Author: Paul Gaskell
With great memories of a fantastic trip to Sumava with Jan himself in 2012, here’s an exclusive sampler version of a long-form article from discover tenkara covering some of the best patterns for trout across a wide range of “schools” of fly fishing. Of course, the nymphs, dries and streamers that Jan demonstrated for us were used to great effect on the trout, brook trout, ide and grayling that fell for those charms!
Click to Skip to / Paul Procter’s Dry Flies / Martin Smith’s Streamers / Steve Cullen’s Reservoir Flies / Ben Fox’s Small Stillwater Flies / Robert Smith’s North Country Wet Flies / Japanese Tenkara Flies / Jan Siman Czech Nymphs / Suppliers’ list
Trout are Varied – so are the Flies To Target Them
The most basic division would be whether a fly is a “dry fly” (floating on or in the water’s surface) or a “wet fly” (sunk beneath the surface). There are plenty more categories on top of that though! From “damp dries” to “emergers” to jig-head streamers and everything in between.
It makes sense that a fish that swims in a lovely lake that this one…
…might need some different flies and tactics from the trout (and maybe other exotic species) that swim in the many beautiful rivers of the world.
On top of that you need to add in the Human element of centuries of independent (and cross-pollinating) development from all the tying and fishing “schools” around the world.
This is also a nice excuse to examine where Japanese “Kebari” (flies) fit into the picture.
Whether you’re tying for yourself, looking at new uses of materials or buying ready-tied patterns, here’s a quick-start taster guide to the main article (that you can find by searching “discover tenkara trout flies”). It goes without saying that there’s a huge selection of tried and tested patterns provided by Jan.
Traditional Patterns Taster
Although still being continuously developed, you can really sense the long history of development that Irish Lough-style patterns are steeped in.
Traditional Stillwater Patterns for Irish Loughs
Creating a disturbance and contrasting to both water-stain and light conditions are major driving factors in the design of these flies.
Short casts, strip the line three or four times – holding the rod high – and then lift-off to recast…That’s the classic style of fishing in front of a drifting boat in Ireland. Typically three or four flies will be tied on and used at the same time as a “team”.
Jackie Mahon – a professional tyer and guide from Ireland provided some amazing images and patterns for the main article. Here’s a sampler…
Jackie Mahon’s Irish Lough Wet Flies
Hi, my name is Jackie Mahon I live in Sligo which is on the west coast of Ireland. I live close to Lough Melvin and Lough Arrow, which I provide a guiding service on. I am a professional fly dresser. My flies are mostly tied for Irish lough style fishing. My flies vary from traditional to modern style. I use all kinds of materials some which I dye myself to get the traditional Irish colours. I tied my first fly when I was ten years old. I have been fly fishing since the age of nine.
You will find me on Facebook and Instagram under “Jackie Mahon Flies & Guiding”
Email – Mahonjackie@gmail.com
Here’s one of my favourite stories and favourite flies
I invented this fly for the Police International Competition on Lough Corrib. I tied all the flies for the Irish team and we managed to win the competition because of it… Out of 22 trout, 13 were caught on “The Bandit Dabbler”:
THE BANDIT DABBLER
- Thread – Black
- Tail – Bronze mallard
- Rib – Red wire
- Body – UV Fritz’s dyed in Melvin claret
- Body hackle – Melvin claret hackle
- Wing – Bronze mallard
As well as the amazing tradition of Irish tying and fishing that Jackie was kind enough to share, the Lochs and Llyns of Scotland and Wales could equally have filled entire articles and books all on their own too!
Traditional FLies For Rivers
Robert Smith is the author of “The North Country Fly: Yorkshire’s Soft Hackle Tradition” – which is the ultimate guide to this brilliant family of flies. Usually referred to as “North Country Spiders” or just “Spiders” for short, these are the epitome of “simple yet seductive”. I have a real soft-spot for this whole school of tying.
I couldn’t help but make the link between the incredibly rich, turbulent history of these flies, the families that developed them (and even religion) to the epic storylines featured in “Game of Thrones”…perhaps with a little less violence involved though (although on second thoughts, starting a debate between Lancastrian and Yorkshire anglers …maybe that’s not a safe bet after all!).
Perhaps my favourite story though was to find out that one of the most famous practitioners and authors dedicated to dry fly fishing (Vince Marinaro) had something of a conversion to North Country Spiders in his twilight years…
Waterhen Bloa North Country Spider
These patterns perform best when fished on a long, supple rod, and most of the casting line held off the water (as you’ll find in many modern river competition methods!).
Originally those rods were fished without reels and the casting lines were made from twisted horse-hair; Just like…
There’s a good chance that the many similarities between North Country flies and the patterns used in Japanese “kebari” made it very easy and natural for me to understand and appreciate tenkara fishing and its flies.
