Category: Technical Articles


The Goulburn River is well known for good mayfly hatches on evening and rightly so. Huge hatches of a variety of mayfly species occur on dark and fly fishers in the know are suitably geared for this emergence. Also common is a daytime hatch during late springtime and autumn Caenis are tiny hence I did not take this photo Photo Courtesy of Pat O'Reilly in his book Matching the Hatch, Swan-Hill Press or go to is also fished by a great many anglers. There is however another appearance of mayflies that goes unnoticed by the majority flyfishers and that is, hatch of the early morning caenids.

Caenids are a family of mayflies that are common the world over. They are peculiarly shaped when compared to many of their cousins with a short, stumpy body and an oversized wing. They are also tiny with hook sizes in the #22-26 needed to accurately imitate these bugs. Hatching out in huge numbers at first light they can bring the trout to the surface for that first few hours of the day. Because they emerge in huge numbers and because they are so tiny, they are universally known as ‘the angler’s curse’.First light on the goulburn

Flow Rates

The Goulburn has two distinct aspects of this hatch. This can easily be broken down as a/ High Water (above 4000 megs) and b/ Low Water (4000 Megs or below). The river takes on very different characteristics at these two levels and this will dictate where you go looking for them.

At higher flow rates the fishing is limited to backwaters and reverse eddies where sufficient Caenids usually hatch in huge numbersnumbers will accumulate to get the fish to rise. While you won’t find many fish the chances for success are good as those that have occupied the prime backwater lies will be feeding well and easily stalked as they are not likely to move much.

The second category is perhaps the most enjoyable and this refers to the lower flow rates. When the river is running at 4,000 megs or less there are distinct pools, glides and concentrated bubble lines. Fish will be found feeding heavily in the tail outs of most pools and the bubble lines will contain literally thousands of these bugs. This is typical of mid autumn and late spring.

Fly Patterns

Caenid duns will be found drifting on the water while the spinners congregate around Caenids usually hatch in huge numbersvegetation on the bank’s edge. Fortunately a single pattern will usually suffice. Getting the size right is the most important part of matching this hatch. The caenid featured in our fly archives is the first choice. It should be tied on a variety of hook sizes with about a #22 the most commonly used .If you do not have one of these try a Goulburn Griffith’s in the smallest size and trim the palmered hackle right around the fly, leaving on a couple of millimetres of the hackle. This ugly modification pretty much leaves just the peacock herl body to provide the bulk of the fly and the trimmed hackle floats it. It works very well at times.


The most important thing is to find your fish before you begin fishing. Blind fishing with such a small fly is not really productive and you need to be aware of where fish feeding on these tiny insects are most likely to be. Three places most likely are:

1. Current reverses/backwaters

2. Tails of pools

3. Bubble lines in the middle of the pool

Slow water is the key and you should not expect to find fish working this hatch in shallow gravel runs as they just cannot find such tiny bugs in the chop.

1. Current reverses must be approached from the bottom end of the reverse. This means walking downstream on the main river so as to not spook a fish sitting in the reverse and facing ‘downstream’ in relation to the main river flow. You should try and get to a spot where getting a drag free drift is easy and the cast is unlikely to spook the trout. Once in a good position multiple drifts can be made until the fish takes the fly. Current reverses are especially important at water levels greater than 4,000 Meg.

2. Tails of pools are also a hotspot when the lower river levels make them distinguishable. Fish will sit just upstream of the drop off lip making a drag free drift almost impossible. The good thing is that you can easily approach through the shallow gravel bar below but you are limited in how close you can get as these are often the most wary of all fish. Use inventive casts to get a drag free drift, even if it is only for a few seconds. Reach mends, wiggle casts, slack line casts etc can all be used in these situations. If you have some sort of cover and can fish from almost parallel with the fish do so. These spots offer a good chance to catch a fish but presentation is the problem.

3. Bubble lines represent the best chance of catching fish during this hatch. A huge number of caenids are usually drifting by and the fish feast on the over supply of food. Approaching is usually easy, a drag free drift is not a problem and the fish are less wary as they usually have the refuge of depth or structure nearby.

Leaders should be long and fine. Nine foot is the bare minimum with 12 foot the norm. A good four feet of 2lb tippet should be used to aid presentation and you can use your light weight rods at these times as the wind is not a problem.


This early morning hatch is something worth chasing as there is a chance that you could pick up a couple of decent fish before the day even gets started. It also allows you to take in the beauty of the most magical time of day, first light. The air is crisp and the light dim and the fish are rising to small dry flies. Just being out there to see it is pretty special.


Hello Goulburn Valley Fly Fishing crew,
I just want to ask a couple of questions. I want to learn how to polariod and I was wondering if you could give me some tips on how to learn by myself. I normally fish on streams (small high country and lowland streams) and was wondering if without having a lesson I could learn on my own how to polaroid for trout?

David (I’m only 15 year old)

Hi David,

Hope the article helps you in taking those first steps to successful polaroiding. If you need any help just drop me an email or swing by the shop if you are ever in the area.

Good luck with it all.



Here is the article…..

Polaroiding for Dummies

Polaroiding is a bit of a misnomer. While most aussie or kiwi fly fishers will know what you are talking about, the rest of the fly fishing world will be left in the dark when talking polaroiding. Sight fishing is the correct description of the method. Sight fishing with the aid of ‘polarised glasses’. When we say polaroiding we mean using polarised sunglasses to remove the glare from the water’s surface and allow us to see into the water and to find individual fish.

