Love them or hate them there’s no getting away from the fact that Boobies – in all their different shapes and colours – are now the nation’s top fish-catching fly. Craig Barr unveils their secrets.
Some purists would be aghast if they opened their fly boxes and found these popular offerings between their neat sedge imitations or ultra-realistic nymph patterns. While we all like to catch using ‘traditional’ flies there is no getting away from the fact that flies such as Boobies can be astonishingly successful when all else fails.
The anti-Booby brigade will argue they make catching fish too easy and many stillwaters – especially the smaller ones – have banned the pattern. The way some people condemn the fly for its fish-catching qualities you would think that you would need to hide behind a bush to tie it on, for fear of trout leaping onto the bank to get at it!
The truth is, like every fly fishing method, there is a skill to using it, whether on a fast sinking line or a floater. There are loads of permutations with this versatile lure, so what exactly is a Booby? The clue lies in its name… The very first Boobies were tied with polystyrene balls for eyes, and in many instances used ladies tights as a means of securing them to the hook! The effect was to seemingly endow the fly with a pair of foam ‘boobs’ that gave the fly buoyancy – hence the name. This discovery opened the floodgates not just to a new style of fishing, but a very effective one. So much so, in fact, that some fisheries don’t allow this method of fishing on their lakes! The Booby is mainly tied with marabou wings and tails to give the fly movement. When fished static on a sinking line the natural flow of the water allows the marabou to sway in the current, thus making it look like a living thing. With the vast amount of materials available to today’s fly tyers, the Booby has seen many new variations. Even some popular nymph patterns now have Booby variants. Plastazote, and in some cases ethafoam, are both very buoyant foam that has in many cases replaced the polystyrene balls of the past. These modern materials are available in a wide array of colours, enabling the fly tyer to become more and more creative with the colour of the eyes on each pattern.
Bank fishing with a Booby can be very exciting as it allows you to literally leave the fly totally still, waiting for that passing trout to inhale it. Getting the fly to fish at the right depth is critical, however, as the fish can move through the water columns whenever they want! I will always remember my first encounter with Booby fishing from the bank. I was at Farmoor and was given a real lesson in how to fish these patterns effectively. The chap to my right had landed seven fish while I was still waiting for my first pull. Having never fished this method before, I asked for his advice. I couldn't believe a leader of two feet in length was so effective, thinking that the trout would be able to see the by line. How wrong I was!
This guy’s fly was literally hugging the bottom, and in hindsight the fish were grubbing around on the lake bed, so that was where I needed to present a fly. After shortening everything up I couldn't believe the amount of interest I had.
Toft Newton, in the heart of rural Lincolnshire, is another great place for fishing the Booby. This 40- acre concrete bowl is ideal for bank anglers wanting to fish near the bottom. The day I decided to head there to give my Boobies an airing there was a slight westerly wind blowing, some low-lying fog and a distinct chill in the air… perfect conditions for the method. I opted for a sinking line and, given the fry gathering in the margins, a White Minky Booby. Toft Newton is a circular fishery, and its depth is pretty consistent all the way round. It drops off fairly quickly close to the shore, so with this in mind I decided to use a short leader of around three feet, which would let me fish the fly close to the lake bed where I thought the fish would be. With such a short leader and a fast-sinking line, casting can often become a little difficult as the lack of leader, and therefore balance in your setup.
When it comes to tackle you really do need to ensure you are using the right equipment when fishing a static Booby. Takes can often be very subtle as a static fly is there to be simply sipped in, so a good stiff – preferably 8-wt rod – is often key. When striking into a fish a stiffer rod will set the hook much quicker and better than a soft-actioned rod. Many anglers would choose to use a Sixth Sense line, which has no stretch; great when a fish hits, as it sets the hook instantaneously. With this tactic in mind, a good strong nylon – 8lb to 10lb breaking strain – is also required to prevent you being snapped.
After an hour’s fishing with the Minky Booby I’d only caught one rainbow and had one other pull to show for my efforts; not what I would call a good return. This meant one of two things – either there weren't enough fish in front of me, or I was possibly fishing too deep! I extended my leader to six feet, and attached a dropper in the middle to allow me to use two Boobies. One would fish close to the bottom and another higher up. I’d now be covering two different depths. My second choice of fly was a much smaller offering. I opted for a more subtle looking fly, a Black Micro Fritz Booby, which was one of my own creations. Often a change of fly can make a huge difference, but not in this instance. My team of two Boobies had still not managed to catch me a trout.
The mist had now cleared, the temperature had risen a degree or two, yet still I’d caught no fish. With my brain now really ticking over I decided to switch to a Fast Glass line, with the idea of allowing the Boobies to sink slower. The idea behind my thinking was to give the Boobies more chance of fishing through the layers on their way to the lake bed. With very little fly life coming off on this particular day I firmly believed the trout would have been feeding close to the bottom, as this is where any remains of the luscious summer weed would be, and no doubt any available food too. As I persisted with the two Boobies, the fish persisted in ignoring them. Time for a change.
Fishing a Booby as the point fly with a nymph further down the cast, nearer the lake bed, can be a another successful way of utilising the Booby’s buoyant properties. You can fish a nymph suspended just off the bottom, or even mid-water, depending on the length of your leader. Needless to say, this was my next method. Keeping the small black Booby on the point, I selected another, but this time a nymph variant – a Cruncher Booby. Being able to suspend a nymph just above the bed of any lake opens a whole new world of nymph presentation. It can now be mistaken for an ascending larva as it hovers just above the bottom – perfect.
One huge advantage of the Booby is that you are able to fish all depths of water. This is achieved not only by the buoyancy of the fly, enabling it to stay in one place, but the length of your leader. To fish mid-water you would simply use a slower-sinking line, for instance a Slow Glass, or even a medium-sink line, and a leader of around 15 feet. A team of four flies is commonplace for me when opting for this tactic, as you are now fishing a range of depths as the three nymphs are suspended mid-water by a Booby on the point of your cast. This is often referred to as the washing-line method, as the cast suspended by the Booby forms a hanging bow of line. Daphnia-feeding fish often succumb to this method as the daphnia move up and down the water’s depth throughout the day.
After two hours of hard fishing I’d only managed one other fish, which took the small black Booby on the point, fished higher in the water, so I focused on a new approach. With the temperature now around 12ºC the occasional midge flew past my eyes, and in turn the odd trout could be seen head and tailing in front of me. I switched to my Slow Glass line and a size 12 Cat’s Whisker Booby and a couple of Diawl Bach nymphs. I opted for just the three flies with the aim of keeping the flies suspended in mid-water for as long as possible, in the hope of catching consistently for the first time that day.
My instincts were right. On my second cast my line tightened into a fighting-fit rainbow – the Cat’s Whisker floating mid-water proving too much for this trout. The retrieve for this method of fishing is a very slow one, most of the time. A snail’s pace, figure-of-eight is all that is needed. The very slow retrieve together with a Booby on the point of the cast, or even one on the point and one on the top dropper, will keep the flies at your preferred depth.
Another four fish followed in pretty quick succession, none of them very big but enough to bring a smile to my face after I’d had such a frustrating start. The fish were certainly not in a proper taking mood today, but the ability to adjust the depth at which my flies Þ shed, together with the help of the Booby and the length of my leader, proved fruitful in the end.