November 25, 2020
In August 2016 I flew to Mongolia with a quiver of rods and lines, prepared to explore the headwaters of a river known to hold giant Hucho taimen. I had many boxes of flies, but my two favorites didn’t fit in any fly box. Fly tier Blane Chocklett had sent me two 16-inch T-Bone flies—and I tucked them away safely, only to be used in case of a fishing emergency.
T-Bones are part of what Blane Chocklett describes as “The Game Changer Platform”—that’s also the title of Chapter 1 of his new book. When I set out for Mongolia I had already used Game Changers for some time. I was first fascinated by them when Headwater Books publisher Jay Nichols sent me a video of Chocklett “test swimming” Game Changers in a bathtub. I’d never seen anything like it. I started using Game Changers immediately, and Chocklett later wrote about them in the April-May 2015 issue of Fly Fisherman.
At that time, jointed flies were nothing new, but Game Changers were the first flies to flex along their entire length through a series of articulated shanks that acted like the spine of a baitfish. Without this metal spine, large baitfish imitations too often foul, making them useless. When tied on long-shank hooks, large flies are too stiff and lifeless.
What Chocklett did with this platform is finally create for fly fishers a functional baitfish imitation that is on par with Rapalas and the soft plastic baits. Game Changers have volume, shape, and movement, and because of Chocklett’s ingenious design, they shed water quickly. And they are shaped like bullets so they are relatively easy to cast. Perhaps there’s never been a fly with a more prophetically accurate name, because with muskies, stripers, redfish, jacks, peacock bass, largemouths, and smallmouths, this fly levels the playing field for fly fishers.
As Larry Dahlberg writes in the book’s foreword, “There are fish that eat bugs, and there are fish that eat each other. To catch those that eat bugs, what a fly looks like often matters more than what it does. It must match the hatch so to speak, in size, shape, and color . . . Conversely, most often when it comes to fish that eat each other, what a fly does when you move it is more important than what it looks like.”
To Dahlberg’s point, Game Changers don’t necessarily look like any specific prey species (although they can). Their magic is how they move in the water. And although the genesis of the fly was to imitate large baits to catch predator fish like muskies, Fish-Spine shanks as small as 10 mm have allowed Chocklett to create smaller versions for trout. Since designing the original Game Changer, Chocklett has added other iterations such as the Crafty Changer, T-Bone, Polar Changer, Feather Changer, Finesse Changer, Bugger Changer, Mega Changer, Micro Changer, and others. All are meticulously described here in Chocklett’s first book, along with detailed discussions of hooks, shanks, flash, brushes, eyes, resins, and other materials—and how to use them.
It should be noted that Chocklett’s careful tying instructions don’t just show you how to robotically tie specific patterns: They make you a better fly tier with sequences of feather preparations, gluing, marking, wrapping, and trimming that can be adapted into your own variations. Chocklett’s goal here isn’t just to help you mimic his flies, but to expand your range as a fly tier. And because Chocklett also spends many pages showing and explaining how to use his flies, you’ll also become a better fly fisher. If you carefully follow the advice inside, you’ll become more adept at casting large flies, you’ll learn how each fly has a special movement you can elicit through specific stripping techniques, and how to perform a figure-
eight maneuver close to the boat.
The beautiful color plates are by Jay Nichols, the same photographer who took the step-by-step tying photographs in Pop Fleyes, and the casting photos in Casting with Lefty. He has a history with facilitating and producing the very best instructional tomes in our sport. And clearly, Game Changer is the next level of our sport, not just in terms of what we can imitate but the types of fish we can catch.
Chocklett’s fly-tying genius and his thoughtful strategies have opened the door to newish species like snakeheads and bowfins, and have made fish like muskies and smallmouths part of the accepted mainstream. His Game Changers have saved many days for me, and many trips. When fishing is slow, try a Game Changer. I’ve learned that when fish are zipped up and sullen, a Game Changer can change their moods. And on those days when you hook a fish every other cast, a Game Changer often catches exponentially larger fish. When little fish are busy eating insects, that’s exactly the right time for a Game Changer.
When I was in Mongolia, days of rain and a river of mud ensured no one caught any taimen for many, many days. Chocklett’s flies stayed packed away until the final day, when we were on the last few miles of our trip and we finally gained a few inches of visibility. I tied on a black T-Bone, and caught a 55-inch, 60+-pound taimen. It was the largest taimen ever caught in that watershed.
If I wasn’t a believer before that fish, I certainly was from that day forward. With the publication of this fascinating, comprehensive book on the history and development of this fly series, many more people are about to become believers as well.