Polaroiding is hugely addictive. Once you have experienced it is hard to go back to just blind searching. Being able to see a fish before you present a fly is a huge advantage. In many instances you can watch a fish feeding for quite some time and make a very accurate choice of fly based on your observations. You can also put the fly in the best position possible, meaning the fish is not as likely to be spooked in the process and that the drift/presentation will be perfect. You can also see a fish’s reaction and sometimes refusal of a fly, which will again give you great feedback and greatly speed up the learning curve. When you are fishing blind you get none of these clues to help you on your way.

What You Need?

To be a successful sight fisherman there are a few things that you cannot be without. First and foremost is the best pair of glass polaroids that you can afford. There are a number of great brands out there but we recommend the Spotters above all else. Their range of Penetrators are about as good as polarised glasses get. The colour, ability of the lens to change to suit the lighting conditions (photochromic) and their overall quality make them the first choice.

There are hundreds of frame styles out there. Many suitable for driving or wearing about town as well as fishing. But it is the most daggy looking ones that are best for polaroiding. The larger ones with the side shields are the pick of the pick. This was proven over the past few trips to A wide brimmed hat, quality polaroids and the correct coloured clothing. Roger has given himself every chance of successthe South Island where we took turns in changing between several styles to try and work out which worked the best. Time and again it was the person wearing the ‘daggy’ ones who saw more fish. Needless to say that is what we all use.

The second most important thing is a wide brimmed hat to shade the glasses. The difference between having such a hat and not is similar to the difference between wearing polaroids and normal sunglasses. Forget those baseball style caps. Invest $30 in a quality, pack able Boonie hat. They can be crushed down to nothing for traveling and can even fit in the pocket of a vest. Make sure you get one with a dark undersided brim, the darker you can get that space between hat and eyes the more you will see.

Now you have the glasses and have given them the best possible chance to work by shading them correctly, your attention must turn to making you invisible to the fish. What are you wearing? Chances are it does not match the situation as well as it could.

Colours must be drab and blend well with the surrounding environment. Fish, like all animals, see movement rather than form. Dress in white, red, yellow, orange or even fossil and the fish are going to have a much easier time seeing you. Walking the banks, casting a fly, it’s all going to be more difficult if you cannot meld into the background. Have a look at the Columbia gear. The Bonehead shirts and the shorts/pants in the colour Sage will suit most freshwater fly fishing situations.

Also remember you are as only as strong as your weakest link. There is not point getting it 80% right with pants and shirt the right colour but a lovely red cap on! While it will make a lovely photo, that dash of colour, it will not help you in your quest to catch more fish! A couple of days on our most recent trip brought this fact home to me. On several occasions I was fishing with one of the guys while other members of the group tried catching up to us after fishing a few kilometres away. In one instance they walked right up to me and never saw me at all, instead focusing on the other angler whose vest gave him away from quite some distance away! Don’t underestimate the importance of blending in.

So now we look the part, we can see the fish and move about without being too noticeable. What else can give us away? What other part of our gear do we need to disguise? Probably the most obvious thing, although maybe not until you are out on the water will you realise it, is the fly line! We only use green/khaki/sage coloured lines in our own personal fishing time. While we sometimes test a new line outside this colour spectrum or we may set up our beginner outfits with bright lines (mostly so they can see what they are doing), you will find that for the most part we only use dull coloured lines.

When you think about it, it all makes sense! The thing that the fish is most likely to see is a bright fly line waving back and forth around them. Some people say that a white line is hard to see against the sky but this is rubbish. A white line flashes the entire time it is in the air and stands out against any sort of streamside foliage. If you cannot afford to buy a new line then buy a tin of Dylon dye from the local chemist and dye only the front thirty feet of line the appropriate colour. Please use an ‘old pot’ and none of the good cooking gear out of the kitchen or you could be putting you newly assembled camouflage gear to good use, having to hide in the garden for the better part of a week!

Learning to be Sneaky!

This comes naturally for some e.g. lawyers and accountants, but for the rest of us some practice is usually needed! Again getting back to what fish see, that is movement, we must think about how we go about moving along the riverbank. Firstly you must go slowly! Going slowly you are much less likely to be seen. You also see a lot more. When you are walking you are constantly moving your head and having to focus and as a result you will spook lots of fish. The slower you walk the more of a focus you are able to get on the bottom and consequently the fish. Move a few slow steps and then stop. Wait a few minutes. WatchingKeep low using any cover possiblecarefully before moving up a few more metres and stopping. Use any hiding places that you can. A tree or high grass or a fence post can make all the difference. Use these places for an extended viewing of the water near to them.

Keep your profile off the skyline…..use whatever you can to shield yourself from view. Use a high bank behind you to move along slowly, the high bank screening your profile. Keep as low as is comfortably possible. Hide behind trees, boulders etc. Sometimes you may even have to get down and crawl into position (depending on how desperate you are!).

Tread gently. While fish cannot hear you talking as all sounds are reflected off the water’s surface, it is not the case when walking along the banks. Vibrations can be carried a long way through the water, and clomping along will spook many fish. Use gentle steps and go slow.

