The name of Jackson Hole’s most well-recognized fishing tournament gives away its unique twist: the Jackson Hole One Fly. Like most fly-fishing competitions, anglers strive to land the most impressive trout to take home the title of victor. But there’s a catch: you only get one fly. Upon arrival to the boat launch, competitors must make their fly selection for the duration of the day. It’s a critical decision that can spell huge success on the leaderboard… or not.
Since the tournament’s inception in 1986, expert fly designer Scott Sanchez has crafted customized bugs that will not only tantalize trout, but will endure a full day of intense use on the Snake River. It’s no wonder that his flies are some of the most sought-after for the competition; Scott is a nationally-recognized guide, fly tier and angler. He’s penned books, collected a lengthy list of accolades and awards, and been featured in TV shows. In other words, Scott knows his trout. And how to target them with just one fly.
Every year, One Fly competitors from around the nation approach Scott to design the perfect fly for them. “I used to tell people what to fish and some people still want that,” Scott says. “But most get an assortment to pick from, and have their guide pick.” It’s no simple decision, either. There are lots of factors to take into account: stretch of river, the day’s weather, the water level and more.
Scott has a couple of go-to general patterns that he champions for the event on the Snake River. “A grey/brown parachute size 12 to 16, or foam. The small flies work in certain water usually softer and in side channels. The parachute will work in all sections, but the time of day it works may vary. Foam works best in heavier water and seams,” he explains. But the most important ingredient? Faith in your bug. “Believing in a fly is critical to fishing it well. I try to match the flies to people.”
“The biggest things in making a fly for the One Fly are durability and fishability. It is easy to make a Chernobyl Ant strong, but a small parachute is another story. I have tied 100-fish parachutes that still float and work good. Superglue is involved, but in a very sparse and discreet manner. I do a foam and poly wing, and reinforce the parachute by running the thread through the wing and hackle a couple of times. Double whip finish everything. I substitute dubbing for peacock and pheasant tail, since it is much more durable.”
What about wet flies? Scott agrees that while they can certainly lure some chunky fish out of hiding, they’re a big gamble in the One Fly. “Fishing a streamer requires a commitment,wanting to fish streamers, and skill. If any of those is missing it will be a bust. If the streamer bite isn’t on it is a bust. No back up plan. And a nymph too risky.” Snagging a streamer or nymph on an underwater rock or branch can result in a lost fly that isn’t retrievable. Dry flies, on the other hand, can often be rescued from the riverbank by a brave and resourceful guide.
Scott has another approach in his back pocket, too: The Convertible. The idea is simple – a fly that starts out on the large, terrestrial-looking side with the option to trim features back (or away entirely) to modify the profile of the bug. Not everyone has the guts to commit to this bold style, though. “If I fish the One Fly, I go with a Convertible that I can use as a foam in the morning and then trim to a parachute later. Most people won’t cut a fly, they don’t believe in the idea, and can’t fish it well. I save those for me,” Scott smiles.
It’s precisely this experimental whimsy that has drawn Scott back to his tying table since he was just twelve years old. Starting out, Scott’s supplies were limited, which he credits as his inspiration to try atypical approaches. “I mostly learned by reading and experimenting. Moms sewing box, roadkill and such. I tried things I most wouldn’t have tried if I owned everything.” He honed his skills swiftly; Scott was teaching and tying commercially by the age of fourteen, and has been ever since. What does he love about it? “Creativity. Trying different things. Thinking outside the box. Trying to see if something improbably will work. Solving fishing problems: catching, visibility, durability. It’s really a method of vicarious fishing,” Scott says.
Even when the snow is flying and Scott can’t be on the water, his mind is still on the water. And it’s precisely this unwavering fascination and dedication to his craft that makes his flies truly excellent. If you’re fishing the One Fly and already mulling over your fly selection, it certainly won’t hurt to take Scott’s advice into account. If you were hoping to snag a Scott Sanchez custom fly for the event? Better set your sights on 2020 – his custom flies for the tournament this year have already been gobbled up.
[Watch Scott Sanchez talk about the opening day on Flat Creek]