Odds are if you love fly fishing for warm water predators, you’ve caught a few glimpses of Pat Cohen’s (@rusuperfly) fly patterns. Pat is renowned for his deer hair work, fly tying tools, and original patterns. A New York native, Pat grew up fishing, but once he gave fly fishing a try, the rest was history. We sat down with Pat to chat about fly tying, developing fly tying products and his art-fly-tying. Check it out!
Flylords: Tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you got into fly fishing.
Pat: I think it was in 2008 or so, and it was kind of a random event. I was out fishing with my dad and my brother, and my brother had this eagle claw fly-slash-spin combo rod, and I check it out and I decided I wanted to learn how to fly fish. And haphazardly put it together, walked out in the middle of the creek, started whipping the thing around frantically, and did not catch a fish. But, fell in love with the whole process. And it all started from that, really. Yeah, it was an accident.
And fly tying started in 2009, and it was really…well, that was an accident too. I was going through flies like crazy trying to learn how to catch smallmouth, and I decided that I needed to learn how to tie a couple for myself because where I’m at, there’s nothing as far as fly shops and stuff like that go. So, for me to replenish flies, it was an hour drive one way to go get flies or whatever. So I said, all right I’m going to learn how to tie a couple of these things. And at the time I was only using like bead head crystal flash wooly buggers. And so I tied tons of them, and then just accidentally stumbled upon bass bugs and fell in love with that, and it just kind of went from there.
Flylords: When did you first start tying with spun deer hair?
Pat: That was within a couple of months of tying flies in general. I kind of ran through the gamut. There was this little fly shop around here, it was a trout-focused fly shop and I had gone in and I went and talked to them. I said, “Hey you know, I’m really interested in learning how to catch bass”, and they basically told me to leave, in not so many words.
So it wasn’t a good reception there, so I said, all right well that’s kind of rude. And then left and went … There’s another little shop, like I said, about an hour from here. It’s closed now unfortunately but, I’d gone in there and that’s where I started seeing all these bass bugs and all these various things. And bought a few and then started using them.
The first one was just a standard Dahlberg diver. And fell in love with the whole premise of catching bass on topwater. And I said, “Well geez there’s not a lot of selection.” I would see all the available lures and spin tackle gear, and then go back and looked at these fly selections, I said to myself, “Boy, there’s nothing here, why are all these crazy colors available in poppers and Hula Poppers and that kind of thing but, I can’t get anything like that in a fly.” So I started making them.
The first time I tried to spin a bug, I had no idea what I was doing, or what the material was. I had some bucktails around, so I tried to spin bucktail, and I was getting angry. I went back to that shop that I bought the tail from, and I met this guy Tom. And I said, “Hey, Tom I want to learn how to make these things.”, and he’s like, “Well I don’t know how to make them but, I can tell you what material you need.”
So I bought belly hair, went home and I was like, holy hell it flares, it does what it’s supposed to do. Yeah. And then I just kind of went bananas with it.
Flylords: Was there an “A-ha!” moment you discovered or something that kind of accelerated the learning curve for you, where spinning deer hair is concerned?
Pat: Thread tension seemed to be the thing that was the most important, at first. It was like, “okay how do I make this hair stand up off the hook at 90 degrees,” because that’s the whole premise behind flaring deer hair. You want to get that thread in the middle, compress it down nice and tight and boom that hair stands up. So I guess, one of the first things that you try to figure out is, all right I’m putting a ton of tension on this, I’m getting it flared, and then when I put a little bit extra, my thread breaks, now what. So using the right thread, and when I was told finally what I should be using, that really made a big difference.
Flylords: And what was that thread?
Pat: GSP. At the time, I was told a million different things. I was told, hey use Kevlar, use this thread, that thread, use mono, use all these different things. And nothing really worked. I think I read an article or something. I have no idea exactly how but, I discovered GSP and started using GSP. And I was like, oh yeah this is where it’s at, this is the missing ingredient.
Flylords: Tell us a little bit about the hair packing tool you developed.
Pat: Yeah. The Fugly Packer. The problem that I was having was, if wanted a super, super dense bug, I was bending out all of the little brassy packers and stuff like that. You can’t put enough pressure on that hair. You can get them dense with the other packers, but you can’t get them really dense. Some of these bugs, you can literally take and sand them with a piece of sandpaper when you’re done trimming them out.
