They say that 10% of anglers catch 90% of the fish. This
is never more true than when fishing the Mataura around
Many anglers have heard of 'Match the Hatch' fly fishing,
but yet relatively few have really experienced this to any
extent. On many waters trout can be 'brought up' to a 'general
terrestrial' or something roughly similar in appearance to
the natural, or maybe cajoled into accepting a 'standard'
size 12 nymph.
To be regularly successful upon the Mataura river, one
must not only understand the fodder on which the trout
feeds, but how to effectively imitate the different
stages and present them flawlessly to well educated,
There is a saying among the rivers locals that 'when the
trout are not rising, nymph them in the ripples', and
this is just what we do.
In-between hatches, when no surface activity is apparent,
indicator nymphing among the Mataura's fertile ripples
can be highly rewarding.
When nymphing, I prefer to use two nymphs, separated by
10 - 12 inches of trace material, tied directly off the
bend of the top fly.
I set my indicator, normally of a yarn type material,
between two to four feet above my top nymph, depending
on water depth, and current velocity. Any deeper than
this and I feel I have lost contact with my flies, as
strike detection comes with some delay.
I find most nymphs will work on the Mataura, as long as
they are of the correct size, and of a slim, dark
construction. Hares Ear, Pheasant Tail, Hare and Copper,
any of the above will take fish.
My 'Mataura Box' is filled with various mayfly representations
in sizes 14 through 20. I weight the 14's and 16's with standard,
brass beads but use tungsten on the little 18's for greater depth.
I carry unweighted patterns in sizes 18 and 20 for use
as a more naturally drifting point fly, and for use when
'sight fishing' to trout in the shallows, or up near
My standard 'go to' set up in normal river conditions
consists of a size 16 beaded nymph as my top fly used
in conjunction with a smaller, unweighted 18 drifting
freely on the point. In general I prefer to use black
beads to avoid unnecessarily spooking shy fish, but
will employ a gold beaded or 'flashback' nymph on
overcast days, or when the river sports some color.
This combination may increase or decrease in size as
conditions dictate. In swollen or discolored water I
might use a pair of size 14's, while in low, autumn
flows I may employ a pair of 18's, or even 20's.
Always start a little below the bottom of the ripple
and slowly work your way into it, casting on an angle
upstream. You'll be surprised at how many fish 'cruise'
the slower water near the base of the ripple, picking
up invertebrate dispersed by the flow.
Watch your indicator closely and strike at any unnatural
movement, bumps, minute changes of direction and brief
hesitations. Not always will your yarn 'take a dive'.
Concentrate on the seams, or 'edge-water', where fast
water meets slow, and do not disregard the extreme
shallow water adjacent to your bank, especially mid
afternoon when large numbers of nymphs enter the 'drift'
before emerging. A sure sign of an imminent hatch is
when the fish move into these shallows, and often you
will see an increased number of nymphs collecting along
the slack, edge water.
Fish through the ripples slowly, covering any likely
pockets, or seams with patience. The trout will often
not see your nymph on its first pass, or even your second,
due to the large amount of food already in the drift.
Many anglers work through these ripples way too fast,
anxious to cover ground. Little do they realise that
a good ripple can be fished through time and time
again, as many trout are passed by, and fresh fish
move up from the pool below. Look for the more stable
ripples offering both deep ruts and shallow edges,
those which run into the deeper, more established
pools. The pool provides cover and shelter to the
trout, whilst the ripple above provides the food
supply. To find a good ripple is to locate a goldmine,
and often a highly productive day can be had by fishing
just one ripple and the adjoining pool alone. Slow down
and watch your catch rate increase!
As the rise commences, be careful not to 'rush in'.
By doing so you risk putting down the early risers and
pushing them outside of a comfortable casting distance.
Instead, sit and observe as more trout begin to rise and
move out towards the edges. It is wise to target these
'edge feeders' away from the main pod, which usually begin
feeding out some distance from the bank.
The more times a trout rises the more confidently he feeds,
and covering a fish before he loses his wares usually results
in him going off the feed.
Pick one consistant riser and cover him repeatedly.
When surrounded by rising fish it is easy to attempt to cover
each one as they surface, but this often proves counter-productive.
You risk putting down more fish than you will inevitably deceive.
Is your targeted fish a 'rhythm riser,' or does he feed sporadically?
If he is the former then you can pick when he is about
to surface and place your fly accordingly.
