If enough triggers are incorporated in a pattern, most fish will ignore evidence to the contrary such as hook bends.

Anthony Herd The Fly2003

Kick: There is a quality which every hackled wet fly, for use in rough water, should invariably have. Without it, it is a dead thing; with it, it is alive and struggling; and the fly which is alive and struggling has a fascination for trout which no dead thing has. How is this quality to be attained? It is a very simple matter. Finish behind the hackle.

G E M Skues The Way of a Trout with a Fly1921

The ultimate trigger in any fly is movement because movement is the primary means by which fish locate and identify prey.

This movement can be achieved either by incorporating soft and mobile materials in the dressing or materials which reflect light in such a way that they create a visual impression of movement.

The secondary trigger is actual movement of the fly created by flexing the rod tip or through the retrieve.

Centuries ago, market anglers who caught trout in the mountain streams of Japan or in the Sesia valley in Northern Italy in order to generate income, used both approaches.

They used long rods and soft hackled flies but what was significant was that the fly was finished ‘behind the hackle’ as Skues recommended. This ‘reverse hackle’ - also a feature in the Japanese Sakasa Kebari Tenkara flies - was different to the North Country Spiders used in Britain and the design intention was to generate maximum movement when it was twitched.

Arturo Pugno is regarded as the modern doyen of this method and his life and the Valsesiana method have been documented in a beautiful video by Yvon Chouinard who has written a book on Tenkara fishing.

At around 13 minutes and 28 seconds of the video Arturo articulates his philosophy of fly tying and the rationale behind the way he ties them.

He stresses that the neck feathers of a song bird should be used because they are soft and the fly “fluctuates in the water”.

13:20 “The feather has continuous movement which is actually the movement that attracts the fish.”

Chouinard goes on to say that by far the most important characteristic of Arturo’s flies is their action.

13:48 “I looked at Arturo’s flies and they’re alive.”

I had already successfully created a useful derivative of the Sakasa Kebari/ Valsesiana fly by funnelling two CDC feathers over a brass or glass bead in my Small Stream Soft Hackle. The bead forces the feather to splay out in a cone shape.

I realised that I could create even more movement if I used a slightly bigger hook and, instead of a feather for the hackle, substitute highly-mobile, extra-thin latex rubber strands such as Hareline’s Daddy Long Legs or bait cotton which rock and surf anglers use to secure soft baits such as prawns to the hook.

The choice of body material was easy – what Paul Proctor, a feature writer for the British magazine Trout & Salmon, calls ‘Sex on a String’. He uses it in his Kicking Beetle pattern

Straggle String, is what Semperfli calls it, Veniard calls it UV Straggle and, locally, Scientific Fly calls it Brill.


Three versions of Straggle String – Semperfli on the left, Brill by Scientific Fly in the middle and the Veniard version on the right.

It’s a thinner, sparser version of Cactus Chenille and, some 20 years ago, British stillwater specialist Steve Parton drew attention to the efficacy of Cactus Chenille in dry flies.

If you examine Straggle String you will see that light flickers from one UV filament to the next creating, an illusion of movement.

Underwater, you see the same effect in that staple of stillwater competitive angling, the Blob, which uses Cactus Chenille which is also called Fritz.

The first such material - used by fly tyers over centuries – to create this impression was peacock herl which has minute and reflective scales.

As I am no longer able to fish, I rely on others to test my patterns and I tied some for Peter Brigg to test at the annual Dirt Road Fly Fishing Festival hosted in Rhodes by Dave Walker of Walkerbouts Country Inn fame.

It was tied on a size 16 jig hook and I used thin bait cotton for the ‘hackle’ splayed over a silver-lined clear glass bead which has proved so effective as a trigger on Pat Dorsey’s ‘Mercury’ series of patterns.

Bait cotton is clear and translucent but is easily coloured with a permanent marker.


The first version of the Straggle String ‘soft hackle’ tied on a #16 jig hook and using a ‘Mercury’ glass bead.  Bait cotton, coloured with a permanent marker provides the highly-mobile hackle.

For maximum movement you want five to six legs, widely separated so that they don’t touch one another and mat together.

Semperfli’s 24/0 Nanosilk thread facilitates this process because it is thin and strong, allowing multiple wraps without creating bulk.

You tie three or four doubled latex rubber strands to the top of the hook shank and repeat the process on the bottom of the hook shank, separating them with X-wraps of Nanosilk.

This gives you 12 – 16 legs.

You then snip out every alternate strand until you are left with five or six with a gap between each.

Peter gave the fly its first test on the turbid Umkomaas River, a two-hour drive from Durban.

He fished it tied to the bend of a heavily-weighted jig nymph and caught four scaley, a cyprinid which resembles the European barbel.

Three of them took the tail fly.


Peter Briggs’ scaley caught on the Straggle String in turbid water

Then he took it to one of the premier brown trout streams in the country, the Bushmans.

He said it was a “revelation” and seemed almost alive in the water with the undulating legs combining with points of light flickering back and forth across the body, creating a visual impression of movement.

Weather conditions were not favourable however and he wanted slightly more weight in the fly because he was fishing it as a dry-dropper rig and needed the point fly to sink slightly. He questioned the need for a jig hook.

I accordingly tied a second version, using a 1.5 mm Hareline slotted tungsten bead in orange –an effective hot spot in itself – on a #16 Dohiku 302 SP hook.


The second ‘hotspot’ version of the rubber hackle Straggle String Sekasa Kebari

It has a transverse eye which is slightly more downward-sloping than normal – a short shank, medium wire version of Tiemco’s ‘Dolphin Shank’ design.

It then struck me that it might provide the basis for what I have found elusive – an impressionistic #14 imitation of our freshwater crabs, a staple in the diet of our freshwater fish.

When a crab is threatened, it scuttles backward with its claws held up in a defensive position and it was this blur of movement that I wanted to replicate.

By now, I had switched from bait cotton and the ultra-thin but opaque Veniard Centipede legs to the translucent Hareline Daddy Long Legs material.

To create a further illusion of movement, I mottled these legs – tan for a crab imitation and olive for a caddis pupa imitation – with a black permanent marker.

To bulk up the body I combined the Straggle String with Fishient’s Nymph Dub Brush in tan. It’s a translucent Antron-type material on a light wire core.


Fishient’s Nymph Dub Brush combined well with the Straggle String to create an impressionistic and shimmering fly body. The Dohiku 302 SP is my hook of choice.


Fishient Nymph Brush Dub has subtle glitter of its own which tones down the brightness of the Straggle String

I tied the crab version on a #14 Dohiku 302 SP hook with a 2mm black countersunk brass bead.

You could also use the ultra-small black bead chain sold by Wapsi and Hareline as an option or a tungsten bead if you need more weight.


1)    Slip the bead onto the hook shank and attach the Straggle String and Nymph Dub Brush at the bend of the hook and facing backwards.


2)     Double three or four rubber strands on top of the hook shank and the same number at the bottom of the hook shank giving 12 – 14 strands in all.


3)    Twist the two strands of body material together and wind forward up to the hook eye, forcing the rubber strands into a cone projecting forward over the hook eye. Whip finish at the junction of the body material and the rubber legs. A wide-gape whip finisher facilitates this process for me as I have never mastered the hand whip finish.  Snip out every second strand of rubber until you have only five to six strands with a gap between each.


4)    Hold an ear bud behind each strand and dot it with a permanent  marker


5)    The finished Straggle Crab

The dominant colour in the Straggle Crab is blue which might well be a trigger in itself.

T C Kingswell Moore, in his 1960 book ‘A Man May Fish’ wrote that there were three mystery colours, gentian blue, claret and orange – rarely found in nature – which had a special appeal for trout. In their 1973 study, Ginetz and Larkin fed fish eggs in different colours to rainbow trout and their preference was, in order, blue, red, black, orange, brown, yellow, and green. In 1985, Charles Meck used blue flashabou instead of peacock on his Royal Patriot and substantially increased his catch rate.   In 1988 Australian guide Ken Orr fished an effective black seal’s fur nymph with a hot orange tag but its success rate increased so radically when he added a rib of blue wire that he called it the 007 Nymph. In his 2013 book, ‘What a Trout Sees’ Geoff Muller writes of the success achieved with purple San Juan Worms.

Local fly fishing shops will stock Straggle String material or will be able to order it for you. I get the Hareline latex rubber legs from Frontier in Johannesburg. Thin bait cotton is the least expensive option and will be stocked by most fishing shops. Ruben Torres of supplied me with the Dohiku 302 SP hook.

This is one of the flies which will feature in the book ‘The Delicate Fly Fisher’ which Gordon van der Spuy will help me publish next year. He will supply the step by step sketches which were such a standout feature in his book ‘The Feather Mechanic’.

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