A modern take on stillwater fly-fishing in South Africa and six flies to do it with

A modern take on stillwater fly-fishing in South Africa and six flies to do it with

Wednesday, 31 July 2019 15:00

by Gijsbert Hoogendoorn

Photos by the author and by Darryl Lampert including the header photo -  

Stillwater fly-fishing has progressed significantly over the last twenty years, and my interest in stillwater fly fishing has evolved considerably since I wrote “My Six Pack of Stillwater Flies” on this website in 2014. I have been intending for quite a while to revisit that piece and provide an account of my current thinking around stillwater fly fishing in South Africa. So here goes, and thanks to Tom for the opportunity.


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When I started stillwater fly fishing, Dean Riphagen’s book ‘Stillwater Trout in South Africa’ (2004) was the undisputed and final word on the topic for me. I read that book at least seven times, and if anybody suggested techniques different to what I found in the pages of Dean’s book, I would dismiss them as ignoramuses. ‘Stillwater Trout in South Africa’ provided an imitative approach to stillwater fly-fishing and was, and still is, a great resource to understand entomology in our stillwaters.

Click image to enlarge

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Cover photograph by Darryl Lampert

 However, over time, flies popularly used on stillwaters in South Africa have become much more suggestive and attractor-based rather than imitative. Changing technologies have also had a huge influence. Barbless hooks are readily available. Tippets have become thinner and stronger. Reels have become larger, lighter and smoother. South African fly fishermen are also increasingly fishing 10ft 6wt rods instead of the 9ft 5wt rod. With more suggestive- and attractor-based patterns and improved technology, I would argue that stillwater fly fishing has become more balanced in its approach to fishing both imitative- and suggestive/attractor-based patterns, and hopefully more effective.

To illustrate my point around a mixture of imitative and suggestive approaches, I recently posted a poll on a Facebook group that I administrate, called ‘Stillwater Trout Fly-Fishing South Africa’. I posted thirty-seven stillwater fly patterns and asked anglers to select their top six. The response was overwhelming, with over 100 anglers selecting their favourite flies. Therefore, unofficially as of 29 July 2019, I would argue that South Africa’s top stillwater flies are as follows:

  1. Woolly Bugger


       2. Red-Eyed Damsel

Imitative (South African)

       3. Papa Roach

Imitative (South African)

       4. Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear

Suggestive or Imitative depending on who you ask

       5. Buzzer


       6. Booby


       7. Minky


       8. White Death

Suggestive (South African)

       9. Bloodworm


    10. DDD

Suggestive (South African Tom Sutcliffe)


 There are some flies in the top ten that I would not touch with a bargepole, and I am thoroughly confused as to why certain other patterns are not there. However, there are nevertheless a number of patterns that I would not go onto the water without. I am sure if you take those 10 flies on the water with you, you will do very well.

But here follows my top six flies and suggestions to tie and fish:

Hare’s Ear

Hares Ear Nymph 2019

In the poll I mentioned earlier, where anglers had to choose six flies, Tim Rolston (South Africa’s Master Fly Casting Instructor) only chose this fly. I think that says a lot. It's great to fish static, retrieving it slowly, and I have seen a fair share of trout caught on rapid retrieves with this fly. It is equally deadly on rivers. After using this fly during the stillwater season, you can transport it to your river boxes and keep going.

Hook: Fulling Mill 35025 in #14

Thread: 12/0 White Semperfli Nanosilk

Body: Wapsi SLF Spikey Squirrel Dubbing Grey Natural

Ribbing: UTC Gold Small

Wing case: Flashabou 6904


A booby is more of a tying style than a fly in my view. You can put 3mm foam cylinders on Hare’s Ear’s and Pheasant Tails, all the way to 7mm cylinders on 10cm snake flies. I particularly like the blob/booby version because of its fish-attracting abilities. Not just because of the bright colours of the FNF jelly, but also the disturbance that the foam cylinders create underwater.

Click to enlarge


Hook: Knapek Wet #8

Body: FNF UV Jelly Hulk

Eyes: 6mm black FNF Foam Cylinders

Tail: Black marabou




In the 2014 version of this article, I mentioned that I fished this fly on a #10 Knap hook. I’ve gone a little smaller since then to a #12, to be more imitative of tadpoles. I really enjoy fishing this fly on the hang, and I am often amazed how far fish will travel to take this fly. Often from the surface or close to the surface e.

Hook: Hanak 280BL in #12

Thread: 12/0 White Semperfli Nanosilk (colour with red marker)

Body: Veniard Mink

Tail: Marabou

Flash: Red crystal flash

 White Death/Cormorant

 GH white death Image 2019-07-29

I mentioned this fly in 2014 and it is still right up there. The pattern is the brainchild of an excellent South African fly fisher, Robin Fick. A couple of years ago, Darryl Lampert and I had a spectacular evening on a lake in the Eastern Cape during early autumn. We fished this fly during a midge hatch. We tied on two white death’s 50cms apart, cast the fly in the ring, and ‘bam!’. The action went on a good hour after dark until we literally could not see anything anymore. I do tie this fly a little differently than the original. Instead of using a chenille body, I use white thread. This works equally well in my view. Ideally, this fly should be tied on hooks smaller than #14, but I tend to fish waters with quite powerful fish, so I keep it at #14 to avoid having the hook bend open.

