|Don't bother telling JD Miller to get the lead out. This
Colorado-based fly dresser and guide enjoys subsurface fishing above all
else, and his creative talents are largely spent designing flies suited
to his favorite forms of fly angling: stripping streamers and drifting nymphs.
While Miller makes his home in Colorado, he guides frequently on the rivers
of Montana. Between the two states, he enjoys ample opportunity to test
his fly designs on a wide variety of waters.
Graduated last year by the University of Colorado, where he was president and driving force of the university fly-fishing club, Miller is largely a self-taught fly tier with a keen eye for deciphering the critical elements in creative design. He models his fly designs after the works of some of the art's most innovative minds, including fellow Coloradan John Barr and Californian Mike Mercer (Northwest Fly Fishing, Spring 2004).
"In my opinion," explains Miller, "their patterns are new, innovative, and very successful, yet-for the most part-surprisingly easy to tie.
"For example, look at the Copper John. A lot of people look at that fly and say something to the effect of "That's really a good idea; why didn't I think of that?" The Mercer's Micro Mayfly is another pattern that I think fits into that category. Even though I really didn't mean to, I think I patterned my fly-tying style after guys like Mercer and Barr for those reasons."
|Indeed, Miller's nymph patterns bear a certain
studied resemblance to the patterns produced by those two highly regarded
fly designers. Yet his patterns are unique to him. He arrives at his designs
through an adherence to the basic principle of simplicity coupled with a
thoughtful use of materials, especially modern flashy materials. "I
am definitely a new generation tier," he says. "I like lots of
flash, sparkle, foam, rubber legs, etc., and I swear by Hareline's Ice dubbing
and Spirit River's Light Bright dubbing-probably 60 or 70 percent of my
flies incorporate one of those two materials now."
|Miller's enthusiasm for modern materials, his
attention to detail, and his Barr/Mercer influences are keenly displayed
in his nymph patterns. They also testify to his love of nymph fishing and
his understanding that, in indicator fishing on Western rivers, keeping
flies on the bottom generally results in consistent success: he is no stranger
to properly weighted nymph patterns. Representative of his "chuck-and-duck"
subsurface designs arc Miller's Electric Stonefly Nymph, Ice Dub Golden
Stone, and Heavyweight Nymph. This latter fly is appropriately named, and
Miller confesses, "I much prefer to chuck and duck with big stoneflies
or attractor nymphs than toss dries, and I have developed my own flies accordingly."
Miller also designs flies with purpose. He is highly pragmatic in that regard, perhaps owing to the necessity of consistently producing fish for his clients and to the demands on his time: last September he guided 23 days and spent four days at the Fly Tackle Dealer Show in Denver. His in-season schedule requires him to maintain proficiency in designing and dressing his flies, so he sticks to his mantra of simple in design but effective in the water. "Especially during guiding season," he says, "I just don't have a lot of time to sit down and tie flies that take 20 minutes apiece."
No doubt Miller's work as a fly angling guide has exerted a profound influence on his ideas on fly design. He cites his Wire Butt Bugger as an example, explaining, "I love fishing streamers and often have clients do it instead of nymphing when the dry fly fishing is off. Over the course of a couple of years, I noticed that streamers with long, heavy tails seemed to produce more short strikes than other patterns, and that when a client did hook up, the hook was often buried on the outside of the trout's lower jaw, under or below the corner of the mouth.
"I theorized that this occurred because many of the fish were slashing at the fly in order to either injure it or determine what it was. My answer was to create a fly that had most of its bulk and action near the front third of the hook, so I tied the Wire Butt Bugger with a short, slender marabou tail-just enough to give it a little action at the rear of the fly, but most of the movement comes from the collar on the front. Since 1 have developed this pattern, neither myself nor a client has hooked a fish with the fly in any place other than inside the mouth." Miller's observation-based fly dc-
sign, bolstered by many hours spent watching clients succeed and fail for myriad reasons, hardly ends with subsurface offerings. He dresses his Thorax BWO on slightly heavier hooks so the fly better imitates the emerging mayflies. "I developed that pattern for the Colorado River after I noticed the fish seemed to be taking low-riding or slightly subsurface patterns three-to-one over the standard duns, even after the actual hatch was over and all that was left on the water were duns," he explains.
"The fly sits low in the water because of the heavy hook it's tied on, yet it's surprisingly easy to see. It is also a very versatile pattern because of its design-the way it sits in the water and its trailing shuck allow it to be fished as an emerger, while its wings, posted mayfly-style, and heavy hackle allow it to be fished as a dun as well."
By his own assessment, Miller has no "typical" fly-design process, and he says he rarely sits down at the vise with the intention of creating something new. But, like virtually all creative tiers, Miller tinkers endlessly with his own patterns and with established flies. Chris Conway of Wild Basin Outfitters, for example, recalls, "JD was guiding in Yellowstone last year and found that by tying body segments on the underside of Chernobyl Ants, they out fished the standard pattern all the time. The shop couldn't keep them in stock."
Above all else, Miller demands that his flies be effective, but he actually has two criteria by which he judges his flies: Do they work? Does he like to look at them? He'll abandon successful patterns if they don't meet his sense of aesthetics, and thereby reveals a reverence for the artistic side of fly dressing.
"A lot of things catch fish," he reasons, "so I might as well fish with something I like."
John Shewey is the managing editor of Northwest Fly Fishing, Southwest Fly Fishing, and Eastern Fly Fishing magazines.