and this can be seen through the numbers above. The Pheasant Tail is a good nymphing pattern in rivers and stillwaters for trout, whitefish, bluegill, and similar fish that eat small aquatic larva. It is not a particularly good pattern for bass, pike, saltwater, anadromous, or various other fish species.


The next question is "when": when did we fish the Pheasant Tail and can we deduce anything from the different periods? As with the "what" question, I am going to use Fish Swami's FLEAS tool to obtain a monthly breakdown of the number of fish caught in 2006 on a Pheasant Tail or Bead Head Pheasant Tail, compared with the number of fish caught on all other flies:

MonthNumber Caught (PT - Other)
April0 - 1
May10 - 67
June4 - 40
July52 - 86
August38 - 97
September24 - 124
October1 - 40
November1 - 26
December0 - 3

The months that produced the most fish by far for the Pheasant Tail were the summer months of July and August. While I still caught quite a few fish on the Pheasant Tail in September, I caught substantially more fish on other flies. These numbers lead us to ask "What was happening in July and August that produced so many fish compared to the other months?" Without seeing more data, it seems reasonable to say that where ever I fished in those months, the fish I caught (almost all trout) were used to seeing nymphs that the Pheasant Tail resembled and hence were more willing to accept the imitation. The next couple questions should help narrow this down further.


Next in the line of questions for determining the success of the Pheasant Tail is: "Where did the fly catch fish?" Again, the empirical analysis tool will be used to break down how many fish I caught at various locations. I will aggregate this data into higher groups to protect the identity of some of the places fished as well as abstract the data into more logical groups. Note that all of the fish were caught on public waters.

Water TypeNumber Caught (PT - Other)
Spring Creeks17 - 89
Lowland Rivers/Creeks37 - 232
Lowland Lakes10 - 29
Mountain Creeks14 - 12
Mountain Lakes52 - 122

It is interesting to see that for spring creeks, the Pheasant Tail wasn't an overly productive pattern for me. One possible reason for this is that the Pheasant Tail is more of an impressionistic nymph than an entomologically-accurate nymph, which may be more effective in clear, slow waters. Going down the list, it is a little surprising to see that the Pheasant Tail, despite catching 37 fish in lowland rivers and creeks, made up such a small percentage of the overall fish caught in those areas. This makes me ponder which fly or flies produced the most fish in this area, but that investigation will need to be shelved for a later time. I did not fish much in lowland lakes and mountain creeks in 2006 and the results show for both my number of fish caught on the Pheasant Tail and my number of fish caught overall in these bodies of water. The real winner for the Pheasant Tail was mountain lakes, where I caught a large number of fish overall and 30% of those fish came on a Pheasant Tail. This seems to make a fair amount of sense, since mountain lake fish are generally more aggressive and less finicky when it comes to diet, and the Pheasant Tail is a good impressionistic, dark-colored nymph pattern.


Continuing the investigation of the success of the Pheasant Tail, the next query revolves around "how". That is, how did I catch fish using the Pheasant Tail? This entails a look into the methods and retrieves I employed to catch fish and why those methods favored a fly such as the Pheasant Tail over other nymphs and flies in general. The discussion here is less concrete than with the previous questions because the "how" is more about personal fishing style preferences. Generally when I visit a fishing spot, the first thing I look for is fish rising. I enjoy catching fish on the surface and if given the options to catch fish with dry flies or to catch fish subsurface, I will usually choose to fish with dry flies. If I see fish rising and the fish appear to be rising consistently, then I will string up a dry line and try to determine what the emergers, adults, or spent adults are that the fish are rising to. However, and I will likely differ from some anglers on this point, if the fish are rising only sporadically, I tend to forego dry fly fishing and tie on nymphs. An angler with a proclivity to fish the surface even during minimal or no surface activity will likely accumulate substantially different yearly catch totals than myself. Also of note is that in 2006 I rarely fished streamers or wet flies. These tendencies most definitely influenced my Pheasant Tail (and nymph patterns in general) catch totals.


The last question in our brief pattern-of-the-year journey is the central question the article is trying to answer: "why". Why did the Pheasant Tail work so well in 2006? The answer lies in the conjugation of the aforementioned ideas. First, a large number of the fish I caught in 2006 were caught in mountain lakes where the fish were less finicky. Associated with mountain lake fishing was the fact I engaged a new technique for fishing mountain lakes where bead head nymphs are quite effective; the Pheasant Tail fit the bill nicely. Second, the Pheasant Tail produced well during the summer months in lowland rivers and creeks. In my region, the local rivers have good populations of Pale Morning Dun and Blue Wing Olive nymphs, both of which the Pheasant Tail does a reasonable job of imitating. These nymphs are generally going strong during that time of year. A third, less tangible point, is confidence. While it is hard or perhaps impossible to produce statistics to back this claim, I argue that an angler's confidence influences how well the fly or pattern being fished will work. If an angler has high confidence that their current pattern will produce fish, they are likely to pay more subtle attention to the fly's drift or retrieve, which directly translates to an increase in the number of detected fish takes. Confidence in a pattern also means an angler is more likely to fish the pattern than other patterns, which likely results in more fish being caught on that pattern. An interesting in-depth investigation would be to determine the fish catch rate (number of fish caught per hour) of the Pheasant Tail compared to other patterns. The large percentage of fish caught on the Pheasant Tail may be due to the fact it I fish it substantially more than other patterns.

Undoubtedly there are more factors that contributed to the success of the Pheasant Tail for me in 2006, and I imagine my results will correspond with only a small percentage of other anglers. Fish Swami offers tools that allow anglers to view their fishing results in a multitude of ways, ways that would be quite hard to duplicate using a traditional written log. Hopefully others will be able to analyze their own logs and come up with interesting and useful conclusions.

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