Going Down the Rabbit Hole

Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

It is less than 30 days before the trip down under to OZ begins. My last Montana trout trip was well back in October of last year. Winter has been inevitably long here in SW Montana. A couple of saltwater trips to the Florida Gulf Coast reminded me that I still knew how to operate a fly rod, but I do long for some real trout. A new fly shop opened in Bozeman. That’s number eight if you count the two big sporting goods stores. Some California entrepreneur looking to cash in on the trout Mecca that is SW Montana. My fly tying has been pretty much nonstop all winter. First, I had to put together some saltwater boxes and that got me into several new materials and techniques. Of course, the trip to OZ required some serious tying to deal with the bizarre flies they seem to prefer down under. And, as I’ve done in previous years, I needed to tie up a gross of Montana flies as auction material for the annual Madison-Gallatin Trout Unlimited fundraising banquet. In new Tacky Fly Boxes donated by J. Stockard, the flies did their part in helping the MGTU raise over $45,000 at this year’s banquet.

Last August, I was lucky enough to meet our soon to be hosts in Tasmania, Karen and James Brooks of Driftwater Lodge, DeLoraine, Tasmania. They were attending the 2016 Fly Fishing Fair in Livingston, Montana hosted by the International Federation of Fly Fishers. They shared a lot of knowledge about what we would encounter in Tasmania. While they were here, I provided them a good supply of my favorite Montana flies to try out down their way. I am anxious to see how they performed. Although I had a copy of the original Australia’s Best Trout Flies (1997) as a guide, Karen was kind enough to send me the newest edition Australia’s Best Trout Flies Revisited (2016). For most of the winter, I’ve been adding a few uniquely Australian patterns to the boxes I will be taking down under. There are a lot of familiar patterns in the book, but there are also many, that from a name standpoint, seem very strange.

One of the flies that I tied a few of is the “Red-legged Bibio”. Bibio flies were recommended by five different contributors as a go-to fly for both lake and stream trout. Easy enough to tie, some Bibios went into one of my Australia boxes. But what was a Bibio? It turns out that there’s a large family of non-biting flies known as March Flies (Bibionidae) of which a lot of species have reddish legs. In Australia, it seems, the term “bibio” might also refer to both March Fly species but Horse flies as well. I’ll have bug spray with me in Tasmania, but it might feel weird to say “Get that bibio off me.”

Another fly that struck my fancy was “The Animal”. This is a pattern that originated in Norway as caddis pattern but is often fished as a hopper pattern as well. Known as “Dyret” (animal) in Norwegian, the fly has proved effective for competitive Australian anglers in World Fly Fishing Championships as well as on Tasmanian waters. One must have some animals in their fly boxes going down under. Karen Brooks of Driftwater was one of the contributors to the latest edition of Australia’s Best Trout Flies. Each contributor recommends six flies, and one of Karen’s is the 1-2-1 Guide Tag. Again, a fly name with little clue as to its use or origin. A variation on the traditional “Red Tag”, the 1-2-1 Guide Tag is an all-around, high floating attractor pattern. Easy to tie, I thought I’d put a few in the box. The name? Obviously, it’s the last three digits of the designer’s phone number.

Probably the one type of fly in Tasmania that if not unique to Australia, gets far more attention than here in the US are beetle patterns. Australia’s forests are largely composed of Eucalyptus, or Gum Trees. Over 700 species are native to Australian forests. I gather that one of the most prolific terrestrial trout foods in Tasmania are small, metallic “Gum beetles” which fall from trees throughout the fishing season. Of course, the “Red Tag” is the classic gum beetle imitation but there are many variations. A lot of the recommendations in Australia’s Best Trout Flies are gum beetle imitations. My boxes contain a fair share of “Humpies” tied with red tails and bright green or peacock bodies to fish as gum beetles.

There was no way I could tie up all the flies recommended for Australia, but the names are fun and different. Gold sparkler, Magoo, Possum emerger, Grab All, Fiona, Bitch on Heat, Shock Tactic, Shrek, Woppit, Mick’s Scruffy, Gold Humungous, Doodler, The Lubinator, Not-a-Nui, Sticky Thing and Nuthin Fly are just a few of the odd ones. There were two common themes in Australia’s Best Trout Flies. One, very few patterns relied on foam. Unlike our fly bins here in the US, foam hoppers, caddis and stone flies don’t seem to be that popular in Australia. The other theme, dear to my heart is the overwhelming number of flies that are merely color combinations and flash variations on the Woolly Bugger. Dozens of the flies recommended by Australia’s best tiers, regardless of what they call them are just another iteration of the Woolly Bugger. Good news for me since they seem to breed prolifically at my fly tying desk.

Here are three of the seven fly boxes I am toting down to OZ in April. I hope the bibios and gum beetles appreciate it.

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