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Fly-fishing Tackle Guide - Part 2

Basic Fly Selections

Of course you are going to need flies, and remembering what we learned about what trout eat, it will not be hard to guess that most of your flies should be - dark-brown and fuzzy and 4 to 6mm long.

There are quite literally many thousands of flies to choose from, many of them specifically tied to imitate or represent local nymphs. So if you are looking at fishing a particular area then get some advice on fly selection from a local tackle shop, or fishermen.

But here are some flies (classics) that have been catching trout for longer than most of us have been alive. These flies, or derivations of them should be in every fly box.

First some ‘Hare & Coppers’ in a range of sizes from 16 to 10, some with gold beads, some without, some weighted some unweighted. A few ‘Flashback Pheasant tails’, sizes etc. as above. ‘Gold Ribbed Hares Ears’, ‘Brown-Olive Caddis’ will round the fly box out nicely. Of course some Glo-bugs are needed if you are planning on fishing the spawning runs in the central North Island.

A big Bionic Bug foam fly

Pick up a few dry flies, and here local advice is paramount. But add to any list a few black ‘Humpies’, a ‘Royal Wulfe’ or three, a few ‘Elk Hair Caddis’, and a few ‘Madam X’. If you are really brave get hold of some [Foam Flies], they are great to splash down in the middle of a hatch of miniscule somethings.

Bead head nymph fly

Gold beads are ‘gold’ plated metal beads that sit just behind the hook eye. Theory is the gold bead looks like a bubble of air that the nymph is using to try and reach the surface. I don’t know if that is true or not but what I know is true is that my catch rates go up when I use gold beaded flies over standard flies – that is until I am fishing water where the gold bead makes the fly plummet to the bottom and drift unnaturally – the cardinal sin for a fly.

Hook Sizes

Hook sizes are standardized, using a numbering system, based on a nominal size ‘0’ hook.
As numbers go up from size 1, the hook size goes down.
So a size 2 hook is smaller than a size 1 hook. Larger sized hooks from 2 to 6 are usually only used on streamer flies, tied to represent baitfish. Nymphs are usually in the range of 10 to 16. But some people with sight much better than mine tie and use flies from 18 to 22.
[More on Hooks]

There should be a place in the fly box for some bead flies. These are flies made primarily of different coloured glass beads. [more]

If you are fishing lakes some Damsel flies in olive and brown will not go amiss. And for wet fly-fishing in lakes or deep rivers and pools, grab some ‘Grey Ghosts’, ‘Woolly Buggers’, ‘Silicone Smelt’, and some black and olive ‘Matukas’. Oh, how could I forget, some ‘Booby flies’,white body and tail, and fluorescent green body and white tail.

Fly Box

Grab a fly-box while you are at it to put all these treasures in.

My only advice on fly-boxes is to make sure that it has an eyelet where you can tie a piece of string attached at the other end to your vest for when you drop the fly-box, and you will.

Don’t be fooled into getting a floating fly-box and not tying it to a string. Much of the time when you are standing in a river you are standing in current, and when you drop the fly box, and you will, it takes off downstream.

Of the three times I have fallen in the river in the shallows, each time I was chasing a fly-box, only once did I get the box back. (Actually I think floating fly boxes were invented by fly tiers – fast sinking fly boxes are not good for business.)

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Other Stuff for Fly-fishing

You will need some leader in 2 to 4kg breaking strain, plus some 8 to 15kg for the butt end of the leader. A pair of clippers - nail clippers work well - to trim your knots neatly, so they don’t pick up weed and spook your quarry must join the rest.

wool yarn indicator

Get some indicators. [Indicators] are placed on the leader, usually where the fly-line meets the leader. As the fly-drifts down towards you the indicator will tell you if the drift is right, and it will give you a good indication that something has grabbed your fly, by darting under the water.

The material you can use for an indicator is dependent on where you are fishing. For instance in the Taupo area (NZ) only wool yarn indicators are allowed. In other areas indicators like ‘Corkys’ are allowed, the list goes on but you must read your licence or talk to your tackle shop to confirm what you can use.


You should get a pair of forceps or haemostats; yes the same thing they use in hospital and you can get them from your tackle shop.

