Sunday, 26 February 2012 14:43



The following six flies take into account the circumstances that prevail on a handful of streams found within a two-hour drive of Cape Town.


Ed Herbst on the Bokspruit at Gateshead

There are two brief seasonal hatches that occur in early spring – September to November.


Two insects, the Net-Winged Midge (Blephariceridae ) and the Blackfly (Simulidae) hatch in substantial numbers. On one occasion on the Elandspad stream, the Mountain Midges – as they are also known -   were so prolific that they looked like small, drifting patches of grey mist.


I have seen mating Blackflies in their hundreds on the rocks, laying their eggs in little pink patches which quickly turn brown and resemble lichen. Thereafter they tumble into the water and can cause a frenzy of selective feeding.


The third “hatch” is not a hatch at all but the daily ovipositing flight of the female Darkening Dun mayfly (Choroterpes nigrescens). Most South African mayflies hatch at night and many crawl onto rocks to emerge from their shucks, so significant mayfly hatches are rare and, in my experience caddis hatches are even more rare.


The appearance of the egg-laying Darkening Duns is a happy exception and, usually around ten thirty, a stream devoid of rises suddenly boils with cavorting trout.


The cause is difficult to discern but, if you turn around and look downstream, the little spinners can be seen against the sun, rhythmically rising and falling as they fly upstream against the current, dipping down to brush their abdomens against the water surface and dislodge the eggs.


Griffiths Gnat alternatives

Traditionally, this would call for a Griffiths’ Gnat, but Cape Town-based fly fishers have developed some interesting alternatives - an outstanding fly to imitate the Net-Winged Midge is Tom Sutcliffe’s CDC One-Feather Midge.



Darrel Lampert’s CDC Midge is an excellent imitation for all three insects and so, too, is Craig Thom’s X-Fly   named after his Stream-X fly shop.








For the Darkening Dun “hatch” you need look no further than Agostino Roncallo’s Mirage.



It is a CDC equivalent of Harry Darbee’s Two Feather Mayfly. http://bsflyworks.blog72.fc2.com/category8-8.html



And Tom Sutcliffe has added a neat touch, a tiny pinch of black Ice Dub which helps the process of creating the feather body.


Tuft Back Midge

To imitate these insects, the first of my six patterns is the Tuft Back Midge, an adaption of Darryl Lampert’s outstanding creation which uses the split-thread technique. My version adds Midge Flash to the bright sighter post on Darryl’s fly to enhance visibility, Ice Dub to blend with the palmered CDC and a thin strip of Larva Lace dry fly foam beneath the hook shank to improve buoyancy.


Darryl has tried all available threads and finds that Gordon Griffiths 14/0 is the best for this technique.  Only two hook manufacturers currently make 4x fine dry fly hooks, Tiemco and Varivas and these hooks are ideal for the Tuft Back Midge. I get these Tiemco hooks from Bill and Kathi Morrison at Bear Lodge Anglers and their service is exemplary, http://www.bearlodgeangler.com/ . I get my Varivas hooks from Lakelands: http://www.lakelandflytying.com



Most fly tyers, when tying such flies, will use Mark Petitjean’s tools and you will find that, when you slide the CDC fibres into the split thread, the size of plastic clamp will result in a gap between the fibres and the hook shank. I softly dub some UV Ice Dub onto this short piece of thread which means the dubbing goes onto the hook shank first to be followed by the chenille of CDC fibres. This dubbing then bleeds through the CDC fibres adding a subtle sparkle. In the accompanying example I have, to increase photographic contrast, used yellow foam for the belly and chartreuse dubbing to stand out against the black CDC.


Dressing: Tuft-Back Midge

Hook: #16-18  Varivas 2110 Ultra Light Dry and Tiemco TMC 112y or light wire hook of choice.

Thread: Gordon Griffiths 14/0.

Underbody: UV Ice Dub of choice with CDC palmered over it.

Body: Natural colour CDC using split-thread technique with foam strip beneath hook shank.

Sighter Post: Mixture of pink (when sun is behind you) or chartreuse Fishient Frizz Fibre and contrasting colour midge flash.