Despite being designed for native Japanese fish, kebari are absolutely deadly for trout all around the world. A full lowdown on kebari is given here on our site. Through research and trial and error in Japan, we came up with our “go anywhere” 12 patterns.
But with so many myths surrounding tenkara flies, it’s worth introducing some basic concepts here:
Stiff hackled kebari are WET flies that it’s possible to “anchor” in currents (a bit like mini grappling hooks). Although almost forgotten in modern times, the English fishing author H. C. Cutcliffe talks at length about stiff hackled wet flies in the “Art of Trout Fishing in Rapid Streams”).
Jun kebari are what most of us would recognise as a standard soft-hackle wet fly (with swept-back hackles). Historically, these have been the most common style of dressing in Japanese tenkara.
Probably the most famous tenkara flies are the Sakasa kebari – reversed soft hackle patterns. These have become the iconic symbol of tenkara – but actually make up only a small proportion of all fly dressing styles in Japanese tenkara. The example below is a variant of one pattern found in Takayama (and which now has a strong following overseas!).
If your opinion of tenkara isn’t very favourable, this COULD be due to the relatively bad job that has been done so far in researching and then spreading accurate and comprehensive information by the overseas tenkara industry. Of course it might never be your cup of tea, but it’s at least worth checking out the details of authentic Japanese tenkara (even if it is so you can dislike it for the right reasons!).
Flies for Stocked and Resident Reservoir Fish
The stocking of English drinking water reservoirs with trout sparked a vibrant and inventive branch of fly fishing from the 1960’s that continues to this day. It has certainly been a big driver for the development of fly lines – particularly with respect to the sink rates and profiles of lines designed to fish flies below the surface.
Steve Cullen has a ton of experience at the cutting edge of development and use of patterns in his capacity as competitive reservoir fly fisher, previous magazine editor (Total Flyfisher), photographer, Fly tyer and current Brand Manager at Leeda/Wychwood. Here’s an incredibly valuable peek into his fly box for some “insider secret” trout flies for targeting reservoir fish.
Here’s a little sampler of Steve’s magic patterns.
A great combination of classic design with modern tweaks and materials produces a wonderful baitfish imitation – ideal for targeting “fry bashing” big trout. As with all reservoir fishing, the important thing is to try to locate (and keep your flies in) the narrow “feeding depth band” of the fish on any given day. That’s a major reason for the proliferation of line sinking rates and profiles in the modern era.
Obviously not an imitative pattern! Nonetheless, getting the triggers just right to compel a fish to grab your fly out of curiosity or aggression is a black art. Also tying a good blob is surprisingly technical – since it isn’t easy to pack on the necessary number of turns of fritz to get the right density of fibres.
Make sure to keep the hook-point clear of the dressing too!
Don’t tackle any stillwater without a solid “buzzer” (non-biting chironomid midge) pattern. They also work brilliantly on rivers – since you’ll find midge larvae in pretty much all freshwater environments on the planet that support life!
Dry Flies for Rivers
OK there’s obviously a huge history behind dry fly fishing. For instance Admiral Nelson or Frederick Halford fishing the River Wandle (and the home of the “Carshalton Dodge” of false-casting what is believed to have been dry fly patterns).
…or perhaps the story of Halford sending flies to the USA for anglers in the Catskills – to have them modified by Theodore Gordon to adapt to the rougher water (as described in this great article by Mike Valla on the Quill Gordon and some of its history).
But, to make a bit of a different contribution, I wanted to look at the modern era.
In fly fishing Paul Procter – is one of the very best to ever do it, so I was delighted when he agreed to give his insights. Again, there’s a taster here
Stewart Style Spider
- Hook: Partridge supreme dry size 14-16
- Body: Olive gossamer silk well waxed
- Hackle: Dun hen
Paul Writes: The concept of palmered hackled spiders is so they loiter close to the surface where either emerging upwing flies, or their drowned winged adults often accumulate. This Stewart Style dressing pretty much morphed into a “damp dry” some years ago on the River Wharfe. During a late afternoon spring day trout homed in to fly stuck in the surface film. Try as I might, I couldn’t buy a take, even with the ever popular CdC shuttlecock dressings. It was a single Stewart spider presented on a greased leader that did the trick.
Following this early success, I began tying these spider using premium grade hen hackles that whilst not webby enough for traditional spiders had that sufficient “bounce” about them to support a hook. Anointed with floatant this little gem sits right in the film. What’s more, its busy appearance appeals to fish holding in the faster parts of a stream. Best fished as single fly rather than the customary trio often associated with spiders.
(Editor’s Note: Paul’s approach outlined in my original article shows a lot of agreement to the signal:noise guidelines we apply using simple biological principles to fly design and presentation).
Nymphs for Rivers
If you haven’t already studied our free tutorials that give you the building blocks of European nymph fishing, wet fly and downstream dry fly, then you’ll find the presentation skills that you need for the patterns on this page by Clicking Here to Subscribe.
