FLY OF THE MONTH- April 2018

The Bag Fly Revisited


(These notes were kindly provided by Mick Hall. They are a short summary of a comprehensive article on the Bag Fly written by Mick in 2008.)


It must be twenty years or more when the late Lindsay Haslem and I were fishing the Goulburn River near Alexandra. The day was fine, the river was low, and the fishing was lousy - well, until we met this elderly angler bait casting his way up the river using a minnow and sporting a couple of nice fish in his bag. We talked together, and this old guy swore by some preserved minnows that had recently come on to the market. “Those flies of yours don’t work here. You need to get some of these minnows to use on your fly gear,” he said, as he walked on his way.

Sometime after he left I found a packet of preserved minnows near where we met. He must have dropped them while we were talking. Looking at this packet of very dead dull-eyed creatures in the palm of my hand I thought, “Why not?”

I looked in my fly box for a hook large enough to do the job, selected an old battered Muddler Minnow, and stripped all the deer hair off along with the wings. This left just a small stubble of deer hair, part of the tail, and the gold lurex body. “That will do,” I thought as I threaded the hook through the minnow and tied a half hitch of leader over the bait to help secure the lot. I roll cast it over the river.

Well, the bait went one way and the fly another. “Stupid idea anyway,” I muttered, placing the rod over my shoulder and slowly wading back to shore dragging the line behind me. Well, you guessed it: a fish snatched the remnants of my Muddler. Lindsay called out: “You got one mate!“ “Wait till you see what I caught it on,” was my reply.

So a quiet morning turned into a fruitful afternoon. I can’t remember just how many fish were taken that afternoon, but it was enough for us to tie replicas of that stripped-down Muddlers for many years.

Five or six years later, Jim Cree, a member of Yarra Valley Flyfishers, was talking about catching fish on the “Bag Fly”. He told me how he had met some old guy on the Goulburn River who had used this fly in the Dome Hole below the old wall of Lake Eildon. They had tied strands of hessian fibres from an old sack along the shank of a hook and, if my memory is correct, that’s all it was.

The Dome Hole is now submerged, but in its heyday it was a mecca for trout fishermen of that era. Torrents of water would flow over the old spillway, cascading into a large pool below called the Dome Hole. Schools of smelt would be washed over the wall to the waiting trout below.

Jim Cree’s version of the Bag Fly had a gold lurex body, and on seeing his fly, it looked very similar to the stripped down Muddler Lindsay and I had been using.

Ten years later my wife and I sold our home in Melbourne and shifted, lock, stock and barrel to Eildon. Soon after settling in there I met an elderly gent named Bill Austin. Bill was a long-time resident of Eildon and even in his 96th year was still fishing with a fly. At one time he and his wife owned a lodge on the banks of the Goulburn River within easy walking distance of the Dome Hole, historically one of the most famous Victorian fishing venues.

Famous anglers of old such as Reg Lyne, Theo Brunn, Vic McCausland, J. M. Gillies, Lord Stonehaven, Bert Webb, and George Heller frequently fished these waters, and most stayed with Bill and his wife Mavis at their lodge.

In my discussions with Bill I asked if he knew about the Bag Fly. “Oh yes,” he said, “I think I have one,” as he poked through his fly box. I held his original in my hand, and asked the obvious question: did he know who first designed it? Bill was unsure, but thought that perhaps the late Reg Lyne had something to do with it. I later discovered, however, that it was George Heller, a close friend of Reg Lyne, who originally designed the Bag Fly. The original pattern is an excellent representation of the smelt still found in many of our lakes. However, even back in those early days there were a number of variations.

The pattern I found most useful is now given below.

(Other variations can be found by referring to issue 5 of Freshwater Fishing magazine.)

The Materials:

Hook: Partridge Limerick - Sizes 4 - 8

Thread: Black6/0.

Tail: Black hen hackle fibres.
Rib: Medium to heavy copper wire – six or seven turns to protect the gold tinsel

Body: Gold tinsel or lurex.

Wing: Plumbers’ jute fibres (hessian).

Crest: Hot orange cock hackle fibres.

Throat Hackle: Black hen hackle fibres.

Tying Notes:

  1. Run some thread down the hook shank and tie in the tail. Also tie in the copper wire rib and the tinsel for the body.
  2. Run the thread back to just short of the eye, and then wind the tinsel on to complete the body.
  3. Tie off the tinsel, then wind on the ribbing and tie it off too.
  4. Turn the fly over in the vice and carefully tie in the black fibres for the throat hackle.
  5. Turn the fly back and tie in a small quantity of jute or hessian fibres for the wing. These should extend well beyond the hook bend, as shown in the photo above.
  6. Trim away the excess hessian fibres and tie a small quantity hot orange cock hackle fibres in over the top of the hessian fibres as a crest.
  7. Wind on a few turns of black tying thread to complete the head, and whip finish to complete the fly.

Note: In recent years I have been adding a gold bead to the head of this fly to improve its action, and it has worked very well.

Fishing the Bag Fly:

The key to successfully fishing the Bag Fly is the type of water you fish it in. Look for medium flowing water just below the rapids as it enters a pool - the type of water that’s wavy, but not broken. Keep your rod tip low to the water and in a straight line to the fly. Expect a strike as the line swings back across the current. Keep your fly submerged and avoid drag. If this happens, take a pace or two downstream - this will allow the fly to sink again. Do not mend your line unless absolutely necessary, as this creates slack line and you will miss any gentle takes.