If I only had six flies
Can I please make it seven ed.?
World Fly Fishing Championship angler Joe Riley takes a look at limiting his fly box to just six flies. Beginning and experienced anglers alike will find this a very useful study.
In modern fly fishing there is an endless procession of development and variation in both flies and fly tying as we constantly see new patterns and materials being pushed onto the market with claims of higher effectiveness and increased catch rates. A contemporary fly box is no different with a pattern for every occasion, all absolute killers made from NASA space shuttle materials and the most exotic genetically modified birds man has ever seen, yet do all of these advancements really equate to more fish in the creel. I carry up to 6 fly boxes at any time with at least 100 different patterns in various sizes and colour variations and probably close to 1000 flies, yet most of these flies barely get tied onto a leader and the same hand full of patterns constantly go on first and rarely come off.
There are trout fly patterns which have stood the test of time and and in this age of new technology with faster rods and longer casting lines, there is more than ample room for the traditional patterns which still catch trout as effectively as they did in the 1800's and 1900's. These flies will catch trout on rivers and lakes, and while variations may have been made to some patterns, they are probably no more effective at deceiving trout than the originals, the exception being they have been adapted for specific reasons. There are some improvements which I believe add to the ability of a fly to take trout and some of these basic advancements do add effectiveness but sorting them out from from the plethora of stuff designed to only catch fishermen is a real dilemma. Here is a run down on some essential patterns that have stood the test of time as well as some improvements which have actually increased their ability to take trout. Some of the patterns have been relatively recent developments but they have now proven their selves as truly consistent killers.
Red Tag: Here is a pattern someone should have taken a copyright on. I doubt that there would be a fly box that in most of the world let alone Australia that wouldn't have a couple of red tags in it. This fly was originally designed as a Grayling fly in Europe yet and is one of the most effective generic beetle patterns available. It is not just deadly as a dry but is also effective when tied with a hen hackle as a wet fly for rivers. The traditional pattern is tied with a red wool tag and bronze peacock herl body and a stiff cock hackle on a dry fly hook. More recent variations have occurred with the aim of making the fly more buoyant by substituting a deer hair or seals fur body of an appropriate colour. I tie my red tags with a red seals fur butt and dark olive seals fur body, the buoyancy created by the seals fur allows for a softer cock hackle to be added and the fly will still be all but unsinkable. In windy weather with waves slopping around, this fly becomes far more fishable as it will not absorb water and sink like a herl and wool body will. In the highlands of Tasmania with ever present wind and some feature fishing fishing opportunities like big brown and rainbow trout cruising in the surface of Great Lake feeding on beetles this is a fantastic advancement. Seals fur floats superbly and remains more visible making it a far more effective fly.
As far anticipated events go, the Tasmanian fly fishing scene is dominated by the mayfly hatch on both lowland rivers and highland lakes alike. As we need to imitate all three stages of the mayfly life cycle there are several patterns that are important in this area.
Nymph: Sawyers pheasant tail nymph, this nymph developed by English river keeper Frank Sawyer is a nymph pattern that catches fish on river or lake anywhere around the world. Originally tied with pheasant tail fibres for a tail and body and a copper wire rib for weight, this fly is the original and penultimate mayfly nymph imitation. This fly is deadly when trout are feeding on the mayfly nymph stage but you need several options and variations.
On both lake and river when mayfly are not hatching, depth is required to reach where trout will be feeding. Traditionally, lead wire was added to the body of nymph patterns requiring weight, however this makes the body of the nymph thicker and less "natural" or attractive to trout. One of the most effective leaps forward in fly tying was in the development of brass and more recently tungsten beads. These beads add sufficient weight to flies to get them deep quickly which is most applicable on rivers, however it is also effective on lakes and does not add extra bulk to the body of the fly. The irony of this is that the glint of the gold head can't possibly appear natural but it seems to add to the overall effectiveness of the fly.
As a mayfly hatch commences and trout are bulging the surface feeding on nymphs struggling to emerge, lightly dressed pheasant tail nymph patterns without beads or lead or heavy wire sink slowly so they fit perfectly into the requirement for this hatch. Lighter hooks also help to keep unweighted pheasant tail nymphs at or near the surface and therefore make them more effective at this stage.
Dun: There must be a million mayfly dun patterns available, but as a nymph hatches to the dun stage an emerger such as a 'shaving brush" or 'shuttlecock" pattern is a very effective option. The difference between these patterns is that both have a nymph body with a slim pheasant tail or seals fur body, the shaving brush has deer hair emerging from the eye of the hook and the shuttlecock has cul de canard (CDC) feathers. Both are very buoyant and leave the body of the fly hanging vertically in the water while the CDC or deer hair sit above the surface. This fly is for all intents and purposes a nymph struggling to break through the surface film of the water, a very attractive proposition to a feeding trout.
