I remember standing on the dam wall at Thrift, my eyes shifting to and fro between two things. One, a large trout milling over weed beds less than a cast away from me, and two, my mate Kyle bobbing about on his kick boat in the distance. Kyle was too far off for me to see what he was up to, and I could tell that I had nothing on me that would interest that trout. I’d left some of my flies at the charmingly fucked up cottage (I could live there), and I remember thinking that the slow sinking Papa Roaches I had up there may well have been the answer.

We eventually met up at the cottage having been chased off the water by a thunderstorm. Kyle excitedly told me of the five trout he hammered on a slow-sinking dragonfly nymph while I was on the wall catching sweet eff all. Figures, I thought. But the seeds were planted and as it turned out I was done missing out.

Thrift Rainbow Trout

A fat hen that ate a streamer before we cracked the code

We’d tried “everything” up until then. Everything in this case meant the big, gaudy streamers we’d been advised to take along. We got the odd fish, but it was slow until Kyle started fishing his dragon over weed beds. The dragonflies I had on me were nothing like Kyle’s, but he encouraged me to try them anyway and guess what? Nothing, at first.

Deer hair winged dragonfly nymph Papa Roach

A deer hair winged Papa Roach

Then I recalled a convo I had with David Taylor of Rhodes University while preparing for the trip. Another friend had tipped me off to a pattern that David posted to his Instagram page, ostensibly a useful one when Thrift trout were full of shit. I messaged David, and he generously offered many useful tips. One of his go-to patterns was a simple, buggy, olive-and-red buzzer and so I tied up a few for the trip. Which is great because when the dragon bite died down, this little fly was all you needed to get back in on the action.

Eventually a winning pattern became obvious: If fish could be seen feeding on or near the surface, feed them a buzzer. Both olive/red and black/silver worked well. If and when that bite died down, fishing dragon fly nymphs over weed beds was like chucking a sparrow into a cage full of emaciated goshawks. Carnage. I used a deer hair winged Papa Roach, while Kyle fished a more traditional-looking pattern. Both worked beautifully.

Red Buzzer Chironimid pupa

The little buzzer that could, after David taylor’s pattern

Besides a few other tricks I didn’t get to try (abundant enormous chironomid larvae makes me think a big red squirmy the way Leonard Flemming ties it, will work wonders ) next time we hit Thrift my box will be chockers with dragonfly nymphs and small buggy buzzers, and I’m fairly sure this old river dog will smoke some more dam fish.

Notes on tying and fishing the flies:

My buzzer patterns worked well, but the cheap red tinsel I ribbed them with quickly lost their colour. This could be avoided by using tarnish-resistant red wire instead. That said, the fish didn’t mind a silver rib either. As per David’s advice, I tied them well and scruffy. Thrift is legendary for its big, hard fighting trout, and common wisdom suggests big flies and heavy tippets. We had to shrink our leaders down to 4X to fish the size 14 buzzers effectively. Obviously the frayed nerves were quite a thing, but with a patient hand we landed fish up to 7lbs fairly easily. We got bites on buzzers fished on an ultra slow figure eight retrieve, and also by suspending them static under indicators.

Thrift Rainbow Trout Kyle Ovens

Kyle Ovens with a fat buzzer eater

Given the aggression with which fish reacted to the presentation, you can get away with any fairly large dragonfly nymph in my view. The trout didn’t inspect the flies, they flat out murdered them. A very slow sink-rate was advantageous over the weed beds. Mine achieves this by using a deerhair wing and CdC underwing, and long legs that act as a parachute. This ensures as well that the fly sinks horizontally as opposed to head or arse first. We fished them on floating lines and stout tippet over visible weed beds, using a quick, short strip retrieve with the odd pause.

Read the full story (and much more on the Eastern Cape’s stillwater bounty by Neil Hiesterman and Ed Herbst) in issue #25 of The Mission Fly Mag.