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Category: TILAPIA



One of my favourite patterns for tilapia especially the Redbreast Tilapia or as known in Zimbabwe as the Pinky (Tilapia rendalii) is a Yellow and Red Wooly Worm pattern, I find it very effective but its only drawback is that it’s a bit fragile when it comes to the abrasive mouths that these fish have, unless constructed bullet proof, these fish will make short work of your lovingly tied creations. But they work and they work well, the contrasting colours are just what triggers these usually vegetarian fish to have a go at it, also the short tail ensures that the fish commit to the fly, since they will so often nip at the tail. So I set out to tie a fly that would stand up to these fish yet still have all the qualities that the fish find attractive.

Nights were spent at the vice figuring out one pattern after the other, often to the wife’s dismay, weekends would be spent at the dam testing these creations, adding even more to the missus’s displeasure.

The contrasting colours were not too much of an issue to figure out, since these fish are not really picky when they are in the mood to take flies, but I wanted a fly that would be easy and simple to tie, one can lose quite a few in an outing, considering that the closer the fly lands to standing vegetation the better and a little breeze or a slight over cast would end the flies snagged in the ruff. The other consideration was to make the flies a bit tougher, especially with the tendency the fish have, to come from behind and mouth the fly a few times, this tends to rasp at the softer materials such as hackle and sometimes even the rib of the fly.

Eventually settling on materials such as ordinary knitting yarn and tuff chenille that come in a variety of colours, to form the body and tail with. It was just a matter of finding a way to incorporate some flash and hackle to the fly that would take the punishment. On one outing the fish as usual tore the trusty Wooly Worm to bits again, but the hackle at the eye where I usually take two or three wraps to give it some bulk and then tie it down with a number of thread wraps to lay it back stayed on, the fly was working so I just whipped out the Leatherman and trimmed the tip of the feather that had come lose, leaving only the collar and also shortened the unravelled crystal flash that I used as a rib, to trail just past the tail. The fish didn’t mind this waterside correction and I kept on catching a number fish on this same fly.

Pinky Punch

  • Hook: Longshank #12
  • Thread: Black
  • Tail:Red Yarn
  • Body: Yellow Tuff Chennile
  • Flash: Two Strands Pear Krystal Flash
  • Hackle: Black Hen

That evening I took the fly to the vice and tied up a number of these deconstructed woolly worms, dispensing with the palmered hackle and rib, for two strands of flash tied in laying to just the same length as the tail and just taking two or three wraps of hackle behind the eye. It didn’t take too long to tie up a number of these flies in some proven colour combinations either. It basically looked like a bulletproof modern soft hackle or a stick fly. But would the fish approve?


Off to the water at the soonest possible opportunity, with a box full of these new worms it was. On arrival there I made short work of rigging up a rod, over time I had learned that on clear wind still days such as this one was, a yellow and red colour combination was deadly, so I tied one on and started scanning the waters for the redbreasts, it didn’t take too long to find them where they were holding up against the Knotweed. Moving into position I made the first cast as close alongside the green stuff as possible and let the fly sink. Making long slow strips seems to help detect the take and I started retrieving the fly as such. Missing the first take I kept on stripping the fly closer ready for the next enquiry.

It didn’t take to long for another fish to show interest in the fly and I set the hook. After managing to move the fish away from the vegetation that it kept trying to duck into, it used its wide flat profile to its advantage as they usually do. After a quick but spirited fight, carefull to prevent being impaled by one of those wicked spines these fish have, I lifted a decent fish of about 500g from the water. After a quick photo, I unhooked it and set it free again. Now it was time to inspect the fly, so far it had held up and I was quite happy seeing this, so back to the water to continue putting it to the test. A couple more fish later the fly was still fine showing hardly any wear. After a great day catching quite a number of them on this modified pattern that held up quite well, apart from a few that were broken off I went home. That evening I expanded the number of these flies in my box.

