FLY OF THE MONTH- July- 2019


Vern Barby’s Magoo

(This superb photo supplied by Brad Harris, from FlyLife magazine, and used with permission.)

Our local streams are now closed until September, so many of us will be turning our attention to the lakes. Stillwaters of any sort – lakes, reservoirs, stocked dams, whatever ... can be fished with all manner of flies – dries, emergers, nymphs, wets... But searching with a big wet fly is very popular because it is often effective. That big wet cruising through the water is so much more visible to a roving trout on the lookout for a decent feed than a tiny dry sitting stationary in the meniscus.

Vern Barby’s Magoo has won a lot of friends in recent days. Vern has kindly given us permission to describe his fly and how to tie it. In Australia's Best Trout Flies Revisited Vern says: "The Magoo is probably my signature fly. A prolific fish catcher, it has been developed and refined since the 1999 Commonwealth Fly Fishing Championships on Lake Wendouree in Ballarat. During that event Vince Gwilym gave me one of the Welsh team’s flies, and it really got me thinking. By using different materials and colours I worked on developing my ideas. The one significant aspect of the Welsh fly was its overall length. I came from the old school that believed long flies and small hooks don't catch fish, so it took me some time to get to grips with it!

Eventually I arrived at the fly as it is today. The name came about after discussions with Gary McKay and well-known Ballarat fly fisher, Alan Howlett, whose nickname was ‘Magoo’. The fly was originally tied with a gold beadhead, but it now features many different bead colours, the most popular being hot orange. This is a pattern that should always be in your wet fly box when targeting the lakes.

The Magoo can be fished either slowly through dirty water or with a fast strip, mainly using sinking lines, always pausing once or twice during the retrieve, and always hanging the fly before lifting it out of the water.”

Philip Weigall’s fabulous FlyStream magazine, issue 12, has Craig Coltman describing the Magoo at some length. He says, “In the autumn of 2000 we had a round of the Victorian Fly Fishing Championships on Lake Purrumbete. The lake was full, with plenty of fish holding in the weeds around the swamp area. Vern had given me one of his new Magoo flies and these were perfect conditions to give it a swim. The fly was, quite simply, devastating. I landed 18 fish on the first day, all on the Magoo. At one stage Vern motored by and enquired whether the Magoo was working for me? At that precise moment yet another fish took it.

Vern’s original Magoo was tied on a size 12 Kamazan B175 hook, with lead under the body and concentrated at the front of the fly to emphasise the jigging movement. Looking for a simpler fly to tie, I introduced a bead instead of the lead underbody.

Progressively the fly has increased in size from a size 12 to a size 8. Different colours – in particular orange beads; and pink, claret and orange marabou tails have all proved successful. However, the main elements of this fly remain the same: a short shank, metal bead at the front, long marabou tail and a little flash.

Some anglers avoid using long-tailed flies, believing they cause short takes. I disagree
– I have never observed a trout nibbling at the tail of a fly. They inhale it with gusto. Missed fish can be attributed to a lack of conviction on the fish’s behalf, or poor striking technique, or simply bad luck. By the way, when wet fly fishing a strip strike is most effective. The traditional form of raising the rod tip to strike is nowhere near as effective and should be reserved for dry fly fishing where slack line needs to be taken up.

Fishing Tips

The Magoo is mainly a pulling fly. It can be fished slowly using a figure-8 retrieve; stripped slowly or fast; or retrieved with a roly-poly from slow to flat-out. I normally fish the Magoo on the point as part of a team of flies, although I do carry some unweighted versions for use on the dropper. Line types can vary from a floating line right through to a DI7 (i.e. fast sinker), depending on the depth of water and the speed of the drift if boat fishing.

I use both brass and tungsten bead Magoos, again depending on the depth of water and speed of retrieve. Mostly I use a copper-beaded version when fishing from the bank. An orange beaded Magoo can be very effective early and late season.

When pulling the Magoo, takes can be quite aggressive, so I never use a tippet lighter than 8lb fluorocarbon to avoid bust offs.”



Hook:      Kamasan B175 - sizes 8 or 10, or Hanak H200 BL in sizes 10 or 12.

Bead:       Gold or Hot Orange, sizes 2.8 mm – 3.6 mm.

Thread:    8/0 olive.

Tail:          Olive marabou and 4 strands of Sparkle Flash “Emerald Rainbow”.

Body:        Peacock herl (three strands).

Rib:           Fine gold or copper wire.

Rear Hackle (Palmered): Olive hen hackle stripped on one side, or a cheap Indian cock hackle.

Front hackle: Olive Partridge.

Tying the Fly:

  1. Add the bead, then slide it on the hook and up to the eye. Then put the hook in the vice. At this stage you can add just a couple of turns of fine lead wire. Push these up into the back of the bead to hold the bead in place.
  1. Select your marabou - long supple fibres. Tear about eight fibres off the feather and arrange them so that their ends are roughly equal, then tie them on the shank of the hook so that they lie along the shank almost to the eye. The tail should be three to five times the length of the hook shank.
  1. Tie in two strands of the lure flash down either side of the tail.
  1. Tie in the wire rib. Then tie in two or three strands of peacock herl and wind them to the front. Leave a small gap behind the eye for tying in the palmer body and partridge hackles later on.
  1. Tie in the body hackle behind the eye, ensuring the natural camber of the feather faces backwards. Wind this hackle in open turns to the rear of the fly using four turns.
  1. Trap the hackle down with the ribbing wire and wind this back through the palmer hackle towards the eye to hold this hackle in place (again using about four turns).
  1. Finally, tie in the partridge feather, again at the butt, and use two to three turns. Once again pay attention to getting the natural camber of the feather facing backwards. Also ensure the partridge hackle is slightly longer than the body hackle.
  1. Tie in a small head then whip finish.