Out of Bounds

Dirty Business of Fly Names

Pattern developers have learned a new fly, no matter how well it fishes, needs a clever name

By Rob Breeding

You understand more than one thing can be true, right? Sometimes these things might even contradict one another. I’m pretty sure that’s how the universe works.

A guide friend in Wyoming, who, as guides are inclined these days, likes to fly fish for carp when he’s not working, refers to them as “poop fish.”

Suddenly cool carp do tolerate dirty water better than many fish, and carp are bottom feeders, so the nickname seems apt. And while there’s obvious toilet humor involved, it doesn’t descend to that fevered South Park level where the minds of many hunters and anglers reside.

This came up in conversation at work the other day and since I teach at a university, you can well imagine what all us wokesters had to say about the dirty innuendos so popular with outdoor types — especially fly tiers. Oh, the horror! 

Or maybe not. I work in a media studies department. You should hear us at our department meetings.

Pattern developers have learned a new fly, no matter how well it fishes, needs a clever name. If it sounds like Eric Cartman did the naming, all the better.

So we get Sex Dungeon, Dirty Stripper, Peanut Envy and Pole Dancer. All are examples of tiers marketing to their audience. A fly with a clever, off-color name, is going to more quickly leap from tier’s vice to fly shop bin to a sport’s tackle box.

Maybe that’s our fault, not theirs.

Puns and innuendos are also popular with craft beer brewers. My favorite is Moose Drool, a name I love more than the beer itself. Or Polygamy Porter, a clever bit of Mormon-baiting alliteration. And Twisted Thistle is a fine English-style IPA with less hoppy bitterness than American versions.

The culinary world’s naming conventions often push the boundaries of propriety. I’ve recently become a fan of the Milk Bar Pie, developed by chef Christina Tosi in 2008. The Milk Bar started as a dessert and pastry restaurant adjacent to the Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York City and has grown into a small chain.

I can best describe the dessert — originally named Crack Pie — as a pecan pie without the pecans, just the sweet, caramelly filling surrounded by an oatmeal cookie crust. One bite and you know why it took Gotham by storm.

Then, in 2019, a Boston Globe columnist called out the popular culinary trend of naming foods after addictive drugs. The columnist rightly pointed out that no one would name a new dessert, Fentanyl Cake, implying there was a racial component to Crack Pie since the illegal drug is such a tragically addictive substance, decimating urban black communities.

That’s a compelling theory, but the main reason no one would name a dessert Fentanyl Cake is because that name sucks. Crack Pie has a ring to it. It’s good marketing. But is it also insensitive to the victims of addiction? I think that’s a stretch. Humans have been alluding to the pleasures of sex and intoxicants for as long as we’ve been alluding. 

But allusions don’t cause addiction.

The Milk Bar is a business, however, not a culture-war combatant, so I get the name change. When I bake one to share with my “woke” friends, however, we use both names interchangeably.

Similar reasoning is behind changing the name of the Crystal Meth fly to Crystal Spawn. I won’t lose any sleep over that one. 

There has been grumbling on the fringes of the fly fishing world that streamer innovators such as Madison River outfitter Kelly Galloup have gone too far with the innuendos. If preschoolers frequented fly shops maybe I’d agree. 

But they don’t. And while someone new to fly fishing might be offended by risqué names, that same vibe might attract others to the sport.

So I’m not riding this outrage train. Part of adulting is knowing, and adapting to, your audience.