There are an awful lot of good fly tyers on the planet these days, far more (and better) than when I was growing up. Those dark days of fly tying featured a lot of secrets, good old boys and not a lot of sharing, but with the advent of the internet, Facebook, and Instagram, good tyers are sharing their ideas and techniques like never before in history, and I like that. You should too. Without avenues like these, guys like Kenny Morrish might just go out and catch all the fish with only his closest buddies knowing what a creative tyer he is, and well, we just can’t let powers like that go unnoticed.
Growing up in Oakland, California, Ken Morrish came from a fly fishing family; his father, grandfather and even great-grandfather were all avid fly anglers and this left young Ken with no shortage of interesting conversation fodder at family gatherings. Picking up fly tying in his preteens, Ken learned from protégés of the famed Andre Puyans, where tidiness in tying was put at a premium. Ken jokes that not much of it caught on with him and that many of the other students became much better tyers than he, but I’ve seen enough flies and taught enough other tyers to know that while skills themselves can be learned, creativity itself has to come from within. Morrish is nothing short of phenomenal at this aspect of the game with incredibly innovative patterns such as the Morrish Hopper, Hotwire Caddis and the famed Morrish Mouse among dozens of others to his credit. Ken is now co-owner of Fly Water Travel out of Ashland, Oregon and confesses that he doesn’t get to tie nearly as much these days as he’d like, but I, for one, would love to see just how many more great patterns he’d come up with if left untethered for any length of time. In the meantime, we’ll have to be happy with his heap of established patterns being supplemented by two or three new ones each year.
Ken’s latest pattern, the May Day, made its public debut at the Fly Tackle Retailer? show in Florida this past year and immediately caught the eye of our editor, Ross Purnell. So impressed, Ross quickly sent me an email photo of the fly with no message, knowing I’d know exactly where he was coming from. And he was right, too. The Morrish May had caught my eye in the new Umpqua Feather Merchants catalog and was already on my short list of flies for this column. I never pass up a chance to work with tyers like Ken and found myself really looking forward to talking with him. A few emails and phone calls resulted in me finally learning to tie this surprisingly tricky pattern and I can now say working and chatting with Ken was a pleasure I wouldn’t advise anyone to pass up. He’s a hoot to talk with and has no pretense of hubris whatsoever. His passion for tying and fishing is refreshingly obvious and it doesn’t take long to figure out that Ken puts a lot of thought into every one of his patterns.
I asked Ken to give me a little background on his fly and he related that he set out to design a mayfly dun pattern that had a broad, wide wing silhouette with good visibility and flotation and a short, compact surface impression like that of the real thing, but wanted to go about it a bit differently from the norm. After a long tinkering process, Ken ended up starting with a black Tiemco 102Y hook, in odd sizes, as its down eye worked well with the wing design and its strong build would hold up to that fish of a lifetime we are all after every time we hit the water. Rather than a conventional tail, Morrish opted for a scraggly clump of Hareline Dubbin’s Para Post material to create only a lifted impression of a tail and that would provide a bit of flotation at the bend if needed but would be elevated off the water like the real insects’ in most cases. Ken worked with Brian Schmidt at Umpqua to find a suitably “buggy” dubbing to create a bit more surface area for the fly and they decided on using Andy Burk’s Buggy Nymph dubbing to form the abdomen and thorax on the Blue Winged Olive version. Ken uses other similar mixtures of coarser dubbings for patterns tied to match March Browns, Pale Morning Duns, and callibaetis. Employing a hackle stacker style hackle built on the base of a Para Post wing created a folded-over-the-thorax hackle collar as well as utilizing the core of the post to create the wing itself through an innovative folding scheme. A final drop of flexible cement and a bit of creative trimming results in an original pattern that matches the compact impression of a real mayfly dun and introduces a few fun tying techniques along the way. The May Day is much more than a typical parachute or thorax style pattern, with a clean impression of the hackle fibers touching the surface and holding the thorax and abdomen up above the water’s surface and the wide wing profile forms a perfect imitation of the naturals. I have to admit it took me far longer to figure this fly out than it should have because I was trying to make it into something I already knew. Ken’s approach to this fly is truly one off and the end result is well worth learning a few new techniques. I will say that a photo tutorial, however simple, would have helped me immensely in this process, but I guess that was my job and I’ll happily take it. At this point, I’ll use any excuse I can to chat with Ken again and get inside his incredibly creative mind.