Keep your shadow off the water. A shadow thrown out across the water will spook a fish just the same as if you threw a rock in. Shadows should be managed so that they land on the bank. While sometimes this is almost impossible, particularly later in the afternoon, to some extent this can be avoided by walking well back from the bank. Staying well back from the bank can also reduce your profile so that only your head is visible to the fish rather than your whole body. Minimising the amount of you that is out in the open is always recommended.

Remember the deeper the fish is, the more that it can see outside its underwater world. Conversely the closer it is to the surface or the shallower the water; the less the fish can see. This is worth noting, as you don’t want to be moving if the fish has a great view of the outside world. Often, when a fish is in shallow water or rising, I will take the time to move into a better position, knowing that I can take a calculated risk that I won’t be seen.

This also means that any presentation to a fish sitting near the surface must be spot on for the fish to see it. The deeper it is the more leeway you have. Often when a fish is staying within a foot of the surface, rising consistently we have found that that unless the fly is in the fish’s exact path then there is little chance of a take. On the flip side we have seen fish come a few metres in deeper water to take a fly. Not the be all and end all but definitely something to be aware of.

What Should I Look For?

Of course the most obvious answer is fish! Sometimes it will be that easy. You may have great light over your shoulder from behind at about lunchtime on a hot January day while on a high bank with a broad brimmed hat shielding your polaroids and you will see everything. Every speck on the bottom will be obvious. But more often than not conditions will not be perfect. The wind may be up, or you may have patchy cloud, it may even be late in the day. But don’t despair, as there are many clues that trout offer up to the trained eye.

Movement – The first thing that you are most likely to notice is movement. Movement is what most predators first use to distinguish items of prey from the background. This can be a dark shape down deep or even the flash of white as the fish takes a nymph and his mouth opens and closes. Even the flash off the flank of a fish as it turns on its side to take a nymph.

Shadows – Trout can be almost invisible, especially rainbows in fast water! But there is one thing that doesn’t lie. That is the shadow dropped by a fish in bright light. While this can sometimes be mistaken for the fish itself it is of little consequence as it still means a fish is present. Shadows are one of the most important clues as to a fish’s whereabouts.

Shape – On a river or lake bottom shapes are important. Your eyes will quickly learn to distinguish the more important ones. In rivers in particular you will often see logs and odd shaped rocks that could be a fish. If you cannot determine exactly assume it is a fish. Otherwise use skills of deduction to work out whether it is in fact a trout. A trick that works for us is to try and work out which way the object is facing. If it is across, even slightly angled across the current, it is more than likely, not a fish. If it is sitting head on into the current then I would at least try and fish it. The last trip for NZ was an eye opener. In the last week of the trip, in mid-March, the sun was getting low in the sky. On at least five occasions we decided that it was a rock and not a fish only to spook it seconds later. It is very annoying spooking 8lb ‘rocks’, so give everything that could possibly be a trout a going over with the fly. You will surprise yourself.

Basic Overview of Possibilities

The places/situations that you can Polaroid a trout are endless. From the tiniest alpine creek to the largest lake, a little bit of knowledge can help you to unlock the potential of any destination.

Small Streams – Alpine Creeks While dry fly fishing and blind fishing are the norm there are plenty of opportunities to see a fish or two. But due to the type of water it will be limited to mostly the pools. As many of these streams require you to wade and therefore cut down your view of the water, and also because the sun is not around for a long time in narrow, steep sided valleys, options are limited. Stick to the obvious spots…the tail outs of the pools, the bubble lines and the seams. E.g. – Any river coming off the Great Dividing Range in Southeast Australia.

Small Streams – Slower Rivers These rivers (the Rubicon is a great example) offer a heap of possibilities. They are generally deeper, being incised into the floodplain and are characterised by deep stable pools, high undercut banks and lots of structure. Fish will most likely be found near to structure with the polaroids. Because of the volume of water that is often coming down, the pools will be harder to sight fish pre-January. Once levels drop in late summer and autumn the fish in the pools can be easily seen lining the bubble lines, tail outs and the main body of the pool. Use any structure available to screen yourself from the fish. Second only to later season low water is hopper time. Where you can reliably find fish out along the edges near structure waiting for a large meal to drift by. E.g. Rubicon River, Delegate River

Large Tailrace Rivers – These are my favorite as they generally have very clear and cold water with the largest flows during the hottest months. Making them excellent when most other rivers are slowing because of the heat. These rivers swell to many times their usual size as demands for irrigation water downstream are met. Rivers like the Goulburn, Mitta Mitta, Swampy Plain and Tumut are great examples.

While the bottom colours of the freestone tailraces can make polaroiding tough you can maximise the chances of finding fish in even these tough circumstances. In the Swampy fish will be seeking respite from the full effects of the current. The seams, the places where fast water meets slow water are perfect places to concentrate on. The inside of river bends are great spots to find large fish lined up waiting for food to be brought to them.

Other rivers like the Goulburn provide a different style of polaroiding. That is edgewater based sight fishing. Fish can be found on station in close to the bank and also cruising in backwaters. In fact, the Goulburn arguably provides the best sight fishing in the state! Look for off river lagoons and backwaters with little or no flow where fish will be found cruising. Also smaller current reverses and in amongst the willows between the Breakaway and Eildon will offer countless opportunities. E.g. Goulburn, Swampy.

