I once heard a comedian who cracked this joke:

“I have a friend who is a fly fisherman. He went off to the river the other day and came back with a two pound bluebottle!”


Not a bad joke actually, although I preferred the one about his family being so poor that the nearest thing they could get to a Jacuzzi was a fart in the bath.

What a winner!

I mention the bluebottle joke because I have been thinking recently about bluebottles and, particularly about their little wriggling larvae, familiar to coarse fisherman as the ubiquitous maggot.

I bought some maggots a few weeks ago for my students to have a look at. They were sold to me by a very beautiful young woman in the fishing section of Decathlon in Fuengirola. This woman was a real stunner and I immediately fell in love with her and felt, for the first time, a little embarrassed about asking her to get me a box of maggots from the locked fridge. What kind of a man goes buying boxes of maggots?

Of course this was not the first time I have bought maggots. I used to buy gallons of the things during the years when my brother Sean and I did a lot of coarse fishing. They were unceremoniously scooped out from great plastic containers using a pint glass. I never really felt uncomfortable or embarrassed when buying them before, but then again, the tackle dealers were not beautiful young women. Most of them, let´s face it, are as ugly as hell!

Maggots are interesting things from a scientific point of view. It turns out that they are useful in surgery to clean wounds which might otherwise become infected. The maggots, as it happens, will feed on dead tissue but leave living tissue alone and so help reduce the risk of infection.

And they are useful too in the morbid but fascinating study of forensic entomology because the size and stage of development of maggots and other little critters can be very useful in determining how long a dead body has been lying around.

Most people know little about insects, and have little interest in their biology and life histories, but, having said that, it is probably true to say that the image that immediately enters most of our heads when we think of a “fly” is the image of a bluebottle, or something very similar. So it is no surprise that the gag about the fly fisherman catching a two pound bluebottle works better than saying he landed, say, a two pound mayfly, or sedge, or stonefly, or caddis fly, or crane fly or whatever kind of fly or nymph a fly fisherman would actually use.

The truth is, from a fly fishing point of view, both maggots and adult bluebottles are of very marginal interest, and for a very good reason. The bluebottle lays its eggs on something gruesome like a dead hedgehog or whatever, and the larvae feed, grow and pupate and turn into the adult fly. The adults feed on nectar, bless them, but then go and spoil things by finding something dead and disgusting to lay their eggs on.

All of this means that at no point during their life cycle are maggots or adult blue bottles likely to find their way into the water and become the natural food of fish, quite unlike the midges, and caddis flies, and mayflies and all the others which the fly fisherman may want to impersonate. And maggots, which are a favourite bait of coarse fishermen, would not be part of the natural diet of fish either. The fish eat these things because fishermen throw bucket loads of them into the water. It is very unlikely that they would otherwise ever even see one.

Of course none of this means that fish don´t consider them tasty. Fish love maggots. And they are perfectly happy to eat the adult flies if they can get their hands on them. (Okay, it´s just an expression – I know fish don´t have hands!) We know how much fish like bluebottles from experience because we had a pet fish one time called an oscar. It was given to us by a friend who had grown tired of looking after it. The thing was huge. My son Leo and I used to catch flies and pop them into the tank. Schlurp! The oscar absolutely loved them!

I have a dry fly pattern which works pretty well at imitating a “fly” in the familiar, generic sense. It is really simple to tie. A little black dubbing and some of that fine foam which is used in packaging are pretty much all you need. I sometimes use a black hackle feather, sometimes not. I don´t think it makes much of a difference.

If the fish are just taking whatever terrestrials have had the misfortune of getting themselves drowned it is as good a bet as anything else.

Oscars like this find bluebottles yummy

Oscars like this find bluebottles yummy