Fly Fishing for Big Brown Trout in
Large Loughs from Float Tubes .....
Fly Patterns with Proven
Track Records for Catching Exceptionally Big Brown Trout
Several flies shown here look similar in a
general way, with a common underlying theme. These flies are
consistent catchers of large brown trout (over 8 lbs) worldwide,
and with a few exceptions, imitate fish, fry, and crustaceans.
Bear in mind that your
local prey colour and location must be represented for best
trout recipe is relatively big - usually a
That's big relative to
Remember a large trout eats fish up to 1/3rd it's length, so a
25" trout has no problem dealing with an 8" fish, but
it may be mopping up a shoal of 1" perch fry instead.
So blindly using large flies may be counterproductive.
It's the size of the trout's food choice today that
Smaller imitations of flies and nymphs are not to be
ignored. Where the big trout are under about 11lbs a heavy hatch
of big fly like sedges, mayfly, will get big browns feeding on
them, and when they are, that is the food item to copy and
Brown trout become piscivorous at about 4 lbs and meat dinners is
the way to place your bets. It seems to me that over 5lbs the small fly is losing it's pulling power even on
fly rich loughs like Sheelin.
On these very fertile loughs,
experienced old hands get fish from 5lbs to 9lbs occasionally
by stalking with floating flies. So it can definitely be done
when they are feeding on top. Those trout get big by feeding
down below however in fertile lakes with vast numbers of small
crustaceans like shrimp and hoglouse, and large mayfly and sedge
nymphs are key items in such lakes.
But trollers regularly catch big browns. So big trout flies
should be the equivalent of trolling spoons and rapalas, sunk below the surface,
moving erratially, inches in length.
You have to look to what is the most significant food
item at the moment in numbers and size, and figure out what the
big browns will do about it
and translucence are important, optical active fibres like soft
hackles, mink, marabou add visual liveliness. The mobility in
the soft materials looks lively enough to entice a fish which
may be much more wary than the average smaller trout.
By day an eye or centre of mass flash from the
chest area of a prey fish all are important and help a predator
to "lock on". Also the different species of prey fish have
identification features that predators zone in on.
Many minnows have a characteristic stripe
along their side. Sticklebacks have red colour patches during
mating and spawning.
Young perch have orange fins, and bars on their sides that a
grizzle hackle imitates well.
In daytime the bigger trout move out of the
shallows towards deeper water or into good cover like
waves, weeds, suspended algae, or overhanging timber.
usually a sinking line gets the fly closer to them in daylight
and increases the chance of an attack.
Switch to a sinking line after daybreak unless
there is a very good reason to do otherwise, like for example a big mayfly
bivisible with light and dark contrasts, a good silhouette, more
firm hackles to disturb the water and make vibration signals of
location. Del Canty's No-Body muddler was designed
to be a night fly. The Bunny Leech is another pattern with
At night it is important to get the fly
high in the water so they can see it against the sky, so make
sure to have a floating line set up within 1 hour after sunset.
Dark colours show well against the sky.
Add in certain recognition features that resemble the
main forage types in your particular water and you have a fly
specifically tailored to the large browns in your local water.
Examples are striped side (minnow), red fins (roach/perch), red
belly (male stickleback), and eye, flash at centre of mass
(target of attack) chest area, and so on.
Twilight poses it's own problems.
Things to consider:
How impressionistic should it be? How detailed should it be? How
mobile should it's parts be? A too easily seen fly might be
ineffective. Should it have a bulky front area to create a sonic
pulse a predator can feel from 30 feet away?
How see-through a fly will disappear and not get noticed?
A fluorescent spot or some flashabou is good at this time.
Crystal chenille or a prominent rib are good.
The stiff hackles of a night fly disturb the water and send
signals that predators can detect and home in on.
Increasing the size
obviously adds visibility too.
A white wing or yellow area show up very bright at this time of
A surface wake making fly like a bob fly is capable of grabbing
attention from distances and has "pulling power".
The trout will often pick out a slightly
larger fly from many similar natural food items that are
otherwise similar and therefore anonymous.
But it is not good to go too large relative
to the local food however in case the illusion is broken.