Sunken Beetle

I’d rather fish a beetle than a nymph. As a saver of blank days, the Black Beetle is high on the list”. David Scholes, Trout Days, Kangaroo Press, 1986

When nothing is moving and dry flies are being ignored, then a small, fast-sinking fly is called for. Baetis nymphs are the staple fare for trout in Southern Africa but, just as a floating beetle is a hatch breaker when trout are selectively taking adult mayflies, so my sunken beetle is avidly taken even when they are feeding hard on small mayfly nymphs.



I started fishing the Sunken Beetle in 1993 using a greased leader and small, float-dough or yarn strike indicator with gratifying success.  It had peacock herl as a shellback, a body of lead wire covered with hare’s ear fur and black crystal flash legs. When brass and, subsequently, tungsten beads became available, they added weight but not bulk to my #16 patterns and this pattern has been a staple in my fly box ever since. The latest version has an element of the Czech Nymph about it. Two years ago, I spotted some green 7mmribbed  tungsten scud bodies in Craig Thom’s Stream X fly shop. I realised that if I tied these to the top of a  #16 Tiemco 206 BL or Grip 14723BL Caddis Pupa and Emerger hook and combined it with a 1.5 mm tungsten bead, I would have streamlined and exceptionally heavy # 16 sunken beetle. It drifts drift hook point up making it relatively snag-free and is thus an ideal anchor fly in a New Zealand-type rig with a more buoyant pattern such as a spent-wing mayfly pattern attached to the hook bend and bobbing enticingly in its wake like a miniature booby.

Winged wet flies have caught trout for centuries and in the version shown here, I have added a wing of plastic bubble wrap and a starling hackle for legs. I chose the bubble wrap as a wing material because, if you hold it against the light, you will see that has a most lifelike pattern. This performs just as well with ultra-thin Montana Fly Company rubber “Tentacle” legs and a wing made of organza wedding gown filaments or a zelon-type material.


An internet search shows that they are available down to 5mm so a #18 sunken beetle would be feasible.




I simply superglue the body to the top of the hook shank and behind the 1.5mm bead and then further secure it with ribbing wire. An epoxy like Clear Cure Goo – available from the Upstream fly shop in Cape Town - would add to the translucence and durability of this fly – although, to describe it as such, would have F M Halford spinning in his grave like a top.


Dressing: Sunken Beetle

Hook: Up eye caddis hook of choice.

Thread: 10/0 - 14/0 of choice.

Head: 1.5 mm tungsten.

Body: Green or olive ribbed tungsten scud body.

Rib: Copper wire in colour of choice.

Legs: Starling or other soft hackle or fine rubber.

Wing: Plastic sheet or sparkle organza, Z-Lon etc.


The next three flies share proven materials and design specifications. The tails are made of tan Montana Fly Company “Tentacles” mottled with a black permanent marker and they are separated by a tiny ball of red UV Ice Dub. Fly tyers have, down the centuries, incorporated a touch of red in a fly because empirical experience showed that fish found it attractive and that its inclusion accordingly made the pattern more effective.


The body is peacock or pheasant tail herl overlaid with a clear plastic strip to increase translucence and improve durability – a principle pioneered by John Goddard with his PVC Nymph and Ken Sinfoil with his Sinfoil’s Fry half a century ago


I have used fine blue wire as a rib on nymphs and emergers ever since I read that Tasmanian guide, Ken Orr, felt this was the defining factor in making his 007 Nymph a “licence to kill”.


Vertical Emerger

“A dry fly dragging puts off the fish, but a soft hackle gently moving suggests a struggling pupa”. Scott Sanchez, A New Generation of Trout Flies, Wild River Press, 2005

Moving further up in the water column we come to a fly which pays homage to and draws its inspiration from Vincent Marinaro’s Hanging Emerger.




This fly is illustrated on page 82 of his book, In the Ring of the Rise, (Crown Publishers, New York, 1976). As the illustration from the book (below) shows, he forced the hook into an upright position by using a riffling hitch.



I realised that by using a piece of foam protruding ahead of the eye of a fine-wire, straight-eye hook in conjunction with a greased leader and tippet and a stop knot such as the Surgeon’s Swivel - I could hold the fly in a vertical position in the surface film. This is a far simpler solution than Marinaro’s use of the riffling hitch. (It was only after I had been fishing the fly with very satisfactory results for two years that I realised that my spark of innovative flare was hardly original – Frank Sawyer used a similar idea, albeit on a stillwater pattern, more than half a century ago with his Bow Tie Buzzer.)


