I dig fishing big dry flies with long ‘legs’ or rubber appendages for extra movement. The bigger flies are more buoyant and therefore also highly visible, they float longer than tiny dries and they can work charmingly well as ‘indicators’ when a dropper nymph is attached (I prefer ‘New Zealand style’ for this).
Big dry flies are also very useful search patterns. One can cover lots of water quickly with them and they work particularly well for big brown trout in my experience. Some Western Cape rivers are sparsely populated by browns and big pools (that can be over 3 m deep) are rather intimidating to approach with a 3 wt… The bigger fish in the river, whether a small stream or a large waterway, will readily rise to eat a big, bulky dry with a large profile, even in deep water. It’s also nice to watch a big dry bobbing tantalisingly over a deep inlet, the anticipation of a fish rising to eat it keeping me focused when the fish are scarce or not on the bite. In fact, Clanwilliam yellowfish and Natal scalies live with brown trout in some of our rivers and they also love eating big dry flies so you never know what you are going to get, which adds to the excitement.
RABs and other variants
Variants are some of my favourite dries for big rainbows and browns. The variants I tie are based on Tony Biggs’ RAB, in which case long ‘legs’, such as pheasant tail fibres, are included in the palmered hackle. These legs make the flies look very buggy, imitating a variety of invertebrates including crane flies, damsel flies and spiders (I believe that variants are also great attractors). The legs also give the flies great movement and help make them sit high on the water, saving them from drowning in fast runs.
Tom Sutcliffe has written much about the traditional RAB which has kept the legendary fly an ever present and also favourite number in many local fly angler’s boxes. Tom has also tweaked the pattern a bit by using Coq de Leon hackle and he also introduced the addition of grizzly wings to me – I never saw ‘modern’ commercial RABs with wings, it was only when Tom gave me one of his RABs that I realised how much better the fly looked with a set of wings (and according to Tom, Tony Biggs also liked to tie his RABs with wings):
As Tom points out, RABs (or other variants) are great flies to fish when the rivers are flowing well. I fish them on 3X nylon or 4X fluoro, the thicker or stiffer line preventing the fly from spinning in the air and winding up the tippet.
Here is a general step-by-step on the variants I fish:
Gerald Penkler’s DDD/RABs
We were fishing the Witte River, one of the Cape’s most difficult brown trout streams, when I first saw Gerald tie one of these ‘things’ on, which also got eaten by a brown trout of about 21 inches on the first cast…I was sold!
Gerald combined Tom Sutcliffe’s juicy DDDbody with the RABs wide hackle and ‘legs’ to create this deadly combo pattern:
When I started to fish the Cape streams, way back, I really struggled to tie a nice Al Troth Elk Hair Caddis (and man did that Elk Hair Caddis nail the fish on some days…); although we do get hatches of largish cream caddis flies in spring I’ve also often seen medium size cream moths fluttering around while fishing (actually almost always?). So I ended up messing around with white CDC and elk one day and Mot was born – I simply called it ‘Mot’ (moth) because of those creamy white moths that are abundant just about anywhere in our country most of the time (yes those that mess up your windscreen) – so it does not really imitate a caddis in my view. I’ve caught many trout and memorable fish on this stupid dry fly. It is a great search pattern and works particularly well as an indicator dry fly when a dropper nymph is attached.
Yellow hopper patterns should be in every freshwater fly fisherman’s box in this country. I know from experience that rainbow trout, brown trout, largemouth yellowfish, smallmouth yellowfish, Clanwilliam yellowfish, witvis, sawfin, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, spotted bass, bluegills and most kurper species will eat a hopper pattern when they feed near the surface.
I used to fish only one hopper pattern, Ed’s Hopper (and with great success), but have also noted that plenty fish attacked a fat, yellow foam indicator while nymphing in the last couple of years. So I decided to tie a larger than usual, fat yellow foam hopper pattern to see if fish would try and eat it (like they did with the indicators). I was blown away by the aggressive takes I got from trout and witvis on this #10 fly. I can’t wait to throw it at other fish species this season.
Yellow foam hopper pattern sbs:
Other big dry flies that work really well on our rivers include large Klinkhamers with rubber tails and extended body foam mayflies tied on Klinkhamer hooks: