Since developing this new South African fly pattern, I have taken a few excellent fish in the last month on the cold mountain streams of the Western Cape. Below are a few of these trout.

When I was a schoolboy fishing the Eerste stream in Stellenbosch I did not have access to much fly fishing and fly tying literature but the local library had a Joe Humphreys DVD which featured a scud pattern.

He had developed it to imitate isopods and amphipods – cressbugs, sowbugs and gammarus that live in the cool limestone creeks of Pennsylvania. Joe is a legendary fly fisher and this fly, the Humphreys Cressbug has become a standard pattern in most North American fly boxes.

His pattern was truly effective and, in my high school years, it was my favourite fly to drift next to the dense stands of palmiet reeds on the banks of the Eerste. Anyone who has spent enough time on the Eerste will know that all the bigger fish hold under the palmiet in spots like Badminton pool but what puzzled me is why it was so  effective when the river current had increased after rain.

I used to think that the organisms that this fly imitates didn’t occur locally and the emphasis has always been on traditional aquatics like mayfly and caddis and also on terrestrial insects. I do recall an article from the early 90’s showing a yellowfish scud pattern for the Vaal River, but I have never read anything about scuds on the small mountain streams of the Western Cape.

For me that changed about a year ago when a beautiful and hugely-informative book Freshwater Life – A field guide to the plants and animals of Southern Africa was published by Struik Nature.

What caught my eye was a chapter, ‘Amphipods and isopods’ by Charles Griffiths, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Cape Town.

What I found exciting was a reference to Paramelita capensis, a “leaf shredding amphipod” about 15 mm long. According to the book: “Restricted mainly to the headwaters of streams, where often abundant, swarming over and skeletonising leaf litter.”

Above: A photo of Paramelita nigroculus which I collected on a cape stream.

On a whim, I waded up to some palmiet, stuck my arm into the water and pulled out a bunch of roots. To my delighted astonishment, my hand was crawling with scuds! I then stuck my hand into some leaves caught between rocks on the stream bed and there they were again!

 In North America and Europe scud patterns have been staple patterns for years and imitate various crustaceans from the amphipod and isopod order.  They are highly nutritious and an abundant food source.

Amphipods are more active in low light conditions and shaded streams. Mornings and evenings are when they start moving in open water around their food sources. However, my collections were all done in broad daylight and it did not take much time to find the amphipods in exposed sunny conditions. Crustaceans such as amphipods and isopods are quite fragile and would quickly be digested beyond recognition and this might explain why the South African pioneers never found them in the stomach contents of trout when a catch and release ethos did not exist.

There are about 40 species in South Africa, 26 of these being endemic to the Western Cape.

On the Cape streams they are found where leaves and other vegetable matter accumulate in backwaters and slack areas of the stream. They mainly feed on vegetable material and detritus while some species feed on algae.  Overhanging vegetation on the banks provides the food source for scuds. On the bushed-in beats of some of our smaller streams they can be found in swarms over rotting leaf packs and areas where plant matter has been deposited. They are also found in riffle water where debris and leaves collect between the rocks. The amphipod in these photographs is Paramelita nigroculus, which I found midstream in moderate flow in a handful of rotting leaves that had settled between the rocks. I have found Paramelita capensis  and nigroculus between the palmiet stands on the Smalblaar, which explained why my cress bug pattern worked so well on the trout of the Eerste many years ago, particularly when high water might have dislodged them. Palmiet stands form a perfect environment for scuds to thrive in, collecting leaf litter as well as providing decomposing fronds and stems.

Above: An Illustration of an amphipod from Dave Whitlocks book, GUIDE TO AQUATIC TROUT FOODS.

The scuds on our streams range from a few millimetres to a sizeable 25mm. They are transparent and have an olive blue sheen thanks to their copper sulphatebased blood system. Another prominent feature is the dark line of the digestive tract that runs from the head to the posterior. When an amphipod dies its colour often changes to a light orange colour and it becomes more opaque.

After looking at a few patterns I quite liked the concept of Rainey Riding’s Beadback Scud as the basis for an imitation of Paramelita nigroculus. It uses transparent glass beads along the hook shank to form the body. This is ideal because the hook shank being visible through the glass beads imitates the dark line seen on the natural.

