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.
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.
Fish 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. 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.