Getting Schooled by LaFontaine
If you haven’t read the book Trout Flies by Gary LaFontaine, “You betta ask somebody.” I recently purchased a new copy of this book off eBay (new to me) actually signed by LaFontaine. It’s signed, “For effective flies -Gary LaFontaine.”
I bought it because I was interested in some specific on the LaFontaine Buzzball but as I kept reading through and browsing the patterns I kept coming back to this odd pattern called the Airhead.
The first sentence from page 139 reads, “The challenge with this odd pattern is getting an angler to try it. Even students in my fly tying seminars hold up their own finished copies in disbelief. The bolder ones accuse me of playing a joke on them. Why shouldn’t they wonder? This fly was designed to fail.”
Compared to many patterns you see show up in the fly shops today, these patterns were rigorously tested for their effectiveness. LaFontaine goes on to explain that he doesn’t add new patterns lightly. He scuba dived to watch his patterns effect on fish, and through that effort has added about 40 patterns using this technique. However, he has thrown out nearly 2000 other patterns that didn’t make the cut.
He asks an interesting question, “When does strangeness stop triggering the trout’s curiosity and start arousing his suspicions?”
When I saw this fly at first I thought it was plenty strange, and was kind of thinking it was one of those flies made to catch my attention more so than a fish. However, after digging in a little deeper I changed my mind.
Here's 3 Reasons to Fish the Airhead
First of all, the foam is a proven material and in fact LaFontaine uses it on many of his patterns including The Halo Emerger, the Mess, and the Foam Ant. The Halo Emerger actually being one of LaFontaine’s top producers of all time from his meticulous records that he kept about nearly every fish he caught.
Secondly, he held a fairly scientific test to justify the patterns effect. He had a group of scuba divers without any knowledge of his expectations or of his fly pattern meet him on the water. The scuba divers watched this fish’s behavior for hours, and the rainbows were actively feeding on the surface. When the Airhead drifted over the fish, not only did the rainbows charge the fly but also the brown trout that really had not been feeding.
While LaFontaine goes on to say that he realizes the Airhead fly doesn’t look like anything in the natural world, the scuba divers disagreed with him. They said, that the commotion of an insect’s wing when it lands on the water looks surprisingly similar from underwater.
Thirdly, not only is this fly deadly effective it is also easy to see and floats better than most other dry flies even in rough water. Often times, when trout aren’t actively feeding on the surface LaFontaine would use this fly to gauge fish behavior. He said it was a “tell-tale” sign how fish responded to the fly and often times could figure out his next move based on a fishes reaction to it.
Recently, I had posted a photo of some renditions of this fly on Instagram. Our friend Keaten “Cornfed” Labrel commented saying, “Go to bug for small streams.” And then Fred Telleen, one of the TFP crew said, “I tied and tried it in the 90’s. It worked then and I bet it still works now.”
One of LaFontaine’s buddies, Joe Burke, fished this fly more than LaFontaine himself and used it heavily on spring creeks for wary trout and sometimes even skating the fly or submersing it at the end of a drift. So what I’m saying is, the fly has proven itself in many arenas and it’s probably worth a shot because just a little bit of experience has gone in to the creation of this thing.
At the end of the explanation in LaFontaine’s book he has a journal entry log on page 141 from August 6, 1991 (funny Fred mentioned the 90’s).
To get a sense of who Gary LaFontaine was, he mentions that this is by no means his main river. He spent most of his time on the Beaverhead, Big Hole, Blackfoot, Clark Fork, Missouri, and also Rock Creek. However, at the time of this journal entry it was his 34th trip to Rock Creek that year.
He had been having hot and cold days on the airhead during his trips but decided to tie it on anyways thinking that the Airhead has better potential to raise a larger fish. That evening he landed over 40 fish and while his prediction that it would bring up larger fish wasn’t wrong he said, “it brought up bigger fish (up to 18 inches), but it also vacuumed the stream, small, medium, and large trout taking it with an odd, sure rise.”
Here's how you can buy the Gary LaFontaine Airhead Fly
We have taken the Airhead and updated it slightly to this new Airhead Caddis pattern that you can get here -- THE AIRHEAD CADDIS
OR you can get the OG Gary LaFontaine Airhead right here -- THE LAFONTAINE AIRHEAD
Watch Gary LaFontaine and Mike Lawson tie some of their caddis patterns from back in the day. Listen to how thoughtful and precise they were when tying their patterns. These two legends were/are the real deal.
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