CONTACT US | +27 (0) 82 453 1884

Month: June 2019



At some stage I became tired with lugging numerous boxes of flies to the water, so I summarized the years captured data, determining that I mostly used about 16 different patterns on the Assegai River for most of our Smallscale and Largescale Yellows. The same flies and sizes had also fooled quite a number of Smallscale Yellows in the Pongola, uHlelo and Ngwempisi Rivers too. Also noting that on visits to the Vaal and Orange River I had had relied on my same trusty Smallscale selections to catch the Smallmouth Yellowfish and Muddies of these two systems. The same bunch of flies had also proven themselves on KZN Yellows on the Buffalo River.

So one evening I pulled all the flies from the boxes except those that had proven themselves and set out to fill the rows in only one of my fly boxes with the flies that have worked for me over the years. There were nine rows on each side of the fly box I chose to fill and each row has 28 slots. Between orders and time on the water I spent some serious time behind the vise, slowly but surely filling the rows of flies, sometimes replacing a couple I had lost on an outing to the water. Eventually I was done and happy with my efforts.

Many times when I take first time visitors to the Assegai River or any of the other rivers in the area, I am often asked what flies work best and now that I have crunched the data, I am able to confidently say what mostly works for myself on the river and would like to share at least ten of the most effective of these patterns here.

No 1: Peacock Caddis

Peacock CaddisThis fly was shared with me a few years back, by none other than the Smallscale Master Horst Filter who guides on the Assegai and Pongola Rivers, its a simple tie and doesn’t take much materials or time at  to wrap up a few of them. In the smaller sizes such as #14 – #16 it is absolutely deadly. I often fish this fly ahead of a Dragon Bugger pattern New Zealand style, but it is just as effective on its own fished tight up against standing growth such as reeds bordering the water. Cast it and let it sink then give two or three short twitches and let it sink watching the point of the leader that enters the water. At any untoward moment strike, smallscales can be very sneaky at picking a fly up and rejecting it.

No 2: The Peeping Caddis

Cased CaddisShortly after obtaining Dean Riphagens excellent book The South African Fly Fishing Handbook one of the first flies I tied from its pages was the Casemaker Caddis by René Harrop. As the years went by and new materials and hook styles became available I started tinkering with this particular fly, the first change was the substitution of the Gold Crystal Chenille for Gold Ice Dubbing in an effort to keep the body slimmer. I later saw a similar pattern incorporating a small split shot crimped onto tippet and then tied in at the head to flip the fly over similar to modern jig hooks it also had a small chartreuse burnt Peeping Caddisyarn head to simulate the head of a caddis peeping from its case, surrounded by a turn or two of hen hackle to imitate the legs, this all made sense and was put to the test with good results. When jig hooks became more available the Peeping Caddis naturally progressed to them, eliminating the Split shot head procedure. I mostly fish this pattern in #14 and once you are familiar with the tying procedure it is another quick no nonsense fly to tie.

No 3: The Hot Green Brassie

Hot Green BrassieWhether green rockworms are around or not, this one in the faster waters will often produce the goods, the concept is based on the South Platte Brassie by Gene Lynch when tied on a #14 – 16 hook with a hot orange head it seems to trigger both Small- and Largescale Yellows to having a go at it. It has also become one of my favorite Vaal and Orange River flies due to the slimHot Green Brassie (Jig) profile and heavy wire abdomen it gets down fast and stays down for most of the drift and is also very effective combined with a small PTN dropper just above it. Recently I’ve been having success with the Hot Green Brassie tied on a jig hook instead of the caddis/grub style hook, eliminating it getting stuck to rocks and other structure.