If he is the latter, then you can but cover the water
surrounding his position systematically and hope for
Whilst many anglers will swear that a direct upstream
presentation is imperative when fishing out a hatch I
disagree. By casting directly upstream to a fish, you
will inevitably be landing your tippet, and part of your
leader across the trouts window. The finer tippet may
be transparent, but as your leader tapers, the line shadow
increases, and Mataura browns are sensitive to this.
Additionally, any 'heavy' presentations are likely to
slap the water within close proximity of the fish, an
action sure to put down your prey.
Instead, I aim to position myself directly opposite the
fish and cast across to him wherever I can. However, this
is often not possible without the fish seeing you, so
casting at an angle from the downstream quarter is the
solution for an unobtrusive presentation. In doing this,
your line and leader will land well to the side of the
fish and as it drifts down the current your fly will be
the first thing the trout will see.
If you are casting across-stream you can manipulate your
drift so that the fly is the first object to enter the
fish's window. An added bonus of this casting position
is for those who have trouble with casting accuracy. By
presenting your fly farther upstream and overshooting your
cast, a 'tug' on the fly line will drag your fly across
the surface, pulling your enticement into the correct
feeding lane. Be careful not to perform this 'cheat'
too close to the fish, however, as an unnatural drift
is sure to alarm him.
When the hatch is heavy the trout will hold closer to
the surface, so as to feed efficiently while expending
minimal energy. An inverted 'V' wake will often give
away the trout's presence when sitting high in the water
When at the surface the trout's 'window of vision' is
much smaller than it is when sitting deep. This allows
the angler to regularly approach to within a couple of
rod lengths of his prey, but his presentation must now
be delicate and the fly must travel exactly down the
trouts preferred feed lane.
It is important to remember not to cast to the rise
itself. This is where the trout took the natural,
not where he was sitting when he first saw it. A trout
will often drift downstream some distance with the natural,
scrutinizing his target before accepting it. With this in
mind, it is imperative to present your artificial well
upstream of the rise form.
Observe the rise form, for this will dictate on which
stage of the hatch the trout are taking. Trout will often
'lock on' to a particular phase of the mayfly life cycle
and this is where 'matching the hatch' becomes essential
A 'head rise', where the nose protrudes above the surface
indicates a dun has been taken. This will often be accompanied
with an audible 'plop' type of sound, as the fish takes in
an amount of air with the insect.
A porpoising 'head and tail' rise signifies the trout are
taking emergers, or nymphs in, or just below the surface
film. At this point, the trout is likely to ignore any
high floating, dry - fly presentation.
A 'sip' indicates a leisurely rise to a spent spinner.
This is often accompanied by the subtle 'kissing' sound
of a fish gently sucking in a prey incapable of escape.
It is important to recognize each type of rise form,
for each indicates a different stage of the hatch.
When duns are hatching, there may also be spinners upon
the water, and if the aforementioned 'sipping' behaviour
is observed, any presentation with a dun imitation will
If the trout are porpoising, then an emerger pattern
riding low in the surface film is called for as the
trout will ignore anything else.
This is the key 'match the hatch' stage upon the Mataura,
and a sound understanding of the emerging dun is what
keeps the successful '10%' of anglers ahead of the rest.
In recent years it has become recognized that trout 'locked
on' and rising to duns upon the surface will readily accept
an emerger pattern.
However, the reverse is not true. A trout feeding within
the surface on emergers, or 'cripples,' will feed soley
upon this phase, and will unduly shun any 'traditional
Enter the 'selective trout' theory.
The Emerging Dun
As mentioned, when trout are feeding upon the emerging dun
they can become fixated with this phase of the hatch alone.
Your pattern must not only resemble the natural in size,
shape and color, but most importantly, its position in the
water. The emerger is the key to matching the hatch upon the
Mataura, a time when the trout can be seen rising, but not
taking cleanly off the top. This often creates confusion
among anglers, who persevere with their traditionally tied
'Dad's Favourites,' and 'Blue Dun' patterns with minimal
The emerger is not quite a nymph, not yet an emerger (sounds
like a pop song), and thus a specialist imitation is required
to fill the void left by the more traditional patterns of
nymph and dry fly variety.
Most dry flies available today imitate the adult dun. Tied
to ride high upon the surface, they lack what I believe is
the key trigger for selective trout - the sunken abdoman.
Even those tied 'parachute style' fail to correctly imitate
this I feel, for whilst they permit the body to hold flush
in the surface film, the lower abdoman does not hang
invitingly below, on par with the natural.
Now many may think that this is taking things too far, but
allow me to assure you, such inane details can and will make
all the difference upon the Mataura, and many other waters
Bob Quigley, creater of the popular 'Quigleys Cripple' emerger
"On many occasions, traditional types of patterns will
suffice, but during blanket hatches-especially on hard-fished
waters-I've found fish that want neither nymph nor dun. They
want both. A nymph can swim away, and a dun can fly away, but
trout have learned that a dun caught trying to emerge from
its nymphal shuck can do neither."
This could easily have been written of the Mataura, and not
having a good emerger pattern in ones fly box is where many
So what makes an efficient emerger pattern?
Bob Wyatt in his book Trout Hunting claims:
"The significant visual aspects in these forms - size,
silhouette, posture and behaviour - are all primary triggers
to the trout's predatory response. It is worth working out
a strategy based on a reliable set of designs that fit the
trouts flexible and inclusive prey image and which incorporates
one or more primary triggers."
Working on this theory, Bob then designed the Deer Hair Emerger
(DHE).Tied to be simplistic and more durable than the Klinkhåmer
series and other parachute ties, the DHE incorporates an erect
wing, and hanging abdomen, two of the aforementioned 'triggers'.
Tied on a curved, emerger style hook (kamisan B-100) Bob uses
an olive/brown mix of seal and hare fur for the abdomen, fine
deer hair for the erect wing, and spiky hares fur for the thorax.
Tying details and images can be found on the Flytiers Page
Floatant is applied only to the wing and thorax to ensure the
lower abdomen hangs subsurface.
On smaller patterns (18 - 22) Bob says he uses snowshoe, a
finer fur which is easier to manoeuvre on the smaller patterns.
I have been experimenting with the hollow fibres from rabbits
foot, and chamois fur, and have found both of these to provide
adequate floating properties.
I have been using this pattern a lot over the past season,
favouring the more buoyant properties of the deer hair over
my old faithful, the CDC Emerger. Its more durable properties
are also a desirable attribute, and as a guide, is something
I require in all my flies. Whilst CDC patterns are often
referred to as 'once and aways' (one fish and they are
gunged up and out of action for the remainder of the day),
the DHE can be used on a succession of fish without
With its hollow fibres and resulting built in 'air pockets',
deer hair seems to float longer than CDC and is easier to
rejuvinate when waterlogged. A few false casts and your
fly is again ready for a new drift. The only modification
I have made to Bobs origonal tie is with the addition of
a few strands of Z-lon, tied in at the tail to suggest
the nymphal shuck.
The emerger should be fished in the same manner as a
traditional dry fly - cast upstream and across at your
target and allowed to dead drift. Whilst the natural
may be struggling in the meniscus, these movements are
minimal and I have not found this necessary to imitate.
At times however, you may be required to move the fly
momentarily to catch the fishs' attention, as it drifts
amongst a myriad of naturals. A single twitch is all
that is required.
Not all emerging mayflies make it through the surface.
Due to defects or lack of vigour, many will expire while
at the surface and will remain available long after the
hatch has tapered off. These will drift at the mercy of
the currents and congregate in backwaters, eddies, and
other slack water locations. Using a combination of the
knowledge of such places, and a good emerger pattern,
it is possible to rise fish long after the initial
surface activity has ended.
The Spent Spinner
In Norman Marsh's book Trout Stream Insects of New
Zealand (Millwood press, 1983), he aptly describes
the appearance of the spinner in one word…'Brilliant.'
Spinners are notably slimmer and more elegant than duns.
In their final stages, Deleatidium spinners are a
mahogany-red in color with amber, or ginger colored
legs and cerci. They have clear, glassy wings, which
reflect light when upon the water, giving off a 'shiny'
Again, the differences between the spinners of the two
featured species are minimal, and both can be effectively
imitated with the one pattern. At times of little wind,
male spinners will form 'mating swarms' near the water
to attract females. After mating the males will expire,
while the female returns to the streamside grasses for
her eggs to mature.
Female spinners require moderately warm, calm conditions
in which to lay their eggs. Any wind stronger than a light
breeze will bring difficulty to this process and often
precludes spinners from reaching the water. Thus, both
dawn and dusk are favored times to experience a fall
of returning, egg laden spinners.