Atlantic salmon angler Reg Righyni proposed the idea
of what we see looking at a field of sheep on green grass. They
look white. But against a snowy field they look gray, though their
colour has not changed. And against dark vegetation, they
apparently assume extra brightness. All because the background
changes. Righyni wanted his flies to be seen but not seen so easily
that they lost their impressionistic lifelike glow. So he used
translucent see through light colour patterns on bright
days. But in clear light against a neutral cloudy background these
flies looked somehow wrong, much too bright. So he brought
out dark solid patterns in evenings, and he used other more medium
clarity/solidity patterns reserved for the average day.
intention was that the salmon see the same thing, and he
had to change his flies to achieve this. He was measuring
"impact" and considered a small solid fly as having the same
impact as a larger hard to see translucent fly. Now if a 20
pounder could be hooked on a size 12 black fly, AND on a size 6
light grey fly, then he wanted to be using the bigger hook
that would increase chances of landing the fish, and he chose
I think Righyni was onto something important, and I
consider this principle when choosing flies to tie
on while salmon fishing.
for other species like trout I don't want to make the fly either
too obvious, or too hard to see.
I tell you this: I have found that a fly which would
otherwise be too large for the day, can still catch if it
incorporates mobile materials that move. The Irish shrimp fly is
proof. A #8 shrimp catches in conditions that require #10
traditional flies. Tails that flow, hackles, marabou, these are
things that really matter a lot. The epoxy buzzer guys are
following the wrong trail, though they obviously catch,
look at the hook sizes they prefer. Impressionistic patterns
allow bigger hooks to be effective.
Drawing all the factors together:
The factors by which the trout recognises food are :
of the fly,
speed through water,
internal life: movement of component parts of the fly,
movement pattern. Is it
jerky, smooth, sinuous?
visibility: opaqueness - translucence
and contrast between bright or dark,
sound or "feel" caused by the sonic-pressure wave of the pattern
passing through the water as detected by the trout's lateral
line sensory system.
don't get chemicals
on your fly or line.
Like fruit juice, insect repellent (off your hands) or gasoline
off your hands( filling the vehicle on the way fishing ). Fish
will stop taking and will often follow and turn away instead. I
carry unscented soap, and wash my hands before tackling up.
factors must be in sync
with the food that is usually eaten in this local area in order
to make our particular offering acceptable. But we can alter a
few features, enhancing them, like a cartoon, so that our food
item gets noticed, and picked out.
But remember: colour fades as depth increases and light gets
dim. So daytime fishing near or on the surface requires more
care in colour choice. BUT deeper in the water, or in darker
conditions like morning/evening, movement, size, outline
increase in their relative importance.
What I'm saying here is that fishing at night on the surface
is in many ways comparable with fishing during day in the deeps.
Size and colour matter less, other factors matter more.
Tie big flies that lift out "dry" because they are easier to
I had an interesting conversation with Del Canty during summer
2008 on the subject of extra large flies for big fish and
Del fished extra large size flies for trophy fish for many years
and had figured it all out already. He put me wise to waterproofing the fly.
I am not talking about using dry fly floatant. We were
talking about flies designed for underwater presentation, streamers,
fish imitations, leeches and so on.
This refers to making your large flies in such a way that they
readily shuck off the water on liftoff into a cast. The
idea is that you are not chucking a heavy wet lure at the end of
a length of line.
Ideally after the cast, when they land on the water they should
cut down into it readily, not sit on top of the surface like a
big ball of fluff.
The appearance of a fly is important
for sure. But the design that produces that outward appearance is also
If two fly dressings look identical and one is more waterproof than the
other, then that one is superior. A big fly that sheds water, and
penetrates well even when dry is a well designed fly. It goes into and
out of the water in a superior way every cast.
Think about it, a fly that
sinks well when it's supposed to, will require less lead under
the fly dressing. It will then cast better than another heavily
leaded fly. The leader and knots will be subject to reduced wear
and tear during casting, and as a result they will be stronger
when a big fish does eventually get hooked. Nothing should be
left to luck.
So long as you tie your own
flies, you should design the larger size flies to release extra
water quickly and therefore be cast at a lighter "dry payload"
weight. You will feel fresher at the end of the day as a result.
Your catch rate should also be raised too.
Body material choice affects hookup ratio
Give due consideration to the fact that the
body materials used in a particular fly pattern can have an
effect when striking into takes.
After the predator seizes a fish, it is pinned between the
tongue and the roof of the mouth with great force. As in pike
fishing the initial strike often will not move the bait, or the
hooks at all, and therefore the hooks do not penetrate into the
mouth parts. Line pressure must be maintained at strong pull,
until the fish gets alarmed, at that point it will open it's
mouth to spit out the offending item, and next after that it
will headshake and then run for cover or deeps. When it opens
it's mouth the grip is relaxed, ONLY IF THE PRESSURE FROM THE
ROD IS STILL ON will the hooks then move. When the hooks move
that is when they penetrate the side of the mouth. THAT IS WHEN THE PREDATOR
GETS HOOKED AND NOT BEFORE. SO IT'S IMPERATIVE TO HOLD TIGHT
AFTER STRIKING, UNTIL HOOKUP.
