How to fish the cat's whisker fly

The cat's whisker fly may no longer use cats' whiskers, but it's remained one of the top stillwaters trout flies in the UK for years.

How to fish the cat's whisker fly
Picture copyright © Fly and Lure
How to fish the cat's whisker fly
Picture copyright © Fly and Lure
How to fish the cat's whisker fly
Estimated reading time 6 - 9 minutes

What is the cat's whisker fly pattern?

The cat's whisker fly pattern is a mini lure (or streamer) first tied by fly fisher David Train in 1985. As the name suggests, the fly was originally tied using cat's whiskers.

These days, the fly is so popular that demand for actual cats' whiskers outstrips demand, so they're no longer used. In fact, it's arguably the most popular trout lure or streamer used on UK stillwaters today.

Why were cat's whiskers used in the original?

The cat's whisker consists of a marabou tail and a marabou wing, tied above a body of a contrasting colour. The modern cat's whisker fly typically uses a pair of chain bead eyes, but the original didn't.

It's said that the addition of the real cats' whiskers prevented the wing wrapping around the body, thus ruining the action of the fly.

Has the cat's whisker fly changed much in the past 30 years?

Well, obviously the current flies don't actually using any materials of feline origin. However, the original cat's whisker was actually unweighted, but the majority used today have chain bead eyes.

The modern cat's whisker now comes in myriad forms, with different coloured chain bead eyes, single beads, no beads or booby eyes. It's a really versatile pattern and you can effectively go freestyle and still end up with a fly that's more or less guaranteed to catch fish.

Cat's whiskers are one of the top stillwater fly patterns.

What about wing and tail length?

Some people prefer to tie the cat's whisker with a long tail and wing, while others scale the lengths down to produce a much shorter fly. Both work very well, but I prefer the appearance of the shorter one myself.

In what sizes is the cat's whisker tied?

The typical cat's whisker is tied on a size 10 or 12 hook, sometimes going up as large as a size 8. If you're tying your own shorter cat's whiskers then you can go down to about a size 14 before things get too fiddly.

Should I use a single bead or chain bead?

These days, the chain bead eyes version is most popular. You can also get chain bead in various colours, other than silver, which means you can give your fly a unique look, and add a trigger point to attract the fish.

Does it also work as a booby?

Yes, most boobies used in the UK reservoirs are based on a cat's whisker pattern and are extremely effective.

How should I fish the cat's whisker?

The cat's whisker can be fished in a variety of ways, which is probably why it's so versatile, widely used and effective. You could literally turn up to any stillwater trout fishery in the UK armed only with a few cat's whiskers and be in with a decent chance of catching.

Floating line On a floating line, the cat's whisker is best fished with a single bead or chain bead eyes. This gives the fly a jigging action on the retrieve. Anything from a slow figure eight retrieve, to slow pulls or jerky strips will work.

Intermediate line If the fish are just below the surface or a few feet down, a cat's whisker on an intermediate works well. Most people fish the weighted ones, and pretty much any retrieve will catch. Fast strips or even roly poly retrieves can be great when fish are chasing.

Sinking line When the fish are much deeper, an unweighted cat's whisker or a booby version of the fly can be great. This is one of the main tactics for lure fishing on reservoirs. You can fish deep water and use almost any retrieve speed, making it really versatile.

Does this fly work best under certain conditions?

It works all year round, but it tends to work best during colder weather when the fish are in the mood for chasing prey.

Why has it remained popular for so long?

Probably because it's such an efficient fish taker. I wouldn't mind betting that it's probably in the top 10 or top 5 flies on the catch returns book of pretty much every stillwater trout fishery in the UK. It's also easy to tie, readily available and comes in a wide range of colours.

Is it easy to tie?

Yes, the cat's whisker is an ideal fly for the beginner. It was one of the first flies my son, George, learnt to tie aged seven. He invented his own variation of the cat's whisker called the Red Rascal, which he found to be extremely effective at our local Ellerdine Lakes. Charles Jardine covered George's variant in Fly Fishing and Fly Tying.

George's Red Rascal cat's whisker pattern was covered by Charles Jardine in Fly Fishing and Fly Tying magazine.

Where can I get chain bead?

Most of the fly tying retailers sell pre-cut chain bead eyes in a variety of colours. However, the cheapest way to get it is to buy some chain beads (or ball chains as they're also known) and cut them to length. You can get a lifetime's supply for a few pounds.

What body material can you use?

Historically, the cat's whisker used chenille. However, modern fly tying materials have opened up loads of alternative body materials to use.

I really like the FNF Chewing Gum as a body material, as well as the many straggle fritz products on the market, or the shorter blob fritz materials. George's pattern uses a body of dubbed Hends UV dubbing.

What colour patterns of cat's whisker work best?

You can tie the cat's whisker in pretty much any colour and be fairly sure it will still catch fish. However, there are a few classic colours that you'll see sold in the fly shops. The most commonly used ones are a lime green body with white marabou, and a lime green body with a black wing and tail.

Matthew Pate's Crazy eyed cat

Matthew Pate's Crazy eyed cat using coloured bead.

Andy Pandy's Candy chewing gum booby cat

Andy Pandy uses FNF chewing gum as the body material in this candy booby.

Davie McPhail's Pseudo hackle candy cat

Davie McPhail uses pseudo hackle on this unweighted version.

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