About – Fly Fishing – Flies for Fly Fishing

by Ed Herbst

Ed tying flies for Fly Fishing


Most reputable fly-shops will offer a variety of patterns but you need to be discerning in choosing an effective selection for this region.

The dry fly produces best on the clear, small streams at higher altitudes whereas, in the pastoral, slower-flowing sections of rivers where agriculture is practised, like the deeper, more turbid stretches of rivers like the Sterkspruit and the Kraai in Barkly East and Rhodes and the Pot and Wildebeesspruit in Maclear, are better suited to the nymph.

For evening mayfly hatches you would be hard-pressed to beat that perennial, worldwide favourite, the Adams dry fly in any of its guises, but particularly the Parachute Adams. Sizes 12 through 16 will suffice. For caddis larvae, the green rock worm patterns, so beloved of those who fish the Vaal for yellowish, will suffice and for adults, one can’t go wrong with the Elk Hair Caddis or the Kaumann’s Stimulator. For midges, those who tie their own flies are at an advantage because flies tied with Cul du Canard (CDC), soft, wispy feathers found round a duck’s preen gland, have unrivalled properties, landing softly and floating well. Many suitable patterns such as the Arpo, the IOBO (It ought to be outlawed) and a range of patterns by Agostino Roncallo can be found on the internet. Few, however, are more suitable than Darryl’s Midge, a pattern developed by Darryl Lampert of Cape Town and featured on the Flytalk and Global Flyfisher websites. If you don’t tie your own flies then a #18 – 20 Griffiths Gnat fished on a 6 or 7x tippet is your best bet.

Attractor dry flies, such as the Klinkhamer, Royal Wulff, Kaufmann’s Stimulator, the Caribou Spider, the RAB and a Red Humpy will serve you well in non-hatch periods. The better fly shops will have imitations of the tiny Trico mayfly and it’s worth having a few patterns in your box just in case you encounter a hatch.

On rivers and dams the DDD is hard to beat as an impressionistic imitation of a wind-blown terrestrial. It makes an excellent prospecting pattern and, on dams, is best fished on sunny days along wind lanes when nothing is hatching and fish aren’t rising. For caddis dries, the Elk Hair Caddis, the Goddard Caddis or the Stimulator are all you need and they are valuable patterns for prospecting likely lies when the fish are not rising. On dams a San Juan worm, as a bloodworm imitation, can be deadly fished below a DDD and allowed to drift with the wind.

Don’t forget the importance of the terrestrial insects on rivers and dams. Grasshopper, beetle, ant and inchworm patterns can be as effective fished under the surface as they are on top.

Peacock-herl flies like those perennial favourites, the Coch-y-Bonddhu in size 16, tied on a light-wire hook as a floater or the soft hackle, Black and Peacock Spider fished as a sinker are all you need to imitate the Chrysomilidae beetles. A tungsten-bead version, fished like a nymph with a strike indicator can be deadly, particularly in faster, deeper water.

On windy days at the peak of the inchworm cycle, the caterpillars can carpet the water and, particularly with yellowfish which is a shoaling fish, provide frenzied rises. The inchworms tend to float for quite a distance and this provokes selective rises to the floating insect from fish holding in the current tongue below the trees harbouring the little green worms. Under such conditions, sinking inchworm patterns are likely to be ignored. In the absence of wind and when fish are not rising, a tandem rig of a chenille inchworm fished suspended below a green foam imitation is always deadly on wooded beats when these caterpillars are feeding on the leaf canopy. The Working for Water programme has seen the number of crack willow trees along Highland streams considerably reduced and this, in turn, has reduced the number of inchworms available. Nevertheless, they will always be present and my guess is that inchworms are, by now, well fixed in the neuronal memory loop of trout.

Hopper patterns can provide exciting fishing, particularly in hot, windy conditions and you will rue the day that a mating flight of ants carpets the water with tiny bodies, the fish are going dilly and you don’t have a few ant imitations handy.

For mayfly nymph imitations one can’t go wrong with the original and subsequent bead-head and flash-back versions of those time-honoured killers, the Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear and Frank Sawyer’s Pheasant Tail nymph. Tom Sutcliffe’s ZAK nymph, which combines the best of both these flies, has become a favourite fly with many who fish the nymph in this region.