One of the most iconic nymph style patterns of the modern era are what has become widely known as the “Czech Nymph” class of flies. Now, these are highly effective for both trout and grayling; but deep in their DNA they are probably best identified as a secret weapon for extracting shoals of grayling under competition conditions. So, for that reason I’ll probably save most of the details of those patterns for a separate article on flies for grayling. In the meantime, you might be interested to know that authentic Czech nymph patterns are available from Gold medal winner Jan Siman from his long-established online shop.
Czech nymphs by Jan Siman are terrific Grayling flies and trout flies wherever they are fished.
In the “hot-spots you can see in Jan’s nymphs) and in flies like the above pattern, the bright spot can attract the attention of the fish – but it is also a useful underwater “sighter” for the angler when you are trying to spot when a trout eats your fly below the surface. That is particularly true when you are only making an educated guess as to where the fish is lying in the river.
Having a functional understanding of fly patterns (and how to trigger the biological reflexes of your target fish) is the entire focus of our book “How to Fool Fish with Simple Flies”.
Small Stillwater Trout Fly Patterns
Around the world, there are many small lakes and ponds that are stocked with trout. Sometimes these are run as bait fisheries, but often they can be a gateway into the world of fly fishing for many folks. Indeed, there are plenty of anglers who take the development and pursuit of the tactics necessary to succeed on these fisheries as their main focus in the sport. If you dismiss these fisheries as “easy” – you’ve probably never fished on a catch and release, fly-only small stillwater fishery. They can be some of the hardest venues to crack – as the fish have seen all the regular approaches many times over.
In fact, as long as you can avoid spooking a wild fish, they are generally easier to get to actually take a fly than the average resident stock fish in a small C&R venue…
I can see the angry comments already, but I stand by that observation. At the same time, fish that have been stocked very recently are inherently curious and, for a while, are both difficult to spook and easy to catch. Those characteristics are, undeniably, helpful when you’re trying to give a beginner their very first experience of landing a trout.
So, with the full range of possible challenges (from easy to as hard as it gets) in mind, here’s Ben Fox to guide you through some great choices to employ on these small, stocked lakes and pond venues…
Ben Fox is the owner of Fly Guy, a company which offers fly fishing guiding and coaching in Yorkshire and the surrounding counties. An all-round angler Ben has represented England at youth level and competed in the national loch style final. An Airflo endorsed guide he enjoys targeting trout in all manor of situations and has picked out some of his top small stillwater water patterns below.
To find out more about Ben and Fly Guy visit: www.fly-guy.co.uk or www.facebook.com/BenFlyGuyFox
Dennis the menace snake
- Hook: 2x size 8 hooks (cutting the bend off if needed)
- Thread: Black 8/0 uni thread
- Body: Black flash straggle fritz
- Spine: Black braided loop material
- Wing: Red zonker strip
- Throat: Barred silver and black flash with black spandex legs
Ben Writes: Snakes have to be one of the biggest flies you’re likely to use on a small water. Often smaller is better but other times a change to something big and garish can often change your luck and sort out the bigger fish in the lake. This particular variety follows the popular Denis the menace colouration and the zonker combined with the spandex legs offers incredible movement.
Peachy Okey Dokey
- Hook: Size 10 short shank
- Thread: White
- Head: Glo brite no 8
- Rib: Pearl mylar
You can see more of Ben’s patterns on the main article on the DT site…
Streamers for River Trout
American advocates (such as Kelly Galloup) have made streamers a popular method for targeting trout in the USA. Similarly, competition anglers from the Czech Republic (and Continental Europe in general) have streamers as a major “go to” weapon in their arsenal – it is fair to say that English fly fishers have been slower to embrace and benefit from this fascinating branch of fly fishing.
Martin Smith (of “Martin’s Minnow” fame), is leading the charge to bring high quality streamer tactics and flies to the UK.
Now to some of my most trusted patterns for trout…
As with all the contributors, Martin shares a lot more on the long-form article on the DT blog. However, I really hope you’ve enjoyed this “taster” version and have got some inspiration for your next trips on stream.
I’d like to offer my great thanks to Jan for allowing me to share some of my thoughts here and also for the great experiences on Tepla Vltava and Otava – fantastic rivers, great surroundings, wonderful beer and many happy memories.
Now to list where you can source materials and flies for yourself…
Traditional and Modern Irish Flies: Jackie Mahon via Mahonjackie@gmail.com
North Country Flies, Nymphs, Dries & Info: Robert Smith at www.northcountryflies.com
Ben Fox Flies for All Venues: www.fly-guy.co.uk
Martin Smith Streamers MS Custom Flies: www.facebook.com/MScustomFlies/
Authentic Japanese Kebari Personally Tied in Derbyshire: Discover Tenkara Kebari
Czech Nymphs from Czech Republic: Jan Siman Fly Shop
Commercial Fly Suppliers
Paul Gaskell, www.discovertenkara.com