Most dun imitations seem to do similar jobs but for my money a Lodges Emerger is a very effective pattern to imitate a mayfly dun. Much to my shame I don't know the precise tying of the original Lodges Emerger but it is something like this. A dark coloured pattern this fly has a black or chocolate brown hackle with the bottom clipped out to make it sit flat on the water. A starling or turkey feather for a wing, chocolate seals fur body with a very light rib and dark cock hackle fibres for a tail. This fly is effective on both lakes and rivers when duns are sitting on water, it is also useful in both bright or dull weather and is a terrific fly for Western Lakes polaroiding.
Spinners: Tasmania hosts several species of mayfly ranging from tiny #18 models on some lowland rivers up to the more well known mayfly of the lakes which average around a #12 to #14. Traditional simple patterns for mayfly spinners are super effective and have not required much in the way of change from the early versions. Either floss silk or quill bodies in orange or black with a matching hackle and long hackle fibre tails are all that is required, wings are not essential in these patterns. They remain simple yet effective and have not needed to be redesigned to still catch fish.
Mallard and Claret: Traditional wet flies have been about for many years in Tasmania, names like the Peter Ross, Dunkeld, Invicta are all synonymous with Loch Style techniques. One of the best of this breed of traditional wet fly is the Mallard and Claret. Tied with a golden pheasant tail, claret floss body bronze mallard over wing and slight throat hackle, this fly consistently catches trout as well now as it ever has. I have read some early diary notes from Lake Leake anglers who used #8 Mallard and Clarets to catch their bag limits from some of the bays around Lake Leake in the early 1900s. Now days a size #10 early in the season or #12 late as part of a team of flies is still a very effective technique. The set up of a leader does not necessarily include all traditional wets but can host a dry, traditional wet and big wet all on the same leader, mixing the lot to make the rig most effective.
Woolly Bugger: Without a doubt if I had to pick a single large wet fly to cast for trout it would be a Woolly Bugger. This fly has been around since the 1960s and has had more make overs than Cher, however the basic fly is a solid fish catcher, not because it represents anything in particular, it just looks ALIVE.
This is largely due to the turkey marabou feathers, which are soft and supple-the long fibres dance and wiggle when moved, giving a convincing suggestion of life. A Woolly Bugger pattern with the addition of a bead head and subtle flash through the tail is better again. The added weight at the front of the fly accentuates the movement of the tail and a bit of flash mixed in is a trigger for fish to take the fly.
One point of debate I regularly have with fishing companions is how long is too long for a tail, a lot of anglers believe that trout nip the tails of longer flies and don't take them cleanly. I believe there is no problem with the length of a marabou tail at least two times as long as the hook itself, basically the longer the better. Trout engulf these flies, sometimes to the gills in aggressive takes as the fly represents a good size feed. Mistaking takes as being 'short" or nipping at the tail can more often than not be put down to not being in contact with the fly, large loose curves of fly line on the water or big sags in a sinking fly line mean that the take won't be detected for some time allowing the trout to take and eject the fly just as the take is being seen. I won't say short takes never happen, but a close examination of how your line lies in the water after a missed take will soon reveal a few clues as to why the trout was missed. Colours for Woolly Buggers can vary greatly but good olives and blacks are hard to beat, with that bit of flash and bead head for fishing deep.
Another dry fly: About the only other addition to the selection is a good general dry fly pattern for rivers. A Royal Wulff is again a generic representation of food rather than a specific imitation. An adaptation of a traditional dry the Royal Coachman, Lee Wulff added deer hair to the tail instead of golden pheasant and replaced white feather slips with calf hair to the wings to make the fly more buoyant. This pattern catches fish well as a stand alone dry, but is an excellent indicator when fishing the pheasant tail nymph under it in a combination.
So there you have a simple selection of flies that will catch fish on rivers and lakes right across Tasmania.By varying sizes and adding things like bead heads you can come up with a simple but super effective selection. Fly fishing is a thinking game and a well planned presentation of the fly to the fish at the depth he lies will give you a better chance of catching rather than any new must have fly you just bought. It is no mistake that some of these patterns do not imitate specific food items rather they give an appearance of being edible, that is their key to effectiveness. Trout do feed selectively and at these time you need to "match the hatch" however more often than not they feed on a varied diet which makes a simple selection of flies that generally imitate food a good option.