SOME FLIES THAT WILL CATCH SMALLSCALE YELLOWS ON THE ASSEGAI RIVER, BUT WILL ALSO WORK ON OTHER RIVERS AND YELLOWFISH SPECIES.
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
This 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
Shortly 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 yarn 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 it 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
Whether 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 slim profile and heavy wire abdomen it gets down fast and stays down for most of the drift, it is also very effective combined with a small PTN dropper just above it. Recently I’ve been having success with it 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)
Another 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. It 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.
No 5: Beams Wooly Worm
A 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 stillwater 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.
No 6: The Dragon Bugger
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 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. 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
A yellowfish selection without the trusty PTN 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 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
This 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)
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
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. 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.