Australia’s Best

Rob Sloane takes a look at Australia’s best trout flies

We all have our favourite flies but there’s always room for more, and nothing beats knowing what the top-shot anglers and pro-guides are using. Pick thirty or so Aussie fly fishers all with proven track records, ask them to nominate their top six trout flies and you’ve gathered more than 200 fly patterns (Malcolm Crosse). Photograph the flies (Peter Whyte), and collate the recipes, tying notes and the how and where to (Rick Keam), and you have created Australia’s Best Trout Flies Revisited, a book that is sure to blow the dust off some fly-tying gear. Yes, it’s been done before. I contributed to John Roberts’ original book The World’s Best Trout Flies back in 1994, and subsequently produced Australia’s Best Trout Flies in cahoots with Malcolm Crosse in 1997 (there’s a New Zealand version too). Now, some 20 years down the track, the Revisited book offers a fresh look at the flies that are catching trout on our local lakes and streams. But is your best fly the one that’s undone a particularly selective fish on a technically demanding day, or is it the fly that accounted for the most fish on the easiest day? I suppose I would nominate both. And how do you select the most worthy contributors in the first place? In truth the only reliable way to determine Australia’s best trout flies would be to conduct a nationwide poll, or even include a question in the national Census (though we all know the last one was more of a national disaster). Perhaps it’s easier to just dodge the politics and let Malcolm Crosse decide who should be included. Not surprisingly, being a champion for the cause, he’s drawn heavily from the ranks of Australia’s competition fly fishing scene, and as we all know, successful competition anglers really can catch fish. If I tell you that 25 out of 34 contributors to Australia’s Best Trout Flies- Revisited are competition anglers, you might see where this is going. And of the nine remaining, three have worked as professional guides. My only lingering doubt is whether truly competitive anglers or guides ever reveal their very best flies. I’m reminded here of an infamous encounter on the eve of the World Championships back in 1988, when I went to greet an old friend and Australian team member on the shores of Little Pine Lagoon. There was an awkward moment when I extended my hand to shake and he didn’t reciprocate. His rod was gripped in one hand and the other remained tight fisted, hiding his leader and flies. That’s what competition can do to a man — team orders demanded that he was not to show those secret flies to anyone! COMPETITION But seriously, there is a big difference between the cut and thrust of competition and simply spending a leisurely afternoon on a lake casting dries to rising fish, or idling your way up a stream waiting for something to show. Naturally this switches the emphasis from flies that might match a specific but rare hatch to those that will catch fish, in a statistical sense, on any given day. No dawn patrols or evening hatches, just set hours and random draws. Yes, all these flies have done the business and really will put fish on the bank. And isn’t that what we all crave at times — numbers on the board. They have not been chosen for their good looks, innovation or fly-tying ingenuity, but for their clinical effectiveness. This shifts the book towards generic fish-catchers, including an array of wet ‘lures’ for blind searching, a good few loch-style patterns based on UK traditions, and plenty of mean looking, heavily beaded generic ‘nymphs’ for Euro-style river raking. Compared to the original ABTF there are far fewer imitative, hatch-driven patterns (more of that later), though still some interesting ones. Rather than working in isolation, the national competition scene benefits from an intense melting pot of ideas and sharing of successful patterns and techniques. Likewise, the information revolution and advancement of synthetic materials has brought new life to old favourites. APPLE PIES Although a hotspot of colour or highlight of flash can do wonders for a fly, there’s a lot to be said for keeping things simple. Rick Keam says some interesting things in his introduction to the book, particularly about successful fly lineages and ‘dynasties’ of related patterns, where the original type is a very simple fly that has stood the test of time and inspired many variations, often more complicated than the original. I recall fishing at London Lakes one time with a formidable international fly-tier. Having declined the offer of trying one of his flies, I was able to demonstrate the effectiveness of my simple Black Fur Fly — a clump of dark rabbit fur on a bare hook with a yellow thread head. Having enjoyed immediate success when he eventually switched to one of my flies, weeks later he sent me a package of ‘improved’ versions tied with underbodies, tails and extravagant deer-hair heads. I think he missed the point. The ‘old-but-new’ phenomenon, as Rick alludes, is certainly evident within Australia’s best. New patterns emerge and gain popularity with their forebears all but forgotten. I’m sure Rick could have given chapter and verse on the heritage of every fly in the book, but then it was never intended as a historical record, more a snapshot, and his introduction does enough to remind us of the more important lineages and connections. I was explaining all this to my wife when I first flicked through the book, and commenting in particular on the common themes and styles of fly contained therein. Her synopsis was a little more brutal. “You mean,” she said, “it’s like an apple pie recipe book with 200 recipes for apple pie, when they all look and taste much the same.” What could I say? The rhyming slang was quite unintentional. COMMON THREADS So what’s new? Well, there’s no shortage of glister bodies and flashy tails, multi-coloured beads and hotspots too, and plenty of marabou and CDC. There are more Woolly Bugger variants than you can poke a rod at, and you can take your pick from 30 or more little beadhead nymphs, including quite a few that are more bead than nymph, some tied on jig hooks too. Well hung and low slung emerger-style flies also make a strong showing, with plenty of Klinkhamers, Plume Tips, Shaving Brushes and Possum-style variants (it is Australia). Don’t we all fish emergers in dun hatches these days? There are of course some old favourites in there that invariably come to the fore. I’m talking Hare’s Ears, Pheasant Tails, Red Tags, Royal Wulffs, Parachute Adams and the like. You’d be mad not to have a few of those in your fly boxes. FORMAT Following the format of the original book, each fly is photographed and has an accompanying recipe with tying notes. A brief bio introduces each contributor, with a few explanatory para-graphs devoted to each fly pattern. You do need to pay attention to the hook sizes given in the tying notes, as the photos (in the book) are not to scale and many of the little beadhead nymphs are tiny (#16–18) alongside Bugger variants that might be size #8, and this isn’t immediately evident when leafing through the photo strips. BEST OF BOTH Having done my sums, less than 25% of the flies featured in Australia’s Best Trout Flies Revisited could be described as imitative (and that’s being generous). By contrast, in the original ABTF, imitative local patterns accounted for more than 70% of the flies. Put the two books together (the original is still available) and you have the best of both worlds — some 370 outstanding fly patterns to suit good days and bad days, hatch days and dog days on Australian trout waters far and wide. That’s far more than you or I will ever need, but we are free to pick and choose, tie and test. The trick is to look behind the patterns for the common styles and the roles they fulfill, and make sure you have all those bases covered in your fly box. I’ve decorated this little article with a mixed dozen fly patterns that particularly caught my eye. Let’s face it, when it comes to flies and apple pies, you can never have too many. Australia’s Best Trout Flies Revisited is available fom FlyLife’s online shop at flylife.com.au $49.95.

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