One fly to rule them all….at least at night
I am often asked “what is your favourite fly?”
If I don’t think about it too long and hard, then the answer is simple, as there is only one logical choice. If I do start thinking about it, then things start to get blurry. What does one mean by favourite?
Do they mean the one that I have caught the most fish on recently – in which case, that would be an Olive Woolly Bugger.
Or maybe they mean the one that I have caught the most fish on – period, in which case it would be a Pink Globug with a red hot-spot. Or maybe they mean what is my favourite fly right now. That title currently sits with the veritable Hare and Copper in a size 12.
So let's not think to deeply about this. If I was to name my favourite fly, without thinking, then it would be simple. It would be the Black and Green Marabou.
My association with this fly goes back to when I first seriously started fly fishing at around 18 years of age. Sure, I had fished with a fly rod before then, but I hadn’t really known what I was doing, and hadn’t caught any fish. But at 18 I started taking fishing more seriously. I credit my father with introducing me to the joys of fly fishing. He has been dead for over 15 years now, and when he was alive he had many faults, but the one thing he was truly good at was catching trout.
As a teenager I started visiting my father when he was living at Waitahanui Lodge on the shores of New Zealand’s biggest lake, Lake Taupo. Lake Taupo is trout-central for New Zealand, and the Waitahanui is one of the three main rivers that flows into it. Waitahanui is also home to the world-famous “Picket Fence,” which sees anglers wade out into the river mouth as it empties into the lake, and stand shoulder-to-shoulder as they target the trout as they move up out of the lake and into the river to spawn. Viewed at dusk and at dawn, this line of anglers set against the low light resemble the pickets in a farm fence.
I would stay with my father in his sparsely appointed cabin, and our days would consist of getting out of bed before 6 am in order to be on the water before the sun came up. We would fish for a couple of hours before returning for breakfast, and to defrost frozen fingers on steaming mugs of strong coffee (did I mention the best fishing is in winter?). After breakfast we might go for a wander up the river to search out the large browns that captivated my father, and which were resident in some of the deeper pools. Then after lunch and an afternoon nap, we would be back at the river mouth for dusk and would fish long into the night.
Fishing the Picket Fence consisted of casting a sinking line as far as one could out into the lake, and perhaps stripping off some more for the current to carry out (frowned upon by purists,…but then this is New Zealand) The line was left to sink into the depths before being retrieved at whatever rate appeared to be catching fish at the time. How long to leave the line before starting the retrieve was always a topic of debate. My father subscribed to the theory that the optimum time would be however long it would take him to smoke a cigarette after casting.
It was on one of these evenings that I caught my first fish – or at least fought my first fish – on a fly line. My father called me over and asked that I hold his rod while he lit up another cigarette. I grasped it with my one free hand, only to feel the unmistakable head shaking of a trout that was connected to the other end. I just about dropped the rod. My father grinned, obviously knowing that there was a fish on before handing it over to me casually. All hell then broke loose, I had to pass him my rod, as I struggled to get his under control. All the time he was yelling instructions like “let it run!,” and “keep your tip up!” Before I knew it, the fish was off. My father muttered something undecipherable under his breath, but it didn’t matter. I was hooked. And have been ever since.
And it was here at Waitahanui that I also met the Black and Green Marabou. Actually, to be technically correct, and to reference Derek Quilliam’s 1999 book, The Complete Guide to New Zealand Trout Lures, this particular fly is actually a modified Black Marabou,…with the black body being swapped out for green. For me, it is simply known as a Marabou.
The Green and Black Marabou – my number one, must have, go-to fly for night fishing,…regardless of weather, season, or water conditions. Apart from the odd occasion when my father fished during the day, he almost exclusively used this fly when fishing the river mouth.
The Marabou was also the first fly I learnt to tie. Up until this particular visit with my father I had never fully grasped how fly tying worked. But in the gaps between sessions out at the Picket Fence the old man would sit at his kitchen table, and whip up a handful of these flies in no time flat. And pretty soon he was showing me how to tie them. I was taken back by how simple it was, and that for about five minutes of time and around fifty cents in materials I could produce a fly that would otherwise cost me three dollars. On my way home after that particular trip I stopped in at a local outfitters and bought a beginners fly-tying kit.
