Booby flies, deadly in lakes - Part 1

booby fly wet and dry

One of the strangest looking but most productive flies you can use in still or very slow moving waters.

There are no prizes for guessing how the fly got its name, once you see the fly, and also no prizes for those who think that these flies are sometimes called "Dolly Parton’s".

The combination of its bobbing action as the foam beads of the head struggle to lift the fly, and the seductive wriggle of the marabou tail often proves irresistible to trout. But it is one of the most misunderstood flies being used in New Zealand (and elsewhere?) today.

First a bit of history.

The first references I can find about Booby flies is from English magazines published in the late 1950's. Back then they were called ‘Booby nymphs’, and you still see this fly called "Booby nymph" in today's UK magazines.


The name Booby 'nymph'The form of an insect that lives underwater till it surfaces and transforms into a flying insect to breed. reveals the flies origins. English lake fishers observed that many insects emerging from the water, ('emergers') used a bubble of air to move from the lake bed and weeds to the surface. This bubble of air held the insect in the surface film while it changed from its nymph form into a flying insect. Nymphs with bubbles of foam attached to the head became a proven fish taker. These nymphs were used with a floating line.

Then someone added some marabou to the tail to simulate the waving legs and wings as the nymph emerged. This addition of life to the Booby nymph increased catch rates significantly. We have to suppose that the jump from fishing the Booby nymph on the surface to fishing it under the surface was as a result of observation.

Soon bigger Boobies were being tied, this time to imitate fish fry, and fished on fast sinking lines. Look at the photo of a wet Booby above and you can see how it look very bait-fish-like.The results were dramatic. Dramatic enough to persuade many lake owners in the UK to ban the fly. In some lakes this ban still applies.

I first came across Booby flies fishing alongside an Englishman on a beach at Lake Taupo,Central North Island, New Zealand about 1988. His success rate was extraordinary. He gave me a couple of the flies which I promptly filed away in my fly box and forgot about them. Forgot until I read about three months later an in-depth article on the Booby fly in a U.K. magazine.

I tried the Booby at a river mouth at Taupo and caught trout alongside the 'rip'the current formed where a river or stream enters a lake when no one else using the traditional methods was getting a touch. There were a couple of guides on the rip that evening and they were quick to notice the efficacy of the Booby fly and they swooped on my fly box.

Suddenly the Booby began to pop up in Taupo, Rotorua and lakes further afield. A couple of articles in fishing magazines, one of these articles mine, and the Booby was suddenly flavour of the month - for a while.

My guess is that many anglers have tried the fly once or twice and then given it away. I still watch in some amazement groups of anglers standing in the rip swinging standard lures catching no fish. When in plain sight one or two anglers using Booby flies off to the side of the rip (where a stream or river enters a lake) are catching fish.

My belief, based on observation and discussion, is that anglers who give up on the Booby fly do so because they do not fish the fly correctly.

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Today's Booby

Today's basic Booby flies are all built around the same principle - pair of eyes made of some kind of plastic foam at the head of the hook, some chenille wound round the shank of the hook to form a body, and a big tuft of marabou to form a tail. This basic fly has a myriad of derivations and colour combinations, each of which seems to work at some time or other.

The Booby fly looks very strange in the fly box. A pair of round boobies at the head, a big feather duster of a tail. It is the view of the fly when it is dry that seems to put people off.

But wet the fly and look at it again. (See photo at top of this page) The overall shape is a great imitation of [smelt] (baitfish). Put it in the water, and the tail moves just like the sinewy movements of a fish. It is no wonder trout hit the thing so hard.

Basic fishing method

The basic method of fishing the Booby is very simple. Use a fast sinking line, I find a shooting head best, no more than 500 cm to 1 m (20" - 36") of leader to the Booby and cast it out. Give the line plenty of time to sink and pull the fly down to above the bottom. Even in only 2 or 3 metres of water this can take 30 seconds or more. If there is any current at all it will take longer.

Once the fly has settled retrieve the fly in short, 10 to 20 cm (12”) tugs, pausing between each tug. The pause is important, the fly must be allowed to float back up, because tugging on the line pulls it down. That pretty much is that, except for the following advice.

booby-fly action

If you are trying a Booby for the first time, and you take no notice of anything else in this article, follow this piece of advice...

Before you make your first cast with the Booby throw the fly out into the water where you can see it. Allow the line to pull it under, and then watch the movement of the fly as you tug, and release, the line.

Only by watching the movement of the fly as you tug and release will you learn how to work the fly.

Remember in still-water you have to provide the movement to the fly to make it come 'alive'. The subtleties of movement you provide can add and enhance the life-like action of the fly make the fly even more effective.

The basic Booby method works well in most situations but there are many variations that can be used.

In summer on still days, especially if there are fish working on the surface, try using a very long leader, at least the depth of the water and then a bit. This method really requires that you can see the fly. Cast out and allow the line time to sink. Then tug on the line, you may need to pull about 20 cm, then pause.

The Booby will sink under the surface then bob back to the surface and send out little ripples. The takes of trout when using this method resemble [kingfish] whacking poppers. Exciting stuff.

If there is some current where you are fishing, lengthen the leader, this will allow the fly to swing as well as bob. But remember that it is probably better for the leader to be too short than too long.

Booby Ethics:

Booby flies have copped some negative flack, especially about some anglers using the fly on a “heave and leave” basis. That is simply casting out the fly and leaving it until some fish comes along and gobbles it.

At Lake Otamangakau (central North Island, NZ) I once saw a guy cast out a Booby then walk back up the bank stripping line behind him till he reached a seat and sat down to wait. This made me angry. Then I reflected that this guy was no fly fisherman.

But to ban a fly that is effective for the many who fish it as fly fishermen, for the sake of the very few who fish it as bait fishermen seems to be a bit like using a sledge hammer to drive a tack. Besides I have observed some anglers using a couple of nymphs under a giant indicator on a heave and leave basis.

Any one who believes Booby flies should be banned because they float underwater will I trust never use weighted lines or weighted nymphs for the same fractured logic in reverse. To decry a fly because it is effective when fished as a fly seems to strike at the very core of the inventiveness that has characterised the fly-tier's art since it began.

One part of the art of catching trout on the fly is to select a fly that will induce a trout to bite it. The next and perhaps most important part is to place the fly where the fish are feeding. This is perhaps what makes the Booby so effective.

Designing and using a fly that floats off the bottom is a tactic equally as valid as using a fly weighted to fish right on the bottom.

Part 2 - How to tie a Booby Fly and Variants


Previous Page Book Contents page How to tie the Booby fly and variants

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