Wired Up

  • Hook: #12 Longshank
  • Thread: Black
  • Tail: Yellow Yarn
  • Body: Red Wire
  • Flash: Two Strands Pearl Krystal Flash
  • Hackle: Black Hen

Some effective colours are yellow and red on wind still days when the water is relatively clear, orange and red works well when there is a bit of a chop on the water and a black and chartreuse fly seems to be quite effective in stained or darker waters, or when the weather is a bit overcast. Many tilapia are at times not averse to taking small fry and for this I tie a red and white version. All red and olive flies also have their place for when the fish are in the mood for some aquatic insect fare, red is especially good when the vegetation stands seem to border mudflats that bloodworms live in. Incorporating some wraps of lead helps get the fly down, especially if you are fishing a floating line, but isn’t quite necessary for the sinking lines. When using a sinking line keep the leader and tippet short nothing more than 1,5m with a fluorocarbon tippet of no less than 3X, as the fish live near and often in some nasty stuff and you will need it to keep them out of it, regularly check the tippet after every couple of fish their mouths will also abrade the tippet. Then there is also always the possibility that a bass or catfish will grab the fly, if so you will appreciate the extra strength at the end of the leader. Keep in contact with the fly with long slow strips or the relay retrieve, pointing the rod straight down the line, by doing so you will feel the takes more directly.

Bigger fish seem too often hit the fly between strips so at any hesitation strip strike, often you will be surprised with the result. Fishing with a 3wt rod is fun, but when one of those big guys pick up your fly you will appreciate the backbone of a 5wt or even a 6wt rod. More so if a catfish snaps at the fly, Since they often hunt for smaller tilapia against the weed line, as do bass. Who wont pass up on an easy meal.



Banded Tilapia can be found in nearly every stream or dam in South Africa, they are omnivores and will feed on any available food source from algae, soft plants, small insects and fry. They tend to be quite opportunistic thus won’t pass up on a fallen bug or small fish that happens to be in their vicinity. They tend to gather in shoals and because of this they often feed aggressively and they will readily come to the surface to nab a bug or insect. They’ll eat whatever bug they see and sometimes even try to eat bugs that can hardly fit in their mouths and they’ll eat it fast, before another tilapia can get to it. Like the Bluegill and even Canary Kurper they are quite underrated, yet they can provide hours of fun for youngsters starting out with a fly rod. As in most bluegill fly’s durability and other practical considerations are quite important and the same goes for flies designed for the tilapia species. Their abrasive mouths can wreak havoc on a delicate tied trout fly and often another tilapia will try to steal the fly out of the mouth of the hooked fish, thus tearing at the body of the fly

This is where the all-synthetic bluegill bug designed by William G Tapply known as the Tap’s Spider really shines, it’s a quick pattern to tie, it has that buggy look and the tilapia love them just as much as the bluegill do.

It’s practically indestructible and easy to make from inexpensive materials. The closed-cell foam body keeps it afloat all day (if it gets a bit waterlogged, just squeeze it dry), and it has that soft natural feel in a fish’s mouth that hard-bodied bugs lack. In white or yellow (banded tilapia like bluegill are normally not too fussy about the colour) it’s readily visible to the fisherman. The little burble made by the squared-off head attracts them, and even sitting motionless, the quivering legs and tail make the bug irresistible to the tilapia.

  • Hook: Dry Fly #10-14
  • Thread White 3/0
  • Tail:Rubber Leg Material
  • Body: Closed Cell Foam
  • Legs: Rubber Legs
Tying Instructions:
  1. Cover the hook shank with thread, ending at bend.
  2. Fold and tie in a strand of rubber-leg material for the tail, trimming it to the length of the hook shank or slightly longer.
  3. Cut a strip of 4mm thick closed-cell foam about 3cm long and 5-7mm wide.
  4. Lay the foam strip over the top of the hook shank with the front of the foam just behind the eye of the hook and the other end extending over the tail.
  5. Wind the thread forward, binding the foam tightly to the top of the hook.
  6. Tie two strands of rubber-leg material to the underside of the hook, about one-third back from the eye so that they form an X. Trim them so that each leg is about 1 inch long.
  7. Fold the remaining foam over the top of the hook, stretching it tightly, and tie off behind the eye. Whip-finish.
  8. Trim off the remaining foam, leaving a square head. Decorate the foam (and the legs and tail, if you’re so moved) with waterproof pens to suit your artistic bent. I usually colour the bug’s belly green or black, and I always leave the head white so I can see it on the water.
  9. Finish the head and the thread wraps along the underside with head cement.
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