Fly Fishing New Zealand

Favourite Trout Flies and Favourite Trout Lies

The Nymph and the Dry Fly

by Paul Corliss

They are no absolute rules in flyfishing, only general guidelines and their exceptions. For every fishing fly that consistently delivers there will be occasions when it’s effectively useless. At times there will be a discoverable reason for this and at others, it will remain one of angling’s pleasant mysteries, with no logic other than the trout shows no interest whatsoever. These Favourite Trout Flies are a great starting point for fly fishing anywhere in New Zealand.

Sure, maybe the truth is that you’re fishing at the wrong depth (if it’s a nymph) or it’s a size too big or small, or what they’re feeding on is trapped in the surface film and not floating on it like your dry imitation. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some all-time favourite trout flies.

Unless you can uncover the truth you may not tempt a take. Certain flies will generally deliver interest most of the time and more often than other flies. And other times only an exact imitation delivered with a close-to-perfect cast will give you even half a chance. 

The proportions of the dry fly.

Thankfully this situation occurs less frequently. It is the generally successful flies that become our favourites. We develop a soft spot for them as their loyalty rewards our perseverance.

There is a strange sort of logic we perpetuate with our favourite trout flies. Perhaps we have a day when a particular fly is taken time and again. It proves itself as a fish-taker and thus moves up a run or two in our mental ladder of hot flies. Of course, you could have well-chosen a more ludicrous fly for the conditions and had exactly the same result. How would you know?

The trout may have been of a mind to take anything that was the right size and was not particularly fussy about the dressing, feather type or colour or any combination of these things. Unless we constantly change, regardless of the effect of a particular current fly, how can we really know that another pattern fly would not deliver the goods?

The next time we visit the water we revert to our comfort zone and tie on the fly that produced for us last time. It becomes our standard, familiar fly, the one we rely on when all others fail, the one we start with and with which we often finish.

Fly trends are a bit like fashion, they are constantly changing and old favourites somehow get consigned to the cobwebby recesses of our fly box and the new pretenders take their place on the ladder. It may well not be a reflection of their effectiveness though.

There are anglers who still fish with the same general range of flies that they did 30 or 40 years ago and are not the worse off for it. In his, “A History of Flyfishing” Conrad Voss Bark notes that “People have to be given time to get used to change, presumably due to the feeling, possibly the subconscious feeling, that what caught fish for their fathers will undoubtedly catch fish for them. They may also be right.”

However, most anglers are always on the lookout for the ultimate fly, the one that consistently delivers when others are spurned. It could never be our own skills that are at fault, therefore it must, by the self-serving process of elimination, be the fly that carries the can.

How do we explain the popularity of such otherwise bizarre creations as the Muppet, the Glowbug, the American Woolly Bugger or the English Dog Nobbler? Certainly, they’re not as attractively named as say the Kakahi Queen, the Twilight Beauty or the Royal Coachman, yet they are as popular and as effective in the right circumstances. The trout care little for the names. Flytying and the dressings themselves are constantly evolving as inventive minds and the creativity of centuries of anglers produce variations on a theme or creations from left field.

“Forced to Choose” or ”My Favourite Flies” are titles often taken up as a subject for an angling article, and quite rightly so. Over time a reasonably successful angler develops his or her own stable of feathery champions. If the writer fishes in waters to which the reader has access then so much the better. When new to the sport we could do no worse than take them on board and reap the harvest of decades of practical experience and proven success. An additional bonus could well be that some of the flies may actually work for you.

While I am always open to new fly options, the flies that follow appear most regularly as the successful fish-takers in my diaries. The majority of the waters I fish are in the North and South Canterbury (both plains and high country), West Coast and Marlborough districts and the

McKenzie country with the rarer exploration to the deep south. Interestingly enough, though perhaps not so surprisingly, the same favourites have come through in my forays further afield as well, from Hawke’s Bay in the north to Otago in the south.

The Royal Wulff dry fly fished above a Hare & Pheasant nymph, has succeeded on the Makino in the Mohaka River headwaters, on the delicate urban spring creek of the Silverstream in Christchurch, the quieter pools of the often thin Waianakarua near Oamaru and in the crystal glides of the Maruia River.

