The Braided Wing

Al Ritt and Adaptable Multi-Species Flies

Posted January 24, 2013 Al Ritt.

Al Ritt and Adaptable Multi-Species Flies

One of the great fly tyers, Al Ritt has a professional resume as long and winding as the Great Wall. A lot of folks know him as Brand Manager for PEAK Fishing, a manufacturer of premium quality fly tying vises and bamboo rod-making planing forms and tools, for whom he does numerous fly shows across North America. But that's really just the beginning.

Al is the Fly Tying Editor for Fly Fusion magazine, fly designer for Montana Fly Company, lifetime member of the International Federation of Fly Fishers (IFFF) Fly Tying Group and member of their Board of Governors, contributor to Fly Fishing and Tying Journal, Fly Tyer, Hatches, and Fly Fusion, and pro team member of PEAK Fishing, Whiting Farms, Performance Flies, Flymen Fishing Company, Daiichi Hook, Clear Cure Goo, and Fishing for a Cause. His patterns are featured in 100 Best Flies for Montana Trout (Thomas Pero), 100 Best Flies for Colorado Trout (Pero), Modern Midges (Rick Takahashi & Jerry Hubka), and one of my personal favorites, A Fly Fisher's Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park (Steve Schweitzer). Perhaps most flattering of all, Al is profiled in Colorado Trout Flies: Great Patterns and the Remarkable People Who Tie Them (Hosman); The Master's Flybox (Klausmeyer), and the recent Better Flies Faster (also Klausmeyer). And to top it all off, he's also a fly tying instructor who also guides in the Rocky Mountain National Park and various waters in Northern Colorado.

We're excited that Al is writing his first fly fishing book with Stonefly Press. The title is still tentative, but the gist of it is: 25 Most Adaptable Flies for Multiple Species (Stonefly Press, 2013). We're planning on offering some special flybox offers with the book that will include each of the 25 flies featured...but we haven't told Al yet. Well, until he reads this. Should be a cool package though, if he's game.

I have been asked several times when I would have a book coming out. The question is always a humbling compliment, but I really didn’t know how to go about writing a book and having it published. So when Patrick Kelley and then Robb Clouse with Stonefly Press contacted me about working with them to write and publish a book I felt excited, surprised, and honored. I believe most, if not all, authors will tell you that the hardest work to get published is your first. Patrick and Robb’s request took that hurdle out of the equation so suddenly I was confronted with the realization that my only remaining obstacle was me getting to work!

It may seem obvious, but the first thing you need in order to write a book is a subject. As it turned out, the concept Robb had for the book they wanted me to do - and the book idea I already had - were very similar. I'm a demonstration fly tier and a fly tying instructor. I try to discourage the concept that a fly is always for a certain situation or fish species. I'm continually asked at tying demonstrations, “What kind of fish is that fly for?” Well, guess what? Fish don’t know if they're a trout, bass, pike, carp or bonefish. They don’t know if they're big or small. They react to stimuli in their environment that trigger them to swallow something. They have to do this to survive. They have no idea what it is, or if another species of fish does or doesn’t feed on it also. Most importantly, they don’t know your intentions when you tied the fly! For this reason I am very excited to be writing about a series of exceptional flies and their adaptations that are not limited in use to only certain water types or fish species. Even though some, such as The Usual below for example, are closely associated with very specific situations.



The Usual is a very well known Catskill pattern originated by fly tying and fishing legend Fran Betters. It is an established dry fly that is deadly on trout and has been in use in the Adirondack Region of New York since the middle of the 20th century. As often happens, while there are some fly fishers who see outside the box, most it seems consider The Usual to be a very good trout fly for the Adirondacks. I find this to be a very limited view, and frankly it would take a lot of the fun and discovery out of fly fishing if I didn’t attempt to expand the boundaries.

It’s not a huge leap to assume The Usual would be a great addition to any trout fisher’s freestone stream arsenal. Many have found this to be true. But even here in Colorado, not that far from its place of origin, in this day and age I’m surprised at how many people I meet who have never heard of The Usual or have heard of it but don’t know what it looks like. I wonder how many of those same people realize that the Comparadun and Sparkle Dun, which are so popular on spring creeks and tail waters worldwide, are direct descendents and vary only slightly from The Usual. I get hooked (no pun intended) on fly patterns with interesting stories. I enjoy experimenting with them. This may mean with how they are tied, substituting materials, or using the flies in situations that the pattern is not typically associated with. The Usual, the same fly so deadly on Adirondack trout, has proven itself to me to be a very good lake fly for trout, a fantastic warmwater fly for panfish and hands down my favorite dry fly for carp. I’ve made a believer out of several fishing companions who have witnessed the effectiveness of The Usual and it has accounted for my largest grass carp to date, estimated at 20 pounds.



Thinking about what flies would be included in the book, one immediately came to mind - Jack Gartside’s Gurgler. Maybe that was partially due to my recent trip to the Dean River in British Columbia. Why does a fly that was originally tied for jacks in the Bahamas come to mind for a steelhead fishing trip? Great question. I was very fortunate to stay a week on the lower Dean fishing for fresh steelhead. How fresh? Well, we fished from the river mouth upstream less than two miles. I’d say that’s pretty fresh. If that doesn’t paint a clear picture, maybe a pure chrome fish covered with sea lice gives you a better idea.

This was my second consecutive summer to have this opportunity. The first year I focused on learning two-handed spey casts and swinging flies, both of which I've wanted to do for years. Year one was the trip of my lifetime. Those of you fortunate enough to be able to do the one thing you’ve most wanted to do will probably understand how excited I was for year two. As with any experience the second time around, it’s great to add a new twist to it. This year I hoped for a steelhead on a dry fly. Here is where the Gurgler came in.

Dean River steelhead like big flies. So a bushy Royal Wulff or Steelhead Bee are not going to cut it (I had some of each in year one but after the guides inspected my fly box, let’s just say they never hit the water). This time I needed a big, 4-inch long fly that would skate and pop along the surface when fished on a swing. The Gurgler, with its low slung back end, foam back and upturned lip in front was a great start. From there, I added an adaptation or two. The guides were much more receptive this time around, until I actually had the chance to fish the fly. Then their jaws literally dropped! They said the fly needed to create a disturbance. On my first swing, it literally pushed a spout of water 6 to 8 inches in the air.

Without going into too much more detail, I’ll just say that everybody in our group landed at least one steelhead on a dry fly and all had multiple hook-ups. Some were caught on flies the guides tied that were slightly different than mine, but still similar to a Gurgler.

But my modified Gurgler, shown below, was popular enough that I came home with only one sample...which I managed to save for future reference. - Al Ritt