By Bob WhitePat Cohen blends his artistic sensibilities with an astute knowledge of fly-tying technique to create spun deerhair sculptures—bass bugs that are little works of art.
For years I’ve admired Cohen’s flies from afar and, while impressed, I really didn’t understand how unique his work is until I finally held one in my hands. As a gift, a friend commissioned Cohen
to create a “bobwhite” fly, a pattern designed to imitate a small bobwhite quail.
The flies, a pair of them, are stunning in their execution and subtle complexity. As excited as I was to fish them, I also was conflicted; they’re just too beautiful to fish.
I called Cohen and asked him about it, and he assured me that while he does create display flies that are not intended to see the water, I was meant to fish these.
Cohen grew up in a small town in upstate New York and began fishing at an early age. One day while fishing with his father and brother, he borrowed his brother’s spin/fly combination rod and decided to give fly-fishing a try.
“I grabbed it and walked into Schoharie Creek,” he said. “I whipped that rod all over the place trying to figure out how to make it work. No fish were caught, but something clicked, and I was hooked.”
It wasn’t long afterward that his father gave him a fly-tying kit for Christmas, and Cohen began tying his own flies. His first deerhair bass bugs were attempts to improve upon the few he’d purchased, which had fallen apart after a fish or two had hammered them.
“I didn’t know any other fly tiers,” Cohen said, “so I struggled to teach myself how to blend colors and spin and trim deer hair. In the beginning my main concern was to create a fly that would last. Durability was paramount. Once I developed the techniques to create bugs that were bombproof, I began to experiment.
“Deer hair offers so much versatility. You can make it skitter, dive, pop, wiggle or just push a ton of water. And working in deer hair allows me to combine painting and sculpture. I blend colors into a giant ball of fluff on a hook that resembles nothing. Then I pull a form out of it using razor blades. With good technique and a keen eye, it can be made into anything.”
Cohen pushes the boundaries of what’s expected in deerhair flies, focusing on their aesthetic aspects as much as their practical fish-catching qualities. In doing so he creates small sculptures that many fly fishermen collect solely to display.
Luckily I have two of Cohen’s flies: one for the fly box and the other for the wall.