They are perfect for [removing hooks] from trout and occasionally fishermen, dogs, fantails, water-rats, sheep, cows, white-water rafters, and kayakers.

Once you begin to catch fish and see the importance of releasing most fish, your forceps will become invaluable. I prefer forceps with curved ends - but it is really down to personal preference.

If you are using a yarn indicator, and fishing with dry flies, you will need a bottle of floatant. While on that subject you should carry some floatant for your line – after a long day on the water the line begins to sink – a quick rub-down with floatant will get things back to right.

It will probably not be too long before you start taking along a spare spool for you reel with another type of line. But I urge you to become proficient at casting and fishing a floating line before trying to use other types.

Another five items that are essentials:

  1. A good quality sun-blocker – You know the problems we have with skin cancer in New Zealand because of our pollution free air. Sunburn problems are magnified on the water. Sun gets you from all directions; from above as usual, but also reflected off the water. You know of course to wear a wide brimmed hat, never a baseball cap.
  2. A good quality insect repellent – water means biting beasties, and nothing can ruin a day like a horde of winged horrors trying to drain your body of blood.
  3. Take a small phial of lemon detergent or Simple Green. Immediately after you apply sunscreen or repellent, and before you touch any of you fishing gear, wash the insecticide residue off your hands. Fish hate both of them.
  4. A torch with an extra unopened pack of batteries. “But I am not going night fishing”?! You can walk a long way up a river or around a lake and you think you know how much time you have to get back before dark...or there is a sudden storm and you need to take shelter... do I need to go on...get a torch. Oh, and a butane cigarette lighter is good.
  5. A light easily compacted rain-proof jacket should always be carried.

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Fly-fishing vest, chest pack or hip pack

Quick Tip

When you come to fill the pockets of your new vest, hip-pack etc., put the vest on when you do it. It makes it much easier to find the best place for each item.

Initially you can get away without a fly-fishing vest, but as time goes by it becomes a necessity. You get to do a good deal of walking and wading trout fishing, so it is best if you can have all your gear about your person. You soon grow out of leaving your gear in a bag on the bank, meaning you have to return to it every time you need to change a fly or leader. A vest has plenty of pockets and makes getting at your gear so much easier. Put your licence in a zip-lock bag in one of the pockets so you will not forget it.

After many years of back pain after spending a day fly-fishing, my Doctor, also a keen fisherman, advised me to get a hip or chest pack. He advised me that a vest pulls down too much on the neck and shoulder muscles, and the back tries to compensate and this causes pain. So I did get a hip pack and good-bye pain. [More here]


You may need waders sooner or later. Most of the water in the lakes and rivers that hold trout are cold, and standing in them for long periods can really chill you legs, and assorted other bits as depth increases. So if you are going to be spending most of your time fishing in lakes, or fishing big rivers such as those in the Central North Island in Winter get some waders.

I used to swear by Neoprene waders (made from the same stuff as divers’ wet suits) and they still do a great job but they are heavy and uncomfortable to walk in. But, if you are night-fishing in lakes, or standing in fast-flowing deep-water for lengthy periods, it is hard to beat Neoprene.

I used to swear at thin breathable waders made from Gortex and the like, because they would tear if a blackberry thorn looked at them. But the manufacturers of these waders have really got it together and they are now great – easy and light to walk in, very strong resistance to tearing, don’t fill up with sweat, and by adding a pair of thermal under-trousers, warm as toast. So I don’t swear at Gortex type waders anymore - I swear by them.

Here is something you need to know about, [waders and back pain]

Wading Wet

In warmer weather, if you are not going to be standing static in cold water for long, say just crossing rivers, but sending much of the time on the bank, ‘wading wet’ in shorts is the way to go. This is especially true if you are moving good distances; say tramping and fishing as you go. Buy a pair of tight fitting thermal underwear or athletic support pants to cover your legs – this is not really any help in keeping warm, but a huge help in keeping biting beasties at bay. In some places in the South Island (NZ) sand-flies can drain the blood from a cow in minutes. Constantly wading in and out of water just washes anti-bug stuff off your legs.

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