No 4: The  V-Rib Caddis (That Ugly Brown Worm)

V-Rib CaddisAnother one from the stable of super flies from Mr Filters vise, this one is not a fly that will win prizes for its looks, but man does it catch fish over and over, on nearly every water I have presented it to yellows. ItHot Orange V-Rib Caddis uses minimal materials and takes less than a few minutes to tie. I fish two versions of it, one with a gold bead and another with a hot orange bead, especially when the fish seem less inclined to and one size seems to work best a #10 TMC200R nothing smaller. It gets down quick to where the fish seem to often be and takes are often quite visible right after a few quick twitches. Give the V-Rib Caddis a chance you just might become convinced.

No 5: Beams Woolly Worm

Beams Wooly WormA true South African fly in its own right originally tied by the Late John Beams, often one of the first flies I tie on when I visit new waters or when the gong gets tough. This little no in #14 tied on as a dropper has deceived more Smallscales than I can count, even in a local still-water it delivers when fished just below the surface on its own. The hot orange butt acts as a trigger, combined with peacock herl and a sparse hackle for movement yellows will confidently inhale it. Beams Woolly Worm is just one of those patterns I always have, even carp agree with it.

No 6: The Dragon Bugger

Dragon Bugger (Original)I go through these like its nobody’s business, a very productive fly from American fly tier Andy Burke with a few small tweaks, such as the small hotspot and a strand of crystal flash on either side of the tail. This fly produces solid and very visible takes and is often a fly I give to first time visitors to the Assegai River who are not familiar with how sneaky Smallscales can be in picking up a fly.  Fished on an active retrieve takes usually come between jerks as Dragon Bugger (Hot Spot)the fly stops and slowly sinks, since dragonfly nymphs can spurt away quite quickly I believe that yellows hammer this pattern before it can get away, resulting in very visible and positive pickups by the fish. The Dragon Bugger is another one size fits all for me pattern, with #10 being the only size I carry and the dark brown colour also being the most effective.

No 7: Hot Spot PTN

PTN Hotspot (Natural)A yellowfish selection without the trusty Pheasant Tail Nymph would be incomplete, it is just one of those patterns that seem to work everywhere for yellowfish not to mention a couple of other species to. A pattern that can imitate a variety of mayfly nymphs found in most river PTN Hotspot (Black)systems. On the Assegai and other local rivers that small bright thorax seems to trigger the less aggressive fish to pick it up, when the water is off colour the fish seem to key in better on the black version and for clearer waters the natural brown pattern doesn’t shine and put them off like a light bulb on a dark night. The most effective sizes on the Assegai River are #14 – #18

No 8: Craven’s Cased Caddis

Craven's Cased CaddisThis is one of those patterns that when I open my fly box it draws some attention, the first question I often get is “is this one of your own patterns” the answer is “nope” its probably because not many anglers are familiar with it. This one comes from master tier Charlie Craven’s vise and the first time I saw it I tied up a quick couple of them and was on the water the following day. This little pattern proved itself and has found a permanent row in my fly box. A very versatile pattern that can be fished in fast and slow water, on its own or with another fly as a dropper. Tied on a #12 TMC200R is probably the most effective size. If the fish are rejecting it, I have come to believe its not a size issue, but a different pattern that they are keyed in onto.

No 9: Scruffy Nothing (Roadkill Scrape)

Scruffy Nothing (Roadkill Scrape) Living in a small town for away from fly fishing shops prior to the availability of online shopping leads to one using what is available, I started tying this fly about 15 years back. I gifted a Slender Mongoose pelt that had met its untimely end while raiding eggs, for quite some time the skin was left nearly forgotten until one day I was looking for slightly longer and spikier fur due to the lack of squirrel fur for the thorax on a Red Fox Squirrel Nymph. After tying a couple of Red Fox Squirrel Nymphs with the mongoose hair I started playing around with this material over time until I settled on this pattern. The tail comes from Golden Pheasant tail I had picked up and the body was from another road kill victim, this time an unfortunate hare that crossed the road at the wrong time. The bead is a clear glass bead. When the caddis are diving back into the water or rising of the surface this is the first fly I tie on, the hot orange collar and the clear glass bead work well together with the spiky thorax simulating movement and a small air bubble. I tie this fly in #12 and fish it mostly with an audible plop and long strips. Takes are often solid as the fish slash at them before they can get away. It also works well as a dropper fly and has caught some decent yellows on the Vaal and Orange River systems.

