FLY OF THE MONTH – September 2017

Fly of the month

The Slipknot Emerger – a South African Fly (From Ed Hurst)


South African fly fishers, like their Australian counterparts, initially drew heavily on their colonial antecedents but later developed tactics and fly patterns more suited to local conditions. The Cape Piscatorial Society, based in Cape Town, traces its origins to 1901, and a wealth of information in this regard can be found on its website which contains articles scanned from its journal Piscator.



I am a member of the city’s Twig Fraternity, fishing with 0 – 2 weight rods and constantly striving for a more delicate approach. Like most fly tiers I was  searching for the Silver Bullet, the pattern which would give me the greatest chance of success in all but spate conditions, and I drew heavily on the books by small stream experts such as Mike Weaver in the UK and, in the USA, Jeff Morgan, Tom Rosenbauer and Dave Hughes.


It was in Dave Hugh’s book, Trout from Small Streams, that I found what I was looking for in the chapter ‘Working Wet Flies’. Hughes had been fishing one of those steep-gradient, crystal staircase streams without success when he recalled that he had in his pocket a small tin of soft hackles inspired by the books of Sylvester Nemes. A #10 Partridge and Yellow produced a Damascen moment and he took trout after trout, sometimes in successive casts.


The soft hackle acted like a parachute and held the fly upright in what he called an ‘umbrella’ posture and this, he believed, was what made it so deadly.


Aquatic scientists tell us that trout locate their prey through movement and contrast but I think you cannot rule out vulnerability as a factor. Aquatic insects are at their most vulnerable when they are pinioned in the surface film at the moment of eclosion. This has long been recognised, and in central Europe the British developed the Mole Fly and the French the Pont Audemer.


My question was: How can I hold a soft hackle in the surface film in the ‘umbrella posture’? My answer was to use a piece of foam at the hook eye as Neil Patterson did with his Suspender Nymph, and to hold it in a vertical position with a greased leader combined with a Surgeon’s Swivel knot, popularised by, but not invented by, Art Lee.


The Surgeon’s Swivel is just a double overhand knot with the tags cut off, and it allows the fly to pivot freely around the tippet.


I tied my soft hackle on the Orvis Big Eye hook in the straight-eye format to enable it to move more easily around the tippet, and to increase movement I added ultra-thin silicone strands as tails which were first marketed by the Montana Fly Company as ‘Tentacles’ and then by Hareline Dubbin as ‘Daddy Longlegs’.


You can adapt this procedure to your favourite emerger, whether it is Bob Wyatt’s DHE, the Plume Tip of Jeremy Lucas, or a Possum Shaving Brush.


I avoid the smooth, flat sections of the stream and fish pocket water as far as possible. I started fishing a greased leader in such water after reading Tom Rosenbauer’s book Prospecting for Trout. Peter Hayes advocates this practice in Fly Fishing Outside the Box – Emerging Heresies. A sinking tippet submerges a dry fly on every back cast and the fly leaves the water with a distinct and trout-scaring pop. For the same reason I have always used an abbreviated roll cast – sliding the line gently off the water, going into a roll cast and, as the line unfolds over the water, going immediately into the back cast.


Although the foam post makes the Slip-knot Emerger relatively easy to follow on the water, the greased leader can guide your eye to the fly particularly if, at the 4x section of the leader, you incorporate a yellow and red piece of Loon Two Tone Indicator tippet material.


I wear a snap swivel on my vest and hook the fly through it when tying a knot. This leaves both hands free. Before tightening the knot, I coat it with Loon Knot Sense whilst keeping my body in the shade. One the knot is tightened, I either cure it with Loon’s tiny UV torch or simply expose it to the sunshine.


Using softer rods of split cane or fibreglass and giving your Maxima leader some shock absorbing stretch by boiling the nylon will ensure that few small stream trout will break you off.



The Materials:

  • Hook : Orvis Big Eye #16 – 18.
  • Thread : Black Ultra-thin UTC 70, Veevus 16/0 or substitute.
  • Tag : Fluorescent red thread covered with UV-light cured resin.
  • Tails: Ultrafine silicone strands.
  • Body : Black thread or other material of choice.
  • Rib: Fine blue wire.
  • Hackle : Partridge or CDC.
  • Foam Post: Orange Larva Lace or ethafoam.


Tying Notes:

  1. I start the fly by tying a small ball of red fluorescent thread at the bend of the hook and covering it with UV light-cured resin. This separates the tails but also provides a useful trigger as the tail on a Red Tag attests.
  2. The body is black thread and initially, to create contrast, I used a silver wire rib but changed it to blue after reading about how this provided a significant trigger on Ken Orr’s 007 Nymph.
  3. Tie in a post of foam projecting forward over the eye. My favourite is orange Larva Lace foam which is soft and has a subtle sheen but I don’t know if this is still available. White is a substitute. Gary LaFontaine believed that ethafoam had magical light-dispersing properties and this is an effective and inexpensive option.
  4. Tie in a partridge hackle and whip finish. For flies smaller than #16, I use CDC for the hackle.
  5. What struck me about using this fly was how early and lazily trout rose to it. They could see it coming a long way off because the rubber tails effectively doubled the length of the pattern and provided movement. Also, its posture and location in the water column indicated that it was stuck and not likely to escape.
  6. Others have sought to imitate this posture – Vincent Marinaro with his Hanging Emerger which used a Riffling Hitch, Frank Sawyer with is Bowtie Buzzer and Neil Patterson with his Suspender Nymph which was later adopted by John Goddard and Brian Clarke.



Sketch Showing How To Tie The Surgeon’s Swivel: