The Ultimate Fly?

We all know that it doesn’t exist, but the search for the ultimate fly continues. Field Editor Fred Steynberg takes time to name a couple of flies that aspire to this distinction.

It was late afternoon on our last fishing day around the Bazaruto archipelago when I first encountered the Black Whistler. PJ Jacobs and his then fiancé, Lizelle, had invited my wife and I to accompany them aboard the yacht Free Spirit, on an assignment for the magazine. Weather conditions were not favourable, and despite putting in hours of hard work searching for fish, we had only a couple of medium-sized ones to show for our efforts. Time was running out and we needed one or two good fish to compliment the article PJ was to write.

Things were getting pretty desperate, and late afternoon found us casting dangerously close to a shallow but promising looking reef, the big semi-rigid duck idling parallel with the swells to avoid a potential disaster. I managed to hook two Queenfish between seven and nine pounds, but could not help noticing that PJ was not really impressed at all. He was constantly scratching in his fly box, choosing a fly but after a couple of casts impatiently removing it to select another. On the other hand, I was just too happy to have some action and continued casting hopefully into the swells that were breaking over the reef. The sun began the final part of its descent, touching the mainland somewhere over Vilancoulos as I looked at PJ to confirm that we would have to return to the yacht within the hour.

At that moment his 10-weight almost folded double and I noticed that he was frantically trying to take control of the running line which was shooting off the deck at an alarming rate. With the fish on the reel, the tension on the rod increased and the fish jumped spectacularly out of the water about 40 yards away. I reeled in my line to give PJ some space, eager to see what fish it was, and, more importantly, what he had hooked it on. It jumped another six times and gave PJ a 15-minute workout of note, before eventually showing us its silvery side – a honey of a Queenfish. The fly that attracted it was a large Black Whistler. Since that day I’ve never failed to have a couple of these flies in my salt-water boxes, and over the years have come to rely heavily on them to get me out of potentially embarrassing situations while guiding, or even when fishing on my own.

In the earlier years of my fly-tying career I often dreamt of creating the ultimate fly. As time went by and I learnt more about fish and the different effects that nature and the surroundings have on them, I realized that this dream could never be fulfilled. Looking at fresh water or river fly fishing for trout, I can name a couple of flies that should under most conditions attract fish. These flies, however, need to be fished correctly and under the right conditions. In the dry fly category there is the well-known Royal Wulff (an attractor pattern) and the Parachute Adams. These patterns will also never lose their place in my fly box, having proven themselves over many years. A Bead Head Zak and Beaded Gold Ribbed Hares Ear, each in tandem with a P.T.N or small brown nymph used when nymphing, are probably two of the most effective all-round patterns. Having fished these flies in many countries, they have rarely failed to produce their share of fish. In lakes it would be hard to argue against the effectiveness and versatility of the Woolly Bugger, and for some, even the Mrs. Simpson.

But back to the salt. Here Bob Clouser’s Clouser Minnow is a real winner. It can be tied in various colours and sized, but I prefer it in a chartreuse and white combination. I have caught numerous species on this pattern, ranging from the elusive sole and triggerfish, to strong fighting kingfish, Queenfish, mackerel and a host of other species.

Although all the above are highly effective flies, none can by any means be regarded as the “ultimate fly.” This, in my opinion, does not exist. However, as far as salt water fishing is concerned, I am happy to add the Black Whistler to my list of favourite flies. This is a pattern that works extremely well for big fish, if fished correctly under low light conditions. Dan Blanton of San Jose, California, developed the original Whistler pattern in the 60s, and another pattern, the Bay-Delta Eelet, in 1970. The Black Whistler described here is my combination of these two patterns, inheriting the shape and profile of the original Whistler, but having the colouration of the Bay-Delta Eelet. The weight of the bead chain, combined with the lead weighting, not only gives the fly a slight diving action when retrieved correctly, but also allows it to reach the desired depth. The marabou/hackle collar combination, together with the outer curving wing, pushes a fair amount of water. The black colour of the fly and its profile creates a visible silhouette in low light conditions, attracting larger predators at their most active feeding time.

Optimally I prefer the Black Whistler an hour before both sunrise and sunset, to about an hour after. It has, however, also produced fish under bright daylight conditions. Ideally it should be fished as deeply as possible, with slow retrieves, in low light conditions. So, if you need a big fish to make your trip special, remember to always have one handy – fished correctly, they will rarely disappoint.