Some of the most prolific spinner falls will occur within
the final hour of daylight, a time when the wind will
often drop along with the setting sun, and when most birds
which prey upon mayflies have taken to their roost. However,
a spinner fall can occur at any time of the day providing
the wind is kind, more so in overcast weather.
In his book, Norman Marsh's Fly Box (Halcyon
press 1995), Marsh suggests that while aquatic insects enjoy
warm conditions, they dislike direct heat. This explains why
spinner falls will occur throughout the day in cloudy conditions,
and of course, at times when the sun is at its least intense.
Early morning spinner falls too are a regular occurrence upon
the Mataura, coinciding with the rising sun warming the grasses
in which the spinners rest. Female spinners will invariably
fly in an upstream direction before laying their eggs. This
behavior, in conjunction with the downstream drift of her
eggs ensures a stable colonization of mayfly within that
section of water. Without these upstream flight patterns,
mayfly populations would eventually drift into the sea.
Spinners will land on the 'ripples,' the sections of
increased surface velocity, to drop their eggs. The
ripply surface minimizes the meniscus, enabling the egg
'cluster' to pass through the surface film with minimal
The meniscus will be thicker upon the pools, and some
smaller clusters may not successfully break through this.
Each 'cluster' comprises of around 500 eggs and is deposited
along with a temporary binding agent, to ensure the 'cluster'
remains intact throughout the descent. This binding agent
will soon dissolve, allowing the eggs to disperse amongst
the rocks and crevices of the streambed. After depositing
her eggs the spinner will then expire herself, falling 'spent'
upon the water to provide the trout with a final feast as
they drift peacefully down through the pools.
Deleatidium vernale are often referred to as the 'Mataura midge',
and will return to the river in many thousands, inciting great
sport at last light. Great swarms may be seen hovering above
river and then just falling like stones as they meet their
Trout will 'lock on' and feed selectively upon these
spent spinners as they drift upon the surface in their
Spent mayflies drift at the mercy of the currents and are
often concentrated in great numbers amongst the backwaters,
eddies and along the slower river margins, providing dry
fly opportunities long after the initial rise has ended.
These are also productive locations to prospect during
the lighter spinnerfalls, as larger numbers of mayflies
here will keep trout more interested than those few
drifting down the main river. These will not float
forever, and will eventually sink, more so in the more
turbulent water of the ripples.
Trout will feed upon these sunken spinners well after
the rise has ended, and the angler who targets the bases
of ripples with a suitable imitation will increase his
success as the rise tapers off.
To the chase...
So how do we imitate these creatures of which the trout
scrutinize closely in glassy calm pools, and glides?
The answer is carefully, and with an observant eye.
Size, I believe is the most important aspect of a spinner
imitation. The difference between a 16 and an 18 pattern
may not seem important to us, as anglers, but to the trout,
these extra few millimeters will mean the difference between
a sip and a refusal. In their book, Selective Trout,
Swisher and Richards suggest that as the size of the natural
gets smaller, the trout will become more selective, and it
becomes imperative that your imitation matches the hatch
in both size and silhouette. Many trout are put down by
flies which are too heavily dressed.
If in doubt as to which size to use, choose the smaller.
An angling buddy of mine believes in presenting a pattern
slightly larger than the natural to spark the trouts
interest, but in my experience on the Mataura, I have
found this to be detrimental to success.
Worth mentioning is that I do not use an imitation of
the upright spinner (those still alive, and returning
to lay their egg sack), and find that fish will readily
accept a suitable emerger, or parachute pattern when
targeting these. This all changes, however when the
spinner expires and drifts helplessly upon the surface.
Trout will now become extremely selective during this
phenomenon recognized internationally as the 'mad
If trout are opportunistic feeders, then what causes
them to lock onto one food form and feed so selectively?
John Hayes in his and Les Hills excellent book, The
Artful Science of Trout Fishing suggests that
trout are more likely to feed selectively when food is
abundant. When one food source is readily available in
abundance, trout will key into this to take advantage of
the opportunity to maximize food intake whilst minimizing
their energy expenditure. Dr Hayes then goes on to explain
that trout must discern between various forms of flotsam
and other floating debris and authentic prey items. As
mentioned earlier in this series, trout will create a 'prey
image', utilizing any number of 'triggers' allowing them to
recognize a given food source. Suggested triggers for spent
spinners may include the bodies 'imprint' flush within the
waters surface, the 'light pattern' created by the body
floating low on the surface, and the legs possibly
protruding beneath the meniscus, or maybe the sparkling
light pattern thrown out by the shiny, transparent wings,
laying prone, stuck to the surface.