And as further proof that there is very little that is truly new in flyfishing this method of ”dry up – nymph down” on the same leader is even older than me. I started using the method only 12 or so years ago and thought it a very clever way to keep my options open, covering the bottom and the top of the water in one cast. The simplest of research shows that it has been an accepted trick for decades (and probably longer).

In Hughes-Parry’s “Fishing Fantasy” of 1949 (the second edition in 1955 was titled ”A Salmon Fishem1an’s Notebook”) he writes: ” But I firmly believe that a cast consisting of a Brown-Nymph-like fly fished wet, with a largish grey Badger Hackle fly some one foot or less from it, fished dry as a dropper, will beat both the plain dry fly or the wet when alone.

When you have a dry fly floating down in sight, and a trout takes the sunk tail fly, then strike at the slightest check to the dry fly – not hesitating an instant if you had not had the dry fly out as a sort of sentinel or scout, the chances are you would never have known that there was a rise at all – much less caught your fish.”

And, closer to home, in the NZ Outdoor magazine of August 1962 P. L. Craig in his article “Nymph Fishing is Different” advises that: ”One of my friends uses two – one a nymph and the other a well-oiled dry fly which is used as a float or ”bobber”. Floating on the surface, the dry fly gives an indication when the fish has taken the underwater artificial, which is particularly handy in very broken water.”

I tend to favour impressionistic patterns rather than exact imitations. Impressionistic imitations are universally accepted by trout. By all means, carry a vast array of exact imitations or speciality flies for the days when the trout won’t have a bar of your favourites. I have three or four boxes of these, most just patiently waiting for the day that they’ll come into their own. Sometimes they do.

On some of the rivers west of the Main Divide, for example, a ludicrously big green stonefly nymph can be the only piece of tucker the big browns will look at. Or up the Hurunui in the east, an equally big deer-hair cicada (looking and landing like a fair-sized hedgehog) will bring the big boys racing to engulf it while your drag-free presentation of a tiny mayfly is sneered at.

Most times though I reach for that single flybox that has a selection of my favourites, nicely laid out in a range of sizes.

The layout only lasts for the first month of the season before ending up a disorderly scramble. The flies don’t change though. ‘

No flies come with a fish-catching guarantee. This selection has simply proved itself more productive than others over some twenty years. I accept though that I’ve fished with them far more regularly than any others. Other anglers will quite rightly have their own selection. At the very least, if you’ve not experimented with some of my favourites they’re worth a try. My experience strongly suggests that they’ll work (some of the time).

Favourite Trout Flies – Nymphs

Tying a Pheasant Tail nymph.

We talk of the nymph as a relatively recent method and the monocled G.E.M. Skues gets the most attention as the father of the nymph. However, as with most trouty matters, the concept was around a bit longer than Skues. In his book River Angling for Trout and Salmon, John Younger had a pretty good idea of what was needed. If we put aside the fact that he used the term maggot for the nymph his description is pretty close to the theory we apply today for fishing the nymph and the emerger. Younger wrote his book in 1840:

“When the flies come quickly on the surface and no trout takes them then for a trial of skill mutilate the wings of your flies by picking them off about half middle (not cutting them); or rather by tying down the top of the wings to near the tail of the fly which makes it appear something like the maggot released from its first case on the bottom stone and on its ascent to the surface. Then as much as you can let them sink low in the water, altogether below those flies on the surface, and you will most likely succeed in getting a few trouts.”

London lawyer and innovative author angler, George Skues, brought the whole process of the insect from nymph to fly into the anglers’ armoury when he threw aside the dry—fly obsession and recorded his approach in his then most controversial and now most respected book of 1910, Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream. The logic and sheer common-sense soon gained support and, more importantly, delivered trout to the net when the dry fly failed.

In his later years, Skues liaised with famed riverkeeper and nymph tier Frank Sawyer. It is to Sawyer that credit rests for the most simple and effective nymph yet devised, the Pheasant Tail Nymph. There is not one river that I have fished where I can recall that the Pheasant Tail Nymph has not provided delicious and productive results. As explained at length below this creation has to be the leading contender for the hotly contested “Fly of the Century” award.

Pheasant Tail

A heavily weighted Pheasant Tail nymph. The tail shouldn’t really exceed the hook shank length.

