by Steven Neely


Be in no doubt that our fly fishing lures, no matter which of the many guises they parade under, are by far and away the go-to flies when it comes to effectively targeting our stillwater trout . . . period! Of course, there are many occasions when your nymphs, dries and all the other ‘bits’ will work, that’s a given. However, for out and out fish-catching ability, the more ‘elaborate’ end of the fly pattern spectrum is where the real money is when it comes to putting trout in the net. Although there may well be many good – and not so good – anglers who balk at the mere mention of them, to hit the water without lures in your fly box will see your chances of success drop faster than a 5.5mm tungsten jig back.

Many dyed-in-the-wool fly anglers are stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to these patterns, believing lures aren’t traditional – although I’d argue the case here. Have you seen an Alexandra? The whole point of fly fishing in their eyes is, broadly speaking, to fool a fish into taking the fly; a carefully crafted pattern that is tied to represent a food source that that particular fish recognises. We are cunning and are trying to dupe the fish, convincing them that our fly is indeed food and therefore they should drop their guard and eat it.

I’m one of those anglers who will use any means at their disposal to catch fish, as long as it’s within the rules you understand. If I can use it, no matter how dreadful it appears to others, I’m all over it. I blame Steve Parton, he showed me some diabolically successful techniques and flies, all of which are legal . . . just!

However, if there’s a slower, more intimate, and indeed imitative manner that will let me catch, even if I don’t land as many fish, then I’ll often choose that. This is far more likely these days as I’m getting on a bit and I don’t have that same wanton, fish-lust I had when I was younger. Anyway, back to the topic at hand. Lures get the job done! Most of us, certainly those who began their fishing journey on a Stillwater, will have caught their first trout on a lure. And depending on the age of the angler that particular lure may have been a Whiskey Fly, Baby Doll (jeez I loved that fly, peach or white were brutally effective in clear water), Dog Nobbler, Cat’s Whisker, Goldhead Damsel, Blob or Apps Bloodworm.

Progression, It’s Always Happening!

As you will have guessed from certain patterns mentioned above, things move on and nowhere more so than with flies and fly tying. This particular part of the sport is really out there in the UK, we push the boundaries all the time. The range of materials, both manmade and natural, and the plethora of colours and hues we have available is pretty staggering. It grows all the time. Who saw MITTS coming, for instance? It’s never-ending, allowing us to constantly add to our arsenal.

It is also the feel and mobility, the sinuous, gorgeously slick movement underwater of so many of these new products that we have at our fingertips. Gone are the stiff, substandard materials of the past, they have been superseded by a whole gamut of new and interesting baubles and trinkets.

Rubbers, vinyl, UV curing resin, in a host of colours and finishes, moulded legs, thorax covers, roof wings, foams – how many foams do we need? Beads, with various types of holes that allow the bead to sit at jaunty angles on the hook, beads with eyes for buggy things, tungsten, brass, lead-free, the list goes on . . . So, we will adapt and conceive as we move forward and that can only be a good thing.

Patterns For Pulling – My Top Picks!


Cat’s Whisker

Although this particular fly is decades old now, it’s still pretty much at the top of the tree for the out-and-out catch rate. In its original form, it’s a basic pattern, white and green, that’s it. Okay, the bead chain eyes add weight and some bling, but really, it’s a simple lure and that’s why I like it. It has been bastardised to the point where some flies that fall under that umbrella are pretty much unrecognisable from the original tying – apart from the fact they have white and green in the construction of the fly somewhere.

I have a handful of favourites but all of these are very basic, with a tail or tail and wing of white – marabou usually, but I also like rabbit. Add a bead, red or green, or Booby eyes and you then open up a whole host of new possibilities. The body stays green of course, chenille through to Fritz and at times a longer Straggle. That’s it, no need to over-egg the pudding.


Again, like the Cat this pattern kind of follows the same theme, only the white is replaced with black, a little silver rib and boom! Although many anglers save this beauty for boat work on the larger stillwaters it’s just as effective on smaller venues and yet I rarely see people tie it on for small waters. The green butt stays in position all the time, as does the black wing, but the body I will often change. Yes, black – usually bog-standard chenille – is a given, but silver or gold tinsel can be a real winner. Not quite conventional and a little like an old Loch Leven fly named the Prairie Dog, but these are two colour changes that can really boost the fly’s effectiveness. As with the Cat, I can ‘Boobyfy’ it, get a bead or indeed some eyes on it, and use rabbit instead of marabou. However, this fly stays pretty much the original.


