Is there such a thing as a perfect fly? I believe there are many well tied flies that have a great ‘strike rate’ among different fishes – these, in my book, qualify as ‘perfect’ flies.  When I say ‘well tied’ I don’t mean ‘pretty’, but rather clever combinations of materials to create buggy flies that klap the fish. They are the ones that you fish more than others because you’ve watched skittish fish eat them with confidence and they generally catch fish when nothing else in your box works.

Here, in my opinion, is one such fly that was, interestingly, popularised by an influential South African trout fly fisherman, namely John Beams, in the 1970’s. Much has been written about John Beams and his JB Woolly Worm (also known as the Red Butt Woolly Worm), a slightly modified version of the original Woolly Worm that absolutely slayed the trout according to trusty sources (i.e., Tom Sutcliffe, Ed Herbst and Dean Riphagen).

Gerald Penkler was the 1st person to tie this fly with a twist to specifically target carp with – and man does this thing moer the carp! It is now one of my favourite carp flies and it works surprisingly well when the fish are difficult and refuse to eat the standard Zulus we use.

The only differences between the JB Woolly Worm and the modified fly that Gerald and I tie these days are 1) a Zak nymph body (instead of seals fur), 2) a scud hook, and 3) a red tag of micro-chenille/wool/fluorescent floss (I carry all these versions with me for good reason) sitting on top of the sparse hackle tail of the fly:

1) Select a strong scud/caddis hook (I used a #12 Grip 14731 Caddis larva & pupa hook) and wrap black Gordon Griffiths Sheer 14/0 to the bend;

 

2) Tie in a a pinch of black hackle fibres just above the bend of the hook;

 

3) Tie some red micro-chenille, wool or fluorescent floss (I used red Glo-Brite floss) in as a ‘tag’ above the hackle tail;

 

4) Tie in a) two stripped peacock herl fibres, b) two normal peacock herl fibres, c) a piece of pearl crystal flash, and d) a relatively small black hackle feather at its tip (which has been stripped on one side to make the hackle sparse), all at the bend of the hook;

 

5) Wrap the thread back to towards the hook eye and form a uniform body (slightly tapered) and cover it with a thin layer of varnish;

 

6) Twist all the materials tied in at step 4 into a noodle and wrap this forward to the hook eye to shape the body of the fly (I brush the hackle fibres back with my fingers after every wrap);

 

7) Tie the noodle off at the hook eye and whip finish;

 

8) Apply a small drop of varnish to the thread and leave to dry – the completed fly should look ugly and properly buggy; like Peter Coetzee says, it looks like a Len-pubes-fly, that’s how the fish want it!

It is an odd pattern that sinks very slowly, so fish take this thing without much movement. It must be the buggy profile and combination of materials and colours that provoke strikes, and perhaps that slow sink giving the fly a natural ‘eat me’ look to the fish.

I recently caught a big grass carp on this fly – and by chance I caught my biggest carp on it too (or was it by chance!?). These fish ate tiny modified Red Butt Woolly Worms in comparison to their size, which is something I still can’t fully grasp (how such big fish can take interest in such tiny food items, but spook when they see a slightly bigger, bushier Zulu fly? Weird…).

 

A classic scenario where the modified Woolly Worm will graft, a clear dam with skittish carp cruising along the banks (the trick is to get the fly in front of a relaxed fish, without the carp noticing your presence):

 

Other fish that could not resist a slow sinking modified Red Butt Woolly Worm included rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, bluegill, blue kurper and shirbot.

 

Although most of the Persian shirbot we caught ate a mix of flies, including small streamers, these extremely shy carp-like fish could not resist a slow-sinking modified Red Butt Woolly Worm.