by Guide Blog


The Cormorant fly pattern is a simple yet devastating fly, and a must-have for any UK stillwater angler. Whether it be Browns or Rainbows, Cormorant flies have a very impressive record when it comes to extracting fish around the country. I actually know the chap who invented the original fly, we still fish together occasionally and he still uses it more than any other fly in his box.

Andy Lunn came up with this beauty years ago when he was part of the England Youth set up and he’s nearly 40 now. He happened to be out with Graham Pearson one day, a coaching session from Graham on Grafham Water if memory serves correctly. Andy used it to good effect, taking an awful lot of fish when pretty much everything else was failing miserably. 

Graham, being the competitive bloke he is, took this fly and honed it along with his teammates in ACA Masterline. They used it and won many matches, yet managed to keep it a secret for quite a few years. But like all good fly patterns, the killer fly was soon out and everyone and their dog was fishing with it.

Cormorant Fly Pattern – Bigger & Better Trout

This style of fly really comes into its own later on in the year, a time when the trout are feeding well and usually up near the surface. Large open water drifts will see you come across better than average trout. 

Cormorants have an enviable habit of winkling out the bigger, grown on fish. It’s a foody-looking fly so it’s no wonder it works so well. I use a full floater or a Slo-Mo if there’s wind, this anchors everything below the surface. I’ll fish a Cormorant fly pattern on the top and middle dropper and on the point, a Booby. Often this will be a Booby version of the fly. 

Every fly is black when it comes to tackling bigger, wiser trout. There may well be flash but no colour, tags, butts or hotspots. Keep them well spread out, 6ft apart is about right, and if you want them to fish a little deeper a longer section of tippet to the first fly will help. However, I often find that later on in the year it’s best to keep all the flies high up in the water. It’s not uncommon for me to have my first fly only 3ft away from my fly line. 

People may think this puts the fish off but trust me, it doesn’t! As I’m fishing these flies slowly, often just keeping in touch with a figure-of-eight retrieve, my tippet is a little thinner and more supple, and for that reason I’m happy to use 7 to 8lb fluorocarbon. I’ll often use a softer rod too as in open water you can let the fish run without fear of underwater hazards. Just take your time and enjoy the fight.

Angler Holding Rainbow Trout from a Uk Stillwater caught on a Cormorant Fly.

Cormorant Fly Pattern – Catching Pressured Stockies

This style of pattern can make a real dent in stocked trout populations too, even more so when they have been bombarded with bright fritz creations. After too much of this kind of fishing pressure this slim, unobtrusive fly works like a charm; no more unproductive follows, something you see time and again with lures, just solid hook ups. 

Another of the many ways to get the most from this style of fly is with sinking lines and ‘pulling’ tactics. Using a team of three with a bright top dropper pattern and Cormorants on the middle dropper and point position below is key to success. Again, I keep the flies spaced well apart but with 8ft to the top dropper, then 6ft and 6ft to each of the Cormorants. As I’m pulling, usually in two to three foot strips, I like to use a strong tippet and for me it’s Rio Flouoroflex Strong in 11.2lb. It’s solid and reliable even with double hook ups, par for the course when you’re in amongst a lot of trout!

By using a medium to fast sink line, you can get the flies down to the level you need to and by employing various retrieves. Fast figure-of-eight right through to roly-poly, you can entice the stockies into following and chasing the bright fly, whether that be a Blob, Sparkler or Cat. They’ll chase the bright fly all day long though more often than not won’t take it. But by utilising the bright fly and bringing them in to investigate, they’ll see the little black Cormorants and can’t help but react to them.

When you’re getting jaggy takes but no hookups or when the fish are constantly following but not taking the usual lures. Get some Cormorants tied on the leader; you’ll be amazed at how quick your fortunes will change.

On a sinking line I cast around 25 yards and figure-of-eight retrieve until I can feel the weight of the line. I then quicken up the retrieve, usually with long pulls, keeping everything measured and steady. Once the bright fly comes into view under the water by the boat I hold it static for up to 10 seconds. This technique givse any following trout the opportunity to find my Cormorants. When a fish takes, you’ll see the lure shoot down out of view. The takes are super confident, and when hooked this way, the trout are rarely lost.

Cormorant Fly Pattern – Tie Your Own

The Cormorant Fly

The original and, for me, often still the best. It’s nothing more than some peacock herl, a rib, copper wire and a slim, black marabou wing. All put together on a size 10 wet fly hook. Simple really, as are most of the better flies that we use. It’s a devastatingly good pattern when it comes to targeting trout, new arrivals and residents alike.

Pearly Cormorant Fly

I’m a big fan of this pattern and use it a lot from the end of May and into June. It’s perfect for imitating pin fry. Rather than thin marabou tips, I get bulk into the wing with thicker marabou from the feather base. I like a red rib, with a thickish wire that can be easily seen, which I feel adds to it. 

GJ Cormorant Fly

This little number was shown to me 15 years ago by Gareth Jones. It has a pearly body, with a lemony coloured glister at the thorax and a soft hen hackle through it. This pattern is perfect when fish are taking terrestrials; the hackle lets it just hover under the surface. The pearl and light coloured glister catches the light and entices the trout to take. Three of these on a floating line is a fantastic way to target upland waters where terrestrials rule the roost.

Half Dressed Cormorant Fly

This one, is use a lot when I’m nymphing. I use it on the point, to anchor Daiwl Bachs fished on the droppers. It takes it’s fair share of trout through the latter part of the year. It’s no more than grey glister with tightly wrapped red wire and a marabou wing. (The same length as the hook). The hot spot is the bright Glo Brite No. 5 head. Orange works wonders come the back end. Fish this like you would the nymphs, with very little by way of a retrieve. Let the water or wind fish them for you and you’ll do well! 

Early Season Cormy

Again, with this one I prefer a bulky wing, something that has more presence in the water. I use olive pheasant tail on the body – with a thin wire rib to hold it all together. The real trigger on this is the bright green head. We all know just how good black and green is early doors. I can honestly say that often it’s this, rather than a Blob, that works early on in the year.

One Final Caveat…

In my experience this style of fly performs best in adverse conditions. The kind of days when you feel you really shouldn’t be on the water if that makes sense. You know those days of bright, high sun, poor water quality or gusting winds. Weirdly, it’s on these types of fishing days that the fly comes into its own. So not only is it good for residents and stockies, but it works its magic when nothing else can! 

Steve Cullen Fly Fishing

Steve Cullen YouTube Channel

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