Fishing Cairns – The Pink Thing: The Greatest Barra Fly Of All Time

An article by Graham White reproduced with the permission of Alex Julius from the 2000 National Australian Fishing Annual.

The Pink Thing was designed to catch barra and it is without a doubt the greatest barra fly of all. After three years of badgering Darwin’s Graham White, the man who invented The Pink Thing, to tell us all about it, he finally comes clean.

I think you already know the barra, beer, billabong and baitcasters origin story but just for the record…

In the very early 80’s we had a swoffers club in Darwin – I think we called ourselves The Saltwater Flyrodders of the Northern Territory – and we used to meet regularly at Fishers Lagoon on the Howard River floodplains for a spot of fishing. On designated Fly Rod Days we met back at Graeme Forrester’s place for a few beers. Anyone who used tackle other than fly rods was fined one carton of green cans which were consumed by the assembled multitude.

On this day Lou Murray and Les Bullard turned up late. They’d been fishing another lagoon without any luck. They were hot and discouraged. Lou made a few casts without a strike and said “To hell with it, I’ll fix them” – or something similar and unprintable – marched off and returned with a baitcaster.

On the business end was a pearlescent white jig with a long worm tail and a pink collar where the head and tail joined. Lou cast out, got a barra and repeated this immoral act twice more. OK, so the fish were released. But it only slightly detracted from the foulness of the deed which was compounded by Lou leaving early and not paying the fine on that day! Something had to be done!

That night I retrieved my identical jig from the boot of my car and sat down at the vice. It had to be a good barra fly and my favourite, the Given’s, was the best starting point. I liked the way a Deceiver swims so that got added in. The first couple were a bit exotic until I realised that if it was successful it had to be repeatable and easy to tie from materials available to the average tropical river rat. At 2 am it was finished and I was itching for a rematch.

To this day I’ve never tried it on Fisher’s Lagoon. It’s first outing was at Shady Camp Rockbar, where the barrage is now. The barra liked it but the results were no different to those from a Given’s Barred and Black. I gave Alex Julius one to try the next weekend and he had a similar experience. But Alex used it at Shady a month or so later and the barra climbed all over it. By that time the Daly had cleared a bit after the wet season and it came into its own for me at the creek mouths. It fitted neatly into my fishing system:

  • Dirty Water – Given’s Barred and Black
  • Stained Water – Pink Thing
  • Clear Water – Lefty’s Deceiver

These days the Clouser is included.

It still didn’t have a name though. Again Lou Murray enters the story. We – the same mob – were at the Blue Holes on North West Vernon Island in November, ostensibly chasing big tarpon, but really after anything that moved. There is a lagoon in the middle of the island and we’d agreed to meet there for lunch. Graeme Forrester and I had a great morning. We’d scored almost every species we’d aimed for and the Pink Thing was the fly.

Oh, revenge was sweet! It had not been a good day for Lou. He asked what we’d been using. We showed him. He asked if he could have “one of those pink things”, and the name stuck. I think he got some fish too. Then Rod Harrison and Lefty Kreh got hold of it and the rest is history.

Materials List And Tying Notes

The Pink Thing is basically a pink and white Given’s Barred and Black with a Lefty’s Deceiver Tail.

Hook: 2/0-4/0 Stainless O’Shannessy.

Step 1: Saddle Hackles and Pearl Sparkleflash, tied in at hook bend. Note: Sparkleflash has been substituted Flashabou as it is available in Darwin. Pearl Flashabou, as used in the original, has a greenish cast, whereas Sparkleflash is pinkish.

Step 2: Both bucktail collars spun ahead of tail.

Step 3: Sparkleflash tied in over bucktail body then two Barred Rock Hackles added to each side.

Step 4: Pin Hackled palmered forward to the hook eye.

Step 5: Bead Chain Eyes added, thread whipped behind eyes and tying cement covering wrappers.

Thread: Pink.

Tail: 6 white saddle hackles tied with their natural curves toward one another; “Deceiver” style. The feathers were about 3 to 4 hook lengths long in the original. My later flies used much shorter feathers for reasons of economy and availability. The original Pink Thing was tied with some magnificent strung hackles given to me by Dave Donald back in 1975.

Glitter: Flashabou, pearl. This was the first fly that I’d tied with Flashabou. Kay Brodney, a member of the Golden Gate Club, had sent me some a few weeks earlier and the material did exactly what I wanted it to do. It imitated a pearlescent finish on a Boone Jig worm tail! The material is used sparingly, so no more than 6 strands at a time.

Body: Spun with bucktail. The body is made up in 2 parts. The first is fairly sparse, about one hook length, and is put on immediately ahead of an overlapping the tail. The second is thicker with longer fibres and ahead of the first. There are about 6 strands of Flashabou, the same length as the bucktail, on each side between collars and 3 on each side over the second collar. Because I was low on bucktail, when it was first tied this method seemed a good one for producing bulk with length. I’d been using it on my Barred and Blacks. Out of habit, I still tie my Pink Things that way. If I’d been flush with good quality material, it might have been tied differently.

Side Hackles: Barred Rock Saddles, 2 per side. OK, so these days I use METZ. On the original they were off one of Les Bullards Chooks and were wider and shorter. There are 2 per side tied together so that, if one is lost, there is still a herring-bone along the side of the fly. I’m a boots and braces person! It was probably this feature that confused Lefty Kreh into grouping it with Dan Blaton’s Whistler series in his book. It is easy to see how someone copying either a well-used or badly-tied (probably by me) example could assume that those feathers should be tied in 90 degrees apart, Whistler style.

Collar: Light Flourescent Pink Hackles, heavily webbed. These are tightly palmered, 2 at a time, from about halfway along the hook shank to the eye. The first palmering is tied back so that it flows over the bucktail. Aim to build up a dense collar that will push water. In 1984, I used some large neck hackle feathers that had been packaged by Joe Gospel and Wayne Handstedt in the 70s. These days I use the webbiest saddles that I can get.

The water pushing thing came from an article by Dan Blanton published in a 1973 issue of Double Haul magazine. He had gone to Costa Rica for the first time and had taken the usual collection of Florida tarpon flies. They bombed because of the coffee-coloured water. When he started using San Franscisco Bay striper flies, he caught fish. The lesson wasn’t lost on me. Up to that time, I’d been using the slimmer Florida style flies for barra with limited success. When I bulked things up, I caught fish, but it wasn’t until the Keel Bug – a sort of big-headed Muddler Minnow tied on a keel hook – that the penny really dropped as to why heavily collared flies work.

Eyes: Bead Chain. The bead chain is tied on with a Figure-8 knot then tied off behind the eyes. If you get it right, you can’t see how it was done. The extreme forward placement of the eyes is important as it helps the fly’s up and down action. Lead eyes improve this feature but increase the sink rate.


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