It is not what you see but what it does that matters.



It’s that time of year when fly fisher folk are traipsing down to the river with a skip and a hop in their stride to do the Vaal River shuffle. The condition of the Vaal is dire and on its current trajectory, I don’t think it will be long before we find ourselves facing a bigger crisis than just the electrical one that has us all in the dark. Fortunately, Mother Nature has given us a wet cycle for a few years, but after that…… Doom and gloom aside it still remains a world class fishery.

With most species targeted on fly, anglers are always on the hunt for that one special game changer fly, that will make countless fish pounce with reckless abandon onto their hooks. Well, sorry to be a killjoy but there is no such thing. My first attempt at competitive angling on the Vaal had me carting a heavily weighted fly box of no less than 800 flies down to the water. That in actual fact just created a massive disbelief in my abilities to catch fish, when I was faced with the daunting task of having to choose a fly or three to fish, never really being certain if I had made the right choice. My next championship down to the Vaal had me armed with no more than 6 different fly patterns to choose from, to catch both smallmouth yellows and mudfish, with confidence and in abundance.

The massive change came with the realization that fish being opportunistic by nature will consume almost anything with the right presentation of the fly and a rough colouration and profile approximation. You don’t believe me? Ponder this for a few moments. 15 years back a large portion of flies were tied on curved scud hooks, and they performed well. Now many of the top anglers are using straight shanked jig hooks and still catching fish. The fish care so little about the human choice of fly that they even eat perdigons. This is a hard lifeless fly that has nothing going for it other than profile and an ability to sink quickly, allowing it to get into the desired fish zone as quickly as possible and for as long as possible. Even trout eat it. You might have thought they would be a little more discerning about their dietary choice.

The basis for most of my flies is based on the profile and the ability for the fish to see it from far enough away as to encourage him to move a little further to come and eat it and of course its ability to sink quickly to the desired area where the fish will be holding. The two basic understandings you need to catch smallies are, get your flies down and slow them down. Once you have mastered that then you can worry about what fly to use, but bear in mind that your fly needs to have the functionality of getting down and drifting slow first and foremost before any “match the hatch’ mentality does.   Ouch, did I just throw imitative fishing out the door? Pretty much so. There are times when imitative is good, but for the most part yellows are really not that selective and will eat anything. I prefer to fish bright colours for two reasons, the first is because I believe the fish can see it from further away and thus my fly is visible to more fish and hopefully, he will move the extra distance to eat it. The other being, if you for arguments sake take all the catch reports you can find and analyse the info you will probably find that a significant percentage of fish take a fly with a coloured bead, like orange on it or take a fly with flash on it. In my head that has to count for something?

My preferred method of targeting smallies is to use an adaptation of Czech nymphing. I say adaptation as I am inclined to fish heavier than most and instead of the flow rate dictating the speed my flies move, I almost always determine the speed myself. You might ask why not Euro nymphing. It’s so much more refined and designed around bite detection and sensitivity. This is true and it may be the better of the two methods especially in a competitive environment. But for me I would rather use a heavy rod and leader and horse my fish out than use very light rod and have to chase after a reasonable sized fish through the rapids in an effort to land it. The skill for any beginner to land a strong fish on 6X leader and a 3wt 10ft rod needs to be of a much higher level to actually make this an effective choice, if you’re not landing fish. Don’t get me wrong it’s a personal choice and not that one method is better than the other. Euro nymphing is undoubtedly very effective. I just like my big old heavy 6wt in the rapids

Coming back to euro nymphing there is no reason why you can’t tie flies on jig hooks and fish Czech nymphing style. I choose to fish predominantly heavy wire scud for Czech nymphing because on the heavy rod I would bend many of the thin wired jig hooks open. Most of them are thin wire hooks and if you were to put any sort of pressure on a size 18 for example in 40 cumecs of water, you would expect to bend the hooks. I believe that yellows are placed pretty high on the strength chart over the average river trout caught anywhere around the world. This is probably one of the reasons why the hooks are so thin in design, being that trout is the dominating targeted quarry.

Why my emphasis being on functionality and not on any imitative variation of the fly? I am actually going to give three flies to you that I like to fish as a holistic rig that together meet the functionality required to catch fish. There is no reason why you can’t take these flies and put them onto jig hooks for euro nymphing. In fact, I have to practise my euro nymphing and I will be doing just that. I will tie some of my bright coloured flies and some of the slightly more suggestive flies with which to fill my fly box and as I have done in the past, to find a few that work proportionately better for me than others and fill my box with a variety of weights for each one.

1. Flashback caddis

This is for the most part my top fly and is always tied on size 18 to 14s hooks. Because of the light weight it has little to no effect over the drift of my other two heavier flies. Because the contact to this fly is very direct, it is often my most productive fly. It can also be tied heavier and placed in the middle or bottom of your rig.