Lakes – You can find trout cruising in any lake that they have been out into. Having said that, some waters are better than others. If you really want to do serious polaroiding in lakes I would suggest heading to Tasmania and getting out on the flats. The main problem is that you do need sunlight; and Tassie can be a real hassle when it comes to consistently getting quality light conditions.

While fish can be found working the edges on the deeper lakes it is the shallow, silt/sand bottom lakes we love for this style of fishing. Shallow water from shin to mid-thigh depth is perfect and you should wade down wind using the waves that open to get a look into the water. This style of fishing is very popular and the place to be is the Western Lakes in Tasmania. E.g. Western Lakes E.g. Botsford, Double Bar, Rocky, Ada etc E.g. of mainland lake Pretty Valley Pondage (bank edges), Eucumbene/Jindabyne,

New Zealand – There is nothing like NZ when it comes to sighting fish. The waters are crystal clear, they are abundant and the fish are large. Once you have earned your dues at home this is the place I would most recommend a visit to.

The sheer number of different options means that I cannot go into any real detail here. But it has everything mentioned only more of it and of a much higher quality. Fish are often seen in minute detail, you can almost count the spots. If you have a passion for sight fishing you owe it to yourself to get over there. E.g. Most rivers on the South Island! Hundreds of them!

I put this together on a quiet Sunday afternoon because of a request for info via email last week. If there is anything that you would like to see in the near future on the site please email me as we are always looking for new ideas for content.


So you are standing on the banks of the Goulburn somewhere between the Pondage and Alexandra. It is sometime between early October and late November and there are fish rising all around you. What do you do? Simple. Tie on one of these babies and join in the fun. OK its not that easy but here is a comprehensive list of commercially available flies that catch fish consistently throughout this fabulous spring period. About the only thing I haven’t done here is make the cast and hook the damn thing for you so I expect lots of good red wine mailed to me in appreciation! Cheers

Rating: Riseform: Boil/Bulge

This is a real ripper of a fly. A few year’s back during a typical low water October we happened to hit a huge caddis hatch that went for well over a month. Some afternoons I was getting over twenty fish with 27 the best and Mick catching 25 the following day. All thanks to this little fly that originated in the mind of the brilliant Gary LaFontaine (RIP) :-((. We modified the original by using a different halo material and altered the body colour and used a bent hook to really imitate the caddis pupa’s tuck position while free drifting. We hope Gary would have liked it…..

Rating: Riseform: Boil/Bulge
This pattern came out of a book (Caddis Superhatches) and although is more of a pain to tie than the previous pupa pattern it is nevertheless very effective and another that should be carried. This is the only fly recommended here that is not available commercially.The small halo at the rear of the fly becomes highly reflective when wet and the smaller CDC wing is great on fish in slow water. Can be tied in a heap of colours but this is our favourite one. This pattern needs to be regularly dried and so loses a few points for the maintenance factor. The wing makes a good sighter in most types of water.
Rating: Riseform: Boil/Bulge or Classic Rise

A great fly that absolutely slays them on the Goulburn. Tied in very small hook sizes this pattern accounts for lots of fish every spring and would be one of Geoff Hall’s favourite’s. The trailing shuck and small elk hair wing are features. The parachute hackle can be left out of this for a more effective fly in very slow water although refusals are quite rare when they are on caddis near to the top i.e. actually taking the emerging to adult stage and also when chomping on adults. A great each way bet this fly allows a solid imprint of size, shape and colour to be presented to the fish thanks to its low riding characteristics. Five out of five.