There is a step by step video on YouTube by Rainey’s son Jesse as well as a video of a scud swimming.

Dressing:

Hook:    Hanak 300 BL czech nymph #14

Thread: Olive 18/0 Nano Silk or Veevus 16/0

Body:    Clear glass beads 1.5 – 2 mm

Legs:     Fishient Gliss n Glow clear ice.

Read the full article in the October 2016 issue of FLYFISHING magazine. The new pattern is available to order from myself , send an email for enquiries: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Years ago I was watching Joe Humphreys’ Dry Fly Strategy video and watched as he stalked a brown trout in thin water next to the streamside vegetation. The only cast Joe could make was about a foot and a half behind the trout because it was holding under some overhanging branches. He opted to use a #20 beetle dry fly pattern. I was sceptical but watched as the beetle landed.  A second later the trout turned around, swam lazily downstream and sipped the beetle off the surface. It was pure deception and I was a convert!

My understanding of why the beetle was his choice in that situation is that beetles are hard and when they fall on the surface they send ripples and a vibration that radiate from the beetle’s point of entry. Trout are ever watchful of shadows on the streambed and being sensitive to vibrations would most certainly sense within a few seconds that a prey item had fallen into the water behind them. The vibration of the beetle hitting the surface is the first key and the trout will instantly turn to scan the substrate for shadows and after the first ripple shadow is seen it will turn and inspect what had caused the impact.

   Above: The shadow of a Bushwhack Beetle on the streambed

Beetles, together with other terrestrial insects like ants and hoppers form a large portion of a trout’s diet. Terrestrials feature high on the menu of trout in streams and rivers in other countries that experience formidable aquatic hatches. This factor is even more significant on our South African streams that are not exposed to aquatic hatches as impressive as those experienced elsewhere. For more information on the insects found on streams that flow from the kloofs in the fynbos region of the Western Cape se Ed Herbst’ article, Trout Diet in the Fynbos Biome in the blog section of the Cape Piscatorial Society website and his article Why fish hoppers in Autumn? on Tom Sutcliffe’s website)

The evolution of beetle patterns has gone through stages of simplicity to intricately designed patterns, with fly tyers always pushing the envelope on designs. The most simplistic and effective beetle pattern I have seen is literally a hook with a shell back of deer hair - that’s all. Durability is a problem with this pattern – the Crowe Beetle -  because deer hair is fragile when used in this manner and will often be damaged after just one fish. I have also seen overdressed patterns with painted shellbacks and layers of epoxy and resin which, from a durability point of view is fantastic but the trout sees a floating pattern from below and won’t see the painted shellback in any way.

 Above: A large rainbow from a cape stream that was deceived using a Bushwhack Beetle

My beetle designs have always fallen somewhere between the borders of simplicity, durability and a fly that looks nice - after all most of us want to fish with a fly that looks appealing to us, as much as it does to the trout. With so many new fly tying materials and concepts available to modern fly tyers it can get quite confusing to choose materials to tie beetles with. As a professional fly tyer, I needed to make my beetle patterns simple and quick to tie in large numbers and also to be effective as a fish catcher.

My friend Ed Herbst and I are collaborating in the design of small stream flies.  One of them is a beetle pattern named after the Cape Piscatorial Society’s new beat on the upper Smalblaar – the Bushwhack Beat. The Bushwhack Beetle imitates the various monkey beetle species found along the banks of our Cape streams.  According to the SANBI website, 65% of the world’s Monkey Beetles are found in South Africa and their main role is as pollinators.

Ed is a legendary small stream fanatic who has spent countless hours of hunting trout on the Cape streams. His fly designs are an inspiration to many and some of nicest and buggiest fish catching patterns have come from his vice.

He has a wealth of information on insects and fly designs, so when we designed the Bushwhack Beetle we studied things like photos of monkey beetles from below the surface to see how they are positioned in the surface film and if they trap air between the body hairs. These observations are important contributions to any fly’s design. On the monkey beetles of the fynbos region we noticed that their large hind legs, which they use to dig their bodies into flower discs, are a prominent feature in the water, as they keep them fully stretched and pointing behind them when trapped in the surface film. Another key feature was the fact that most of the beetles have their transparent flying wings extended to stick out from under the hard elytra. The iridescence of the flying wing transmits and refracts light coming from above the water surface.