No 10: Gold Ribbed Hares Ear

Gold Ribbed Hares Ear (Variant)An old favorite that probably will keep on working for ever, it is a great searching pattern on the Assegai, it represents a whole range of things from small dragon fly nymphs to mayfly nymphs. Fished on its own or with another heavier pattern rigged New Zealand style it does very well when cast close to standing vegetation or submerged structure where yellows like to hang out. I have over the years made some proven changes to it, to simplify the tying of this pattern. Such as using Peacock Herl for the thorax cover as advocated by Randal Kaufmann and using pheasant hen for the tail. I predominantly use hot orange thread for tying since I believe it doesn’t hurt to have a small hotspot incorporated in the fly for added effectiveness. The Hares Ear in sizes 12 to 14 seem to be the most effective.

These ten flies are what I have come to believe in over the years on the Assegai River and other local rivers and wherever I go if there are yellows this box comes along with me.


After going through my seasons records, I found that one fly in my box of tricks, fooled more Smallscales on the Assegai River this season than all my other flies combined. The Dragon Bugger definitely rates as one of my confidence flies and the number of Smallscales that fell for it, is probably because, I often found myself reaching for it first from the slots in the fly box when I was rigging up beside the water. It’s simple enough to production tie a good number of them in an evening after losing a few on the water at some stage and I try never to have less than twelve in my box when I go out to the river often because I lose a few, but more so because it’s the first fly I hand to those who fish with me and seem to be having a hard time detecting the subtle takes when fishing smaller nymphs. It’s also a big fish producer and I hardly ever catch juvenile fish on it.Dragon Bugger (Hot Spot)

I started looking around for a dragonfly nymph imitation after regularly coming across long slender dragonfly nymphs burrowing in the sediment along the river’s edge. The idea is not completely my own as the Dragon Bugger comes from the vice of renowned USA fly tier Andy Burke. I did make a few modifications to the original to suit the conditions on the Assegai River.

Dragon BuggerFish this fly on a leader of about 12 to 16 ft. into large slow pools. It seems to work best when cast as tight as possible to structure such as standing reed banks or submerged weeds and rock formations in the river. Once the fly lands straighten the leader ans line then let it sink a bit and start a active retrieve very similar to a startled dragonfly nymph by giving it two or three small sharp twitches then let it settle down again. The takes often come right after the twitches as the fly sinks, sometimes they are very subtle, but more often the take is a very visible one and the tip of the line where the leader enters the water will actually jump forward quite visibly. Fish also seem to take the fly quite confidently and I suspect that this is due to the fact that the fleeing dragon retrieve elicits a reaction strike from the fish. There are also times when a slow and steady crawl retrieve that mimics dragonfly nymphs that are making their way along the bottom to hatch above surface seems to do the trick. The retrieve should be a slow series of small twitches as close to the bottom as possible, most of the takes when employing this retrieve are usually very subtle, as the fish have all the time they need to inspect the fly before committing. Any untoward movement of where the leader enters the water should be reacted to with a sharp strip strike and if any resistance is felt, smartly lift into it with the rod to set the hook. Dragon Bugger (Original) Then let the fish have its head as it powers off, since often this first run is the one that will part the  tippet or pull the hook out. If nothing is felt on the strip strike, it’s no harm just let the fly sink again and continue the retrieve. It also fishes well in combination with a small size 14 caddis or mayfly nymph hanging off the bend of the hook, on about 7 inches of 4x tippet. Largescales seem to love the trailing fly as an added bonus.

Even though the steps required to tie the Dragon Bugger might seem complicated at first, once you have a few lined up in your fly box and your hands become familiar with the tying steps, tying it won’t take too long.  The materials required to tie this fly won’t break the bank either and are quite easy to obtain from most fly shops. I have found that a size 10 hook closely resembles the size of the naturals in the Assegai River and I hardly fish a size smaller or larger.