In stillwaters I would not be without a few midge patterns. I have mentioned the larva, the bloodworm and these are effective in red or green. An examination of stomach contents from trout caught in local dams will often reveal a high number of glassy green midge larvae as well as the more common bright red specimens.  Countless midge larva patterns exist and it’s anyone’s guess which is best. But just as important as the larva, are the emerging midges, sometimes called buzzer patterns. Make sure you have red and tan patterns in sizes 14 and 16 in your stillwater fly box. Fish them, on a greased leader, just a few centimetres under the water surface to those classic, porpoising lake trout that tend to sip a steady beat, often very near the shallows. At times, these fish will be sipping adult midges and the Griffiths Gnat is an unbeatable imitation.

Stomach content studies done by Bob Crass in Natal and Dr Vern von Someren in the small streams of Kenya show that mayfly nymphs, particularly Baetis, are, by a significant margin, the staple food source for rainbow and brown trout in Africa. They average little more than a centimetre in length and with tungsten beads now available down to 1.5 mm, the tying of weighted #16 and 18 soft hackle or flashback Pheasant Tail and Hare’s Ear nymphs in an equivalent length becomes practical.

There will be few occasions during your visit to this region when the fish will feed selectively and ignore everything but one species of insect. In spring and early summer on the more wooded beats, inchworm and beetle patterns are a must, particularly if splashy rises are seen every time a breeze shakes the leaf canopy. In the late afternoon, emerging mayflies and recently-fertilised mayfly females returning to the water to lay their eggs will require a small, black, parachute pattern or the Adams equivalent. But, for the rest, good stalking skills and delicate presentation count for as much, if not more, than pattern selection.


Fishing small, rocky, high altitude streams where there are few  or no trees such as the Gateshead section of the upper Bokspruit, requires very different tactics to fishing, say, the bigger, slower, tree-lined Birkhall section of the Sterkspruit which is at a lower altitude and has a predominantly gravel river bed. The former have very few stream-borne leaves and twigs and trout can thus be reasonably sure that something floating on the surface could be food and thus worth rising to. The pastoral, lowland rivers, in contrast, have a much higher ratio of plant material and thus trout are far more inclined to ignore dead-drift flies at any level. On these bigger, slower rivers with fewer rocks, the trout tend to hug the undercut banks and you need to target the banks and animate the fly with lifts or by moving the rod tip. Furthermore, any logjam will harbour a fish and you must get the fly very close, or better still, beneath the deadfall to provoke a take.

Patterns for these larger rivers benefit from being bigger and from incorporating materials which provide movement e.g. rubber legs, palmered hackle and marabou tails. A bead head Woolly Bugger, for instance, which could imitate a high-calorie food source like a crab, may well be more effective than a streamlined, relatively inanimate pattern like Frank Sawyer’s original PT nymph. On the small streams of the Western Cape we have seen a resurgence of soft hackle patterns for the very reason that they have innate movement even when being fished dead drift. And although the traditional version of the Soft Hackle is tied without

Ed Herbst engaging in a favourite pastime – under supervision

tails, I have discovered that incorporating tails made from “bait cotton”, (a very thin, translucent lycra used by rock and surf anglers to secure soft baits to their hooks), significantly improves the attractiveness of these century-old flies. First colour the tails with a red or light brown permanent marker – I use Letraset Pro-markers – let them dry and then speckle them with a black marker.

Be alert to your surroundings. If you are fishing a grass-lined stream and storks are very much in evidence then the chances are good that a hopper pattern is going to work – they are not known in Afrikaans as “Sprinkaanvoëls” for nothing! Look for hoppers in the grass as you approach the water. If they are present in significant numbers you can improve your chances by using a hopper-dropper combination of a foam-bodied, rubber-leg hopper imitation and, suspended below it, a small PT nymph tied to the bend of the hook, New Zealand-style. A sinking, rubber-leg hopper, tied with a tungsten bead and water-absorbent materials such as a chenille body and a raffia wing and fished in front of a yarn strike indicator, can be even more effective than the floating version. This is because it is drifting at the level where the fish are holding and they accordingly do not need to move upwards through the water column to intercept the fly.

And, if you see sporadic rises beneath a bankside tree every time the breeze ruffles its leaves, you can tie on a beetle or inchworm pattern with confidence. Better still, when you get to the river, first examine the crack willows and check their leaves to ascertain whether inchworms are present in sufficient numbers to justify tying an imitation to your tippet and then check the weeping willows for the presence of Chrysomilidae beetles.


A list of flies for the Highlands

A survey of leading fly shops produced the following lists of recommended patterns for the Highlands.

Several outstanding books and DVDs have been marketed in the past few years on tactics and flies for small-stream and still-water fishing. The best source for these is Craig Thom’s online book store, www.netbooks.co.za

Published courtesy of the Wild Trout Association