It is always a nightmare preparing a fly box for a foreign destination, especially if there’s a severe lack of internet information about the place and fishes that live there. This was the case when we recently found ourselves, Ewan Naude, Gerald Penkler and me, tying flies for ‘yellowfishes’ that live in Iran.

We were all excitedly sharing photos of our patterns on a Whatsapp group, everyone noticing subtle differences in each other’s flies, which I believe may have prompted us all to tie even more flies than what we should have in the first place, before the trip. I focused on patterns and colours that I had confidence would fool any local yellowfish I had caught in fair numbers before, i.e. the largemouth, smallmouth and Clanwilliam yellows. Larger specimens of these fishes typically patrol large pools or steep banks in dams where they feed opportunistically on insects, tadpoles, small fish etc. and two types of flies that do very well under those circumstances are zonker streamers with fluorescent orange beads and hotspot nymphs.

Ewan’s fly box for Iran…
One of Gerald’s boxes for the trip.
Half of my yellowfish box…
The other half…(with additional flies tied by Garth Wellman added)
And my saltwater box with extra’s tied specifically for the Iran trip.

In fact, I had so much confidence in the hotspot concept that I included a fluorescent orange or chartreuse hotspot (or both) in nearly every fly I tied – major error. The two ‘correct’ things I did were to tie most of my patterns in at least three different sizes and then also to pack in a box full of ooold trusty carp flies (which also sported a number of drab zonkers that were tied for stillwater trout). Both Gerald and Ewan, on the other hand, packed in a vice and some fly tying materials to tie extra flies on the trip.

Some of the basic patterns that I bulked up on before the trip.
Gerald tied a fair amount of baitfish streamers in different colours – photo by Gerald Penkler.
Photo by Gerald Penkler
Photo by Gerald Penkler
Photo by Gerald Penkler
Photo by Gerald Penkler
Ewan’s box sported many of his characteristic collared muishond-like minnows – photo by Ewan Naude.
Photo by Ewan Naude
Clouser Minnows in different colours (with a decent amount of flash) were also included – photo by Ewan Naude.

Off we were to Iran to catch ourselves a few mangar and shirbot each…What we found were cooperative carp and several smaller barbs, but the rest of the fish gave us the cold shoulder. The shirbot were clearly the most abundant fish, swimming on the surface like the schools of smallmouth yellows in Sterkfontein Dam, but they rejected everything I threw at them on the first day. Then, while I must have tried at least six different flies at a school milling under a tree, I caught one random fish on my ‘staatmaker’ Woolly Bugger.

My first shirbot – taken on my ‘staatmaker’ Woolly Bugger, the game changer on the trip.

This broke the ice and smaller, drab patterns – mostly successful carp flies, including Gerald Penkler’s sparse Woolly Worm variant, small black Zulu’s, cdc squirmies, cdc nymphs and #6 natural zonkers (all with black or gold beads) fished on thin fluorocarbon – gave us the opportunity to catch many of these cunning ‘carp’-like fish (it is even described as a carp in literature online). Voilà, shirbot code cracked…Well, to some extent.

The flies that worked:

Small (#6) natural zonkers without a hotspot bead was the best all round pattern for the bigger species, like shirbot and mangar.
I caught my best shirbot on the cdc & Zak body squirmy (also one of my best flies for Berg River carp).
This tiny (#16), drab cdc nymph (the only one in my box) caught over 20 shirbot on one of the days.
Another winning fly, a #18 black and chartreuse Hare’s Ear nymph, that caught a lot of the other, smaller barbs in the lake.

As the trip went on we ran out of flies and Gerald pulled out interesting, stripped possum skin and tied a few small zonkers, handing one to each of me and Ewan as well; according to him it was the only replacement for rabbit fur that he could get hold of in Leeds before leaving the UK. The possum Srip Minnows that he tied looked fabulous and it also worked like a charm, catching the elusive mangar, decent shirbot, a type of Iranian chiselmouth and even a carp.

Gerald’s possum Strip Minnow came to the rescue halfway through the trip, after we had each lost most of our smaller zonkers.
Gerald Penkler with a mangar that he caught on his possum Strip Minnow.

The mangar, of which we saw very few fish cruising the surface and margins of the lake, did not seem to mind an orange hotspot bead, although it also didn’t really seem to trigger anything in these fish either? Some of the mangar we saw ate small zonkers, but unfortunately (or fortunately?) there is still much water to cover to learn which flies may work best for these fish…For more information about our fishing experience in Iran, keep an eye out for The Mission publication coming soon…

Fighting a big shirbot on one of the many points that we sight fished from – photo by Gerald Penkler.

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