Sawyer theme the standard and simple pattern of pheasant tail fibres and copper wire remains the most successful of fish takers. There is no more productive nymph for upstream river-nymphing. It resembles a wide range of mayfly nymphs, can be used in bigger sizes for a damselfly or even a stonefly nymph and probably gets taken at times for a horn-cased caddis (Olinga) as well.

It is an impressionistic pattern rather than a specific imitation. While Sawyer only used copper wire as the tying thread the use of tying silk is not so sacrilegious as to detract from its effectiveness. If you use thread then black or dark brown will do.

Simplicity is the hallmark of this most basic pattern. The variations to this nymph as it has evolved are many and usually involve some subtle change to the thorax dressing, wing case or the addition of legs.

The pheasant tail fibres are very brittle and a couple of fish landed with the nymph soon has the fibres cracked and broken by trout teeth. Sometimes this seems to actually improve its effectiveness but generally, it means a replacement.

Confidence in your fly is a major component in successful flyfishing. I’ve kept fishing with a Pheasant Tail (through laziness rather than design) until there were hardly any pheasant tail fibres left on the hook and still kept taking trout. Because it looked “too untidy” I’d finally give in to human urges and tie a nice new one on. If you feel compelled to change it after every couple of trout it’s not really a big issue. Most importantly you’ve been catching trout and require only a slight interruption to the casting as you re-tie.

Less patient anglers may wish to apply a dab of clear varnish or even epoxy resin to the wing case to provide protection from sharp teeth or the occasional snag.

I seem to recall that the great nymph master and author of Nymph Fishing in Practice, Oliver Kite could trick a trout on a hook covered only with copper wire with an extra lump for a thorax, no feather/no fur. I’m also sure that there is a true tale, though of mythical proportions, that Kite used a bare hook to good effect as well.

American nymph-maestro, Gary Borger, tells of an effective, though sparse pattern, called the South Platte Brassy that is simply a copper wire, no thorax and two or three pheasant tail fibres tied beneath the head and used to represent a chironomid or midge pupa.

The Pheasant Tail Nymph is my unhesitating answer to the classic question, ”If you could only use one fly what would it be?”

Because the answer is so widely held it is worth quoting the authority and inventor himself, Frank Sawyer from his book Nymphs and the Trout, ”I feel the success of the pheasant tail is indeed due to the fact that it might well, in the different sizes, be mistaken by fish, for one of at least a dozen nymphs, of various genus and species. As I have mentioned earlier, simplicity is an aim to be desired. There is enough confusion as it is with things to do with fishing, and it is not my desire to add more”.

While most anglers reading this will have already used this nymph for some time, the newcomer could make no better choice. If Sawyer’s instructions on the actual tying are the only thing you follow you will be assured of a life-long skill that should ensure you never remain fishless. Back to Sawyer: ”…First grip the selected hook firmly in the vice and then give the hook an even covering from bend to eye with red-coloured copper wire.

The wire we use is a little thicker than a human hair and this one can obtain at little cost from various sources. It is used in the windings of small transformers, dynamos or electric motors.

After the hook has been covered and the wire locked so that it cannot spin around the hook shank, wind the wire in even turns to the point where the thorax of the nymph is to be constructed, and there build up a hump. Then wind the wire back to the hook bend and let it dangle.

The wire is much easier to use than silk as it will not spin off or loosen if the tension is relaxed. The wire with its red colour forms the base for the dressing and at the same time gives additional weight to the hook. I dispense entirely with the use of silk and use the fine wire to tie in the dressing.

The wire is now dangling from the hook bend. Take four centre fibres of a browny-red cock pheasant tail feather.

Hold the fibres by their tips and then tie them in with the wire so that the fine ends stand out about one-eighth of an inch from the hook bend. They form the tails, or setae of the nymph. Then spin the four fibres of the pheasant tail onto the wire so that they are reinforced, and then lap fibres and wire evenly to the hook eye.

Hold the wire firmly, separate the fibres from it and then wind the wire to the point behind which the thorax is to be made. Bend the fibres back and fasten for the first lap of the thorax, then forward to the eye of the hook again. Fasten here securely with half a dozen tums of the wire and then cut away spare fibres.

