A few seasons back, while fighting through the trees from the road down to some nasty little stream I dropped my dry fly box. Not just any dry fly box, but one of those aluminium all compartment Wheatley dry fly boxes that when fully loaded with good flies cost more money than a top shelf rod and lunch. For showing off, only Geoffrey Edelsten comes close.
The world, like my heart stopped as I went to unzip the special extra secure pocket in my vest stream side and found the pocket both open and empty. Several hundred dry flies flown.
Maybe it’s in the car, some three hundred vertical hard yards back up the hill ?
Maybe is was at the Brumby Bar in Jindy where I had fed and over watered myself the previous night while sorting flies from the used & abused patch back to the box ? Maybe maybe maybe…
No, in fact it was about about ten paces behind me, standing out likes dog balls on the ground A silvery beacon shining on my absent mindedness.
Since then I’ve drastically reduced the number of fly boxes I carry from lots to just three.
Two have everything I could possible ever need on any moving Australian or New Zealand trout water, are swish though battered Wheatley’s and never see much daylight for fear of loss and one, a very small one now lives permanently attached to my waders or vest or shirt via high-biz lanyard and only holds what I really need.
Fully loaded at the start of a trip it wouldn’t be more than twenty patterns and not much more than 100 flies.
In reality, that’s much more than is needed on any small stream on any one day, but who the hell gets into fly fishing to keep things simple right ?
Before finding a permanent place in this box a small stream pattern has to prove itself. If it’s a dry it wants to remain so with little or no care and if it sinks, it wants to get on with it.
Wherever it sits in the water column, if it’s not tough enough to grass a few trout and stay together, it’s soon gifted out to bludging mates or left at home.
I’ll deal with dry flies first because on most of the overgrown, little pocket water streams I love a dry is really the only way to cover all the water and a much easier prospect than nymphing.
Delicate and exquisite are words better used to describe a pastry than any pocket water dry fly so things like CDC, fine synthetic tails and intricate wings are out and foam, rubber legs and hair wings are in.
A first choice favourite as a searching fly is the Stimulator in smaller sizes. Originally to represent western US Stoneflies it is the best all round attractor there is hands down and as big bonus, a well tied example seems to bounce off the bushes and snags thanks to the full body hackle.
The only negative would be the tendency for larger sized Stimmies to twist fine leaders, but a #16 on a more stout three or four pound tippet is fine.
In larger sizes the Stimulator is also a close enough hopper fly on a small stream particularly if tied with added rubber legs.
A thickly tied #14 Royal Wulff is a great second choice for it’s all-around yumminess to trout and high visibility in fast water. A small parachute version can be handy if the fish get fussy and the water slow enough to allow it and is also a life saver should you stumble into an epic afternoon ant fall.
In truth, any of the Wulll style western dries or a Humpy are more than likely just as effective.
A new favourite this last season was Daniel Hacketts Fastwater Dunn because if trout are Clive Palmer, this fly is cake.
It’s a large, tough and simple deer hair fly that floats well and is easily seen in broken water and the fish really dig it even if it’s slowly sinking.
In fact, at the end of the season it was pretty much all I was throwing around and has become my number one dry fly even when the hoppers were on.
For actual hopper imitations I don’t think there’s better than Muzz Wilsons Wee Creek hopper in smaller sizes with yellow bodies and orange legs.
Like the fast water Dunn, it’s very tough, floats brilliantly and has provided some epic sessions on the upper Bidgee in late summer without changing flies all day.
A worthy late mention in the dry fly list is any of the big Kiwi Blowfly patterns, though my current favourite is Stu Tripneys ‘Deadly’ Blowfly.
They’re a solid and buoyant fly made with lots of foam and they plops down on the water with some authority.
As the Fastwater Dunn is cake, on a wooded stream this fly is the desert trolly and only has to get near Clive’s table to get hammered.
On Youtube, world renowned fly fishing expert and guide, Hank Patterson says that it doesn’t matter what nymph you use green, blue, red, bead head or blue because it’s ‘all the same crap’ and you should be fishing a dry.
As hard as it is to argue with the great man, there are times when a dry just doesn’t get eaten where I fish – particularly early season.
Anyway, even if it is a total pain in the ass, indicator nymphing on small fast water is highly addictive.
In the past, when tying my own nymphs, I always did them for specific streams and flows and in a wide variety of sizes and weights.
This of course ended up a complete sprawl that spanned several boxes and regularly caused total paralysis when deciding what to try next.
These days my small stream box still has a fairly broad range just in case, but the numbers are low enough to remove any fear when time to try something else.
So, without getting to complicated, here’s the must haves.
If this list were a contest, the ‘Cadillac’ nymph would hands down be the winner on top.
Basically, it’s a pimped out pheasant tail with lots of copper flash and a black tungsten bead and is a design of legend fly fishing photographer David Lambroughton.
Like his photos, this fly is absolutely awesome and in smaller sizes to 14 & 16, no matter what’s hatching it’s very effective.
I also always have a couple larger versions for the odd deep plunge pool or high water,
Next best could be almost anything tied small with a bead, but the runner-up title probably goes to my own small black flashback. It gets a run on darker overcast days, if the water is a bit dirty or if I’ve run out of Cadillacs.
For fussy fish, or clear low water, I lighten up the colour with natural Hares ears with smaller beads tied on narrow gaped long shanked hooks.
These don’t catch much bottom even if they’re sinking too fast for a low flow, but will still dig deep on a larger slow pool making them a good all-rounder.
Last on my list, but still vitally important on it’s day is the caddis grub. My version is just hook, chartreuse coloured wire body coated with clear coat for longevity and a head of spiky green hares ear.
Thanks to it’s sparse tie it sinks quickly enough to be great on the wide gravely ripples like you get on the lower sections of the big alpine rivers or the nose bleed sections up top.
Generally, I don’t use double fly rigs because the tangles I get with them in the trees test my patience to the point of childish tantrums that even my five year old girl can’t match.
That said, and self respect aside, there is a time and place like long open pocket water sections or fast flowing meadow streams early in the season before hoppers get a run.
I have two dry flies that are mostly used just for this purpose.
One, a hot orange #14 hoppingbeetleant terrestrial thingy with rubber legs and nothing else it’s really just a bobber with a hook, but it does take the odd fish unlike an indicator.
The other, a simple foam green beetle is the better fly later in the season and still floats even holding up a heavier bead head nymph.
Some favourite nymphs under a dry are tiny (#16-18) bead heads in natural colours and tied with a little flash or coloured wire in the body or an unweighted glass bead head nymph in black or natural.
Whatever the fly choices, the length of the dropper is always fairly short and the breaking strain less than the leader to hopefully preserve the top fly in the event of an unreachable tangle or long distance release.
Now, before you pen an angry email or comment demanding to know why the mighty Red Tag or the legendary Elk Hair Caddis, both Titanics of the dry fly world are not on my list know they’re never far away, just zipped up, safe and out of site- just in case.