Rating: Riseform: Classic Rise
A great tie available the world-over. Anywhere you have caddises which is pretty much everywhere you have freshwater! This pattern works well when adults are skittering across the surface or have just hatched and are drifting. Often caddis drift for long periods before flying off to the safety of the streamside vegetation and this is a great fly to be using at such a time. Variations in colour ca be made although the size should be between fourteen and sixteen. A reliable fly all spring and throughout the summer.
Rating: Riseform: Classic Rise
 OK here is another good pattern that has a very high score down here at Goulburn Valley Fly Fishing Centre. This fly was brought into the shop by a sales rep who couldn’t get rid of them and we got them for a great price hoping to try them out ourselves. They have since proven to be a must-have pattern and both Geoff and David swear by this little pattern. The chenille body actually gets waterlogged and often causes much of the fly to hang beneath the surface with the wing flush in the film. More an emerger than a proper dry fly the way that it sits, yet takes are often very much classic dry fly in nature.
Rating: Riseform: Classic Rise
 This is a pattern given to me by a client from North America many years ago. It has sat in my fly box looking very pretty but never tempting me to fish it. That is until last season when I pulled it out and it accounted for literally dozens of fish in the first couple of weeks fishing it. This example here has probably caught twenty fish and is the original one given to me all those years ago. My online research tells me that it is a stonefly imitation but it kills them on the Goulburn during our spring caddis hatches. Low riding its key features are swept back wings, a red butt and parachute hackle/vertical wing. A good each way bet when heaps of bugs are coming off.
Rating: Riseform: Slash/Leap
This sedge pattern is a good Goulburn river fish taker. The shaggy appearance and low riding body make for an affective fly when fish are crash-tackling grannoms dopping down the river. In the smaller hook sizes this pattern can imitate a variety of caddis species and in smoother water I simply trim back the ‘hackle’ so that the fly is less bulky. A bit of gink will ensure that it floats in almost any sort of water. It works well on its own or as an indicator. The body colour can be varied to match your local insects but we seem to have most success with beiges and tans. A must have pattern that elbowed its way onto this list via a number of years of consistent results.
Rating: Riseform: Classic Rise or Slashing Leap 
A classic fly that would have earned a five star rating if it was a summer fly list. It being spring it only got a paltry four! A truly brilliant pattern. Must have fly in a variety of sizes and colours although this version, the Royal, is pretty damn hard to beat. Floats all day, almost indestructible, highly visible and the fish love it in all sizes. Fished in tandem (click to see the sliding indicator rig) with a beadhead flashback pheasant tail nymph and you have the the Goulburn’s deadliest combination. Carry at all times in sizes ten to sixteen.
Rating: Riseform: Classic Rise  
 A classic pattern that is famous the world over. The original Adams was a great pattern but the parachute version is even better. A dun imitation with few equals the white wing is highly visible in most conditions. This fly is worth having in sizes twelve to twenty and the smaller ones will fool all but the fussiest of fish in slow bubble lines and backwaters. A must-have pattern whether you are fishing any river from Thornton to Queenstown to Bozeman.
Rating: Riseform: Classic Rise  
 This fly is simply a close cousin of the standard parachute adams. Ok who am I kidding? Its the same fly with a different coloured wing post! This pattern should once again be carried in all the same sizes as the original white posted adams above. The beauty of this fly is that it is very easy to see on those dull, dreary days when duns often hatch. Even in the darkest part of a choppy run this fly stands out like a little beacon of hope amongst the gloom. Great for those whose eyesight is not what it used to be as well.
Rating: Riseform: Classic Rise  
 Most of you will be familiar with this tie. This fly is one of our top sellers and has been for over seven years! A truly brilliant pattern that has earned its five star rating with years of results on the board. The parachute hackle makes for an ultra-low riding body giving the fish a great view of the size, shape and colour of the body. A more subtle wing than the adams makes this my first choice when grey coloured duns are on the water drifting. I cannot speak highly enough of this fly and it has often made the difference between going fishless or having a stellar night.
Rating: Riseform: Classic Rise  
 The rust coloured version of the same fly featured above. Another classic and one that we always carry in sizes twelve through sixteen. Again the same great characteristics of the fly above but in a darker colour.




Rating: Riseform: Classic Rise  
This pattern scores highly but loses a star not because of its effectiveness but because it gets chewed up very easily. These no-hackle duns are brilliant fish ‘deceivers’ but they are very easily damaged by teeth and forceps. Nevertheless in slow, smooth water where the fish gets a great look at the fly the no-hackle is the pick of the flies. A rusty dun imitation it should be carried and reserved for fussy fish that refuse a parachute hackle version or for that fish of a season that you find sipping rusty duns in extremely slow water.
Rating: Riseform: Boil/Bulge
Versions of this fly have been around forever and I remember Geoff tying up versions in 1996 (of course he didn’t have a name for them) and bagging out on Arthur’s and Little Pine over in Tasmania. The smaller version in a size 16 should be carried on the Goulburn and fished with confidence through that early part of the evening hatch. A reliable pattern that catches fish often enough to make this list.



Rating: Riseform: Classic Rise  
The always reliable rusty tailrace dun. “You’re a good fly. Yes you are! Yes you are!” Just in case you cant tell I have a real soft spot for this pattern. Developed by the guys in the early years of our business this pattern just keeps on keeping on and should be carried from opening day to closing day. Hell I would even take a few ice fishing in Canada they are that good. A good imitation of one of our most prolific mayflies. I carry it mostly in fourteens, sixteen’s and eighteens and it very rarely lets me down. Five stars all the way.
Rating: Riseform: Classic Rise  
A comparadun tie that represents a species of dun that occurs early every year on the Goulburn. Larger sizes work well with twelve’s and fourteens needed to imitate this large insect. Low riding but a good floater this fly loses some marks because of the fact that the hatch is not a consistent one and therefore the fly doesn’t work for long. However it should be noted that when this hatch is going on you should fish the Goulburn without them at your own peril.


Rating: Riseform: Classic Rise or Slashing Leap 
One of Bruce Gibson’s exquisitely tied dry flies for tassie this pattern has found a home here for kossie dun feeders on last light. The colours are totally wrong but the size and shape are not. Factor in that these bugs occur on last light and usually in fast water and you have a fly that works very well despite some handicaps. A trimmed hackle beneath the hook with buoyant tail fibres this fly floats high and dry and should be carried from late October onwards.


Rating: Riseform: Classic Rise
It wouldn’t be a complete list without a spent spinner. I have left off the actual spinner tie (Macquarie Red) because I have a lot more success fishing with the spent on the Goulburn than the actual spinner pattern. This fly has all the key elements. Splayed out wings that sit flush in the film and unlike many commercial ties they are correctly sparse. The colour is perfect and in a size fourteen they should always be close at hand, especially on warm evenings when that sun is starting to drop in the afternoon sky. Four stars from me.


