Monday, April 07, 2014

Early Season Update

Considering the mildness of the winter past, and the slightly early springing of spring this year, it's been a slow start to the trout season for me. There isn't really much of interest to note from any of the three days I have spent on the river recently, although all have been enjoyable in their own way.

After failing to catch on the 15th I tried again on the 28th, tackling a swollen but clear middle Eden with friend Stuart Minnikin. It can feel like a big river down there, below where the Eamont discharges the spring Lakeland runoff from Ullswater; and on this occasion overnight rain which just clipped to top end of the catchment (putting the Ure away in full flood in the process, just the other side of the watershed), lifted the parent river slightly too, to the tune of an extra 6 inches or so. That might not sound very much, but with the gauge showing 1' 4" and slowly rising, an already substantial river felt really quite big...and wading was restricted to near margins and quiet pool tails.

Still, the decent clarity gave cause for hope and we set to with teams of spiders, prospecting the inside current seams in anticipation of a later hatch of Large Dark Olives and March Browns. This tactic proved worthwhile and we were both able to attract interest. Stuart had a couple of fish up to around 1lb, with a few tweaks and dropped offers. I had similar amount of action, but only small fish obliged; so my first trout of the new season turned out to be a skerrit of about 8oz.

As the morning progressed, conditions began to feel 'right' for a hatch and sure enough, after a long walk downstream Stuart spotted a single fish rising steadily on a pool tail, directly in front of a submerged boulder. Initially we assumed it would be taking LDOs, but closer inspection revealed that the little upwings were nowhere to be seen and this trout was sipping down midge. Stuart stepped in and did the honours......a fine fish of 1lb 10oz (see photo at top of post) taking second drift past. Well angled that man!

Things seemed all set to take off at that point. The air was mild, the wind had dropped and the light felt spot on; all we needed was the invertebrate activity to trigger a spell of feeding. Strangely, from that point onwards it just didn't happen for us. A few flies started to trickle off and we both rose a fish or two to dry olive patterns, but sport was slow to say the least.....possibly due to the rising river, who knows? Later on we took a walk upstream and saw dozens of LDO duns clustering in back eddies, with mallards working amongst them eating their fill. Still no rising trout to be seen. In all, a day which promised much but which failed to deliver - but at least we had caught a few!

A week or so later saw me tackle the Eamont on two 'same but different' days. Inappropriate conditions on the main river jockeyed me up onto the tributary in the hope of maybe securing a large fish or two. I knew the going would likely be slow, but hey I like a challenge! As it turned out I wasn't wrong - although conditions on the two days were pretty much opposites, the result was more or less the same on both occasions: sparse insect activity, not a single rising fish observed, and a handful of middling sized trout returned to nymph tactics. If this was understandable on the first of the two days (river crystal clear, weather sunny with a strong, chilly south easterly), then it was slightly harder to take second time around. I arrived at the river around lunchtime to find it maybe two inches higher than previously, and carrying a slight but welcome tinge of colour. The air was mild and still, and grey cloud hung heavy overhead. It felt as perfect as I could have wished for.......on the timber fence nearby, a couple of unusually early adult female Perlodes stoneflies lay resting. Surely I would catch?

Not so. Well not in the manner I had hoped. After three hours of staking out various likely spots on the lookout for a big Eamont brownie-snout breaking surface, I switched to an upstream nymph set-up in an attempt to actually catch something. This worked ok, and a few fit - and very welcome - trout were brought to hand. I couldn't help feeling though, that somehow I had wasted an opportunity; that somewhere there must have been a shot at a big early season fish. That said, reports since from other anglers on the Eden system suggest that such opportunities have been few and far between; so maybe it's not just me!

A brace of typical Eamont trout, noodled out on upstream nymph tactics.

And our early season invertebrate buddies, the March Brown and Large Dark Olive. We could do with seeing a few more of them in the next week or two!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Stop: Start

This year - unusually for me - the end of the grayling fishing segued into the start of the trout season almost seamlessly, a mere ten hours either side of the midnight transition point finding me casting a line for one species or the other, on two different rivers.