Our finished effort should have a very pronounced thorax which suggests the bulging wing cases, and a body which tapers neatly to the tail. With the tail fibres spread, all is complete…”

”…When wet this pattern has a translucent effect and one can see the red of the wire showing through the pheasant tail fibres. The artificial, so constructed, has a very good entry to water and will sink deeply when required. The hook point is not muffled or guarded in any way by hackles or by the dressing, and a slight lift of the rod will drive it home.”

Tie it in different weights for varying depths and from sizes 16 to as big as 10 for the deep stuff. It can also be used with some success in lake fishing. It can be either retrieved very slowly (an inch or two at a time) to mimic a natural nymph walking along the lake bottom as it feeds on algae or it can be left to lie in the path of a trout cruising its beat and then jerked from the bottom as if starting to rise to the surface, as the trout gets near. Called the induced take, this method works with most nymphs when you require to attract the trout’s attention.

Hare & Pheasant

Hare and Pheasant nymph.

This is a more modern classic modelled on the Pheasant Tail Nymph. The Hare and Pheasant has many of the positive attributes of the Pheasant Tail Nymph but with the added possible advantage of a fluffy thorax that extends its range of resemblance to mayfly and caddis in their emerging state. A few guard hairs strategically pricked out on either side of the thorax enhance this deception and give it that magical quality of movement. Fished light in small sizes and just under the surface it has proved its worth probably for all these reasons.

My diaries show it as being particularly successful early in the season and before the dry fly starts coming into its own. It can often be an answer during the prolific caddis hatches on the Arnold River when, early on at the start of the rise, the floating artificial can sometimes be ignored as the trout feed from just under but not off the surface.

When fished in combination with and just above a heavier Pheasant Tail you will be covering not just a variety of depths but a wider range of food options from a trout’s perspective. Tie it as for the Pheasant Tail but dub on a thorax of fur from the mask of a hare. A variety of artificial seal fur colours will increase your options.

Bead-head versions of the above two nymphs are proving their worth once you overcome your initial prejudice. It’s amazing how results open the mind to alternatives. Bead heads are particularly effective when the water being explored has depth or speed or both. The lighter standard patterns will not get down far enough or quickly enough unless they’re weighed. While additional copper or lead wire can be incorporated it can make the smaller patterns look out of proportion.

Hare and Pheasant Bead Head nymph. The fur is dyed olive green.

Even though the bead-head (in black, gold or even silver) may look a little unnatural to our eyes it doesn’t seem to deter the trout. This is more obvious when fishing the faster water where the trout have little time to discriminate, they need to decide quickly. In many situations, it seems clear that getting the nymph down into the strike zone as quickly as you can is more important to success than the aesthetics of its looks.

They also come into their own when searching the pocket water in deep fast runs that are found on such boisterous water as say the Buller or Gowan River. Perhaps the flash of metallic colour proves an attractant, drawing the eager eye or maybe it resembles an air bubble. Either way, they work.

While bead heads have some use in stillwater, I wouldn’t say they’re particularly effective. Their harsh and heavy entry into the water usually serves as a departure signal for the trout, though fishing them off the bottom to intercept cruisers can work.

Hare & Copper

Hare and Copper nymph.

With a close resemblance to the nesameletus or swimming nymphs, this old stand-by vies with Norman Marsh’s Grey Darter pattern as a prolific taker in all waters where the water quality is high enough to provide a living.

Dependent on the river conditions and water depth it can be tied light or weighted with additional copper on the bare hook prior to dressing.

Thread: Black or Grey.
Body: A mix of brown/black hare mask fur.
Wing tuft: Short clump of fibres from the hare’s mask.
Tail: Long hare fur Rib: Dark copper wire.

Horn-cased Caddis

Horn Cased Caddis nymph.

Gut sample after gut sample and research findings ad nauseam show the horn-cased caddis (Olinga) and Stoney-cased caddis (Pycnocentrodes) as the most abundant food source for trout in New Zealand. The horn-cased caddis probably outnumbers all other invertebrates (mayflies, stoneflies, etc) by as much as a 4:1 ratio.

Many of the otherwise good imitations and dressings for Olinga tend to fail more often than they should for want of one simple element.

They need to be fished on or near the bottom. Most patterns produce delightful imitations but they lack the incorporated weight to quickly deliver the deception onto the trout’s table near the bottom of the stream. Added weight can often be the key to improving their success rate. As noted above, bizarre bead-heads can achieve this or some turns of fine lead or copper wire onto the hook before dressing it can produce reasonable results.

