What Defines a New Fly Pattern?


Active Member
The other post on this topic got me thinking about what really makes a fly pattern new. I would contend that most "new" flies are a derivative of an existing pattern, but some are truly innovative and unique. For example, the soft hackle has been around for ages. So a Canadian tier comes up with a large peacock body soft hackle to imitate dragon flies and calls it a Carey Special. New pattern, or big soft hackle?

Then someone else ties this larger fly with a black chenille body with silver rib and calls it a Doc Spratley. New pattern or black bodied Carey Special?

Someone else ties a similar fly in olive with a red bead head and calls it an Olive Willey. New pattern or olive Carey Special with bead head?

Someone else ties a similar fly but uses pheasant tail for the entire fly and calls it a Six Pack. New pattern or Pheasant tail Carey Special?

I believe most of fly tying is tweaking ideas that already exist. The claim to have created an original pattern, especially for freshwater fish, is challenging to accept. There definitely have been some break through fly pattern designs over the years, but in my opinion most of the flies we use are an evolution of patterns that were developed years ago, just using more modern materials that we have available today.


You can say the same for lines, rods and reels... yet new and better are offered for sale every year.

I don't care if it is really a new pattern or a variation of an old pattern, if it works when others don't, I'll certainly use it and give credit to the guy who came up with it.


A collector never stops collecting!
WFF Supporter
There really is nothing new in fly fishing and in fly tying it's hard and almost impossible to "create" something new. Hell your secret spot really isn't a secret spot!

In rods and lines, things change, reel too, but does it really matter if a rod is a 1/4 oz lighter or a little faster or slower... to us a fisherperson yes, but the fish don't give a fuck!

Steve Saville

WFF Supporter
Seems to me that about 50 years ago, maybe longer, I heard to get a patent on something that is similar that you had to have a difference of at least 15%. I am not an attorney but that sounds reasonable. Given the fact that there are new materials coming out every day, a fly could easily be changed that much. In reality, what does it matter? Some idiot complaining because his pattern was stolen makes little to no sense to me. Who cares?


Ignored Member
I “created” a new fly for cutthroat years ago. I was quite proud of myself using what I considered the best features of the many cutthroat flies already in use. I purchased Les Johnson‘s second book on cutthroat fishing and looking through the book there was my fly...tied by a guy in Oregon some sixty years before me.

Old Man

A very Old Man
WFF Supporter
I tied up a caddis fly with a yellow body. It worked really swell on the upper S/F Sauk. Size 14, 16, and 18.


Active Member
While mostly (very close to entirely) true, I think the idea there's "nothing new" in fly tying is a bit defeatist. I mean, if that's the case, then why even try to come up with something fresh.

Same idea applies to technology. If we took that approach in the semiconductor industry, we'd still be impressed by the latest transistor radio with "FM in Hi Fidelity Stereo!". Golly gee whiz! But here we are walking around with cell phones that have the computing power of laptops just a few years ago. And yet, even in a field with thousands of engineers racking their brains for new solutions, a lowly technician like myself can pull off 3 utility patents (out of 4 applications).

The main difference with fly tying is the line that divides distinct patterns is usually far more subjective, and a matter of style rather than functional design differences. Just giving a pattern a cool name isn't enough to claim "ownership" in the sense of trademark or patent.

From my experience, that requires something truly novel in terms of technique and/or functional design. A few examples that come to mind (which may or may not be "novel") would be the Karnage style technique, Avalon flats pattern (a "keel" of beads on a mono loop), and possibly the Game changer patterns (not that articulated flies are anything "new").

Edit: I'd add that like fly patterns, many if not most patents are based on tweaks of pre-existing ideas. Using an older fly design in a truly novel way, should qualify it as a "new" pattern, so long as credit is given to the prior design.

The point is, the day we say there's nothing new, is the day we're all just copying other tiers.

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Active Member
Skip, I'd feel safe in claiming the hotdog fly, but you never know. ;)

Anyway, this subject hits close to home since I like to experiment, and also have kicked the idea of tying commercially, or even developing a line of unique tying products. So consider this a case study.

Several years ago I was playing around with iridescent mylar film to make realistic heads for baitfish patterns. The idea started simply enough using a strip of Lateral Scale as a "handle" to more easily align eyes before putting resin on the fly head. Basically nothing more than a stylish means to save time at the vise.


Then the idea hit me of adding more material to make "gill-plates" to cover the head. Again, pretty simple by laminating saltwater flashabou and lateral scale strips,


I really liked the results and ended up going a bit off the deep end with the idea, progessing to "scale-veils", imitations of mackerel, sand lance, flying fish, a full-size rainbow trout, and finally a herring pattern.


The whole time thinking this was a "new" idea, but unbeknownst to me, Bob Popovics had developed his Fleye Foils at least 3 years earlier.


I don't know if Bob was ever made aware that I was making these "gill-plates" but neither he, or anyone else ever accused me of plagiarism. Even though the core concept is clearly the same. That definitely put a damper on my thoughts of starting a line of tying products.

I did however, bounce the idea of a buddy who lives back east, who is very familiar with, and uses Popovic patterns. He is also a marketing guru of sorts, so seemed the ideal person to ask. I fully expected him to say, that's a clear case of infringement, regardless of whether I came up with the idea independently (which I did). He surprised me by pointing out the idea of a "gill plate" or "foil" is as old as the Gray Ghost.


So where the hell does that leave me? My personal feeling is that even if I could make a case my "gill-plates" were distinct from Bob's Fleye Foils, the perception is that I would still be a douche-bag copy cat, profiting off of his prior work. So looks like that business plan is dead.

What I'm not sure about, is whether the same douchiness would apply to tying and selling gill-plate flies that I have hand-crafted myself. Having had numerous requests over the years, I eventually do plan to sell flies on a limted basis. But would like to hear thoughts on how best to go about that (beyond the obvious step #1 of signing up a site supporter). Likely I'll just tie and sell the simple versions without the fancy heads since they seem to fish just as well. Hell, pretty sure the original eye-stripe fly in the first pic, was eaten by a bluefin tuna in 2015. The only fish I've ever had to break off in saltwater.

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