For this reason it is important that the
fly is not constructed of materials that easily tangle in teeth,
thus locking the fly in place, as this will prevent the hooks
moving when pressure is applied. Think carefully whether you
need a body at all, or can the flowing shroud of materials, wing
and tail do the job with better hooking power.
Another technique, well known by pike
anglers, is either to strike again at intervals. The best way in
my opinion is to strike and
maintain severe pressure until you are happy the fish is
properly hooked. I tried both techniques, and now this is how I do it.
predator species takes a small fish in a certain way. The perch for
example has little teeth in the front of it's mouth, so it chases and
snaps at the tail of the smaller fish, then when the prey has been
disabled sufficiently, the perch usually takes it engulfing it from
A pike is
different, it also follows at first, but when it attacks it goes out to
one side, overtakes until level, then it makes a
circular turn away from the angler grabbing it's prey crosswise across
the middle as it goes. This is also the way brown, trout,
ferox trout and salmon take
medium sized prey. They are similar to each other in the sense that they
have teeth to grab a fish crosswise, and backwards facing tongue teeth
to hold it firmly. But when attacking significantly larger prey these
predators, especially trout sometimes use the perch's method of
attacking it first.
When taking slower small prey they engulf from behind or whatever direction they
approach from. Small and slow and unlikely to escape is taken in the
same calm way as rising to a fly or insect.
Trout can swim up and
overtake a larger fish and sideswipe it with a headshake making a
concussion shock wave that injures and disables. Deadbait and spoon
trollers experience this often. Feeling many taps along the line may be
an indication that it is appropriate to use a smaller size lure. However
if the size is critical and takes stop, go back to the larger lure and
use a stop-start retrieve (sink-draw). This induces a confident take
while the bait is stopped apparently as a result of injury from a head
butt by the trout.
Trout learn how to deal with shoal
fish as a group. They learn how to
lash violently with their tail making a shockwave that stuns small fish.
This method is a favourite when hunting a shoal of fry. They deal with
the shoal using shockwaves. One moment the shoal of small fry is there,
then they are panicking trying to get away. Suddenly a dark fry-free
corridor opens up, parting the fleeing shoal where the trout is powering in
underneath it, lashing a spade-like tail from side to side as it does so. A few seconds later dozens of little white bodies float
up to the surface right above where the dark corridor was. The trout comes back sipping them down the injured
individually taking them almost like spent gnat.
All these factors influence
where your hooks should be located in a long lure. A hook should be in
the tail of a long lure. A lure with flowing hackles or long
streamer or marabou fibres benefits from the stinger tandem hook, as
these long slim lures provoke the tail crippling take more often.
A shorter lure requires the hook to be at centre of mass, behind the
head - the chest area. It's no harm to have a visual guide showing this
area. The eye is a target, the red spawning male stickleback flash is
also located in this place.
A bit of extra flash here helps. Not all over ... just in this part of
the lure in particular. Streamer type long lures can get a nip at the
tail, but confident takes will still hit the centre of mass, the chest
area, and this is an argument in favour of tandem hooks for long flies.
I am in favour of tandem hooked lures if the hook size goes over long
If you want to stop-start the
retrieve while being followed by a predator, and I do this a lot, some
marabou included in the pattern can still move and vibrate, imitating
gill and fin movement, and maintaining the illusion of life even though
water speed is zero.
There is another type of take. This is the
crunch take. If the prey attacked is something that can bite back, or
put up a fight, the predator may bite down hard to kill or injure, then
let go, move around and attack the crippled prey from a safer angle. You
won't hook the first bite unless you have a trailing (tandem-stinger)
hook, or the fly is tied low water style with the hook point further
back than normal.
The fish will take again if you don't pull it
away, and since we all react with a reflex action, often jerking it a
bit, it's nice to know some
movement is acceptable.
Bigger sized crayfish and large water beetles
provoke these takes. The tandem hooks are my solution to the problem as
far as fish imitations are concerned.
A fine low water dressing style for
big predatory beetles was developed by Bob Sheedy and described in his
excellent books Bob Sheedy's Lake Fly Fishing Strategies, and Bob
Sheedy's Top 50 Stillwater Fly Patterns.
Coming soon ....
BLACK IPN (Idiot Proof Nymph)
Black Fritz Woolly Bugger
Hook: 4 wide gape
Tail: Black marabou with pearl flashabou each side
Body: Black/Pearl Fritz
Head: 4mm Gold bead
Injured Flat Body Shad
HOOK: Long shank from tandem 2 - 4s,
front point clipped off, extended 4x with a keel hook shape added near
the eye, hook point up
TAIL: soft badger fur
BODY: white chenille, crushed flat in vertical profile
RIB: green sparkle glitter glue along exposed body and
HEAD: Formed from the green sparkle glue and pearl bead
eyes on burn-melted-ended mono
Another large but streamlined fishy pattern from Canty
used for large Mid-West and Alaskan trout from the tube.