Rating: Riseform: Classic Rise
You sexy beast! Simplicity is everything sometime and this fly is about as simple as they get. They take about 90 seconds to tie when you are going and they work as well as any other pattern out there. A midge ball pattern they can be trimmed to represent various stages of the hatch if needed. But as they are will account for many larger fish through the season. Often those tucked away in hard to reach places rising to no-see-ums and very hard to tempt with anything less than a great cast and accurate imitation. A fly that works wherever we go in search of trout both here and abroad.
Rating: Riseform: Classic Rise or Slashing Leap 
Did you hear that? Was that thunder? Soon we will be getting our regular spring thunderstorms and with it will come these flying ants and some of the best dry fly fishing you will ever see. Every fish gets onto them and having a suitable imitation will make the difference between insanity and a few fish. I have seen people lose the plot in thirty minutes of fishing to these ultra-picky feeders. Carry a few of these around and be prepared. Just make sure you are not waving your rod around near me when the lightning starts!


The Boil/Bulge


Description: This riseform is most common when fish are taking emerging insects that are stuck just below or in the surface film. This is most often incorrectly diagnosed by most fly fishers, from novice to expert as fish taking dry flies from the surface. As the insect is trapped below the meniscus the fish must rise up and pluck it from beneath the surface. In doing so the fish’s back and/or tail often breaks the surface creating the illusion of a proper rise.

What to do: Watch the disturbance carefully. Sometimes a fish taking emergers will not break the surface but instead leave a slight swirl on the surface as it takes the insect a few inches below the top. If the fish’s nose does not breach the surface then it is emergers that are most likely on the menu. If the the tail/back breaks the surface stick to patterns like the klinkhammer, shaving brush, emerging pupa or parachute floating nymph. If there is just a swirl fish a small imitative nymph with a greased leader to within six inches of the fly pattern.

The Classic Rise


Description: The trout is feeding on insects on the water’s surface. This is often the case when mayfly duns have hatched and are drifting on top of the water but also when items fall in off the river bank. Beetles, ants, grasshoppers, termites and many other kinds of bugs are taken in this way. Pretty much anything that is floating on the surface.

This rise is the one we see most often and there are variations within the broad heading of the classic rise. Sometimes the tiniest of dimple rises along with a tiny audible sip will be noticed. Often this is to very small items sitting flush in the film. Insects like spent mayfly spinners, midge and ants are often the cause of such rising activity. Sometimes you will not even notice the nose poke through the surface but the noise and a tiny bubble left behind are the confirmation that something was taken from the surface rather than below it. If in doubt as to whether the rise is sub surface or not always look for a bubble in the wake of the rise. As a fish takes something from the top the air is expelled out of the fish’s gills leaving this tell tale sign.

Another aspect of the classic rise is when the fish’s head or nose can be clearly seen breaking the surface. This usually indicates a larger insect sitting higher on the water. Think of a Mayfly dun drifting with its large wing like the mainsail on a sailboat. The trout must lift a fair proportion of its head out of the water to engulf such bug, often giving away its size and position quite well. This is the one most commonly seen riseform when out on the water.

What to do: Again watch carefully. Try and work out what the fish is taking before making a cast. The good news is that as the bugs are floating it is quite easy to work it out (most of the time!). Look closely at the area where the fish is rising. Can you see the wing of a mayfly drifting down or is there a bright green beetle on the water in large numbers. Try and see what the fish is taking. If you cannot see from where you are then get in the line of drift well below the fish and scan the drift line at your feet. Look for the insect that is making up the greatest proportion of food in the drift. If there are large numbers of beetles, a few midge and the odd dun then it is the beetle that should be used first. Alternatively if there are two species of duns on the surface, say a few large kossies but hundreds of small rustys, tie on a small rusty to match the insect most prolific. Match the hatch by choosing a fly that most closely resembles the natural in size, shape and colour.

The Slash or Leap

Description: This is the most obvious of all takes and occurs when fish either leave the water to chase an airborne insect or slash violently as one pases overhead. As such it is very exciting although often frustrating. Fish will come half way out of the water or even leap clear of the surface in pursuit of an escaping or egg laying insect. This is especially noticeable when caddis are escaping from the water or hovering above the water, when mayfly spinners are mating and egg laying and when adult dragonflies are out and about. The fish see the insect either hovering a few inches above the water or hitting the water and must go all out to capture it. This method wastes a lot of energy and so the larger fish will often not come to the top at these times (on our local waters at least). This sort of behavior from a trout can be breathtaking to watch as a leaping fish can come up to two feet out of the water.

What to do: Work out what insects are in the air. Often this is very easy as the take is so visible and a cloud of caddis, egg laying spinners or a dragonfly on the wing is very easy to see. Sometimes however the focus of the trout may be on tiny spinners and when this occurs it may take a little bit more effort to see them as these insects are #20 and smaller and unless you are looking from the perfect angle can be close to invisible. If spinners are being taken use a traditionally hackled pattern (not parachute) in the correct size and colour. The hackle will keep the body of the fly off the water like the naturals. An elk hair caddis pattern is often best fished with a bit of a twitch as it approaches the location of the fish to imitate the insect dipping onto the water. Dragonflies are best fished by casting a large imitation in the rings of the rise as the fish will often jump and knock them onto the surface and then double back to take it.