It's amazing how such an arbitrary distinction can affect the mood of one's fishing. Yesterday the feeling was one of faint regret, bidding farewell to the grayling which have given me so much pleasure over the last few weeks. I caught trout then too, but a few hours short of becoming legal tender, dismissed them nonchalantly. Today an atmosphere of expectation pervaded every aspect of my fishing and suddenly, where Salmo trutta was perceived to be a nuisance not 24 hours earlier, suddenly the burden of having to catch my first fish of the new trout season proved excessive and I couldn't tempt one of the little blighters to save my life. Not that the enterprise was entirely unsuccessful, far from it. My fishing partner returned 5 trout, a particularly nice specimen amongst them; and as he was my guest for the day, I could at least take comfort from the fact that his journey wasn't wasted.

So, the final throes of the grayling season. Last weekend I took Dad with me to a recently discovered gem of a river. The Old Fella hadn't caught a grayling since he was a boy and I was confident we could address that in style. Sure enough, the silver beauties obliged and by fishing a combination of French nymph leader and later on as the weather warmed, a cast of spiders, we were able to attract interest with pleasing regularity. One particularly productive spell saw Dad fish an insignificant looking seam of brisk water and return half a dozen nice grayling in the space of about ten minutes. The smile on his face alone made the journey worthwhile.

As far as grayling were concerned, that was just about that I thought....until an opportunity presented itself to have a quick couple of hours on my local river on the very last day of the winter season. Turning up at mid afternoon on a cool overcast day, I was pleasantly surprised to find a good hatch of Large Dark Olives underway in a couple of my favourite pools. A blustery upstream wind made for less than ideal conditions, but the fish didn't seem to care and could be seen rising regularly to the newly emerged duns which were skating about the surface in the chilly breeze.

I wasn't able to tell if they were trout or grayling. I never have been much good at interpreting the rise forms and don't put much stock in that old 'grayling leave a bubble' theory. Unless I can visibly tell which species it is, I have a cast to find out. Unfortunately it seemed on this occasion as though the majority were trout - just a handful of hours too early! I don't generally photograph out of season fish but made an exception here, the trout below being the best of a fit half dozen (the LDO para-emerger can be seen wedged in the corner of its jaw in the upper image).

Just as it looked as though I might fail to catch a grayling for the first time in quite a few sessions, the day was saved by a large cock fish which rose in a slow, scything arc to my emerger. It was a fine fish of exactly 2lb and marked a fitting end to the best winter of grayling fishing I have ever enjoyed. I bade the big lad a fruitful mating season and paused a moment to reflect on the wonders of our sport, before beginning the long walk across the fields and back to the car.

Fast forward twenty hours or so: Gary Hyde and I are pulling on our waders in a frigid west wind high on a bluff above the Cumbrian Eden. Recent reports suggest that, as in Lancashire, the spring olive hatches are well underway and trout have begun to move to them. Hopes are high - I know a couple of sheltered place where the stricken duns  - should they choose to hatch - will get harried by the breeze, accumulate in back eddies, and quickly become the target of large wild brown trout. It's still early though, so we both put up nymph rigs and head down to the lower pools on the beat.

Straightaway I don't like the cut of the river's jib. It is running exceptionally clear, in a blueish, sterile sort of way which speaks of midwinter and piscine inactivity. Although the day - wind chill aside - is fairly mild, everything else feels as though spring is yet to assert itself upon the Eden valley. Suddenly I have a gut feeling that today will not be a day of invertebrate activity. The river feels lifeless.
And so it proves, for me at least. Confidence is a hugely influential factor in fishing, and with my quota diminishing incrementally with every fruitless drift of the nymphs, the spectre of an opening day blank looms ominously. I focus my efforts on putting Gary into the spots I hope might just yield an offer or two, before heading off upstream in the faint hope of finding a localised hatch. Nothing stirs. My mental tally of olive duns spotted hovers around the upper single figures. I return to my guest, all apologies and bad tidings.