The Bushwhack Beetle is simple in design and has become my number one, go-to fly on the streams near Cape Town and some memorable trout have been taken with it. It has also proven to be effective for yellowfish, and on a recent trip Chris Bellingham took this lovely yellow fish on the Bokong River in Lesotho with a Bushwhack Beetle. 

 Above: Chris Bellingham with his Bushwhack caught yellowfish

My list of materials is minimalistic, but achieves the necessary qualities of a good beetle pattern.

Foam is number one on my list; it is durable and versatile, providing good floatation and can be cut to shape and is easily manipulated on the hook to create a shellback. Larva Lace foam has become my favoured foam for beetles. It is soft and stretches easily and is more durable than denser foams that tend to easily get damaged by the sharp, pin-like teeth of trout.

Rubber legs are another favoured material. They are more durable than feather fibre legs and are easy and quick to work with. I use rubber legs to imitate the prominent rear legs of the monkey beetle family. 

Monkey beetles have a fine coating of hair over their bodies to facilitate the transfer of pollen from one flower to another. These hairs trap air when they are in the water and this makes CDC dubbing my third material of choice. I use it below the foam shellback. The fact that it traps tiny, light-reflecting bubbles and adds buoyancy is a bonus. For other beetles that are smooth and hairless, such as ladybirds, I stick to foam for an underbody.

Most beetles tend to extend their transparent underwing when they have fallen on the water in order to help themselves float. My fourth material of choice here is plastic from the bags that bread rolls are packed in at bakery counters in grocery stores. This plastic can be stretched and crumpled to create a veined surface and it is pretty durable.

So I have narrowed it down to four simple materials that are readily available. The addition of a sighter for black or dark beetle patterns is obvious and for this I use antron in Hi-vis pink or orange and Ice Dub Shimmer Fringe in chartreuse for micro beetles. The Ice Dub is ultrafine and has a reflective quality that is easily picked up by one’s eye in adverse light conditions.

The hook I use for the Bushwhack Beetle is the Hanak H500BL all round hook, which has a straight eye, wide gape and long point. It’s a solid hook that keeps the beetle stable on the water.

I tie the Bushwhack Beetle to order and have it available in black and light brown.

It can be seen on my products page on this site and orders can be directed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Another fantastic Slide Night was held at the Cape Piscatorial Society's clubroom on the 17th of February. There was a great turn out of members and visitors at the event which is organised and hosted by Tudor Caradoc-Davies and CPS secretary Louis de Jager. Slide Night runs on alternate months with the Vice Squad, another excellent event and fly tying gathering organised by Tudor, with great demonstrations by talented local fly tyers covering all aspects of fly tying. These two events have gained renewed interest from fly anglers and interested people around the cape and has attracted many new members to the society. A great new energy has been created in the flyfishing community in South Africa, and plenty of young, dynamic people are doing great work in various fields to promote and preserve our favourite pastime and sport. 

The evening started as usual with a great social atmosphere with members and new visitors meeting and mingling, then Jonathan Boulton of Mavungana Flyfishing gave a great presentation on the fishing trips they take to some of the best fly fishing destinations across South America. Drool-worthy photos of huge rainbow trout from Lago Strobel in Patagonia followed by jungle rivers full of tropical predators like peacock bass and golden dorado, were shown on the big screen throughout his informative and tempting presentation.

During the interval between Jonathans presentations, Gareth Adams from Stealth and Daniel Factor, top ranked as SA flyfisher, unveiled some of Stealths latest fly rods and the Scott Radian rods were also exhibited amongst other new tackle items.

I had a display of South American fly selections against the wall for everyone to look at, some of which I tie for Jonathan's trips to these destinations .These flies are all available to order on the Custom Fly page on the website.

Many thanks to the Cape Piscatorial Society and hosts of the evening, it was much enjoyed by all.

The Cape Piscatorial Society can be contacted at Tel.(021) 424 7725 or visted at 4th floor Mercantile building, 64 Hout street, Cape Town on weekdays between 10am and 4pm.