So how best do we imitate this lifeless, yet irresistible
I utilize two styles of fly when fishing a spinnerfall.
The traditional Mahogany Spent Spinner tie and a sparsley
tied parachute pattern for use on more 'joggly' water,
and in low light conditions when visually locating ones
fly becomes tricky.
The Mataura spinner is a simple tie and is as follows;
Hook; TMC 100 sizes 16 - 18
My parachute is of a similar tie, except I substitute the
poly yarn wing with one to two turns maximum (we are keeping
this pattern sparse, remember) of high quality grizzle hackle,
and a high viz (white, black, chautreuse) post, to assist easy
sighting of the imitation in low light, or glare conditions.
Tail; 2 betts tailing fibres well seperated via a
small ball of dubbing
Abdoman/Thorax; Mahogany colored poly dub, tied sparse,
and tapering towards the head
Wing; White poly wing, or Z - lon, tied spent and sparse
to imitate the natural.
When fishing a spinnerfall I like to use the longest,
lightest leader possible for the conditions. This often
means 12 feet of tapered leader attached to 3 or 4 feet
of 5x or 6x flourocarbon. This is a time when ones tippet
must not float upon the surface. Similarly, one may wish
to use ordinary mono and coat it with a mixture of Fullers
Earth and detergent. Either way, choose a 'soft' brand of
tippet, to allow your imitation to drift more naturally in
and out of the varying micro currents.
Often, when fishing to trout rising along the edges of calm,
smooth pools it is not wise to cast from behind the trout,
especially as they are normally holding just beneath the
surface. The landing of ones tippet within the 'window of
vision', however reduced this may be will put these fish down.
Alternatively, as when fishing emergers, I like to position
myself adjacent to the trout and cast my fly across to them.
When the hatch is heavy the trout will hold closer to the
surface, thus his window of vision is severely reduced. You
may move in closer to the trouts position than if he was
holding deep, under reasonable concealment. Your fly will
land to one side of the trout with the tippet and adjoining
leader falling well away from the fish. When performed
correctly your fly will be the first and hopefully only
thing your prey will see.
Spinners often drift in large clusters and it is often
difficult to decide if the rise was to your fly or to a
natural. This is when the use of two dries comes into play.
At these times I will utilize my parachute spinner pattern
tied onto the tippet, then on a dropper off the bend of this,
say 12 inches or so behind I will attach my standard spent
spinner pattern. This not only gives you two chances at
deceiving the wily trout, but the parachute with its hi
viz post help you in identifying both the position of your
tail fly, and in detecting any takes you may not have decided
As the spinnerfall tapers off and trout return to the
depths, do not believe the dry fly opportunities are
over. Spinners will drift at the mercy of the currents
and ultimately congregate in backwaters, eddies, and
along the windward river margins. Trout will cruise
these places well after the main act has ended, rising
leisurely to the 'leftover' spoils.
Those spinners which stay in the main current will
eventually be dragged beneath the surface and even
throughout the spinnerfall, those prospecting the
bases of ripples with a suitable nymph or wet fly
can pull up some good fish. Traditional wet flies
such as the dark red spinner work well across and
down and can bring fish to the net in places where
the angler has trouble in deceiving them by way of
the dry. There are few specialist tricks required
here, just fish two suitable patterns in tandem and
swing them through the ripple on a short, tight line,
paying special attention to the meeting of the ripple,
and the slower rivers edge.
The Mataura spinnerfalls are legendary throughout
international angling circles and provide perhaps
New Zealand finest 'technical fly fishing' opportunities
to a large population of fighting fit brown trout. Not
all Mataura fish are large, 18 inches (a shade below 3lbs)
being the average size, but during a good rise the angler
will find himself with countless opportunities for deceiving
free rising southern trout. How you handle the excitement
is up to you.
When Trout Refuse Your Fly
1. Drop down in fly size.
2. Try a lighter dressed version of the fly.
3. Choose a lighter tippet, and present it from a
different casting position.
4. Try a different shade/colour of fly. ~ Chris Dore