As it happens, Gary has managed to winkle out a brace of small brownies and even as I watch him nymphing up a shallow pool, the indicator dips and he lifts into something altogether more substantial. A brief, acrobatic fight ensues and to our combined relief, a beautiful wild trout is eventually drawn over the waiting net. It's a fine fish: slim from winter rigours, but healthy and bright. It's made Gary's day, and mine too.

Gary goes on to land another couple of fish. Five trout on opening day, especially one as bitter and unforgiving as this, is a fine effort and one which I am unable to match. As I nymph through a final couple of pools, I am resigned to my fate.....but also excited about the prospect of the season ahead. All this greyness and chill, the bare trees, strafed sandy banks, raw wind and soulless water; all this will be replaced soon by life and vigour and rising trout. I will have to wait a little longer yet to open my account for the new season - but such is the fickle nature of the British spring, that it may be as soon as the next few days. This slow gathering of vernal momentum is, I'm convinced, one of the river flyfisher's greatest pleasures and I remind myself of that whilst peeling off my thick neoprene waders for what I hope will be the last time this year. It has been a challenging day....but better times most certainly await.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Eat Sleep Fish.

As is usually the case, I've been a bit slow latching on to this. Eat, Sleep, Fish has been knocking around for a couple of years now. Brainchild of Pete Tyjas, Jim Williams and Ian May, this excellent enterprise is a roughly monthly online ezine which covers the whole flyfishing gamut, from saltwater, to destination fishing, to poking about on small streams.Embarrassingly, I only really latched on to how good a resource it is when I noticed a link to an interesting article last month by fellow blogger Ben Lupton (see here). The whole premise of ESF is that it reflects real life angling by everyday anglers. Anyone is free to submit an article and share their experiences and stories; and having been inspired into giving it a go by Ben's fine piece, I am delighted to point you toward the latest issue in which one of my efforts appears - a bit of ramble on the ins and outs of fishing the spring olive hatch.

There are many other, more worthy reasons to bookmark this website though. Having trawled through the entire back catalogue, I can wholeheartedly recommend ESF as a great monthly fix for all keen flyfishers. Have a look - it's good stuff. Links below.....

Home page

Direct link to my article

Friday, February 28, 2014


Since I started frequenting less than idyllic spots in search of winter grayling, I've had to quickly learn to deal with the strange looks and smartarse comments of passers by. Granted it's not everyday you see a sweaty bloke ambling down the street in neoprene waders, but the 'won't catch much here mate' wisecracks can get a bit wearing after a while. One more notable encounter came a few weeks ago when I rounded a street corner to see a pair of teenage girls across the road pointing at my head and shouting 'OI......FLAT CAP!' repeatedly. I quickened my pace, but was unable to escape the damning mantra. The verdict rained down on me even as I sat on the lip of my car boot, stripping off my waders. Comes with the territory I guess.

Still, I'm a glutton for punishment and was back again recently, the law of diminishing grayling returns not yet having kicked in for me. Every session hereabouts seems to reveal something new and the fishing keeps getting better and better. On this occasion, a whole bunch of nymph-caught grayling was supplemented by half a dozen taken on para emerger patterns when in mid afternoon, a sparse trickle of Large Dark Olives momentarily turned into something resembling a proper hatch.

It was a splendid moment. Earlier in the day I had noticed my first spray of new hawthorn foliage in a roadside hedge and a little later, a solitary blackthorn bush tentatively broken into blossom. It might have been coincidence, but for me it felt like the death of winter and the beginning of something great. The air was still and warm, the sunlight soft and diffuse. It smelled like just the right moment to be extending a long tapered leader and dry fly over a rising fish....and so later on, when the opportunity arose to do just that, the day was complete.

Having said that, as I stood at the tail of a quiet pool, watching long, crimson dorsal fins cut the surface repeatedly, it was almost with reluctance that I stripped off the French nymph leader and fumbled around in my vest pocket for last season's dry fly leader. I thought of all the things which could go wrong: a snagged back cast,  hideous tippet drag, and if I did manage to get the fly on the water with something like decent presentation, the inevitably miss-timed lift.

