Book review – South African Fishing Flies by Peter Brigg and Ed Herbst

Book review – South African Fishing Flies by Peter Brigg and Ed Herbst

It’s been a few years since Peter Brigg asked me to contribute to his latest publication (with Ed Herbst as co-author), which gives one an idea of how much work goes into books – years! This is Peter’s second publication; the first was Call of The Stream ( I have a lot of respect for authors of books due to the effort they put into their projects prior to print. I’ve decided to share my thoughts about South African Fishing Flies in a few posts and will discuss the look and content, with emphasis on the subject matter, the flies presented in ‘chapter’ format.

The look

In my opinion a good fly fishing coffee-table and/or demo-type book should catch the angler’s eye. Both books (South African Fishing Flies and Call of The Stream) are visually very attractive and I personally enjoy paging through a fishing book with nice photographs. A picturesque book encourages me to pick it up more than once. The photos shouldn’t necessarily all be the type that would feature in an art exhibition, but rather images that would provoke a “wow, that’s pretty” from the general reader. This is certainly achieved in South African Fishing Flies, which, besides the selection of contributor’s photographs, also demonstrates Peter Brigg’s love for and skill in photography. However, I noticed a slight disconnection in some of the chapters where photographs of fish caught on flies other than the featured one was published (this may be due to the publisher’s influence in lay-out design in this case?); and perhaps a photo of a saltwater fly fishing scene instead of a spin fisherman at Maxi Holder’s Dog’s Breakfast would have been better suited?

The subject

Before I discuss the flies I have to mention that I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the history of some of them and original stories that were once published in a disposable magazine or are still rumours floating around (like Tony Biggs’ story about the Red Arsed Bastard) are now set in stone that could potentially live for decades, hopefully centuries, on the family bookshelf. Right, the flies…I attended the special South African Fishing Flies Vice Squad evening at the Cape Piscatorial Society clubroom and someone dared to ask what significance the flies in the book had, as trout, for instance, mostly eat anything. Yes, there are occasions where the ‘bare hook’ flies catch fish, but my fly box is not full of them. It is because Tony Biggs’ RAB and Tom Sutcliffe’s Zak nymph and DDD are so dependable for trout and other freshwater fish species across the globe that I never go fishing without them; MC Coetzer, Jannie Visser and August Lohann’s JAM fly is still the only pattern that consistently catches our prized spotted grunter on shallow sand flats; Herman Botes’ Papa Roach is an extremely effective all-rounder and the most accurate and deadly aeshnid dragonfly nymph imitation that I’ve seen and used; and memorable days with the Para-RAB and the Red-Eyed Damsel come to mind, and so on. All these flies come from a reputable background.

Special mention is also given to flies that either changed our thinking, like Theo van Niekerk’s TVN nymph that he used to catch smallmouth yellowfish with in 1985 (note that this fly was still included in commercial yellowfish fly packets when I bought my first fly rod in 1997), or flies that lay the foundation for new discoveries and expanding our knowledge, like the White Death tied by Robin Fick. These flies are worthy to be archived in hard copy format. Arguably one could have included a few more flies, but sadly the authors ran out of space.

At least 50% of the flies in this book should be in the beginner and experienced angler’s fly boxes today, which is reason enough to own the book. It is currently the best and most beautiful summary of some of South Africa’s great fly patterns. To add meat to some of the chapters of the book, I am going to discuss my choice flies that have worked well for me, starting with an all-time favourite, the Zak nymph.

Tom Sutcliffe’s Zak nymph

Zak nymph:

In short, Tom Sutcliffe designed a perfect nymph pattern. I love the intricate detail of the body of this fly and fish do too. I’ve caught so many memorable fish and interesting species on this fly that I always have it in my freshwater ‘nymph’ box. It works well in its original colour scheme and becomes irresistible to some fish species when it is tied with a hot orange bead.

The larger yellowfish species in Tanzania find Zaks with hot orange beads irresistible.

You can catch trout on this fly in all the rivers in our country and in Lesotho’s highlands. I fish it as a single, weighted nymph under an indicator or dry fly, depending mostly on the size of the nymph (big and heavy fly under an indicator and light-weighted fly under a dry) and in combination with a tiny (#16 – 18) Pheasant Tail Nymph (PTN) as a dropper tied New Zealand style approx. 30 cm below the Zak.

I fooled many memorable NZ browns with Zaks.

A larger Zak (#10 – 12) with a hot orange bead worked well for sight fishing to yellowfish and bream species in Tanzania, and the same size fly with a black tungsten bead worked well for large brown trout in New Zealand. When it is fished in combination with a tiny PTN, it acts as an ‘attractor’. I fish this rig in deep Cape stream pools where after the first few rainbows had been caught on the #14 Zak, one could almost continue catching fish-after-fish on the small PTN till the pool starts to look boring.

“The fly that catches fish is the one in the water”, for me it’s the Zak nymph.

The Zak works so well for me that it’s my favourite ‘search pattern’ when I visit a new country or river, no matter what fish I’m after. I believe that the fly’s ‘buggy’ appearance appeals to many fish species. Peacock herl is also a ‘magic’ material and I use it in many of my flies, so that is probably also why I like the Zak so much. In fact, the combination of the Zak’s body materials is so effective that I’ve used the principle in Woolly Buggers, Zulu and Woolly Worm flies for carp and even in bodies of worm flies for multiple species.

For the detailed SBS on the Zak check out:

Tom’s net – Tying ZAKs

(In the next post I will elaborate on my successes with the DDD and RAB)

Copies of South African Fishing Flies can be purchased on

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