With the willow grubs just around the corner, now is the time to get up to speed with fishing them. The first sightings of willow grubs have been made and we are about a month away from the start of the mayhem once again. Read on to get an idea of what it is all about.

Willow Sawfly

The willow sawfly or willow grub, has quickly attained legendary status among the fly fishers.


Willow grubs are voracious and love willow leaves of south east Australia. In the few short years since they first appeared around 2005, they have proliferated to the point where it is hard to find trout feeding on anything other than Nematus oligospilus. As such they are an extremely important part of the trout fishing season and one that require further examination.


Willow Sawflies arrived in Australia sometime in the middle of this decade. While native to temperate climates of the northern hemisphere, they have thrived in similar environments below the equator, particularly in Chile, Australia and New Zealand.

According to the CSIRO, these insects first appeared around Canberra in 2005. According to our log books we listed them here without knowing what they were in that same year. Over the past 12 months reports from all over north east Victoria place them in huge numbers right across the region. It appears only a matter of time before all of south east Australia is recognised as having populations of this voracious insect.

Officially CSIRO, DPI and the like are saying that the introduction of Willow Sawfly was an accident and not part of a deliberate plan to eradicate willow trees, a species considered a pest by many within the environmental movement. There are some who doubt this claiming that they were deliberately released into Australia to combat willow infestation. This theory has little credibility as the introduction of one pest to remove another is unlikely given our history of failed attempts in the past.

The Grubs

Willow grubs are not large with the larva typically reaching about 20mm length. Adults are only about 6-8mm long. While both stages of the life cycle are important to the fly fisher, it is the larva that is fished most often. Hence when we say grubs in this piece we will be referring to the larva of the Willow Sawfly.

The grubs vary in both size and colour. Larva found on a single tree may be straw coloured to lime green as well as every shade in between. As fly fishers we typically find that lime green versions are the most successful when imitating this insect in the larval stage. The grubs infest willow trees and totally denude them of leaves, sometimes in a matter of weeks. While bare branches are the hallmark of sawfly infestation, damaged leaves will often be the most noticeable feature pointing to the presence of these grubs.


Despite recent publications in the fly fishing media on the topic, willow grubs are a very important part of our fishing from November onwards. The oft quoted time of Christmas onwards is so far off the mark as to be ridiculous. Most of our trees have been stripped bare by this point in time.

We have had great fishing with willow grub hatches from the start of November the past two seasons. Localised to begin with, they soon spread far and wide, eating their way down the river. The fish switch to them almost the moment they start falling in and don’t stop until they are gone! That’s the longest rise in Australian fly fishing with at least three to four months fishing as a result.

How the fish respond

The willow grub hatch is not actually a hatch but a fall. A massive fall of grubs that goes on all day, every day from the moment they appear. We are talking a nonstop lemming (yes I know lemmings don’t fit their stereotype but the stereotype fits this description) type drop from the streamside foliage into the rivers.


The huge number of insects falling onto the water and drifting in the bubble lines, causes a frantic rise by the fish. The trout really key into the ‘blip’ that each grub makes when it hits the water and will actually come 4-5 metres across the drift to take one. Most of the time however the fish will sit in strong bubble lines and simply rise as if on timer every few seconds until the heat from the day fades and the grub’s activity wanes.

This leads us to the real dilemma of fishing this hatch. What do we know about selective feeding from Schwiebert and the like? Well we know that the more prolific and insect, no matter how small in size, the more locked into that food source the fish will become. Selective feeding leads to fish locking onto the key aspects of the food item. Size, shape and colour with presentation the final ingredient required for success.

Matching the Hatch

Are there any commercial patterns available that fit the bill? Not as yet but we will have them ready for this season’s fishing (October 2009). Over the past few years we have played with every type of material in various shades of green and have finally settled on a couple of designs. The search for the right material took a long time but once we found it the catch rate went through the roof.

You can see in the photos how the willow grubs look when on the water and sinking. Upon contact with the cold water the grubs curl up in a C shape. That is the shape we need to mimic; to get the fly to sit horizontally on the surface in a C shape. This requires some careful shaping of the foam with scissors before attaching it to the hook.James’ variation on the willow grub. Simple and effective.

The size of these insects is approximately 6-8mm and I tie them on a fine gauge dry fly hook of about #16. Ok the hook is too big for the insect from the traditional flytier’s perspective, but it’s the shape/size of the body that is important i.e. that the fish locks onto. Not to mention the fact a smaller hook with foam used in this way will result in missed takes.


Fishing the Grub

The good news about willow grub fishing is that the fish are completely transfixed by them. Such are their numbers that the fish lose all track of their own needs for preservation. Obviously not totally, but enough that you can get right up close to get the perfect presentation to them.

A willow grub riser will be rising frantically and in most cases, assuming that you have the correct fly, its more about timing your presentation to arrive at the precise time that the fish is set to rise. This may sound farfetched but once you fish this hatch you will appreciate it. The fish will get in a rhythm depending on the speed of the water and the number of bugs (which is always heaps!). Sometimes the rises will be 2 seconds apart for fish sitting high to the surface (literally within 3-4 inches) and sometimes it may be every 10 seconds. The trick is to spend a few minutes getting the feel for this rhythm in order to present at the correct time.

