Whistling Dixie
  |  First Published: May 2006

In the freshwater, where is often little or no current flow, flies that push a bit of water are often easier for the predatory fish to hone in on. For example, southern saratoga have two small barbels on the front of their bottom jaw which are used to sense vibration in the water.

Larger food items emit more vibration in the water and can be sensed from further away by saratoga. The Whistling Dixie is small enough to be engulfed by a saratoga and its design allows it to be detected from a reasonable distance.


The large collar or neck on the Whistling Dixie is one of the most important parts of its design. This hackle collar helps the fly to push a little more water than a similar fly such as a Wooly Bugger or Bass Buggerer. The hackle used in the tail wafts around as the fly sinks and kicks it along as it is stripped sharply with short pauses in between. Marabou is another alternative tail material, which also has plenty of action when wet.

The Estaz chenille is used for the bulkiness that the extra long fibres promote. The bead chain eye enhances the forward sinking action between strips to impart extra action into the fly.

I use a stinger pattern Gamakatsu B10S hook when fishing with this fly. This is an extremely strong hook for such a light gauge and has a short point and small barb for a secure hook-up.

The Whistling Dixie is a fly that I generally tie in darker colours such as olive, black, claret, dark green, copper, and purple. This allows it to silhouette well, even against a dark backdrop of logs, weedbeds or an overcast sky. The majority of saratoga food sources, such as leeches, worms, insects and lizards, are also darkly coloured.

The Whistling Dixie can be tied in large sizes to tempt species such as Murray cod and large golden perch. I’ve even caught billabong barra on it while targeting saratoga in the Corroboree Billabong in the Northern Territory. Sleepy cod, bass, golden perch, Murray cod, and catfish are some of the other species I have taken with this fly.


There are a number of strip and pause combinations that will work for anglers fishing with the Whistling Dixie. At dusk and dawn fish are usually fairly active so a retrieve that gets the fly dancing erratically through the water is often productive.

Several short, sharp strips followed by a pause will often work but many different combinations can be experimented with.

As the sun gets higher in the sky the water will warm a little and fish may become more lethargic, especially in the shallower water or smaller pools that heat quicker. A slower, more sedate retrieve may be required. This will give the fish plenty of time to find and strike the fly.

At times the fly may only need to be cast out and allowed to sink. The late Les James taught me an approach called the ‘Borumba Drift’ that was used to catch saratoga in the middle of the day on Borumba Dam. The fly was simply cast out to a shady area and allowed to sink. Prime spots were submerged horizontal branches, steep undercut banks, sunken logs, bushes and the front of thick weedbeds.

Fish were often just waiting for a food item to come their way. A floating line was used so that you could detect the fly speeding up in its descent or moving sideways. Both of these indicators would mean that a saratoga had eaten the fly and was now swimming away. A quick strike was all that was needed to set the hook.


(1) Put your hook securely in the vice and tie on your thread with a jamb knot, or similar, at the spot on the shank that is opposite the point of the hook. Cut 8-10 saddle hackle tips to around the same length as the hook you are using. Choose the thinner hackles so that they waft around more in the water. Tie in one at a time, with light wraps to position the feather first, and then a few firm wraps to secure it. Make the feathers spread outwards by tying them on angles.

(2) Take your Estaz chenille and tie the end in at the same spot, opposite the point of the hook. Advance the thread forward along the shank and lay down a short bed of thread behind the eye of the fly. Tie in your bead chain eye just behind the eye of the hook with a series of figure-of-eight wraps until it is central and secure. Whip finish off at this point but don’t trim off the remaining thread. Put a little headset on the eye’s tie in area to strengthen.

(3) Wind the Estaz chenille forward with each wrap close to the last. The closer the wraps, the thicker the body will be. Stop around 5mm behind the eyes and tie off the tag end of the chenille with your thread. Once again, whip finish but only cut off the remaining chenille not the extra thread.

(4) Tie in the base end (widest) of a long hackle feather with a soft quill. Most saltwater grade saddle hackles will do. Rub your fingers along the feather to make the barbs of the feather separate and stand out. Wind the thread forward to behind the eyes.

(5) Wrap the hackle forward with a series of close wraps so the hackle is on its side with the barbs standing out. You may have to push the wrapped barbs backwards a little so that the next wrap doesn’t tie them down. Once you have filled the gap up to the eye of the fly, you can use your thread to tie off the end of the feather. Do a whip finish and cut off the rest of the thread and the remaining tip of the hackle feather. A small spot of head set will secure the tie off point. Your Whistling Dixie is now ready for service.

Fact box1


Hook - Gamakatsu B10s size 2

Thread - Flat-waxed nylon black

Tail - Tips of saddle hackles (8 to10), purple medium

Body - Estaz chenille, purple

Collar - Long saddle hackle, purple large

Eye - bead chain, gold

Finish - Headset

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