Hook: Fulling Mill 35075 in #14

Thread: 12/0 White Semperfli Nanosilk

Wing: White Marabou



The infamous blob. I am proudly a ‘Yob with a Blob’. This fly has brought me more success than any other fly. In the 2014 article, I mentioned this fly tied on a size #8 Dohiku blob hook. I now fish the fly in a #12, which allows for better hook up with smaller fish. I am also happy to say that Grip has brought out the 12723BL which is almost exactly the same as the original Dohiku, and is much more easily accessible. The biggest difference between the 2014 fly and the one I use today is the material. Quality materials make a huge difference in success levels of flies. Scottish international angler, and friend of mine, Kevin Porteous has revolutionised the materials used on blobs with his Frozen North Fly Fishing (FNF) Jelly Fritz. I will paraphrase the UK based, hugely respected, top competitive angler Rob Edmunds: “..modern FNF fritz is very easy to tie with, it sits well on the hook creating a slimmer, perfectly proportioned brighter and more mobile pattern that doesn’t mask the hook point even when using smaller hooks. It definitely catches you more fish...(http://blog.fullingmill.com/the-blob-development/?fbclid=IwAR1L4AW9C_8Jm374bS_eYhkRclX4N21YRKD7-m6W-vlnr6eloGGky-_6DHg).

 Hook: Grip 12723BL in #12

Thread: 12/0 White Semperfli Nanosilk

Body: FNF Jelly in Atomic Yellow UV and Prawn UV

 White Snake

click to enlarge


I love this fly! I have caught big fish on this fly, browns and everything in between. It is wildly effective and has been dominant in the UK competition scene for quite a number of years. Rob Edmunds again wrote a very useful article on this fly. See http://blog.fullingmill.com/snake-fly-generation/ and the following link for tying instructions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=925hGCTRN04.

Hook: 2x Fulling Mill Heavy Weight Champ in #10 (cut the front hook off after tying)

Thread: 12/0 White Semperfli Nanosilk

Tail: White Hareline Zonker Strip

Rubber Legs: Hareline Dandy Long Legs Chartreuse

Head: Flybox Chartreuse Half-Hackle Fritz

Eyes: Orange Bath Chain

Braid: EZ Braid Spiderwire 20lbs

Click to enlarge images

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The author


Finally, here are some top tips on fishing stillwaters that has helped me a lot: 

  1. Tie on a mix of ‘imitative’, ‘suggestive’ and ‘attractor’ flies on your leader for optimum success.
  2. Fish the ‘hang’ (it helps to have a 10ft rod for this), See https://www.rioproducts.com/learn/fishing-the-hang?fbclid=IwAR2jXxxq1RRGhu-dwIkibvG2Wi1bffGeRTVCrXPT5nfx32iIy4SOjSvAvCI.
  3. Tie on a hang marker at 12ft with tying thread and use UV Knot Sense to cover it.
  4. Fish the ‘drop’.
  5. Mix up your retrieves as much as possible during one retrieve (hand twist and roly-poly, all in one retrieve). As I said in the 2014 article, sticking to one retrieve will bore you and bore the fish.
  6. Don't just fish a single fly all the time. It can be deadly to create competition for one food source, but often fishing two or three flies gives the fish options.
  7. Learn to cast well. We have some wonderful casting instructors in the country. Use them, you won't regret it. It will make your day on the water more enjoyable.
  8. If you want to catch a fish, fish an intermediate line. If you want to catch all the fish in the lake, you need many different lines. I have calmed down over the years and only fish 10 lines these days, but many of my stillwater heroes in the UK take up to 20 to 30 lines on the water with them. For South African conditions, I would recommend a floating line, a slow intermediate, fast intermediate, a DI3 Sweep, a DI5 sweep and a DI7. Stick to one brand if you can, because different brands sink at different rates. Three inches per second is only an indication, not an exact measurement.        
  9. Fish straight mono or fluorocarbon. It helps flies with the sink rate and keeps your flies in the ‘kill zone’.
  10. Tie your dropper flies on with a surgeons’ knot. The tag end should be about 30cm’s.
  11. Long leaders of up to 20ft are not difficult to fish, it just takes a bit of time to get used to.
  12. Do countdowns to search the depths and finding feeding fish.       Getting the right depth is much more important than the fly
  13.       Move. Don't stay in one spot.
  14.       Although I didn't talk much about it in this article, static techniques on its day can be deadly
  15. Subscribe to Trout Fisherman (https://www.troutfisherman.co.uk/) magazine from the UK. This is the most authoritative resources on stillwater angling available in my view

DLPhoto 2017

Note from Tom Sutcliffe:

This is a very valuable article that pictures in its own way something akin to 'the state of the art' in stillwater fly fishing in South Africa today, and for that matter globally. And it's a quantum leap from Tom Iven's Stillwater Fly Fishing published in the UK first in 1952 and then again in 1972 around about when we thought it was something of a bible if only because there were virtually no other stillwater scriptures to be had. For some reason Richard Walker's Still Water Angling never cut it us back in the 70s. It was the time of Iven's Black and Peacock Spider and stillwater flies like the Jersey Herd and the South African pattern-panacea, the Walker's Killer. We came a long way since then, and much has been written on the subject, but still, this piece by Gijsbert is as fresh as a sunrise.

I was surprised, though, not to see a bloodworm imitation in Gijsbert's selection, or at least one dry fly, if not just for show, then at least for fun; or an ultra-micro pattern as in a size 18 soft hackle, but then you have to draw the curtain somewhere I guess and I can't argue that what you read here works in the hands of a capable, thoughtful and dedicated stillwater fly fisher. What do they say about things that work?

My appreciations to Gijsbert for a wonderful read.

(Prof Gijsbert Hoogendoorn is Associate Professor and Head of Department of Geography at the University of Johannesburg.)

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