The unweighted version still works in the right water conditions – shallower glides, smaller drop-offs where the current tumbles the caddis cases from the ripples above or when trout are feeding high in the water or over weed-beds.

Ideally, a specially shaped caddis hook should be used but you can get away with simply starting the fly dressing well around the curve of a standard hook, i.e. towards the business end. The curve is often the key. There is a range of modern materials you can substitute to imitate the horn case but I stick to the traditional quill.

Tony Orman quite rightly devotes a chapter to this important nymph in his book Trout on a Nymph. As he notes, the actual colour of the real case can vary markedly from region to region or even from river to river. It may be necessary to adapt and match if your standard colour is proving less than successful. Flip over a few rocks and check out the caddis colour (try and remember to flip them back again). After a few visits to your favourite haunts, you’ll soon have a mental colour chart matched by your imitations.

S.C. Moore has produced an excellent booklet for the Otago Regional Council – A Photographic Guide to the Freshwater Invertebrates of New Zealand, 1997. It has clear colour photographs of all the mayflies and includes some 21 caddisflies (along with everything else subaquatic of interest to the angler). There is no simpler nor more accessible guide than this.

The water sensitivity ratings for each invertebrate are very good ready-reckoners of water quality or the ”state of health” of your particular river.

Thread: Black.
Underbody: Overlay green, light yellow or cream floss onto your fine lead wire (this represents the larva within the case).
Body/case: Quill from a brown hen hackle or substitute (The quill can be simply dyed to match the desired colour or shade).
Head: A tum or two of peacock herl or even short badger hackle (to represent the protruding head and legs).

Favourite Trout Flies – Dry Flies

Supposedly the first written use of the term “dry fly” in the context in which we understand it today was in a small flyfishing booklet published in 1841 by George Pulman. Use of the wet fly was the order of the day then and the only time it was actually dry was when it was first removed from the flybox or wallet.

It was designed to sink upon use and thus became “wet”. Pulman advised, ”Let a dry fly be substituted for the wet one, the line switched a few times through the air to throw off the superabundant moisture, a judicious cast made just above the rising fish, and the fly allowed to float towards and over them, and the chances are ten to one it will be seized as readily as the living insects Thus the dry fly represented the floating fly.

English dry fly guru Frederic Halford took a quantum leap in dry fly imitation and developed a rigid code that excluded any other more heathen method, whether wet or nymph. He considered that ”…the dry fly had superseded for all time and in all places all other methods of fly fishing and those who thought otherwise were either ignorant or incompetent.”

If we ignore Halford’s obsession with the single method there is no denying the sheer magic of a trout rising to the imitation dry fly. It is unsurpassed as one of the greatest moments of all flyfishing.

Unfortunately, or otherwise, it is simply not the exclusive means of delivering trout to the net. If we also put aside for the moment Halford’s exact imitation philosophy, his description of how to use the dry fly is as relevant in the 2,000s as it was when he wrote of it in his opus Dry Fly Fishing in Theory and Practice in 1889. I don’t believe in reinventing piscatorial wheels so will let the master of the method explain:

“Dry fly fishing is presenting to the rising fish the best possible imitation of the insect on which he is feeding in its natural position. To analyse this further, it is necessary, firstly to find a fish feeding on the winged insect; both in size and colour; thirdly, to present it to him in its natural position or floating on the surface of the water with its wings up, or what we technically called ’cocked’; fourthly, to put the fly lightly on the water, so that it floats accurately over him without drag; and, fifthly, to take care that all these conditions have been fulfilled before the fish has seen the angler or the reflections of his rod.”

Although they are in contradiction to Halford’s exact imitation theory the following favourite dries are in line with the more practical impressionistic approach. Barring that exception, they are fished, the majority of times, completely in line with the rest of Halford’s equation. The minority of times are when you need to create intentional drag to represent the actions of the live insect; particularly, for example, a skittering caddis fly when surface movement (or intentional drag) of the artificial can be the key to attracting the trout.

