Having spent 101 days fishing the Rio Grande on the famous Kau Tapen beats, I have certainly learnt a lot about the amazing sea trout to be found there. Learning to fish mostly comes from time spent on the water, through trial and error, in my case a lot of error. But with enough time spent chasing these scaly creatures a little bit of knowledge tends to rub off. The production and sale of fly patterns has become a huge part of the fishing industry in the past 10 years, whether you believe the fly is there to catch the fisherman or to catch the fish, it is still a key ingredient, after all it’s the only thing the fish sees. Endless lists of different patterns are now available, perhaps too many and a lot of you would say we have over complicated things. I am firm believer in size, shape and most of all presentation. Colour is something to which I have never paid a huge amount of attention. Taking what I learned on the Rio Grande into consideration, my advice on flies would be as follows – you can take it or leave it, it’s nothing more than my own personal preference.
My box would consist of the following 10 flies, and not a lot else…
There are many different variations of the intruder, all have a similar effect. It’s a fantastic fly in cold conditions. When the water temperature begins to drop I find intruders very successful, as sea trout seem to react well to big flies in cold water. I use this with a square cast and a straight swing of the fly across the pool. If the leech isn’t working after dark (unlikely) this will be my next go to. A great fly in a big dirty water, don’t be afraid to double up and put two on if the water is really dirty.
The green machine is a fly that has revolutionized sea-trout fishing in the last decade. It’s a very unusual looking fly but extremely effective. I believe it was invented by the one and only Max Maeave, Kau Tapen guide for 20 years and Ponoi head guide. There are two variants of the fly, the brown-hackled and the white-hackled green machine. I do personally favour the brown hackled, but I know of many accomplished fishers who would disagree. I have a brown-hackled GM in my box that I retired after it caught its 50th sea trout (we don’t count sea trout under 4lbs). There aren’t many other flies I could say that about with confidence.
I’ve used it successfully with a floating line with a medium sink tip attached to a long leader. As the fly comes on the swing I slowly strip it back. By stripping the floating fly with the sink tip on you create a ‘popping’ motion under the surface. Sea trout love this! The Green Machine can turn off in the middle of the season, likely because all the fish have seen it by then. But it tends to get effective again towards the back end. Be sure to pack plenty of these in all sizes.
Sun Ray Shadow
The sun ray is a favourite of mine, purely for its visual action. Its long slender black style gives off a sand-eel like image. The sea trout feed on sand eels at sea. I cast the sun ray very square (90 degrees) across the river to allow it to come across with some speed and give it long slow strips back. Often the fish will swirl at the fly numerous times before taking the fly. The takes you get on the sun ray are incredibly aggressive and one of the most spectacular sights in fishing. This is another fly that can work magic even when nothing else is working. I have even caught sea trout with a sun ray by casting up stream and stripping back fast, so the tip with this fly is always try different ways of fishing it: fast strips, slow strips, no strips, 90 degrees, 45 degrees etc.…
The squirmy is an absolute game changer, a new discovery in the world of sea-trout fishing and an incredibly simple fly. The squirmy consists of a hook with some blood-red stretchy rubber wrapped onto it.
Usually at its best in low water conditions, often when nothing else is working. The upstream cast is deadly, simply dead drift the fly back down stream. It’s often better when you have a steep drop off in the pool and the fish are sitting at the bottom. When you see a slight bit of tension or movement on the line, strike immediately before the fish spits the hook.
The EMB is a simple fly, great in low water. I don’t know what it is about the rubber legs, but sea trout go mad for them, on a smaller fly. I like to fish it with a full floating line and a very long leader. The fly itself has bit of weight so with a long leader will get down a bit. With a cast at a narrow 45-degree angle downstream, it doesn’t come around too fast, and I often put an up-stream mend in the cast to slow it down. Short sharp twitches of the fly can be a very good producer of fish. The sharp twitches allow the rubber legs to work their magic and lure in the fish.
The Yuk Bug
To me the yuk bug is just a bigger hairier version of the EMB (above). I will use the yuk bug early morning when the wind is just starting to pick up. Often when the wind is coming from the east it starts to silt up the river a little bit. Once the silt has arrived, I will change from the EMB to the Yuk Bug.
Another variation of the yuk or the EMB, but more streamlined. I love the girdle bug and it is not often seen in a fisherman’s box; perhaps this is why it can be so good, fish don’t see it that often. This is a great late season fly. Cast it very square with short sharp twitches back. I found the fish like it coming fast, hence the 90-degree cast. The fast twitches give life to the rubber legs which tend to put life into the fish. Don’t be afraid to vary the way you fish it though, straight swings through the pool and long slow draws in slack water can work well too.
Black Leech / Black & Chartreuse Leech
I think this fly and its variations would be my number one pick. An effective fly in almost all conditions, it is usually all I use once the sun has set. Sea trout don’t hold back when taking a leech, and all the best takes I ever had came from a leech. It compares to a tiger fish hitting a bait fly, exhilarating stuff. I always like to have black in my leech, the darker the night the blacker I go. I usually use the black and chartreuse leech at sunset or for the golden hour, changing to the full black leech for night session. Make sure to fish this in lots of ways. General rule, fast water fish it slowly, slow water fish it fast. But it’s a fly that I like to fish as smoothly as possible, long slow draws of the line and no jerks, twitches or sudden movements. But be ready and keep your finger clear of the reel, the take is always one to remember.
Hares Ear Rubber Leg
Plain and simple, a great natural looking fly, it is always in my box. I don’t use it that often but when the going gets tough and the fish have “turned off” it makes an appearance. I actually caught my biggest sea trout on a hare’s ear (23lbs), which I still have rusting away in my box.
Prince Nymph rubber legs
There are various types of nymphs sold for sea-trout fishing in TDF, most have the option to buy with or without rubber legs. My advice is to always buy the one with rubber legs. They are very easy to take off if you decide you don’t like them but not so easy to tie on when you wish you did have them. The nymphs are great in low water or the midday sun. A great afternoon fly when the wind has died down and things are getting quiet. A general rule I stick to is if the conditions are rough, strong wind, big waves then stick to the slightly bigger flies. When (if) its dead calm, down size and lengthen your leader. Note with the sea trout nymphs, the hook they are tied on is the most important part. Nymphs tied for fishing the chalk streams on the Test will not hold a 20lb sea trout. Make sure the hook is bulky!
If you are heading to the Rio Grande anytime soon. Be sure to get these in your box and I promise the results will be all the more exciting.
The next question is where to get all these flies? There are a few shops in the town of Rio Grande that will sell most of these. But if you are organised and want to take a good box with you. Fin & Game of Kelso sells a box of these exact flies online here