This was so close to being first, it’s so damn good! I use it everywhere when it comes to small water fishing situations. Its muted olive colour seems to register deep down in the fish’s instincts; a colour hard-wired into them that they associate with food maybe? There are not much that beats a bog-standard Gold Bead Damsel. It’s simple, straightforward and needs very little tweaking. It’s a straight out of the box solution to catching small water rainbows. Stick this on a14ft leader, pull it back with short jerky pulls on a slime line and expect fireworks.

You can put Booby Eyes on and it works but not as well as other Booby patterns. A better option is changing the bead colour that you tie it with. I have the same damsel but with red, green and white beads. It’s uncanny how the trout will pick one out over the others. I also tie one on a jig hook with a tungsten bead. Fished on a floater this fly has more movement than John Travolta in Greased Lightning.


Love it or loathe it, this little scamp has been the downfall of more trout here in the UK than, dare I say it, any other fly that’s ever seen the light of day. A tightly wound ball of Fritz on a hook, not much more to it really. You can add a tail of course. I rarely do, though occasionally I will, perhaps if there’s one that’s doing well on the comp circuit. The Blob of choice is of course the Orange one but it has some competition from the following; Sunburst, Biscuit (silly name really, brought about by Scots anglers fishing on the Lake of Menteith) and good old Tequila.

One of my particular favourites is black, nothing else, just black fritz. It can be lethal in competitions when the water has had pressure. Take the colour out of your cast and dull it all down. Get Booby eyes on any of these Blobs and they work really well. You can also get some foam tied in at the rear to create FABs (Foam-Arsed-Blobs) and these are pretty awesome too. Both Booby and FAB versions are great for fishing the ever-popular washing line technique.

Rabbit / Zonker

I mentioned movement earlier, well, rabbit for me is outstanding in this department. Its sinuous look works wonders when it’s slowly pulled back underwater. Yes, mink is good, but rabbit for me just edges it. It’s becoming more expensive these days though – not sure why supply and demand I guess. However, I’m happy to pay the extra to get my hands on it. Try and get rabbit that has thinnish skin, as thick skins are a pain to deal with and add extra bulk at the tying in points (especially the head).

I always tie the rabbit in Zonker style, secured at the rear and at the head but rarely with the wire rib going through the fur, similar to that of a Minkie. Colours wise, I keep it simple and go with the following: White Rabbit / Silver Holo Body, Black Rabbit / Red Holo Body, Natural & Olive Rabbit / Gold Holo and finally, this one only comes out occasionally Pink Rabbit, Pink  Holo Body.

For all the patterns and their variants mentioned above, I should make it clear that certain conditions will dictate which ones I use and when. I’m very much of the old school; bright day, bright fly, dull day, muted fly. Similarly, on clear water I always start with more sombre-toned patterns, nothing too in-your-face, and only if they don’t work do I move on to the scary bright things.

Apps Bloodworm

It is pretty much beyond me why trout have such a fascination with this particular fly, but they absolutely love it. It’s an abomination that features a rock hard body and various (two up to six) soft, mobile and long legs. Like a mad, skinny octopus this fly flaps and jerks through the water like nothing on earth and yet . . .

The caveat to this thing is that it has to be fished in a certain manner, it’s not really like your normal lures. It must be retrieved in short (one-foot) jerky pulls on the line with pauses and gaps in between. Just vary the speed you bring it back at. The key is the pause, which lets the fly drop, and most times this is when the trout will nail it. Once you master the retrieve you will start to see big results, so focus on that and you’ll soon have this particular fly down as a ‘must-have’.

I love the original, featuring one Spanflex leg at the front and back, that’s it; simplicity based on Arthur Cove’s Red Diddy style of nymph, but tied on a straight hook. The leggier ones really do a job on pressured fish. Who knows why, but if we knew everything and caught all the time we’d give up wouldn’t we? The leggier ones I prefer in olive or amber hues, they’re great for clear water too and will often bring trout on from yards away. They can’t help but be enticed by this mental looking pattern!

