Variations on John Barr’s Meatwhistle

With the winter solstice behind us, I’m looking forward to the next chapter in our seasonal diary; bashing smallmouth bass in the many rivers and stillwaters around Cape Town. Although I always enjoy a bit of mid – winter bassing, it’s really the build-up to spring that gets me excited.

Meatwhistle = smallie food
Meatwhistle = smallie food

With the pre- spawn less than a month away, I am tying up bass flies in anticipation for the action to come. My favourite pattern by far must be John Barr’s meatwhistle. John Barr came up with this pattern in 2001 as he was looking to tie a fly that can be be fished in the same manner conventional bass anglers fishes jigs and plastics; it had to sink fast and have lots of movement. He decided to name it the meatwhistle “after its ability to seemingly call in the largest fish.”

An early season 20-incher that fell for a meatwhistle
An early season 20-incher that fell for a meatwhistle

The fly has a lovely buggy appearance, as well as all the essential qualities that are important when targeting river smallies: the zonker strip, rubber legs and marabou gives the pattern plenty of movement, even when dead drifted. The marabou collar is a very important design element; it folds back when the fly sinks (allowing it to go down like a cement bag in a mine shaft), but puffs out when it settles down, resulting in a big profile. This pattern is presented tight against the bottom, and I like to fish it on a long leader and floating line.

Zonker strip and big marabou collar: lots of movement. A meatwhislte tied with dumbbell eyes.
Zonker strip and big marabou collar: lots of movement. A meatwhislte tied with dumbbell eyes.
Tying meatwhistles to match lures that are proving successful; orange and yellow are hot early season colors
Tying meatwhistles to match lures that are proving successful; orange and yellow are hot early season colors

Getting hold of jig hooks can be a problem, so we have resorted to manually putting a 60-degree bend in a streamer hook. I sometimes also substitute the cone head with lead eyes or big tungsten beads in order to tie a heavier fly. For tying instructions, simply Google John Barr’s Meatwhistle. I like tying it in brown, using barred zonker and rubber legs and gold flashabou.

Zonker collar and sculpin head
Zonker collar and sculphin head

The nice thing about the meatwhistle is that it can easily be experimented with. I use different beads, dumbbels etc and one can use various materials for the collar. Recently I started experimenting with different versions of the fly. I substituted the cone head or tungsten bead with Fishsculls, as well as using zonker strips to palmer the collar. The fly doesn’t sink as fast as the original version, but it can be bounced over rock quite easily and is a perfect pattern for fishing deep ledges in still water or slow current.

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A fat fastwater smallie that couldn't resist a meaty tied with lead dumbbells
A fat fastwater smallie that couldn’t resist a meaty tied with lead dumbbells

If you plan to hit the water for smallies this spring, don’t forget to take out the Meatwhistle!

5 thoughts on “Variations on John Barr’s Meatwhistle”

  1. Leonard Flemming says:

    Epic-looking flies dude – tying some at the mo;)

  2. Andre Van Wyk says:

    Very nice Conna… definitely gonna be tying some of these up with those Sculpin heads, they look fantastic! Gonna try a few Articulated variations as well!

  3. Shamwari says:

    I had a lot of fun tying these, cant wait to try them out…

  4. Liam Surridge says:

    Brilliant pattern… And decent smallies too!

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