To facilitate the ability of the fly to rotate around the tippet and thus wobble enticingly in the water, a portion of the hook close to the eye is left bare. The stop knot is trapped between the foam and this bare section of the hook so as to hold the fly vertically in the water, The Orvis 4641 Big Eye Dry Fly Hook is particularly well-suited to this application because the greater diameter of the eye enables it to pivot more easily around the tippet. However, any straight eye, light wire hook such as the Tiemco 101, the Partridge CZF and the Varivas IWI-F2000 Floating Nymph hooks will suffice. Some copper wire beneath the body material at the hook bend combined with the foam at the hook eye forces the fly into an upright position and this is also facilitated by the greased tippet which is now at right angles to the hook shank. Two fine rubber strands (Montana Fly Company “Tentacles”) serve as tails and add significantly to current-induced movement. To prevent them from sticking together in the water I separate them with a tiny amount of red UV Ice Dub.


The thorax of hare’s ear fur forces the soft hackle forward creating what Skues called “buzz”. My latest flies add peacock herl to the hackle – a brilliant technique which I discovered here:



The icing on the cake is the post of translucent ethafoam, a material highly regarded by LaFontaine.He used it in his Air Head dry fly and his Halo emerger series as well as in beetle, ant, spider and inchworm imitations because it diffuses light. If you use thin ethafoam and fold it double you can place a fine flashabou or midge flash material between the two layers to reflect light.

Trout start rising slowly to this fly when it is still some distance from them which adds to both the tension and enjoyment of using it. I think they do this because it can be seen at a greater distance than a surface-floating fly. Furthermore, it looks vulnerable, has lots of movement and a combination of time-proven materials plus rubber tails which seem to enhance any fly to which they are added.


I would like to think that Marinaro would have approved.


Dressing: Vertical Emerger

Hook: # 16 Partridge Flash Point CZF (shown) or #12-16 Orvis 4641 Big Eye Dry Fly Hook or light wire sedge hooks such as the Tiemco 206 BL or Grip14723BL.

Thread: Gudebrod 10/0, Gordon Griffiths 14/0 or alternative.

Tails: Fine rubber such as Tentacles (tan) mottled with permanent marker.

Egg Sac: Dubbed ball of red UV Ice Dub separating tails. 

Body: Pheasant Tail herl.

Rib: Fine blue Lagartun or UTC Ultra wire (extra fine – XSM.

Overbody: Clear plastic strip – Fishient Gliss ‘n Glow Clear Ice.

Thorax: Hare’s ear fur.

Hackle: Soft hackle with peacock herl separating fibre.

Suspender post: Foam.


Something Struggling

From a fly which sits just below the meniscus, we move now to one which is both beneath and above the water surface.


Hans van Klinken with his Klinkhamer Special highlighted the crucial role that an impression of vulnerability can play and made a half-in and half-out of the water fly pattern an imperative in the modern fly box. It prompted a host of similar flies with Bob Wyatt and his Deer Hair Emerger strongly emphasising the vulnerability factor while at the same time seeking an easier, quicker and more durable tie than Van Klinken’s parachute pattern.


My choice of an “in-the-meniscus” pattern reflects in its name – Something Struggling - my attempt to create the impression of an insect that will be easy for the trout to capture.


The pattern viewed from the side

In modern fly tying there is little that is not derivative of existing patterns – Blane Chocklett’s Gummy Minnow being one of the few exceptions - and Something Struggling blends design elements of the Klinkhamer (the sunken abdomen) with the deer hair wing and foam head of Roman Moser’s Balloon Caddis . Rubber legs, tails and antennae   are added for increased movement.


Viewed from the top

From a design point of view Something Struggling, with its dangling fine-rubber tails, has a lot going for it and it is a pleasure to fish. It floats well and the orange foam head makes it easy to follow in boisterous currents. The plastic-coated section of the body  sinks quickly and this, in conjunction with the rubber tails being activated by the water flow make it easier for the trout to spot at a distance than a high-riding traditional dry like a Variant or Bivisible which can only be seen by the fish when it is in the window. The UV Ice Dub thorax adds an enticing glint and the barred rubber legs and antennae, wiggle in the current adding to the impression that here is something, pinioned and helpless and therefore easy prey.