After weeks of tuning myself in to the sub-surface world, this sudden rise of fish - half anticipated though it was - caught me completely off guard. As I prepared to cast, the leader felt way too long, the 0.12mm tippet, worryingly fine. Everything felt wrong, and as I shot a few yards of fly line from the tip of the rod for the first time in months, I was sure this dry fly enterprise was doomed to fail. Luckily, early spring fish rising to a LDO hatch are usually pretty forgiving of the rusty angler's imperfections and my first delivery was met with an instantaneous response - a 12" grayling was hooked and suddenly the world - even this malodorous, sootstained world - looked a beautiful place.
Five more like-sized fish followed before the pool was done, and although I continued to see a sparse trickle of duns and midge through the subsequent water I fished, nothing rose to eat them.

What was apparent though, was just how actively the fish (grayling and trout), were on the feed. My nymphs (see the brightly coloured shrimps at the bottom of this post), needed to be fished lightly and at slightly longer range than winter fishing often demands if they were to elicit the best response, takes usually coming within seconds of the flies touching the surface. It was definitely a case of fish being 'on the fin', of sport belonging to spring rather than winter. That in itself made me a very happy man.

The day had one final twist in store. As I headed back along the riverside footpath, emerging out onto the busy street I was met once more by the same two girls who had goaded me previously. The day was a mild one and I'd left my flattie in the car; it didn't matter, they recognised me straight away. Chants of 'YOU BALD BASTARD!!!!' rang out behind me as I completed the last fifty yards to car. It truly was a 'walk of shame'.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

February grayling fishing is made of this........

I've been lucky enough to fish for grayling on a number of occasions recently, catching plenty too. It really has helped to see me through the winter and when next back end comes around, I won't be half as depressed about the passing of the summer months. Spring is just around the corner and with the trout season just three weeks off (and fingers crossed, no sign of that horrific late winter nonsense we saw in 2013), I am ready to breathe again. But as a man who genuinely struggles with cold, short days, it is a great pleasure to say that this time around, the situation hasn't been anywhere near as dire as normal.

The quality of the fishing has been key, as has the mildness of the weather. But above all I think it is the friends I have met which has made the whole experience so enjoyable. The above montage of photos is taken from a recent session, when I met up with Danny Gill on a grayling infested stream in the Pennines. It was another superb day on the river, one which perfectly summed up my new found enthusiasm for grayling fishing. The photos tell a story far better than my words ever could, so I will leave it at that, other than to say a big thanks to Davie, Craigie, Stuart, Gary and Danny for collectively getting me through this winter and providing some great memories in the process!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Pocket picking across the border

Trouble at 'mill? Not on this occasion; in a happy coming together of circumstance I found myself in a position to sneak away from gale and downpour blighted Lancashire and across the Pennines to find sanctuary in the rain shadow, and a very special little urban stream. I only had a couple of hours to spare before the incoming weather front caught up with me and brought an abrupt end to proceedings, but nevertheless the grayling played ball and some tremendous sport was enjoyed before rain - and a rising river - stopped play.

I've learned a few things about grayling this winter. You might recall last back end, a post of mine where I stated that 'the lady' and I don't really get on. Soon after writing that, I decided that it was a pretty shoddy state of affairs and that I really ought to do something about my lack of understanding in the grayling department. There was a time several years ago when I felt I had got to grips with the winter tactics required for this enigmatic game fish, but just as soon as the knowing came, it went again when the birth of our children forced me to reassess certain priorities. Of course, fishing still lingered toward the upper end of that list - for pathetically obsessed individuals like me, it always does - but when required to pare down my angling activities, it wasn't a difficult decision: the whole 'standing bollock-deep in freezing cold water' business had to go.

Fast forward half a dozen years and it's fair to say that the only thing stopping me having at least an occasional waft of the fly rod through winter, is my own reticence. I've attempted to address that over the last few months, and although our spate streams here in the north west of England have been in an almost constant state of flood, at least the winter has been mild. So when the rivers have dropped back to something like a fishable level I've been all over the situation like a cheap suit.

