Forgotten Trout Flies – Orange Witch, Lord’s Killer, Bragg’s Dragonfly

Martin with large brown caught and released using Bragg's Dragonfly Nymph. Forgotten trout flies.
Martin with large brown caught and released using Bragg's Dragonfly Nymph.

Forgotten Trout Flies By Martin Langlands

During recent years many fly patterns of foreign origin have been added to our fly boxes. Many have proven over the years to be extremely effective. Flies such as Zonkers, Royal Wulff, and a whole host of others are now commonplace. In this article, we take a look at three forgotten trout flies. 

I have been fly tying for the past 40 years and have been immersed in modern-day patterns for the past 10 years. However, I, like many other South Island anglers, have become fascinated by the vast legacy of New Zealand originated trout flies. Each fly fishing region in the South Island has its own heritage of special flies to suit regional fishing styles and water conditions.

Many fantastic flies emerged in New Zealand in the 1930s to 1970s period, some are still available today, but sadly, many have passed away to be forgotten. The good news is immortally written fly patterns still remain, as do tales of their originators. For this article, I have chosen three of my favourite patterns which I frequently use today with great delight. Here is our first of the forgotten trout flies.

Orange Witch

Materials:
Body: orange chenille.
Tail: black squirrel.
Body feathers: barred flank feathers from the chukor partridge.
Hook: sizes 8-6-4-2.

The Orange Witch was designed by another well known Canterbury Angler, Peter Laing. The flank feathers from the chukor partridge give the Witch a handsome and striking appearance. Beyond its pleasing appearance to the human eye, the pattern is also a good fish taker. As you see in the photograph, the barred colouration of brown-black and grey, gives the impression of a bully or the lesser-known torrent fish. The torrentfish is often found in fast rivers and is preyed upon by trout.

The witch is most effective from October to December, a time when orange is an important colour in triggering the trout’s taking response.

I mainly use the Witch on high country lakes and low country rivers when fishing for brown trout of sea-run origin. This quote from Keith Draper’s book Trout Flies in New Zealand goes on to say, “…one angler at Ellesmere, in 1966, took 49 trout in eight trips to the lake.” The Orange Witch has been the demise of many trout around the river mouths of the Ellesmere system.

Lord’s Killer

Materials:
Body: yellow or black wool.
Tail: black squirrel.
Body: feathers: Woodcock plumage.
Hook: sizes 6-4-2.

The Lord’s Killer was designed by Mr Frank Lord of Rotorua in 1940. It is tied in a similar style to Hamill’s Killer, but the Woodcock feathers give the body a colouration that imitates a bully or adult native whitebait. I have found the colour pattern of the body to be an excellent fly for high country lakes throughout the day and night. The Lords Killer is a lure for “all seasons”.

Bragg’s Dragonfly Nymph

Materials:
Body: fluorescent lime chenille.
Tail: barred squirrel tail (short tail).
Hackle: grizzle hackle dyed mustard.
Hooks: 10-8-6.

Designed by Mr R. K. Bragg of Christchurch. Mr Bragg was a highly innovative fly tier who mastered many Canterbury flies (such as the Red Shadow). I have the utmost respect for Robert Bragg. He had many journals containing original notes in which he recorded the trout’s response to his patterns. Such meticulous observations on the trout’s response have been acted upon and are shown in the flies’ design.

I was lucky to talk to him on several occasions and he provided me, along with other Canterbury anglers with his knowledge.

Bragg’s dragonfly nymph is a wonderful fly for the many lakes of the South Island, especially Canterbury’s lakes. I feel it works well because of its colouration, very similar to the colours of nature, except adding a little flash from the fluorescent body. Bragg’s Dragonfly Nymph is well worth a try from November to February. Personally, some of my largest stillwater trout have fallen to Bragg’s Dragonfly Nymph.

Anybody who is further interested in heritage fly patterns should refer to Keith Draper’s definitive work Trout Flies in New Zealand. His book contains many forgotten trout flies and documents their origins.

Guided NZ fly fishing and fly fishing lessons in the South Island of New Zealand with professional fly fishing guide, Martin Langlands – Troutlands

Top: Bragg's Dragonfly Nymph. Below: Orange Witch. Bottom: Lord's Killer. Forgotten trout flies.
Top: Bragg’s Dragonfly Nymph. Below: Orange Witch. Bottom: Lord’s Killer.