Marabou Tandem Muddler
Pheasant Tail Crayfish
Black & Yellow Marabou Holmfridur
Lazer Light Lures
MinkieA Minkie is
the same as a Zonker except that thin strips of mink are used
instead of rabbit.
The mink is a finer fur with more action in the water and can
tied in smaller sizes than rabbit fur strip Zonkers.
Mink fur is very soft and pulsates with life.
This and the Appetiser are good roach and rudd fry
HOOK: 3XL, No. 2-10
with a few strands of Krystal Flash
UNDERBODY: Krystal Flash
sparse, combed out, brown, black, olive, wine
you are inclined to pass over this pattern for any reason I
suggest you tie or buy some before doing so. It will avoid a
moment several years from now when someone else wipes you out
fishing the same water as you, and you find afterwards they were
using a California Leech, and then you wonder how many big trout
you missed out on !
Bill Schiess, a Henry's Lake guide with
immense experience, described it as the pattern he would
use if limited to only one fly.
I had an interesting experience
the first time I used this fly, landing 6 trout averaging 2 1/4 lbs
in about 30 minutes, as which stage my first California Leech was almost
completely shredded but still catching. This included a "double" of
2.5 and 2.75 lbs on dropper and tail fly.
I consider California Leeches essential since then!
HOOK: 3x long
shank, tandem 8's & 10s
THREAD: Black or olive
THROAT: Marabou, red
RIB: Silver oval tied down over wing hackles
WING: Two Badger saddle hackles
TAIL: Wing Saddle hackle tips
BODY: Silver flat
The matuka style is a modified streamer intended to prevent
streaming hackles from twisting around and being fouled by the
hook bend. There is reduced movement, but the tangling was
cured. The minnow stripe is well represented.
6 lure hook 4xl,
UNDERBODY: hot melt glue, or lead with wool
over with belly bulge 1/3 from eye
BODY: pearlescent Mylar tubing tinsel
THROAT: red or yellow
WING: Rabbit fur zonker strip
beaver fur strip back/wing 1 1/4" long hair
ORIGINATOR: Dan Byford
When the matuka was invented, streamer anglers were delighted. But the tangle proof design of a matuka
movement due to the hackles being tethered for half their
length. Dan Byford introduced the use of more mobile soft rabbit
fur strips, tied matuka style, and so the Zonker was born!
HOOK: Long shank 8 - 10 Kamasan B175
TAIL: Black marabou
UNDERTAIL: silver flashabou
BODY: Silver diamond tinsel chenille
RIB: Silver wire
HACKLE: Cream Grizzle/Cree palmered
EYES: 4mm Bog chain
Giant Grizzly Shrimp (a crayfish fly)
HOOK: 00, 2, 4
TAIL: grey squirrel tail
UNDERBODY: enough lead to get it down near the bottom
palmered grizzle saddle hackle (variant brown saddle
BACK/SHELL: grey squirrel tail (variant red squirrel)
Trim materials at an angle
at head, finish, and apply cement.
Joe Butler Variation: use two forked grizzle hackle tips as claw
With this fly Joe Butler caught
a 27lb 3oz brown trout at Flaming Gorge which was an 8lb line class world record
for the following 20 years.
HOOK: 3X long
THROAT: Marabou, red
RIB: Gold wire
WING: Saddle hackle
TAIL: Saddle hackle
BODY: Olive dubbing
Small (#10-14) matukas imitate perch fry. The Olive
Matuka works if big trout are hunting trout or minnows. A black
and silver matuka with red marabou throat hackle is a good roach
or rudd imitation.
Purple Showgirl Trolling Fly
HOOK: 3XL to 4XL, size 4 to 10
THREAD: 6/0 Black
TAIL:- Black marabou the length of the hook shank
BODY: Light purple
WING: Black marabou
ORIGINATOR: Bill Schiess
There are many lures, and "damselfly
imitatations" that have a wing and tail of marabou. The mobility and
action of this material is incomparable, and makes excellent trolling
flies for use while moving between fishing spots. Purple Showgirl is a
tried and tested pattern with a huge track record of successful catches
on Henry's lake in the Mid-West US.