Key in this little renaissance of mine, has been my introduction to small urban river grayling fishing. The thankless task of locating pods of fish on large rivers like the middle Eden has sometimes proved beyond me in the past, and conditioned me into a mindset of blind searching, crosswise, back and forth through the big pools with a shortline, heavy bug set up.
What I have recently learned is that not all rivers are such like; that some smaller streams harbour large numbers of grayling in tiny pockets and seams, where fish can be picked off at close quarters using relatively light nymphing set-ups.....a bloody obvious statement I know, but a revelation to me nonetheless.

After three or four visits to my new found grayling mecca, I'm finally getting a real feel for where to find the little blighters in number, starting to recognise the sometimes minute pots and holes in the fast currents where a fish or two, or even three are likely wedged - slight scoops in the river bed which would be deserted on my normal big river haunts at this time of year, but which offer as much feature as is necessary on a little fast flowing beck.

I capitalised on this discovery with relish, searching the water, dropping in and out of the river at every likely looking spot, picking up fish on a regular basis. The method was simplicity itself - a French leader set up with a brace of small nymphs. Pitched short into the holding areas, the braid indicator tapped forward so often I had to pinch myself to recall that this was actually winter fishing and not the early summer festival of plenty. By the time the rain came and telltale bits of debris started to appear in the current, I had returned nearly 30 fish. Half a dozen were trout; the rest were pristine grayling in the 10-14 inch size class. Magical stuff all told, and ample vindication of my decision to engage once more with winter flyfishing.

Am I now a grayling fisher then?  It's looking that way. I've had more fun over this winter period than for some years now. The trout season looms large on the horizon and although I am anticipating the start with customary relish, maybe this year it will be with a tinge of sadness that I bid farewell to the shortest days and beautiful streaks of silver and magenta holding station in the milky current.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

In a Black Mood.

Well, not a black mood, but a black mood. How could I feel down after a trip down to the BFFi at Stafford yesterday? Considering that Gary Hyde, Stuart Minnikin and I were originally due to spend the weekend fishing the Nith for grayling, when adverse weather and water conditions forced a change of plan, the fly fair initially felt like a poor second best.

Nevertheless, we met up as planned and instead of heading north into the Borders, set the sat-nav for the Midlands and resigned ourselves to a day of staring at small packets of dubbing and hooks, amidst a sea of olive and khaki-clad flyfishers. Except that the whole thing turned out to be rather a good laugh as it happened.

I'd not been to the annual fair for a few years - since it was last held at Stoke - and recent reports suggested it had gone downhill. Certainly I was very disappointed to learn that Lakeland Fly Tying no longer participate. It's a poor do when the country's top genetic cape supplier isn't represented at the BFFi.....but then again, given the parlous state of my finances at present, it was probably for the best. I had heard some complaints about the venue, but it looked ok to me. Certainly bigger in plan, so more room to browse rather than the previous arrangement where it sometimes felt like you were just slowly dribbling along, part of a thick flyfisher soup. But on the other hand, it also felt as if there was less to see. Maybe that is true, maybe just an illusion; whichever way, by 1pm we were done and dusted and on the way to a very welcome pub lunch.

Each of us had picked up a few odds and sods: some dubbing here, pheasant tails there, nothing particularly interesting. What made it worthwhile though, was the chance to catch up with so many friends, and to put faces to the names of a number of fellow FF forum members. Sometimes, when faced with conditions unsuited to fishing, then talking about fishing is the next best thing.....and it was a day which involved an awful lot of talking about fishing! There was also a lot of talk about plans for the coming season and in that respect, the organisers got the timing of BFFi 2014 absolutely spot on. No middle of the summer nonsense like recent years, you could sense the excitement throughout the hall for the prospect of the year to come.

And so to my black mood. Well, a conversation with Stuart got me thinking ahead to high summer in the Lakeland Fells, a few favourite spots of mine, and one or two more which I've always felt might warrant investigation. So when I sat down at the vice today, it was not just the usual river fare which occupied my thoughts, but the contents of my wild stillwater boxes too....and when considering fly patterns for the high fell tarns, it doesn't take too long before the black stuff rears its head.