What makes the Marabou so successful? I am not sure. Like my father, this is now my “go to” fly when fishing at night. I have tried others – Woolly Buggers, Craig’s Nightime, Fuzzy-Wuzzys, Black Rabbits – but never with the same success as this fly. It works in the deep waters at the Waitahanui river mouth, but it also works on a short (as in less than a metre) leader on a floating line at some of the tiny stream mouths that trickle into secluded bays around the lakes edge. It works on dark nights – as they say, the darker the night, the darker the fly, and they don’t come much darker than black – but I have also caught plenty of fish on them during nights when you could almost read a book in the moonlight. I have tried many different body colours, and they all work, but the combination that seems to have the most success is the green body – closely followed by red. But in all cases, it must, must have a red tag as a tail. Don’t ask me why, its just the way it is.
Sometimes I will add a small lumo doll-fly in front of the Marabou, and while this seems to bring on the fish when the fishing is slow, they still seem to take the Marabou. I figure that the lumo fly gets their attention, and then they see what is trailing it.
Until recently, my main fishing buddy had never fished at night. So after a quiet day on the Tongariro River I suggested we try the Waitahanui at dusk. He had not fished there, and it had been years since I had. We fished until dark with no joy (the pictures in this article were taken during this session) and returned to the car to consider our next move. I suggested we make one last stop on the way back to our lodgings. It was my “no-fail” location, and one that I am under threat of death to never reveal from the friend who introduced me to it.
When we arrived there was already two anglers standing in the lake across this tiniest of stream mouths. We slipped into the water quietly, and waded out in line with them, and started fishing. It wasn’t long before a splash twenty metres out in the lake signified that one of the other anglers had hooked up – and he slowly walked backwards towards the shoreline to land his fish. It wasn’t long after that I felt the distinctive tug on the end of my line, just a quick pull, followed my a heavy weight, and then a flurry of splashing as the fish realised that dinner was fighting back. I landed this one fish, and then – in one of my better nights, proceeded to land another six within 30 minutes. My colleague was both amazed and frustrated, as time and time again I turned and headed to the shore. Eventually, he hooked up and got one fish. But, like me those many years ago, he was now hooked – and was only just starting to discover the thrill of night fishing. He now quite often heads out for a fish after dark, and he too has a fly box full of Marabou’s.
But perhaps the greatest success that this fly has had to date was on summer morning several years ago, and fittingly, it was on the Waitahanui. I have a younger cousin, who had decided that he, too, would like to start fly fishing. I had taken him out a couple of times with me on the Tongariro River, and after one trip I showed him how to tie a few different patterns, one of which was the Marabou. I passed him the flies I had tied, and we parted ways. Several weeks later while I lay in bed on a Saturday morning, my phone rang. It was just after 6 am. I looked at who was calling, and on seeing it was my cousin, decided it wasn’t a work emergency, and that I would call him back in a few hours. But already I had an inkling of why he was calling. I knew he was up staying with one of his friends whose family owned a holiday home close to Waitahanui. There could only be one reason he would be up and about at this time in the morning on a weekend, and therefore only one reason he would be calling.
A few minutes later my phone beeped, signalling an incoming text message. I picked it up, and read the text “Hey mate, check this out, 9 lbs, and I caught it on the fly you gave me!” and along with the text was a photo of him holding a very solid, reasonably battle-worn Brown trout. The fly he was using was the Marabou. I have been chasing the allusive “double figure brown” since I started fishing, and here was my cousin with only a couple of weeks fishing under his belt with what was very nearly a trophy fish. I took some consolation that I had played a small part in him catching this fish through providing the fly it chose to mistake for its breakfast. But not much.
There are many flies in my fly box, and a number of them have remained in there, untouched, since I purchased them many years ago. The reason is that at night, there is only one fly I need, and one fly I use. It’s quite simple. The Marabou owns the night.
So, how to tie it?
Hook: Size 4-8 Long , Wing: Black Strung Marabou, Body: Green Chenile, Rib: Silver or gold thread, Tail: Tag of red chenille, wool, or egg yarn. Hackle: Black (if you can be bothered!)