Dressing: Something Struggling

Hook: Fine wire sedge – my favourite is the Varivas IWI T-2000 Terrestrial.

Thread: Roman Moser Power Thread 10/0 or alternative.

Tails: Fine rubber such as Tentacles (tan) mottled with permanent marker.

Egg Sac: Dubbed ball of red UV Ice Dub separating tails. 

Body: Peacock or Pheasant Tail herl.

Rib: Fine blue Lagartun or UTC Ultra wire (extra fine – XSM.

Overbody: Clear plastic strip – Fishient Gliss ‘n Glow Clear Ice.

Wing: Deer hair.

Thorax: UV Ice Dub - colour of choice.

Head: Orange Larva Lace foam – or foam of choice.

Legs and antennae: Fine rubber such as mottled Centipede and Tentacle strands.

In closing, I am beginning to wonder whether I should not replace the Roman Moser Balloon Caddis head with Gary LaFontaine’s Air Head dressing. The Air Head is beginning to prove too successful on the streams near Cape Town, as well as elsewhere in South Africa to be ignored.





This pattern is another which has a section of its body beneath the surface of the water as well as on top and it has a very high vulnerability factor.


A doyen of South African small stream fly fishers and author of the most beautiful book on the subject I have ever read, Peter Brigg, rates the spent spinner as his favourite fly.




The success of spentwing spinner patterns is easy to explain – they are completely vulnerable and their crucifix silhouette is instantly recognisable to the fish. Furthermore, the light pattern created by the light-diffusing effect of their wings alerts trout to their presence. My spinner variation uses the same body construction as Something Struggling - soft rubber tails and a herl body ribbed with fine copper wire and covered in plastic. The wings are made of a mixture of black and white hair from a showshoe rabbit’s foot, a translucent but buoyant material. If you like you can add a few strands of nylon organza wedding gown material.  The thorax is UV Ice Dub and the wing cover is orange Larva Lace dry fly foam to add a little visibility.


Anglers know that Baetis mayflies crawl beneath the surface to lay their eggs and die and that spent spinners are often drowned in turbulent water.


I have long fished a sunken spinner - a derivation of a Neil Patterson pattern – with a strike indicator and a greased leader and it has proved exceptionally effective.


The conventional snowshoe version has proved so effective that Orvis markets the pattern.



It can be used on its own as a surface pattern or used in tandem with my Sunken Beetle in a New Zealand-style rig. Tied to the bend of the hook, it undulates behind the beetle imitation, drawing a very positive reaction from trout.


Dressing: Snowshoe Spinner

Hook: Fine wire sedge – my favourite is the Varivas IWI T-2000 Terrestrial.

Thread: Gudebrod 10/0, Gordon Griffiths 14/0 or alternative.

Tails: Fine rubber such as Tentacles (tan) mottled with permanent marker.

Egg Sac: Dubbed ball of red UV Ice Dub separating tails. 

Body: Peacock or Pheasant Tail herl.

Rib: Fine blue Lagartun or UTC Ultra wire (extra fine – XSM.

Overbody: Clear plastic strip – Fishient Gliss ‘n Glow Clear Ice.

Wing: Natural and dyed-black hair from a snowshoe rabbit foot.

Thorax: UV Ice Dub.

Wing case: Orange Larva Lace dry fly foam or equivalent.


Ed’s Hopper

My sixth pattern is a hopper. Not because it catches more fish than an ant or beetle pattern but because it releases me from the upstream/dead drift strait jacket. When drag sets in, you fish it like a popper and it is just as effective fished across and downstream with appropriate mends and twitches.


Two other fly fishers who have contributed to this series, Peter Brigg and Stanton Hector, have been kind enough to include on this website it in their list of six stream patterns. It was also recently voted one of the twelve best flies for use in South Africa by Murray Pedder, fly tying editor for the Complete Fly Fisher magazine.


You can find more information here:






It is one of five singular South African terrestrial patterns featured in the second of the DVD series by Andrew Ingram and me, “A South African Fly Tying Journey with Ed Herbst and Friends.” Furthermore, Tom Sutcliffe has a very engaging account, along with a sketch-illustrated description of how the fly is tied, in the re-printed edition of his book, Hunting Trout, which has just become available. It is one of the best combinations of anecdote and instruction that I have read in more than three decades of collecting several hundred books on the subject.


