In the hidden Bulkhead Hollow Fleye, Conrad Botes discovers the fly of his salty dreams. Here’s why.

The Bulkhead Hollow Fleye. Photo John Travis
The Bulkhead Hollow Fleye. Photo John Travis

When it comes to fly tying, I’m a bit old school. I try to resist new fads and tying styles for as long as I can. One could argue that I don’t see the need to replace a pattern that has already proven successful. Or maybe I’m just lazy. Mostly I succeed with this approach. But every now and again the temptation is just too big and I give in.

Case in point…a while ago, Bob Popovics’ Beast fly became quite a popular fly to tie. It was my friend Dre Van Wyk in particular who caused the hype and gave the fly a bit of a cult status in our fly tying circle.

Got balls?

It’s not called a Beast for nothing. It’s a gigantic fly and to even attempt tying it must take considerable balls. But the thing that caught my eye in the many videos that Dre posted to our fly tying groups was not the size of this pattern, but the magnificent action it has. Not to mention shape and volume. It was hard to believe that a pattern tied so sparsely did not collapse in the water. Yet, there were a few things that were still putting me off. I like to tie with a specific trip in mind, and I could not foresee needing this pattern in the near future.  The size also put me off. Most of my streamers for the Western Cape salt are 10-12 cm at most and even the flies we tie for West African tarpon are relatively small. Did I mention I’m also lazy?

Conrad Botes with a Cubera snapper caught off the beach in West Africa
Conrad Botes with a Cubera snapper caught off the beach in West Africa

Fast forward a few months to the moment when Dre and Warwick Leslie landed a shipment of bespoke bucktails from their connection in the States (a guy with a gun and a bathtub full of dye for all I know). It’s the kind of stuff you don’t see at your local fly fishing shop – long fibres with a slight kink in them. Definitely no straight hairs. In a word, beautiful. When we unpacked the bucktails on my studio floor one morning for a photoshoot with Dre and the bucktails (ed; cue American Beauty re-enactments but with bucktail not roses), I was excited it felt like a bunch of sparrows flew out of my arse.


I then realised there was another bonus regarding this pattern: you can tie it beautifully, using only one tying material. Bucktail. Sure, one can add flash and all sorts of other materials, but the original Popovics Beast is tied with bucktail only. Bucktail must rank as one of my favourite tying materials. It’s the most basic, yet versatile material for streamers and just looks fantastic in water. Any colour can be achieved if you blend different hairs together and you have a choice of different hues when choosing a specific colour. I like to collect as many different shades of a single colour bucktail as possible in order to give me the ability to blend whatever colour I want. Take olive bucktail for instance. Some are golden olive, some almost green, while some are more grey than olive.

Of course, Dre didn’t stop at just tying a Beast. He then moved on to another pattern. The beauty of this pattern is that it’s a style of tying and not a set-in-stone pattern. Dre’s Beasts kept evolving and the next thing that caught my attention was the introduction of hackles to his Beasts. Hackles are my second favourite material for tying streamers. But Dre didn’t use any old hackle, he got hold of quality capes with long wispy hackles, the kind of things that make dry fly nuts weak at the knees. These hackles accentuated the movement and added a linear aspect that was unlike anything I have ever seen. Dre’s Beasts did the rounds in Seychelles, got the nod from geets and guides alike and I was seriously interested. Yet still I resisted.

Conrad with a hefty Jack Crevalle
Conrad with a hefty Jack

Breede River

Two months later I was on the banks of the Breede River pursuing big dusky kob on fly. There’s a bunch of us that have been doing this for a couple of years and when the bell tolls for kob, we answer. Our patterns have developed quite a lot over the years. Mine started with the humble flat nose silicone, then moved on to the SpongeBob (a favourite) and eventually to the NoseJob (a surface pattern). But on this particular weekend MC Coetzer walked over and dropped a fly into my box. “I guarantee that this fly will change the way you fish for kob.”

He explained that the fly, only about 12 centimetres long, was inspired by Gunnar Brammer’s Hidden Bulkhead fly, which in turn is a variation of Bob Popovics’ Beast and other hollow tie patterns. “The best part is the use of ostrich here in the tail of the fly,” he said, “You won’t believe how much movement it has!”

Dark water potential

The fly is tied with a short mono extension that takes the first bit of bucktail with ostrich dressed over it, followed by the first reverse tie. Then two more reverse ties on the shank give you lots of bulk, but it’s easily collapsible bulk so that the loss of hook gape by the bulk will not be a problem when hooking up. I immediately realised the potential of this pattern in the dark waters of my home away from home – the beaches of West Africa. I duly fished the pattern that weekend and must admit, I was very impressed. Perhaps I was a bit more impressed with the ostrich here than the bulkhead and I spent the rest of the season tying all my regular kob patterns with some ostrich. Yet I still resisted tying the damn Beast.

For the rest of the story, get stuck in to issue 24 of The Mission below:

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