Also known as “Fowlers Magic Dragon”, “Puff the Magic Dragon”, or just “the Puff”, but most likely not known at all.
I suppose I have done very little to spread the news about this fly, but that was borne out of a desire not to be pretentious about the thing, rather than any motivation to keep the pattern to myself.
This fly is a catcher of fish in stillwaters in South Africa. And a catcher of some large fish too.
Herman Botes excellent “Papa Roach” of more recent years can safely boast the same prowess. Maybe good Dragonfly patterns are catchers of large fish, period.
This fly pattern started off life in the mid 1980’s. It was inspired by two flies. The first was “Clayne Baker’s swimming nymph”.
This was a pattern that had been demonstrated by Tom Sutcliffe, Don Robertshaw, and Hugh Huntley, at one of a series of fly tying classes presented in the early eighties at the Imperial Hotel in Maritzburg. These were the heydays of fly fishing. Africa’s first, and at that stage, only, fly-shop had just opened in town, and there was a buzz. Classes were put together firsts in 1981 under the banner of the Natal Fly-fishers Club (founded 1972) and then in 1983 under the banner of the Natal Fly Dressers Society.
I was a schoolboy at the time, but by kind favour of Brian Barry, a bunch of us kids were taken to these monthly meetings in his million mile Mercedes. He parked this mighty swaying ship in the “No Stopping” zone directly in front of the Loop Street police station opposite the hotel, and left it there with a dignified impunity,claiming that he had the perfect defence if ever challenged by the law: he was from “Rhodesia”!
The tying lessons were held in a room off the courtyard. It was one of those traditional hotel meeting rooms, with plush carpets, high ceilings and sash windows. As schoolboys we must have been somewhat wide-eyed. We were amongst men, and waiters whirled in and out between jokes that we didn’t fully understand, and tales of fly-fishing in which we immersed ourselves with delight. There were notes. I still have them. They were produced on an odd size paper, somewhat long and narrow, and they were hand written, with sketches, and copied on a roneo machine. Remember those?
Clayne Baker’s “nymph that swims” was one made almost entirely of marabou. Marabou was the wonder material of the day…a bit like CDC in later years, or UV glue nowadays. This fly used only marabou, applied in clever ways. The eyes were knotted marabou, and the whole fly pulsed and moved in the water. I seem to remember someone dropped one in their whiskey to make this point. That impressed the schoolboys!
Just a few years later, I found myself at University, in the company of some very creative fly-tiers and fishermen. Paul DeWet, Brett Coombes, Andy Krajewski. At the time, I would imagine that Randall Kaufmann’s book was still fairly hot off the press. I would imagine that it was this that inspired Andy Krajewski to attempt a floating Dragon. But Andy decided to give the thing an African representation, so he used Duiker hair instead of deer hair. I suspect that as a varsity student, road-kill was preferable to store bought materials, based on the only dimension that mattered: budget.
So enter fly number two: Andys Duiker hair dragon.
The thing caught fish hand over fist, and it was all about the shape. I still have a very clear picture in my mind as to how it was trimmed: the “fuselage” of the dragon nymph was beautifully represented. I studied the “cut” with care, and took it on board.
Then I decided to try to incorporate the movement of the Marabou, with the shape of the duiker hair.
Marabou doesn’t spin of course, so I tied the stuff as Clayne Baker had done in small bunches at points all around the shank. Half a packet of marabou later (We tied these fellows big. Still do.), and you had a huge hairy mess. Tie off the silk, and set about trimming it to get Andy’s perfect dragon shape.
The first entry in my logbook that mentions the fly, calls it a “Clayne Baker dragon”. It slaughtered the South African Trout! There was no question that it was a winner.
Minor adjustments followed: The marabou eyes were replaced with black Tuff-chenille loop eyes (inspired by Hugh Huntley’s Red Eyed Damsel, which was making waves back then)
It got a collar of soft speckled partridge feather for legs (it is still hard to beat this part)
And we dubbed the thorax, putting a Swiss straw (Raphine) thorax cover over.
And then we fished it. And fished it plenty. And did plenty well.
Skips a few years, and our good friend Brett Coombes left South Africa for OZ.
Unbeknown to me he smuggled a few of these Dragons into Australia. (And you thought their border control was good!)
A few years later, Brett sent me a delightful story. It seems that a friend of his, who ran a fly store in Western Australia had seen the pattern, and asked if he could copy it. Brett obliged, with one condition: that it be named after me , and he gave the name “Fowler’s Magic Dragon”.
The fly was duly copied and sold in the shop. On one occasion, Brett told me, a visiting fly-fishing team bought a few of the flies to use in a competition that was taking place in town. They used the dragon to good effect, and won the competition hands down. After this the fly shop started getting the flies tied in bulk by their supplier in Zimbabwe.
The story dies there. I don’t know what became of the FMD in Western Australia.
All I know is that a whole lot of them still live in my fly box, that I tie one on most times when fishing a stillwater, and that it accounts for more big Trout than anything else I have ever fished.
And I suspect that there are only 3 or 4 people in the world that fish it.
The other day a fellow blogger saw a picture of one of my fly boxes, and encouraged me to share the recipe. So here it is. The FMD:
Hook: Nymph hook, heavy wire, from #8 to #2.
Weight: several wraps of lead wire. Not too much in the larger sizes: this fly is not easy to cast as it is!
Body: Marabou in olive, brown or black, tied in small clumps all the way up the shank to the thorax. Tie off at this point and trim the marabou with care as per the following shape sketch:
And have a look at a real dragonfly nymph to get an idea of size and shape:
Legs: a single turn of speckled partridge. Alternatively you may elect to use small rubber legs, or even amber coloured V-Rib.
Thorax: SLF and seals fur blend, in a colour darker than the body
Thorax shell/cover: Swiss straw, Turkey, or scud back, again, in a darker colour than the body
Eyes. Tied well forward: plastic beads, looped tuff chenille or similar, but either way, they must be prominent.
The FMD pictured wet to appreciate the shape you should be aiming for:
Fishing the FMD:
Broadly speaking we use olive in summer, and dark brown in winter. Dragons spend a lot of time crawling along structure. Until someone masters creeping an imitation along the side of a log, this means retrieving it along the bottom, regardless of how deep or shallow that may be. So we weight the fly and get it down. However, being a big piece to throw (and yes, I do regularly fish them in #2 long shank), you don’t want too much lead in there, especially if you place a value on that sensitive spot in the back of your neck where flies do sometimes make ground fall in a wind. Retrieve: always very slow. Maybe with the odd burst in there to mimic the micro jet propulsion that dragons are capable of, but not at the expense of it being a slow retrieve.
In deep water I use a sinking line, but more often than not it will be on the end of an intermediate, and at times, in the shallows, on a floater.
It lands with the subtlety of a B52 without wings, so cast it seldom by retrieving it slow.
And hang on tight!
February 2014: Following a number of requests, I have produced a short clip, demonstrating the tying of the fly. It can be found here:
This entry was posted on March 24, 2013 by trutta. It was filed under Fly Tying, Stillwater and was tagged with Andy Krajewski, Brett Coombes, FMD, Fowlers Magic Dragon, Herman Botes, Hugh Huntley, Pappa Roach, Paul De Wet, Puff, Puff Dragon, Tom Sutcliffe.