This can lead to ridiculously frustrating fishing with fish rising literally a second either side of your presentation. The good news is that they are so focussed on the food that you will be afforded the luxury of dozens of presentations.The grubs sit on the surface anywhere between straught and in a curve. The curve on the right is the most common version

Accuracy is very important as it always is. Drifts are standard affairs with a dead drift, free of drag the only way to go. Try and put yourself in a position where your leader/line will all land in the same amount of current i.e. minimising the potential for drag. When in backwaters and slower side waters, creeping up and hiding before making short bow and arrow casts will work very well.

The Sinking Grub

As with most terrestrial insects that fall into the water, those not quickly eaten or able to find their way to safety, sink to the bottom of the stream. Fish will lock onto these sinking grubs, taking them exclusively. It is worth tying up some sinking versions or even keeping the more sparsely tied foam ones that fail to float for this very reason.


Our willow grub or sawfly is here to stay. We have had four of the best dry fly seasons ever as a result of their sudden arrival and this year is shaping up to be another great one with another warm season ahead.

As we have figured out the pattern, you simply need to either purchase some or get the materials and instructions from the bottom of this page and tie your own. Then watch our website and head up when we start reporting on them to put into practice the instructions given here on this page. You will be amazed at the results.


Information on the Willow Sawfly from DPI
Information on the Willow Sawfly from CSIRO
Information on the Willow Sawfly from Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority

Willow Grub – Antony’s version    How to tie the australian willow grub (sawfly) fly pattern  

Hook: Light gauge Curved grub hook

Thread:  Green 8/0 Uni-Thread

Body: Green Foam – available Spotlight

1/ When tying this fly, hook selection is all important. We have come to the conclusion that a curved hook works best, the finer the gauge the better. All hook manufacturers make a version to suit. Once you have your hook, secure it in the vice and wrap a base of thread, stopping somewhere in line with the hook barb.


2/ Take some foam and cut it to shape. Its almost boomerang shaped, the idea to represent the C shape that the grubs immediately take once they fall onto the surface of the water. The best way to do this is to cut several pieces at once. I have included some examples down below as seen against a 5c piece. Personally I like a greater curve as per the photo on the right.


3/ Start tying the foam onto the hook by tying at approximately the 1/3 point of the pre-cut foam body. As you can see, I lash it to the side of the hook rather than the top, as this is the way we want it to float. Make half a dozen tight wraps in the same plane, being careful not to cut/damage the foam.


4/ This is really the same step but a different view. As seen from above, the body now has a section that kicks out at an angle from the hook. This is first part of creating the illusion of a C shaped grub on the surface. Note again that we have not tied the foam on top of the hook but rather to the side.

5/ Now skip wrap the thread to a point approximately 1/3-1/4 of the hook shank length back from the hook eye. This is where the next stage will be added and the fly pretty much completed.


6/ Do exactly as you did in step 4 and tie the foam onto the side of the hook, so that the body sticks out at an angle to the side. Half a dozen wraps should be ample to secure it, remembering to not damage the foam in the process.


7/ Once again this is another view of the same step. As seen from above, tying the body to the hook at the 1/3 and 2/3 points has created the impression that we have a curled up grub floating on the surface. Of course it isn’t a perfect C, but it is as good as we can get using the materials that we are forced to use, and also when considering that an exact imitation will spin and cause presentation problems.


8/ Now to finish you can simply use a couple of half hitches or whip finish but I like to do one more thing. Wrap the thread over the top of the body using a small amount of pressure to create a sort of segmented appearance. Take 2 wraps to go to the rear tie in point and a further two to make your way back to the forward tie in point. Then simply finish the fly. This step is often skipped as these extra thread wraps and come apart and a being removed from the sharp teeth of a trout.

9/ The finished fly as seen from above. This is how it looks floating on the water. It is deliberately tied about 30% oversize as most fish will still take it at this size and it floats well. A small pair of scissors should be carried in case of a refusal. A small trim usually sees any picky fish come to the party.

For the past few seasons we have been playing with patterns to correctly imitate our local fall of willow grubs. This ubiquitous terrestrial has quickly become a staple food item of our trout from November to March of each season. During the process of developing this fly, there were many dead ends. We played with numerous materials and construction techniques trying countless combinations over a two year period, before finally cracking the code.

The answer lay in the foam that we were using and also the way in which it was cut and applied to the hook. Many earlier versions used this exact foam, but due to the method used in tying the fly, they mostly spun and caused damage to tippets. They also started twisting when on the water as the spinning tippet tried to straighten. How to tie the australian willow grub (sawfly) fly pattern

After much gnashing of teeth and stuffing about, the answer was found. The foam had to be cut to suit the curled shape of the grub and then simply attached to the hook. This allowed for a curved shape yet at least a third of the body in the centre section, being lashed to the hook. This solved the spinning problem. Then after a little bit of trial and error, we settled on a specific colour in the foam that worked more often than not.


This foam is not specifically aimed at the fly fishing market. As a result it comes in large quantities/colours for relatively little cost. Spotlight stores carry it and it costs about $20 for 40 Sheets. It measures 6”x9” and has an adhesive back making it also fabulous for hopper bodies and Chernobyl ants. It is made by Darice and called FOAMIES.
Geoff has his own version of the fly, tied completely differently, as does James. These will feature at a later date.

Go fishing…..