Rattles in flies: why bother and do they really work? When I’m fishing at night or in dirty water and I pick a fly, I give it a little shake expectantly. When I hear nothing I feel disappointed and my confidence in the fly drops a tad. But if it rattles I hear Prince singing “Sexy MF Shakin’ that ass, shankin’ that ass”, which is enough to put a bounce back into my cast.
Rattles in flies, why bother and do they really work? I sway between the two, but when the fish can’t see well I sway towards rattles increasing the odds of fish finding my fly.
I’ve debated this with seasoned fly fishermen who use rattles and have shown me a few tricks. Mainly for kob and other species that hunt at night, and generally they’ve caught plenty of fish and some of their biggest with flies without rattles. My mind swaying away from rattles again like a candle about to be blown out in the wind.
But certain experiences associated with success keep our hopes up and keep confidence alive, for instance, when you’re fishing in a place where you’ve caught plenty of fish before, you know that it can happen so you stick it out with expectancy.
In my bass lure fishing youth, the older lures didn’t have rattles, and the first ones that came out were treasured as sure fish catchers. On a number of occasions old traditionally successful lures just weren’t getting the fish’s attention in dirty water and switching to a lure with a rattle made all the difference, sometimes resulting in bow waves coming in fast from a distance. That was pretty convincing and made me realise how sensitive their lateral line actually is.
Initially, I used to try to tie rattles directly to the hook shank, which is fraught with problems.
I came across an Australian pattern designed for barramundi in dirty water and at night called the Rattle Rouser, you guessed it, basically a Clouser minnow with a rattle attached on the underside of the hook with mylar tubing or similar. They work great and I’ve caught bass and kob on them but coating them in some form of resin helps with durability. I also once saw a veteran night fisherman, Jimmy Eagleton of Retro Fly Studio using the same technique on his DMA (Dropshot My Ass) fly.
Conrad Botes showed me another method that he got from someone, where you tie thick mono onto the rattle with thread and then tie the mono onto a hook shank. A good method that works well for surface and subsurface flies but is a bit time consuming and needs epoxy or similar to make it durable.
A quicker method that I saw on the internet (I don’t know who came up with the idea but please stand up), which I have tried out, and think is brilliant, is using electrical heat shrink tubing. It’s quick, neat and durable.
The method works well for surface and subsurface flies like Sponge Bobs and DMA’s but can be applied to many patterns.
A tip – heat the part of the electrical tubing that you’re tying onto the hook to shrink it and tie it in when it’s warm. It will give a neater tighter finish.
One of my biggest problems with rattles is that they break quite easily, especially if you’re fishing off the bricks. Glass ones don’t usually last long at all. Just think of it, a fly line travels over 300km per hour and the fastest part is the end with a fly on it. So a rattle in a fly is certainly going to endure huge impact if it hits anything.
What I have found to help with this problem for surface patterns is to embed the rattles inside the foam head. This protects the rattle but at the same time it seems to amplify the sound of the rattles, which is a bonus.
Burn a hole into the foam with a heated bobbin and push the rattle into the hole and glue helps keep it secure. For reverse popper heads the Flymen Fishing Surface Seducer Double Barrel Popper & Slider Bodie are great because you can make two holes on either side and fit two rattles making more noise. For silicone mullets, a single rattle in a foam cylinder works well too.
Rattles can be taken a step further as per MC Coetzer’s homemade rattles made out of broken fly rod pieces. They sure do make a noise so hopefully, I can get a part 2 going based on that.