The functionality of the fly is that it is heavy and has a relatively small surface area relative to weight. So, it sinks very quickly. Both flash and an orange bead are top performing attributes to attract yellows. The black colour would be visible as a profile at distance even in dirty water. No tail is added to slow sink rate and the body is tied very slim relative to size and profile of a thin worm like caddis. More so than the normally tapered body traditionally tied as a caddis imitation. The thorax of the fly adds to the curvature of the flash allowing light to catch and reflect off the fly from a greater degree of angles for better visibility to the fish.

 2. Mega copper bomb

This fly is almost always my middle fly. For many of my clients this is their top producing fly. This fly drags the other two flies on the rig down to the bottom and when dragged by the fisherman can be used to determine the speed of the drift. For many people in the past the control fly was regarded as a sacrificial fly and seldom if ever caught fish. In this case it catches fish especially in fast difficult to fish water. The reason it works well for many people is because this is often the only fly they really get down and fish effectively. For those of you who like to catch muddies this is a killer muddy fly. Especially in chartreuse and red

The fly is really heavy relative to surface area so probably will sink faster than most flies tied with dubbing. It does have a bit of a profile of a segmented grub or a driver ant. The orange bead is the main focal point. And because I tie very distinctive colour breaks on the fly it may appear to be almost a standalone round bead that appears in profile, very appetising to a fish. The fly can again by virtue of size and colour probably be spotted from a greater distance than a dull imitative fly

3. Flashback mustard caddis

The functionality of this fly is a bit lower compared to the rest. It does go down pretty well, but not as well as the other two, the mega bomb actually helps it get down. The colour indicators are all there and you have seen both the flash and the orange bead already, because they are such good percentage attracter and focal points. The mustard is just another percentage performer and is hard to beat. If you catch all your fish on your top fly and then put it on the bottom you won’t necessarily catch on the bottom fly. I find the bottom fly doesn’t really have good contact to the angler and you probably miss a huge proportion of your bites on it. Possibly one of the reasons why Euro nymphing is so often two flies. So, I fish this fly a little bigger than the top fly in the hope that in the current it pulls hard against the control fly theoretically so that your bite detections improves or when the fish feels the weight of the control fly, he pulls harder to pull away effectively self-striking himself. A bit like the concept of a paternoster trace when bait fishing.

1. Flashback caddis

Hook: size #14 GRIP 14731.

Bead: 25mm tungsten orange.

Cotton: nano silk 18/0.

thorax: peacock glister dubbing and saltwater flash abou.

Body: UTC 140 waxed cotton.

Ribbing: x-tra small copper wire red.

Tying instructions 1


Step 1. Secure wire and cotton to hook.



Step 2. Secure wire down the shank of the hook and work cotton forward again.


Step 3. Wrap wire forward creating segmentation. Tie off and add UV or nail varnish to secure fly

strength and integrity.



Step 4. Add saltwater flash and secure, cover with dubbing either making a snail like ball or a tapered wedge to get desired profile. Pull flash back towards bead, secure and trim off. You can add vanish to cotton if you want.

2. Mega copper bomb

Hook: size # 8 GRIP 14731.

Bead: 4mm tungsten orange.

Body: .45mm copper wire or large UTC.

Thorax: UTC 140 black.

Tying instructions 2


Step1. Secure wire at gap end of the hook and wind forward in touching turns, about 22 wraps. This can vary depending on weight required.



Step 2. Wrap wire 18 turns backward and trim loose ends off.


Step 3. Build thorax with cotton behind bead, this strengthens the fly and prevents the slipper wire from sliding backwards. This also breaks up the colour profile and makes the individual colours smaller making it look like a smaller fly.


Step 4. Cover thorax with UV and the wire ends at the bend section of the fly. This strengthens the fly and maintains its thin profile, avoid covering the whole fly with UV.

3. Flashback mustard caddis

Hook: size #10 GRIP 14731

Bead: 3.5 mm tungsten orange

Cotton: nano silk 18/0

body: Wapsi super bright ginger or a mustard equivalent. X-tra small copper wire red for ribbing, saltwater flash for the shell case

Thorax: Peacock glister

Tying instructions 3


Step1. Tie in flash and copper wire and tie down with cotton towards the back of the hook.



Step2. Dub ginger dubbing in a thin noodle three quarters of the way back towards the bead. You can taper it from thin to thick as you go or keep a fairly thin consistent noodle all the way up.


Step 3. Fold flash forward and trap down just behind the bead, wrap wire forward to the same place and tie off creating segmentation. You can add nail varnish to the flash to strengthen the wire ribbing.



Step 4. Add thorax of dubbing in black and tie off. Unfortunately, the camera doesn’t reflect the true colour of the flash, but it is a pearlescent colour that sometimes changes green when wet.

I always look for common triggers when designing a fly and those should be very prevalent in these patterns. You will also notice that I try as much as possible keep the fly as simple as possible. So, I don’t mind if I lose it and I spend more time fishing and less time tying. Tight loops


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