In Rodger Hungerford's 1971 book Guide to Trout
Angling there is quite a bit about the Bloody
Mary and how to fish it. I quote:
"Thoughtful and enthusiastic fly dressers are
always creating new flies; their imagination
seems limitless. Most of their productions,
however, are really little or no better than
existing ones and more often than not new words
to the same music.
In the 1978 book by Max Stokes, Tasmanian Trout
Fly Patterns, there a fly called a 'Mary' and
another called a 'Bloody Mary,' both Max Christensen
patterns. The only difference is, the 'Bloody Mary' is
tied with silver wire and poor quality hackles, whereas
the 'Mary', has gold wire and quality hackles with
fibres about 1/2" long.
But every so often a real gem comes to light, a
fly that either answers some long-standing need,
or, by virtue of its success just as a nondescript,
is a combination of definite value to the sport - one
that will leave its mark permanently.
Without question Bloody Mary is such a fly.
Created in 1956 by Max Christensen of Longford, in
Tasmania, whose other originals include Senator's
Choice, Macquarie Red, Yeti, Miss Tasmania and Micky
Finn. Bloody Mary was first made available for sale
under the simple name Mary. Anglers were quick to
add the colourful adjectives, because of its red
tail and body tinsel. The title Bloody Mary has
now become common, although some of its more staid
users shorten it to just plain Mary.
Neither its design nor its name has anything to do
with the salmon flies known as Hairy Mary or Bloody
Mary. This is pure coincidence.
The tie for this fly is simple enough, but considerable
care is needed in the selection of suitable hackles,
on which so much depends for success. In actual fact,
Bloody Mary can neither be made nor fished correctly
without the right hackles.
Here is the tie:
Hook: no. 6, 8 or 10 down eye – preferably round bend.
Proportion is particularly important. Size 8 is the
most popular, but I always have one or two other
larger and smaller ones with me; especially the former.
Tail: Tomato-red silk, or nylon.
Body: Orange-red "Lurex" (untarnishable tinsel).
Rib: Fine gold wire.
Hackle: Soft black cock, preferably game.
The purpose of the ribbing of gold wire is solely
for durability. Without it, the tinsel soon becomes
broken by the trouts' teeth.
The hackles are doubled; that is, they are folded
before tying in so that all the fibres are on the
same side of the stem. As the hackle is wound on,
palmer fashion, the fibres are pulled toward the
rear to make them lie back.
The head is built up with tying silk and varnished.
Max Christensen's thoughts were first stirred when
he considered the larval and adult stages of large
stone flies and wondered how best to imitate them.
Bloody Mary is the result of much subsequent trial,
error, and careful experimentation. I have no doubt
that, in addition to achieving this aim, Max has
accidentally evolved a most remarkable general-purpose
fly which, so far as I can see, will work successfully
at any time, so long as it is fished correctly.
Support for this rather sweeping statement is found
in the fact that when I first introduced Bloody Mary
to the trout in the Snowy Mountains area of New South
Wales their reaction was not far short of ecstatic.
Together with Fred Stewart, past president of the
Victorian Fly Fishers' Association, I fished Bloody
Mary on and off for more than a week in both rivers
and lakes and took trout wherever I went. Fred's
enthusiasm can be judged when I tell you that no
less than two dozen newly-made Mary's were dispatched
to him on my return to Tasmania.
The very first morning when Fred guided me to a small
bay on Lake Eucumbene, where several decent looking
browns were working along the shore, it was Bloody
Mary that did battle. Fred, as yet unaware of the
fly's prowess, was soon to find out.
A small weedy trickle ran into the bay from the nearby
hills. At its mouth a shallow pool some ten yards wide
had been formed, itself weedy in parts but clear in the
centre. In this pool an active trout worked eagerly,
rummaging in turn round each little corner, fins or
tail momentarily visible – sometimes even the whole
back – as he sought out nymphs and such like.
The sun shone brightly, there was no wind and the
calm water was only bare inches in depth – the most
testing conditions of any, surely, under which to
try a fly that, so far as I know, had never before,
seen the light of a New South Wales day.
To the observer it may well have appeared intentional
that my cast was some six feet off track; the fly
landed well away from the fish, where it floated as
conspicuously as a wild duck. Such was not the case,
however, and I rather fancied that I was faced with
the dangerous business of retrieving for a second
shot without arousing his suspicions.
But, almost as it fell he spotted it at a range by
then of at least eight feet. Straight at it he came
like a steam engine, as if he had searched for it
all day; the waves spreading over the whole pool.
There was no doubt about his intentions. He took it
with gusto, his big snout protruding right over the
top; poor Bloody Mary as he rose artistically and
gulped it in.
My strike was solid: he was one of those sitters I
could hardly have missed. In and out of the weeds
he charged, leaping as best he could in the confined
space, while I closed up the gap by moving towards
him. Seldom if ever does Bloody Mary let go and soon
it was over, a beautiful brown trout of about 4 lb.
At nearby Lake Tantangara, too, and also on the
Murrumbidgee and Eucumbene rivers, Bloody Mary
consistently took a toll. In Tantangara I was
able to try the fly properly and prove how
remarkably effective and versatile it is both
on and under the surface.
For this is one of the greatest features. Without
changing rod, line, cast or anything you can fish
Bloody Mary either wet or dry. Flick it in the air
a few times before setting it down gently and it
floats like a cork. With no flicking and a more
positive landing it sinks. In addition if you want
it to sink while floating all that is needed is a
gentle but definite little tug.
And as for a dapping fly Bloody Mary excels.
By this I do not mean for fishing with a blowline
from a boat. Nor do I mean delicate dapping in some
quiet pool under the willows; Bloody Mary is too big
and ugly for that. No, what I mean is a much more
rough and tough business than this.