So, that was kind of what I was going for. The denser you make the hair bug, the better it floats and the more durable it becomes because you’ve got all this super tight-packed glued hair that’s firmly secured to this hook.
Flylords: How do you get such intricate color layers and patterns in your deer hair flies?
Pat: When you’re making all those patterns the technique is called stacking. Stacking is basically working from the bottom side of the hook shank to the top side of the hook shank. And what stacking allows you to do is control every bit of hair that goes on that fly. So we talk about it in terms of pencil thicknesses although, rarely do the clumps of hair that we use actually resemble a pencil thickness. I mean, if you’re really getting into this, you’re using a fair amount of hair but, as a reference point, pencil thickness.
So, if I have three pencil thicknesses is my first clump of hair on the bottom of the fly. Let’s say I want the belly to be orange. So I get my clump of hair, my three pencil thickness clump of hair to the bottom of the fly. Now, I’ve got this orange belly. Then, I want the top of the fly to be segmented. Let’s say I want chartreuse, kelly green, and olive with some black barring in between. So in theory, you want the amount of hair on the bottom of the fly, and the amount of hair on the top of the fly to be somewhat close to the same. If you’re going to go over, you want more hair on top than you do on the bottom but, you try to keep it somewhat close.
So for easy math, let’s just say we separate the three main colors, which is that chartreuse, kelly, and olive. So one pencil thickness of each of those. And then, you want those black bars. So let’s say we take two other little clumps of black, maybe it’s a quarter of a pencil in thickness, not even enough to measure against the bottom clumps of hair. So you put your chartreuse down, and then you separate that in the middle, and then you put your kelly green right in the middle on top of that. Then you compress that and you put your little black bars in, and then you put your olive in the middle of that, and then you put another chunk of black on top of that. Meanwhile, you’re compressing the hair the whole time and adding more thread. You’re adding minimal wraps, two wraps per color. And then you’re pulling down real tight in between.
And as you build that up, you’re creating these patterns. So on your last wrap, you put an extra wrap of thread through and then take your packer and you pack all that back. Then you advance your thread and do it all over again until you run out of hook space. But, basically, what you’re doing, as long as you’re not migrating your thread within those stacks of hair, is you’re just creating a pattern stack of multiple colors of hair. When you trim that out, you end up with all those bars and spots. That’s a simplified version of it because you can do all sorts of different things but, that’s the general gist of how to do that kind of a process. It does take some practice, don’t get me wrong, you can’t figure it out overnight. It took me a very long time to become somewhat competent at it.
Flylords: So tell us a little bit about the trimming process. The first cut you make with a razor always seems to be so oddly satisfying to watch.
Pat: That first cut on the bottom, that’s your most important cut. That’s the telltale, did I pull my thread tight enough, close enough to that hook shank, or is my first cut going to slice through that thread and 45 minutes of my life is going to fall on the floor. It happens either way. After a while, you start to figure out, all right okay, I got enough tension on this, I’m not going to worry about it. You trim carefully every bug that I trim, and I make thousands of bass bugs a year. I still trim every one of them very carefully.
Flylords: Where do you get the inspiration for new patterns that you’re going to play with or develop?
Pat: So, whenever I’m developing a new fly, I’m trying to solve a problem on the water with that fly. The main reason that I tie flies is that I absolutely love to fish. So when I go out to fish and I’ve got my box loaded up with whatever flies I stuff in it for the day, I’m going out and I’m observing and I’m trying to figure out, okay these fish are doing A, B and C and I’ve got X Y and Z fly. Can I solve the problem? Can I catch fish? Can I fool them? And if I can’t, then I check a couple of things. I have a systematic approach to all fishing situations.
So I start out with a fly that I like, and then move on from there, if that fly doesn’t catch fish, I look for obvious things. Are they feeding on crayfish, are they feeding on minnows, what size is the minnow, what’s the minnow doing. And then I choose a fly accordingly. And if I get my ass beat on the water that day, then I go home and I say, okay what was going on that I was not able to do with the selection of flies that I had. And then from there, I try to figure out, what is it that I think that I can do with a fly to entice more aggressive feeding behavior. Maybe that’s a color, maybe it’s size, maybe it’s an action. So then I come up with whatever it is I think is going to solve the problem, and then I go back out and hope that that same problem exists tomorrow. And test that fly for a while and see what happens, and then make changes and go from there. But it’s always related to something that I want the fly to do.
