Stillwater trout lures: modern masterpieces

Defining what makes a lure a lure is not an easy matter. At first glance it appears simple enough to the beginner: a lure is a large artificial fly which does not imitate or suggest a living creature.

This statement is perfectly correct for most patterns, but there are notable exceptions. Some lures are specifically designed to imitate the fry of roach and perch.

Two explanations

Why does a trout take a non-imitative lure if it isn’t trying to eat it? Although no one has yet managed to obtain an answer from a fish, the two most plausible explanations are aggression and curiosity. Of the two the ‘curiosity theory’ is more convincing. When a trout sees something different, the only way to find out if the object is edible or not is to take it into its mouth.

Whatever the reason, the important point is that trout do take lures. On most stillwaters lures catch the largest number of fish, compared to other flies.

Types, sizes and colours

Lures range from sombre-coloured Muddler Minnows to bright orange Dog Nobblers. Sizes vary too – from !4in to the giant 4in long Tandem or Tube Fly. Most lures, however, fall somewhere in between. They are usually tied on long-shank hooks ranging from size 6 to size 10 and are made from a wide variety of materials including hair, feather, chenille, wool and tinsel.

Two main types of lure are hairwings and streamers. Wings of feather are used in streamers. Marabou is the soft downy feather of the domestic turkey. The feathers are sold in many dyed colours.

You only have to see marabou work in the water to understand why it’s so effective. On every twitch of the retrieve it pulses in the most enticing manner—one which trout often find irresistible.

Here are 12 modern trout lures. Each one has proved its worth on British stillwaters over the years.

Goldie Devised by Bob Church, this hair-wing lure combines two colours which work particularly well for brown trout – yellow and black. The pattern fishes well regardless of depth. It is effective dressed either on a single long shank hook or as a tandem. Viva Black and fluorescent green are perhaps the most killing combination available to the trout angler. Although the Viva works particularly well when it’s fished slow and deep during the early season, it takes trout throughout the year. The lure also catches well at a variety of depths and retrieval speeds. This is truly a lure for all seasons.

Cat’s Whisker Any lure that contains marabou, either as a tail or a wing, is usually effective. David Train’s Cat’s Whisker goes one better: it has both! The combination of white marabou wing and fluorescent green chenille body is a deadly alternative to the black and green Viva. Floating Fry Allowed simply to drift, this is an imitative lure which mimics a small dying coarse fish floating on the surface. During the months of August to October trout go mad feeding on shoals of small fish in preparation for the lean winter months to come. Trout rip through the shoals of fry, stunning and killing many fish. The hungry trout then return to their easy meal. Muddler Minnow Don Gapen of the USA created this pattern in the 1950s. The Muddler has since spawned a vast range of variations. The original imitated a small fish. Today, however, Muddlers come in every colour imaginable.

All have the classic buoyant head of spun deer hair. When retrieved, the fly’s bulbous head makes a disturbance in the water which really turns trout on. Booby This style of lure, originally tied by professional fly dresser Gordon Frazer, has proved absolutely deadly. The combination of marabou tail and buoyant eyes produces a ducking, diving action similar to that of the Dog Nobbier.

Because the Booby is buoyant, use a very fast sinking line and a short leader, so the fly fishes just above the lake bed. The retrieve is a slow figure-of-eight. Takes are so positive that the Booby is often swallowed. Dog Nobbier This was the lure of the 1980s. Invented by Trevor Housby, the Dog Nobbier took the Stillwater scene by storm. Since the early 1980s it has accounted for literally thousands of trout, many of them of specimen size.

As you retrieve the Dog Nobbier, its heavily weighted head and long marabou tail produce a wiggling motion. This erratic movement is the attraction of the lure. Effective colours include black, white, orange, yellow and olive. Tube Fly This specialist lure is tied on lengths of fine plastic, aluminium or brass tubing. It has a treble hook at the end instead of a standard long shank hook. The Tube Fly can be tied either to imitate small coarse fish about 7.5-10cm long or as a general attracting pattern. Whisky Fly This hot orange eyeball-burner was devised by the late Albert Willock to catch cruising summer rainbows. Orange flies, particularly those as bright as the Whisky Fly, prove deadly when the trout are in the upper water layers.

During the warm summer months, especially when the fish are feeding on daphnia, ‘orange madness’ takes hold of trout. A Whisky Fly fished fast just below the surface can produce spectacular results. Zonker The Zonker originates from the USA. It has a body of mylar tubing and a wing fashioned from a thin strip of rabbit fur, making it a very mobile and effective pattern. It’s tied in a wide range of colour combinations, but grey and silver ones make great fry imitations. Tandem Lure This is basically two long shank lures tied together ‘in tandem’ – one after another. Although this style of dressing is often used to imitate small coarse fish, any lure pattern may be dressed in this way. The joint between the two hooks is flexible 20 lb nylon monofilament. Mini-lure Although lures are usually large, there are times when trout still want the pulsing movement of marabou – but in a short-shanked version. Here the mini-lure comes into its own. This style has become popular in competition fly fishing on still-waters where there is a limit on the length and size of the flies used.