When tying this fly ensure that the narrowing between the cigar like shaped abdomen and the head is distinct, similar to that of the natural nymph. Also the tail should be no longer than the body and head and not much shorter than the abdomen. The tail support should also not be omitted since this keeps the tail from wrapping around the hook bend and also kicks it up. Furthermore the eyes should be quite pronounced as this seems to act as a trigger. When winding the hackle feather do so before tying down the shellback that lies over the abdomen this splits the fibers to the sides giving the impression of legs. The length of the feather fibers should be just longer than the length of the abdomen and about two turns are sufficient. Don’t overweight the fly with a lot of lead wraps since this inhibits the natural movement of the fly, less is better just four or five turns will do. The one variation that I made to the fly is a tiny hot orange spot of dubbing where the abdomen meets the tail, this adaptation seems to work better at the end of the season when the first rains have come, clouding up the water a bit.


Hook: #10 Tiemco 3761 or GRIP 12004

Thread: 6/0 pre-waxed brown or black.

Tail: Brown Marabou.

Tail guard: Deer hair or similar to match the tail.

Under body: 4 to 5 wraps of .020 lead wire, covered with brown yarn to form cigar shape of the under body

Abdomen: Any dark brown fine to medium texture dubbing

Wing case: Nymph Skin mottled turkey.

Thorax: Same as abdomen.

Legs: Brahma Hen feather, brown.

Eyes: Burnt monofilament.

ASSEGAI RIVER 2019-06-08


Good times, better friends, cold winter nights around a fire and awesome fishing, is the only way to describe the last time I was out on the water with the Border Buddies as we have started referring to our merry group of fly casters.

The annual trip to the Assegai River for the Border Fishing Buddies has become one of my highlights. As the time gets nearer the WhatsApp messages become more and more animated and every day the excitement grows.

This year like the last looked like it would be no different (ASSEGAI RIVER 2018-09-01), a cold front had rolled in the night before, to me this spelled bad news as smallscales can sometimes develop some serious lockjaw when the barometer readings start hopping all over the place.

Once at the river it did not take the guys long to get rigged up and they were shortly making their first casts. I had hardly set up my own kit when I heard that all to familiar sound an angler makes when he sets the hook on a fish, I grabbed my net and rushed down to find Dèhan fighting a fish.

In no time he had the fish close and I was able to net it quickly, a few snaps and it was sent of to call its mates. At that stage I thought that it could only get better, man was I wrong. We hopped from one pool to another with no luck, eventually at the furthermost point of the river Jarryd managed to land another fish.

We decided to turn back and fish some of the pools on our way back to the cabin. But the cold front had done its work and the yellows had sunk to deeper places to wait out the weather, after a couple of absolute last casts, we called it a day and made our way back to the cabin to get a fire going and supper prepped.

Needless to say, we had a blast around the fire until late that evening, but knowing that there were fish waiting and that they could prove a bit difficult we hopped into warm beds and fell asleep dreaming of fish and personal bests, well I did at least.

The next morning I was up early and while my mates were still rising I walked down to the river to see if I could get a fish on. Unfortunately the smallscales were not cooperating, so I walked back to the cabin to put the kettle on, the guys were up and ready to go by now, another quick cuppa and of we set. I had a spot in mind but at the last minute decided to go to another productive section of the river. The guys made their way to the water and flies sailed through the air in no time. We heard Jarryd mumbling something and by the time we could hear what he was saying, he informed us that he had already released his third fish.

Well the day only got better as the guys and myself started catching them nearly one after the other, eventually we had to call it quits after about 32 fish in three hours. We headed back to the lodge to pack and say our fare wells

And so our weekend came to an end, with smiles all round.

Until next time on the Assegai

Select your currency
ZAR South African rand