I get a lot of inspiration from the tackle world. Honestly, I’m obsessed with wooden lures. So all these swimbaits and glide baits, and jerk baits and all these cool things that are being made, hand-carved out of wood and stuff. I look at those things and I go, okay how do I make a fly do that or jigs and things like that, creature baits. That’s how that whole series of creature tails and all the things that I make came about. I wanted to be able to fish that stuff on the fly rod.
Flylords: Do you have a go-to pattern these days?
Pat: It depends on where I’m fishing, honestly. One of the flies that has always been good to me as a searching pattern is my … it’s called a Fat Head deceiver. It’s basically a big muddler that I fish on a sinking line, has always been a go-to fly for me. But, when I’m on these smaller streams, I do fish a lot of smaller waters for bass. My Jiggy Craw, is an absolute starter, go to because where I’m at, 70% of these smallmouth’s diets are made up of crayfish. Crayfish and then hellgrammites, so I use that a lot too, my Devil’s Drifter (above), which is a hellgrammite pattern. The Jiggy craw is definitely one, the Fat Head deceiver is definitely one. I like the Fat Heads on bigger waters although, I use them in the small streams too.
Flylords: How do you keep fly tying fun and challenging for yourself when you sit down just to tie for your own box or just to let the creative juices flow?
Pat: That’s a good question. So everybody’s got to do something. You got to do something for a living. So I look at fly tying, I look at it two different ways. So I still absolutely love tying flies and creating flies, and to me, it’s just fun. When I sit down, and I have an idea, I don’t think about the commercial aspect of most of the flies. I look at them and I’m trying to make what I want to go and fish with.
And if it’s successful after a season or whatever, and usually I send them around to a couple of buddies. And we all fish them, then talk about them and, get some feedback together. And I’ve got more failures in my box than I do successful flies because that’s just part of the process.
I’m creating all these flies that I want to fish with, and tying flies for everybody else. It’s still exciting because I’m still excited to fish those flies. And if you look on my website, I only tie flies that I use. If people call me up and they’re like, hey man we need 16 dozen Adams, I will point them in the direction of somebody that can do that for them.
I enjoy it, really. Part of that is getting those photographs back from people or getting the excited email like, “Hey man I just went on the trip of a lifetime and caught my biggest fish and blah, blah”… It makes it very satisfying and it keeps it very satisfying.
Flylords: How does your approach differ when you’re tying an art fly?
Pat: The art flies have no rules because they don’t need to perform in the water. So you can get a little crazy with those things. You can make whatever you want, really. If you don’t have to worry about it balancing or keeling or moving a certain way, so you can just have fun. A lot of the time when I’m … Like, the Punk Rocker, that was the first display style fly that I had ever made. And it was just about … really it was just about having some fun with deer hair. Like, hey can I make this crazy looking thing. And from there, people were like, dude can you make a fish, can you make this, can you make a bird. And I was like, well all right. I was already making the fishable birds but, I do these display birds every once in a while too. It was just kind of a challenge, really. What can I make deer hair do that I didn’t think I could do yesterday? And it’s still kind of like that.
I made a Death Head hawkmoth for my stepfather for his birthday. I did all these crazy realistic legs on it, and just fun stuff. I made this popper for this dude a few years ago, and I carved out Papa Smurf.
Flylords: What’s next for Pat Cohen in 2020?
Pat: Well, I wrote a book. That’s coming out at the end of January, Super Bass Flies. It’s got anglers and fly tyers from all over the place in it. Basically, I put everything that I know about smallmouth and largemouth fishing in this book. I wrote about the water column, the food sources, and how those two interact. I wrote about how bass behave, so there’s a lot of biology, there’s a lot of fishing technique. And then there’s 42 step-by-steps of my flies in this book. I think the count was like 108 flies from other fly tyers, representing all those various food sources. It was quite a project. It took almost two years. So that’s coming out like the end of January, and that’s pretty exciting!
We’d like to say a big thank you to Pat Cohen for taking the time to sit down with us and give a glimpse into his ever-creative mind. His latest book will be coming out later this month, but you can pre-order it at the links below!