When the wind is so strong and gusty that all thoughts
of a dry fly proper vanish from your mind, when all
you can think of is bashing out a wet or retiring
with hurt feelings to the pub, this is the time to
turn confidently to Bloody Mary, in size 6, and get
Grease everything, including the fly itself just
lightly, and fish with a six pound strain leader.
Choose a steepish bank with plenty of depth near
the edge and the wind either blowing parallel to
it or, better still, slightly off shore. Here the
surface will be well ruffled, but not broken by
active wavelets. Cast Mary out with a dry fly action,
dropping it as lightly as possible to make sure it
floats. Now hold the rod high, allowing the wind to
belly the line. By twitching the rod-tip the fly can
be made jump about on the surface, sometimes bounding
into the air between ripples.
There is no need to cast far. In fact with too
long a cast it is impossible to control the fly
properly. The wind strength and the height of the
angler above the surface will dictate the beat
length of cast. You will soon know.
From the bottom ring the line should pass over the
crooked index finger of the rod hand, thence to the
other hand by your side. As you work the fly in little
jerks on and over the surface towards you with the
rod-tip, pull in the slack line with this hand. When
the fly has been worked for a yard or two, retrieve
it for the next cast.
It is not necessary to move the fly very fast or
very far; let the wind help as much as possible
in activating the Mary in a life-like manner,
because this, in essence, is the whole thing.
Neither the fly nor its behaviour in this case
represents anything on earth. But the effect of
this animation on the trout is extraordinary.
Clearly they are just tantalised beyond resistance.
The take is always savage. A sudden slash and a
splash is all there is to it. Seldom does the trout
miss his aim or the angler miss the strike which
really amounts only to raising the rod tip briskly.
The fish does the rest.
Typical of the sort of bank to look for when angling
for trout is the overhanging tussocks which not only
provide shelter for various creatures that, through
misadventure, can easily fall in, but also can
conceal the angler.
Another pretty certain place to get results
with the Mary is where a good stiff breeze is
blowing directly off a sloping lake shore. The
water along the edge is calm, but a little way
out the ripple begins, growing rougher the
farther it extends.
Cast Mary out a few yards into the ripple proper
and work it in towards the calm. Watch out for a
slam in such places. Action is practically certain.
Ideal water like this is found on the western shore
of Lake Tantangara where quite a few narrow promontories
run out towards the east. The wind often blows more
or less straight across these in summer, and any
grasshopper that loosens his grip on something
solid is most likely to finish in the lake or,
worse still, in the stomach of a trout. Fred Stewart
and I had great times with the Bloody Mary along these
promontories one February.
On the Murrumbidgee and Eucumbene Rivers, too, along
those long, deep, flat almost flowless pools that are
normally so hard to fish, we got some fiery response.
Although these big pools are frequently fruitless
just let the wind spring up and see how you go! And
the harder it blows the better, providing you don't
have to cast into it. Even on the upper Eucumbene,
Bloody Mary was successful in the comparatively
In addition, as a wet fly, Bloody Mary is no less
effective. Indeed, it has the edge on many a
standard pattern, because of its pronounced
pulsating action. The long spongy hackle
throbs so convincingly that the trout seem
unable to resist it.
There is no need to work Bloody Mary very fast
in the water as a wet fly. In fact it is better
not to. On the other hand it is not, as a rule,
the best sort of fly to be fished absolutely
inert or dead drift. Far better to sink it down
near the fish and move it in short, easy jerks
so that the hackles pulsate properly.
For obvious reasons I have found this a most
deadly approach when the trout are feeding on
frogs. Indeed, Bloody Mary could then be even
a better fly than the Yeti, and that's saying
Finally as an ordinary dry fly, incredibly enough,
Bloody Mary can still hold its own; the smaller
sizes 10 and 8 being naturally the best.
At the Dee Lagoon in Tasmania, where very difficult
fish rose very occasionally one summer, I smote quite
a few of them with a dry Mary.
There's no doubt about it, Bloody Mary is a winner,
and is likely to be with us forever, to be viewed
with esteem by our children's children. My fervent
hope, however, is that when the commercial fly
dressers get at it they will stick to Max
Christensen's recipe, because if there's one
fly that poor dressing will spoil, it's the Mary.
But tied and fished correctly Bloody Mary is
amongst the deadliest fish-getters in the game."
Editors note: New South Wales, Victoria,
and Tasmania, the 'Island State' are states in
south eastern Australia.
1. At the bend of the hook tie in tag and the
ribbing followed by the strip of orange-red tinsel.
2. Bind tying thread along the shank, leaving room
for a good sized head.
3. Bind on the tinsel and tie off at back of head.
4. Strip fluff from base of cock hackle, then double
it (folded so that all the fibres are on the same
side of the stem). Tie in hackle by the stem at
back of head, wet fly style. Cut off excess stem.
5. The hackle is wound on, from back of head down
the shank to the butt. This is done palmer fashion
with considerably more fibres at the eye end. As
the hackle is wound on, the fibres are pulled
toward the rear to make them lie back. The turns
should not be too close together, otherwise the
effect of the tinsel is lost.
6. Secure hackle at butt with a turn of the wire,
then before ribbing, stroke the fibres into a
vertical plane, but still sloping. Make five or
six turns of ribbing and secure rib with tying
thread. Cut off rib and end of hackle protruding
from back of fly.
7. Make a well formed head and whip finish.
8. Varnish head, either red or black (the shine
seems more important than the colour). If desired,
diamond-shaped pieces of tinsels may be added as
eyes on sides of head. ~ Alan Shepherd