The Kate McLaren Wet Fly

Ah, Kate-O, my little not-so-yellow friend.

Every year, I’m on the lookout for new flies to tie and fish. My friend Jon, who’s been wet fly-fishing forever, also happens to be from the UK. So he’s been exposed to a broad cross-cultural mix of patterns. When I asked him for some suggestions, he immediately offered up the Kate McLaren. It’s fair to say that I liked Kate the moment I laid eyes on her.

The Kate McLaren is a Scottish loch fly, intended to be the top dropper (or bob fly) on a team of three. While its traditional use is on still water, I’m going to be fishing this on rivers. And while I might give it some time as a top dropper, it’s going to get the lion’s share of action on point.

There’s something about the contrast of the golden pheasant crest tail and the dark body that I find magnetically appealing. Golden pheasant crest almost glows when wet. Who knows what a fish will think this fly is – perhaps a flash of spotted salamander, or a chubby stonefly – but I can’t wait to feel that first take.

Kate McLaren


Hook: 8-14 (this is a 1x short, 2x strong Orvis 1641 size 10)
Thread: Black
Tail:  Golden pheasant crest
Body: Black seal fur (I used angora goat)
Rib:  Fine oval silver tinsel
Body Hackle: Black rooster (I used soft hen)
Head hackle:  Brown rooster (ditto on the hen)

Tying notes: Technically, this is a Kate McLaren variant since I used soft hen instead of stiffer rooster hackle. Since I primarily intend to fish this fly subsurface, I wanted the action the soft hackle would provide. When finishing the body, I tied the black hackle in near the head, leaving the thread at the tie-in point, and then wound the hackle backwards toward the tail. I then secured the hackle with the tinsel, and wrapped it forward to the thread. Also note that the black hackle is smaller than the brown. Some of the Kates I’ve seen have a longer tail, but I like the proportions of this one. I got lazy on the head and left it rough. As Dave Hughes said, trout aren’t interested in neatness.

21 comments on “The Kate McLaren Wet Fly

  1. stevegalea6953 says:

    Well done. If that doesn’t make the brook trout salivate as it swings past, I don’t know what will. Always nice to see a well-written piece and good photography. What are you using for background?

  2. Steve Culton says:

    Thanks Steve. Well-written and good photos are how roll on currentseams. Or at least we try to.

    The fly is shot in my home brew light box. I built it out of foam core (frame) and old t-shirts (diffuser panels). The background is a sheet of light blue craft paper. I’m using three utility shop lights with 100w natural light spectrum bulbs. At some point I’ll post a picture of the set-up, but in the meantime you can do a search for photo light box and build your own.

    • stevegalea6953 says:

      Thanks Steve. I really do enjoy the photography on your site and figure it wouldn’t hurt for me to up my game in this aspect.

  3. Jon says:

    Nice fella. If I could pick two flies to catch wild trout in Scotland, this would be one of them. [And just when are you going to tie the other?]

  4. Steve Culton says:

    Thanks. Sorry for being a scunner, but you’ll have to refresh my memory on the other. This was a fun pattern to tie.

  5. Jon says:

    The most famous wet fly in all Scotland: the Greenwells Glory! If only you had some cobbler’s wax….

  6. Steve Culton says:

    The truth is, I have one of those on my demo board, and I tied one for the group at Compleat Angler last week. Many thanks for the wax. It works like a charm. I will tie and post one soon.

  7. Miss P says:

    What a beautiful fly…I will have to try and tie it once I build my confidence up some more.

    • Steve Culton says:

      It’s one of those flies that may look a little complicated, but it’s all basics: tie on a tail. Dub a body. Palmer some hackle and wind some tinsel. Tie and wind a hackle at the head. Try it first on a larger hook like an 8, and don’t worry if the first one comes out a little cranky. By the third one you’ll be sailing.

  8. dotkaye says:

    there is another Kate, for which I can only find references to the Bergman pattern,

    However I used to tie this Kate with seal’s fur instead of floss. My recollection of it is as another loch fly pattern, from some old book retrieved from an estate sale in SA many years ago.

    • Steve Culton says:

      Yes. I’ve never tied that one, but it looks tasty. My take on body variations is floss/tinsel = flashy attractor, fur = buggier natural. No right or wrong answers, just delicious options.

      Don is a pretty talented guy.

  9. Chris Carland says:

    My great aunts name was Kate McLaren. I am wondering if the fly “the Kate McLaren” got its name from her. Can you help me?

  10. Chris Carland says:

    I’m trying to find out the history of the Kate McLaren fly, specifically who invented it and when was it first tied.

  11. Steve Culton says:


    Please see my response above from October 25th. Unfortunately, I can’t help you beyond that. Good luck with your search!

  12. Alastair Gentleman says:

    Kate McLaren was the wife of John McLaren who ran the Kinlochewe hotel at the head of Loch Maree. A friend of the Mclarens, a Mr Robertson a Glasgow tackle dealer, first tied the pattern in the 1930s. Its original purpose was as a sea trout fly on Maree, a role which it fulfilled extremely well! Since then is has become a standard in most Scottish anglers’ fly boxes. Like yourself, I much prefer the softer hen hackle. It is sometimes possible to get hold of what we would call a “henny/cock hackle” i.e. one which is soft enough to move when fished but stiff enough to allow the fly to keep its shape.

  13. Alastair Gentleman says:

    Just one comment about your Kate McLaren. The problem with tying the body materials in at the tail using the ribbing tinsel is that once you’ve had a fish or two, there is the possibility that the tinsel will be torn by the teeth of the trout. The traditional way here (Scotland) is to run the silk from the head down the shank, tie in all of the other materials, except the head hackle, at the tail using the silk then run the silk back up to the head (dubbing it as necessary) where it can wait for the arrival of the body hackle and ribbing. These are then tied in at the head using the silk before tying in the front hackle. This results in an almost indestructible fly!

    • Steve Culton says:

      Good point. You could also use a medium to large silver wire in place of the tinsel. or run a fine silver wire over the tinsel to reinforce it. It does stink when your fly comes undone.

  14. […] for midge larva) and tie on a fly I’d tied and brought with me, the traditional loch bob fly Kate McLaren. One of the beauties of fishing a team of three is that you often don’t know which fly the […]

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