Like all my patterns it had its origins in an earlier pattern – in this case an innovative fly made from balsa wood – Ed Sutryn’s McMurray Ant.


I changed the body to foam and added rubber legs and a wing of Golden Pheasant tippets because this was a staple in Australian hopper patterns. My first patterns used Orvis Quick-Sight Ant bodies and then I used the foam cylinders which became available through companies like Rainy’s. More recently I have found that by stretching Larva Lace dry fly foam, I can construct even more realistic and delicate segmented bodies on the J:son & Co micro detached body pin which I got from Craig Thom at the Stream X fly shop in Milnerton, Cape Town..






This combination of existing ideas and materials proved exceptionally effective both on my home streams and even more so in the north eastern Cape highlands. The streams in Barkly East, Rhodes and Maclear flow through a more pastoral landscape than the high mountain peaks which surround my home streams like the Elandspad, Smalblaar, Witels and my favourite, the Holsloot. They have grassed banks to a greater extent than the Cape streams and this environment is home to a lot of hoppers.


While several contemporary hopper patterns, particularly in the USA, use the technique of two knotted strands of rubber with one cut away to form the lower leg, they all use two strands of identical material. I think my method with two different diameters and colours provides a more realistic leg and more water-induced movement in the legs.


As a final touch I use a water-proof, indelible, felt-tip marker to paint an "eye" onto the fly because grasshoppers have very prominent eyes which occupy a large percentage of the total head area.

Dressing: Ed’s Hopper

Hook: # 14 and 16 medium wire hook.

Thread: Gudebrod 10/0, Gordon Griffiths 14/0 or alternative. 

Body: Any suitable foam cylinder in colour of choice. Use 1/8” on #14 hooks and 3/32” on # 16 or extended foam body tied on a J:son & Co Micro Detached Body Pin. Larva lace dry fly foam is the most pleasant to work with. Most South African hoppers are fawn to light brown.

Legs: Combination of medium barred Centipede and fine Tentacles rubber legs mottled with permanent marker.

Antennae: Tentacles (Innoxa or Gold Zac elastic ruching thread- available from haberdashery shops – or “Bait Cotton” – available from fishing tackle shops can also be used.) Mottle them with a permanent marker.

Wing: Golden Pheasant tippets overlaid with two strands of Midge Flash. A few strands of sparkle organza wedding gown material – Fishient market this as Fluoro Fibre, Tiemco as Morpho Fibre and Roman Moser as Dust Fibre - can add a subtle sparkle without adding weight


Conclusion: Confining oneself to just six patterns is painfully restrictive. I fish to catch fish but also to savour the moment and savour the day and part of that pleasure is trying new patterns – and every fly in my box differs in some small way from the one I previously tied. Looking at this list I feel truly bereft at the lack of an ant pattern. I carry foam patterns, dubbed fur patterns and sinking ants with 1.5mm tungsten heads and lead wire abdomens covered with epoxy-coated copper wire. When you need them nothing else will suffice and they are effective at every level in the water column. A beetle, as Gary LaFontaine has pointed out, is the universal searching pattern and my Tuft Back Beetle with its post of brightly coloured yarn combined with Midge Flash threaded through the foam back of the pattern makes even the smallest example easy to spot on the water. I am particularly fond of sunken terrestrial patterns fished with a strike indicator and a greased leader for, according to LaFontaine, the sunken hopper can be more effective than the floating version. I have been invited by Hans Weilenmann to submit my patterns for inclusion on his Danica website – probably the most definitive and authoritative site of its kind extant – and once that has been achieved I will provide the link.


NB: All the books and DVDs mentioned in this article are obtainable from Craig Thom at: http://www.netbooks.co.za/


You can get copies of Tom Sutcliffe’s books by emailing him at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Larva Lace dry fly foam and Montana Fly Company Tentacles are now available from Morne Bayman at: http://www.theafricanflyangler.co.za/


Replicas of these flies, tied by a former Malawian professional fly tyer now living in Cape Town, Simon Mataka, can now be ordered from Craig Thom at the Stream X fly shop 


















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