The Right Line

When fishing with lures on stillwaters, and let’s assume we’re talking from the bank here, line choice doesn’t have to be complex. Despite having over 20 lines at your disposal resist the temptation to muck about. Most of the venues we frequent are very rarely deep, and even if they are the fish will usually be hovering around in the top eight feet of water. So, really, you aren’t going to need the multitude of fly lines that you’d carry on the boat, there’s just no need. There are three we need to focus on if we are to get the most out of these flies.

Clear Intermediate

If I were to pick one line for pulling lures it would be a clear intermediate that sinks around one inches per second. Given its sink rate and the fact that it’s clear, making it a little harder to detect than coloured intermediates, I can rely on it to not spook fish. I can also be sure I’m able to cover all of the water columns I need to. By counting down after casting and of course, utilising a whole gamut of retrieves or indeed ‘nonretrieves’ – flies can be hugely effective fished ‘on the drop’ – I can get my fly to cover all the depths from just under the surface to the lakebed itself.

Another benefit of this line is that I can pull my fly back on a level plain, keeping it ‘in the zone’ pretty much all the way through my long retrieve. The trout want to chase and if that fly comes up or goes down in the water they can shy away. Keep that fly on an even keel and they should commit.

Medium Sink

I’d also be looking for something that sinks just a little bit faster – not too much, just some kind of medium sinker with a two to three inches per second sink rate. I do like a heavier line when I fish with a long leader as it allows me to retrieve my fly above the sunk line. This, medium sinker would be my go-to choice for Blobs especially. On the long leader, the Blob is allowed to fall through the water column, and on each pull, it brings the fly closer to the lakebed. By fishing it in this way, especially when visiting pressured fisheries, you’ll be surprised at its effectiveness.


Finally, where would we be without the trusty floating line? This line allows us to present our fly closer to the water’s surface. It has the added plus point of silhouetting the fly against the bright sky. Trout are pretty much always looking up, so bear that in mind. With weighted flies, we can harness and exaggerate that up and down, ‘getting jiggy with it’ movement that can be ever so enticing too. Vary the leader lengths you use and you can manipulate that fly, making it work by providing so much more additional movement. Each pull on the line sees the fly shoot back up in the water column before the pause lets it drop back down. Devastating!

Working The Flies

The most effective retrieve will tend to depend on the type of fly you are fishing. The hugely popular figure-of-eight imparts movement but at the same time allows your fly to travel back in a sedate manner. It’s amazing just how much movement we can create with this slow retrieve when we’re using flies with mobile materials. Next up is the short strip, in one-foot pulls ideally. By pulling the line in short sharp pulses at a steady rate the fly will move up and down in the water column in a consistent fashion. The long strip is next. We used to call this the ‘Leven Lash’, very long pulls, three to four feet, but these must be executed a little slower giving the fly time to sink and draw as you pull.

We see an awful lot of boys and girls on the boat with the rod tucked under their arm milking the cow, or roly-polyingy. Madness, utter madness, but by jove, it can work! You pull the line in hand over hand, anything from slow to breakneck speed – you’ll work it out. This final retrieve is only really good, in my opinion, for recently stocked fish. I’d also suggest that it will only work for so long until you scare all the fish in front of you to the four corners of the venue. This manner of retrieve brings the fly back to you on a nice steady plain through the water, usually quite high up given the speed of retrieve.

Finally, and I have mentioned this before already, there is the non-retrieve. The amount of trout that I catch on the drop is quite incredible and yet few anglers seem to do it. This is best done on a non-stretch line, sinker, inter to medium sink, and a short leader, eight feet or so, to reduce the stretch. I have seen this a lot on clear water venues, so I know this happens. The fly hits the water, the noise attracts the fish, and it swims over . . . but if you start pulling, they shy away. However, let the fly continue its descent and they will often hoover it up as it drops. Just be sure to use ‘soft hands’ as the fish realises it’s been duped and pulls the line out of your hand as it shoots off for the horizon with your fly in its mouth. There’s a whole lot more to fishing lures than the chuck it and chance it approach. They take some mastering, as with all fly-fishing techniques, but stick with it and work them out. These, more often than not, are the flies that are going to get you out of jail.

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