Black Crystal Bugger
This fly is not unlike the Humungus
Dapped Natural Fly: double or triple Daddy Long Legs,
Grasshopper or MayflyThe live dapped insect has a track record of bringing
up larger than average trout, superior to conventional
traditional wet fly when imitative flies are being taken.
is not to say that a sunk line fly fishing can't equal or beat the dap
for size of trout caught. But it is noticeable that the dap in front of
a drifted boat brings up larger fish than flies fished right
beside it off the dibbled surface line.
HOOK: Long shank 8 - 10 Kamasan B175
TAIL: Black marabou
UNDERTAIL: gold flashabou
BODY: gold diamond tinsel chenille
RIB: gold wire
HACKLE: light cree palmered
EYES: gold 4mm Bog chain
Canadian Brown Mohair Leech
HOOK: 2 - `4 3x - 4x long
TAIL: Marabou or soft rabbit the length of the shank
BODY: Canadian Brown Mohair Yarn tied thin with fibres well
picked out, pull the upstanding
fibres back out of the way while winding, as in a doubled hackle
RIB: Fine gold wire
HACKLE: None, but a stained water version has a couple of turns
of brown hackle
ORIGINATOR: Bill Schiess
THE CB Leech has an amber rusty brown look, but there is no
brown in it. The mohair is a spectrumized mix, of the type well
known to tiers of traditional Irish lake flies. If the yarn can
not be got, it's easily made up from seals fur, of red, yellow,
blue, and a little black
HOOK: Long shank 0 - 4
TAIL: fluorescent orange
orange chopped wool dubbing
RIB: gold oval
HACKLE: grizzle palmered
Traditional pattern with a long UK-Irish history as the Soldier
Palmer, translated to the Woolly Worm in US.
fluorescent body variant for low light
With the fluo orange woolly worm Del caught his 23lb brown at
night on a
sinking line. The bulky body may require careful
and repeated striking as big fish can get a good grip on it.
This fly has all it takes for good night fishing:
visibility, bulky silhouette, surface wake, or if underwater a
pressure wave signature.
Woolly Worm style has since evolved into the
Woolly Bugger or Humungus family of flies by the addition of a
marabou tail for added internal movement and life. However the palmer or woolly worm
style is currently having a resurgence of popularity in the
Orkney Islands lochs of Scotland as an effective large trout fly.
HOOK: Long shank extended 4x, made from tandem 2 - 4s,
front point clipped off so there is a flexible hinge to prevent
loss during play from a rigid hook twisting out
TAIL: badger fur
BODY: none, badger wing on rear tandem hook
WING: Badger hair tied (front hook) to make grizzly effect
HACKLE: Deer hair spun and clipped as shown, then the
underside is clipped flat with hook pointing upwards in weedless
This is an example of the streamlined
patterns with a large appearance, but low weight (for casting)
that Canty ended up using after many years fishing for and
catching exceptionally large trout from his float tubes.
Canty was there long before the others in material selection.
He noted that the badger fur has better fluorescence in low
light conditions that other similar coloured natural
alternatives. We now have synthetic materials with lots of fluorescence and
luminescence which can be used.
Platte River Special (original)
HOOK: Long shank 2, 4, 6, 8
RIB: none, variant: gold
WING: Two brown chinese (not genetic) saddle hackles tied splayed, with two
yellow chinese saddle hackles tied outside
HACKLE: Brown tied bulky dry fly style
HEAD: Red silk
The Platte River Special is an effective streamer
for fishing for large predatory brown trout and
rainbows in flowing water. It represents a small brown trout.
The original is given above. It has a bulky hackle which
undoubtedly could be detected by feel as it pushed through the
water, and will create a disturbance around it in which the
flowing hackles behind it wriggle.
The new version has a furnace hackle on the outside of the
yellow to create a horizontal dark line, such as many prey fish
like minnows have.
The hackles are no longer splayed, which looks neat but
probably reduces lively movement. A throat of red now represents
gills, and a gold body has been added.
The new version imitates minnows, and still
looks like a small brown trout. A variant has cheeks of golden pheasant
breast feathers and jungle
cock eyes. This gives it a fishy looking bulky shoulder .
The new version is realistic in good
illumination, but at low light periods the more impressionistic
original with it's bulky hackle might feel better to a
predator trout hunting it in low light.
I include below a picture of a recent version.
HOOK: Long shank 2, 4, 6, 8
BODY: gold under polythene
RIB: gold oval
WING: Two yellow chinese saddle hackles, with two furnace
chinese saddle hackles tied outside
THROAT: A little red fibre or red Krystal Flash
CHEEKS (optional): golden pheasant breast feather, jungle
HACKLE: Furnace over yellow tied swept back
HEAD: Red silk
Copyright for this article
is Norman Greene's - reproduction only with permission of