What’s in a name?

by Ray Blades | May 26, 2015

name - Fly samplesRay BladesFly fishing is supposed to be all prim and proper — history, lineage, and a stiff upper lip. Hence, we have classic, time-tested patterns, such as the Quill Gordon, Jock Scott, Royal Coachman, and Silver Doctor.

Most have been around for over a century and evoke images of the Scottish Highlands, English chalk streams, or North American freestone streams. These patterns pre-date power steering in cars and multi-lane highways that shunt masses of metropolises to local streams that more closely resemble Boxing Day shopping malls than the solitude of the wild.

There is, however, a growing movement of iconoclastic fly tiers who are injecting a little fun into traditional nomenclature.
name - Zoo Cougar
The first fly I can recall that took a poke at traditional naming was The Usual, an emerger fly tied by Adirondacks fly tier Fran Betters. It was an evolution of his Haystacks from the early ‘50s.

One of the keys to having a great fly name is for it to also be a great working fly. If it doesn’t have longevity on the water, it won’t have longevity in anglers’ minds. And The Usual is a great working fly. The gist of the joke is whenever another angler asks, “What fly are you catching those fish on?” The response is simple, “The Usual.”
name - Lady Gaga
The joke gets old, quickly, but I believe it opened the door for future fly tie names to be cool, with a bit of fun.

If Betters opened the door, then Kelly Galloup (www.slideinn.com) blew it off its hinges. Galloup not only modernized streamer fishing for trout, he took the last vestiges of classic fly names, ran them through the meat grinder, and delivered modern classics, such as the Zoo Cougar, Butt Monkey, and Sex Dungeon.

Again, these succeed not simply because grown men giggle streamside when tying them on, they produce — big time.
name - The Undertaker
Other classics in this category include The Bloody Butcher, Undertaker, and Ray Charles, all named because of their supposed effectiveness — the Ray Charles with the added element that, well, even a blind man can catch fish with it.

The Prom Dress is all glitter and flash, probably the gaudiest fly you will ever see.
In homage to David Letterman and his recent retirement, here’s my Top 10 fly name list.

Top 10 fly names
Bloody Butcher
Lady GaGa
Zoo Cougar
Organ Donor
Home Wrecker
Prom Dress
Fish Taco
Street Walker


  1. IceCold Camembert wrote: I would have like to see pics of all those flies along with the article.