A muse, a rant and an introduction to the upcoming Ironman SBS

I feel as though we need some emotional preparation.

Even if I were immune to bouts of overzealous, extra-verbose circumlocutory elaboration, an Ironman SBS was never going to be a quick read. I recommend setting aside a few hours one evening, with some beers or wine, a vice and some materials, as opposed to speed-reading it while making your morning movement. Also, be warned that the SBS is a pic-heavy post, so best check it out when you’re close to your mom’s wifi.

With that in mind, I figured I’d better get some stuff off my chest before posting the actual SBS.

You’re never gonna believe this you’re gonna poo yourself.

Wait for it.

I’ve tied many, many Ironmans. I sold almost all of them and gave away a handful. Would you guess who’s never even really tried surface fishing for grunter since the first Ironman was tied? I don’t wanna give it away but it’s me. A good many grunters have slurped down Ironmans, and I caught exactly none of them. In 2017 I took my personal best grunter on a Gas Hed Prawn, and shortly after that I made up the Ironman idea. Before ever fishing one myself, I began focussing all my grunter fishing efforts on shallow-water sight-fishing, using subsurface flies. I don’t know if that’s wonderful or completely tragic, but I got some fish so who the hell cares? Right?


LeRoy Botha Grunter Fly Fishing Crazy Charlie
A grunter not taken on an Ironman because LeRoy caught it. Note the 2013 incarnation of the hangbal-on-one-knee. Beautiful.


Ironman Grunter Fly Fishing
The first Ironman ever tied. It lives with Jazz Kuschke now, and has caught a fish or two.

When I give advice as to how to fish Ironman, it is based on reports from friends fishing the fly, my experience fishing other topwater grunter flies, and observing mud prawns doing their thing. If this fills you with doubt and suspicion I get it, but check this out:

Pete Coetzee took the first ever grunter on an Ironman. He gave one of the flies I’d tied him to a friend. Friend proceeded to catch, as I recall, more than twenty Breede River grunter on it – over one weekend. Since then Cape Stumpnose, White Steenbras, Leerfish & Dusky Kob have also eaten it. Those are the locals that I know of, but across the Atlantic, the fly has taken Tarpon when nothing else would. Another American fellow let me know that he was taking his version out for a spin after Redfish. Unfortunately I never heard from him again, but I suspect that’s because he’s still lost in the Delta moering Reds on Ironmans. Yeah. Colour me freakin’ stoked, bru.


Pete Coetzee Grunter Fly Fishing Ironman
Pete Coetzee with the first grunter taken on an Ironman. Grunt clearly surprised how his meal turned out.

Before you wipe, I want to mention just a few justifications for my design choices for Ironman, and address one or two of the FAQ’s I’ve received.

Solid reasoning in fly design is a bit of a thing to me. I see many flies on the internet that are clearly little more than visual copies of another pattern, with little to no idea as to why certain parts are there or not. Ironman is meant to suggest, as opposed to imitate (but that’s another story) a migrating Mud Prawn swimming at the surface. They swim forward at a steady pace, with their legs folded together and pointing forward in a bit of an arrow shape. So, I pay a lot of attention to the shape of the head (where the legs are at) when I build the fly. I’ve seen a few versions with extra legs and even flash tied into the abdomen section and I feel as though some folks have misunderstood the assignment. I’m not saying you weirdos’ flies won’t catch fish, but adding flash and legs in the abdomen is a little silly if you ask me. Prawns don’t have any flashy bits, or long legs sticking out their backsides, and so I don’t think these bells and whistles make for a better Ironman. Be that as it may, if adding a moustache and a poephol makes you feel good, then by all means it’s what you should do.


Kyle Ovens Grunter Fly Fishing Ironman
Kyle Ovens with a Breede Grunter taken on an Ironman

Colour? Well, it’s a mud prawn pattern, which in some way dictates the range of colours to choose from. I’ve yet to tie an Ironman that even pretends to truly match the live colours of a mud prawn, though. If I ever find the right foam, I’ll try it. Mostly, I tie different colours for use according to the light conditions, as has been the way since the first few Turds. Bright days mean light colours, low light or heavy cloud calls for darker colours which enhances the silhouette. My favourites are light blue, tan and brown, and I play around with combinations and added hotspots (non-UV yellow, usually). Light blue ones have saved the day when nothing else was working, and yet it’s quite hard to get folks’ minds around the fact that it even works at all. Oh well, you know, lol.

Even though sand prawns have nothing to do with mud prawn migrations, a white head and orange or yellow abdomen is rather mysteriously effective too, and looks pretty cool.


Grunter Ironman Fly Fishing
That’s deep, man.


Grunter Fly Fishing Ironman
Pic used without permission, but I’m hoping to get away with it without having to explain myself. Fish taken on an early Ironman gifted to a friend by Pete Coetzee.

I’ve used deer hair and synthetic wool in previous versions, but Sculpting Fibre is undoubtedly the best material for making the abdomen section. Deer hair can be too buoyant (you need to squeeze it under water until it sinks, which just seems like a stupid thing to have to do to a material with a thousand more sensible uses), and wool is rather heavy when soaked. You don’t want the abdomen to float, so sculpting fibre is the perfect solution – it soaks up and sheds water with equal ease, meaning that the fly will both cast and swim well. The sinking backside makes it much easier for the fish to suck in or get a grip of the fly, avoiding those fugly foul hook-ups we used to see when fishing with Turds first became a thing.

Kay, let me think … yeah, that’s it. Next up, the Ironman SBS.

Oh, one more thing, a random observation the likes of which you may see some more of later in the series. I recently “overheard” someone asking why grunter had to be such intelligent fish. I smiled because I find it hard to accept that any fish is intelligent at all. Catching one on fly is hard because you have to flip an instinct-override switch, and instinct, honed over thousands of years, is quite a thing – no less so with grunter. But isn’t a fish eating a fly like a baby sticking a handful of sand in its mouth? They’re not freaking smart. I look forward to your hate mail.

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