Royal Wulff

Royal Wulff Dry Fly

One of a gang of brash American imports that has stamped out a big chunk of turf on the New Zealand angling scene. The only initiation needed to acquire your membership patch is a preparedness to accept the fact that, to our eyes at least, it looks like no insect on earth. The angling paradox of representing nothing in particular and yet everything at one and the same time. Once you have overcome your initial concern that you are only fooling yourself, this fly seems to have endless and successful uses.

It can be used as an indicator fly for a searching nymph down below, an attractor pattern, a beetle pattern struggling on the surface, skidded across the surface as for a caddis and as a purer dry fly in its own right for the larger mayfly. I suppose when you compare the possible uses of the Royal Wulff with Halford’s above formula it fails on every count but it floats on the surface. The bottom line? It works.

It’s bushy, plump and garish but still delivers the goods consistently. There are a few other flies I would consider better for blind-fishing likely water. Getting the size right for the conditions though is often the key. A standard rule of thumb (to which there are inevitable exceptions) seems to be small water – small fly, bigger water – bigger fly. There is nothing more delightful than to spot an inquisitive trout nose appearing unexpectedly beneath your Royal Wulff as your eyes track the path of the white calf-hair wings, awaiting a signal for your trailing nymph.

The indicator can quickly become the fish taker.

Don’t drive yourself mad keeping an angling eye out for a prolific Royal Wulff hatch. Unless there’s a rich fool upstream flicking his entire stock of Royal Wulffs onto the water, it won’t happen.

It can be tied in sizes as big as 8 to as small as 20.

Thread: Black.
Tail: Deer body hair with a touch of brown Wings: White calf-tail hair, tied in an up-right separated ’V’.
Body: Peacock herl with a broad band of red floss in the centre.
Hackle: Brown (natural red) or a chocolate brown cock.

The better the quality of your hackle cape the better the fly will float. When being used as an indicator or on ripply or fast water this factor becomes essential.

A few false casts will generally dry it enough without it requiring to have floatant applied too often.

Elk-hair Caddis

Elk Hair Caddis

A superb floater that comes into its own in either heavy or sparse caddis (sedge) hatches. The elk hair wing should be tied with the roof wing profile that typifies the natural caddis fly. It can be fished floating high on the surface and given the occasional tweak to represent the skittering of the natural as it tries to fly free of the clinging surface film. Even when a bit sodden the fly will still attract trout as it fortuitously represents the caddis emerger on the surface.

In many situations, the trout will ignore a floating caddis and show a preference for the emerger struggling to break through the surface film. When you find this happening or suspect the trout are taking short and you don’t have a wet fly/emerger pattern there’s a simple response.

Soak a fresh elk hair dry in a detergent solution to get it into rather than onto the water. While it’s unlikely that you’ll have a bottle of Lux Liquid in your vest, a small amount of diluted mixture can be carried in a film canister. Remember to give your newly anointed fly a bit of a rinse before casting it out into the feed line or you may simply end up with a squeaky-clean fly.

Elk Hair Caddis

Thread: Brown pre-waxed.
Rib: Fine gold wire.
Wing: Bleached cow elk (roof-wing style).
Body: Dark hare’s fur dubbed to just short of the hook eye (pale green, tan or amber fur can be substituted).
Hackle: Brown or furnace cock hackle.

The hackle is wound in closely spaced turns the length of the hook, covering the entire body. The tips of the elk hair should project just past the hook bend. There is no need for a whipped head finish, simply trim the excess elk hair over the eye, leaving a short stub. Another equally effective pattern is the Goddard Caddis.

Black Gnat

Black Gnat. Pronounced “nat”. It could pass for a spider, beetle or a blowfly.

Canterbury angler and author, John England, titled his delightful angling book after this classic fly, and with good reason. While not a gnat as such, the shape and colour lend an appeal to the fly that regularly proves successful. It has a close resemblance to a house fly and it is probably most often taken as such. It is suggestive of a range of other insects also, more than likely terrestrials (spiders, beetles, blowflies, etc.). Tied in smaller patterns (no.18 and no.16) it gives a reasonable imitation of the darker deleatidium mayflies. Skittered like the caddis it can also produce.

As John England concludes in his book: “It is a fly which will trigger a rise when other flies seem more likely and often tempts a fish in deep water to the surface when a range of nymphs has failed. It is a fly I use without rhyme or reason but it is a fly I would not happily be without. Very simply, the Black Gnat catches fish when you least expect it.”

Even when drowned and sodden, the artificial will continue to attract interest.

The natural fly often ends up partially submerged after a thrashing from rapids and ripple water. When really wet and drifting near the bottom maybe it has the look of a black water snail to also commend its use.

Tail: Black cock hackle fibres.
Body: Black wool or even black ostrich herl.
Wings: Paired slips of grey mallard primary feather or starling hackles.
Hackle: Dyed black cock.


Mole Fly (wing swept back).

A good floating fly to use when searching likely water on the blind and effective on slower flowing rivers. It is named after the River Mole in Surrey, England. The fly is particularly popular in Europe and specifically in France.

Originally developed as a sedge (caddis) imitation it proves successful in the Southern Hemisphere for similar reasons.

While there are better and more specific imitations (see the Elk-hair Caddis above) this fly can cover a range of other insect options including a bushy mayfly and some of the smaller terrestrials.

This is one of the appealing things about a favourite fly. While it is satisfying to have half a clue as to why a particular fly is doing the job, as long as it is producing trout it shouldn’t really cause too much anguish. Some finicky and humourless anglers seem to get little pleasure unless they’ve convinced themselves that the trout have been dependably tricked by an imitation purposefully presented and taken as a specific insect.

Leave these niceties to those who can be bothered and just enjoy your fishing. Yes, it is nice to think you know but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter.

Thread: Brown or dark olive.
Body: Yellow floss.
Hackle: Palmer-style ginger cock hackle.
Wings: Secondary feather of hen pheasant (tied forward).
Tail: Ginger cock.
Rib: Gold wire.

Start the palmer hackling (i.e. tied the length of the body) from the tail and work to the head. Wind the gold wire rib in the opposite direction for reinforcement.



An old Welsh classic that has found a most welcome home in New Zealand. Not so popular with the new breed of angler, this fly is still one of the few dry flies can that be relied on to produce a rise regardless of the conditions.

It delivers from backwaters, flat-surfaced glides, ripples and lakes. It is versatile too, it can be fished at the fall of night on the Canterbury rivers in November and December or laid out nicely on a high country lake in the daytime. Originally tied to resemble a red-brown beetle, in New Zealand it is more successful in imitating both our brown and green beetles.

In profile, it has enough character to also trick a few trout into taking it for other insects as well (caddis, moths, maybe even a small cicada). It rides well on the water (”well-cocked”) and the odd twitch of the rod tip will impart life and attract curious fishy eyes.

It has some similarities with the Molefly and, as with the Molefly, the Coch-Y-Bondhu can be most useful as a ‘searcher’ when blind-fishing. Similarly again with the Molefly pattern, the popularity of this fly over the decades has seen a wide variety of dressings adapted and developed and most are as effective as the original.

Thread: Black.
Body: Bronze peacock herl (or iridescent green).
Hackle: Coch-Y-Bondhu (if obtainable) or red furnace.
Tag: Flat gold tinsel (optional).

With genuine Coch-Y-Bondhu feathers effectively unobtainable the only real characteristic missing from the red furnace hackle substitute is the black tip to the fibres. If your quest for purity is such that you feel an obligation to overcome this minor deficiency, relax. Innovative angler/author Geoffrey Bucknall has devised a simple solution. You will need a wooden or metal ruler and a Black Magic Marker pen.

Cover the whole of the hackle with the ruler except for the tips of the fibres. ‘Dot’ the Magic Marker hard down onto the bared tips and repeat this for the other side. To be honest though (and for a change) I’ve only ever done this once and all my later versions (with no black tip) do not seem to have affected their killing power at all. But, as we all know, a big part of successful flyfishing is personal confidence in your fly, if it makes you feel better.

The favourite trout flies mention here are sure to catch you a trout on any water in New Zealand. You could and should tie them in several sizes. 

Assign no blame to Paul Corliss for the tying of the flies shown in this piece. They are the work of Allan Burgess.

Info Box

A Photographic Guide to Freshwater Invertebrates of Taranaki’s Rivers and Streams. Produced by the Taranaki Regional Council. You can download this 26-page beautifully illustrated .pdf guide.

This post was last modified on 13/03/2024 9:23 pm

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