I started though with river wet flies - black Stewart style spiders to be exact, in hooks sizes 16 and 18. No doubt these would do a job on a wild stillwater given calm-ish conditions, but it was with my local trout streams in mind that I tied these flies. Stewart style tying is a great way of getting a spider to linger in the surface film, with a few more turns of hackle than is usually called for, and then spaced a bit more openly in what amounts to a semi-palmered fashion, back from the hook eye. I used black hen neck for these but starling  (which I think was prescribed in the original), works equally well, and possibly better, being that bit more 'webby' in its nature. My starling supplies are exhausted though, so hen will have to do for now.

I then took one foot out of running water and placed it in still, with the tying of some black and peacock spiders. These are absolutely deadly on the Cumbrian tarns and I often fish just a pair of them when the conditions are kind enough to present a warm overcast and light cord ripple. Sometimes it feels a bit unsatisfactory to fish flies which are so plain in appearance and simple in their construction, and the temptation is to tinker at the vice, adding all sorts of bright tags and appendages. But the B&P spider is a superb fly just as it is and it's a rare day in the hills when I don't land a few fish on one.

Next came the ever reliable bibio hoppers, tied on #12 black nickel Hayabusas. I fish these wet, as part of a team of three and as with the B&P spider, they can be counted upon completely to bring sport on wild stillwaters...and even more so if heather flies are up in late summer.

Finally, I tinkered a little and knocked up a trio of black and red creations based loosely upon the Crippler template popularised by Rob Denson. This isn't a style of fly I've ever tied before as I usually manage to cadge a few from Rob's flybox (naturally he ties them a lot better than I ever will)...and in all honesty I haven't done much stillwater biased tying for quite some time now. The fly at top left started life as a simple black palmer, but got inadvertently 'cripplerised' when I found myself reaching for the dyed red golden pheasant skin.......I can see it doing a job -  a sort of bibio with added 'buzz'!

Black very much the colour today then. As Charlie Higson's Fast Show character once proclaimed "The gulls have plucked out my eyes!"

Sunday, February 02, 2014

When is a klink not a klink?

There was an interesting discussion on the Fly Fishing Forum a week or two ago. One of the members asked the question: must a Klinkhamer be tied with high quality genetic cock hackle? This led to all sorts of response from anglers at either end of the spectrum ranging from a) yes, the hackle is absolutely essential to prevent the fly becoming waterlogged and sinking, to b) no, provided the balance of the fly is correct, then the rigidity and quality of the hackle need not be quite so great.

More on that later, but the first thing that struck me as the discussion gathered pace was this: we UK anglers tend to refer to any pattern tied on a curved shank hook and with a para-hackle, as a 'klink'. I've noticed it in the past, but the phenomenon seems more prevalent now than ever before, and I think it's worth understanding a little more about the origin of the true Klinkhamer, before we get too carried away with how the hackle should be tied.

The (arising of the) Klinkhamer Special

The link above, written by Hans Van Klinken himself, details how this famous pattern evolved, for what reason and with what result. It was developed especially to cope with a certain set of conditions, that is large, brawling Scandinavian rivers where grayling need to be enticed up in heavy flows from quite a depth. The Klinkhamer is a large fly (often tied on #8-10 hooks), heavily hackled with genetic grade cock feather. It is easy to see how it so successfully fit the bill for Hans in its chosen application - a big profile presented sub surface, supremely buoyant and visually easy to for an angler to track on its downstream drift in turbulent flows.

But how many UK flyfishers carry 'true' Klinkhamers in their fly boxes? I bet it isn't all that many, especially if you discount oversized parachute hackle jobs which are intended to support nymphs in a duo or trio setup. Conversely, I've no doubt that nearly every one of the above will have a few smaller versions  - para-emergers, I call them - nestled away somewhere; flies in # 12-18 range tied to represent the emerging insects we see on our home waters.Yet we still refer to them as 'klinks'. Why?

Not that there is any harm in this of course, and I might be accused of pedantry in making the point. But I think it is important....especially when on the same internet forum as mentioned above, I regularly see questions posted along the lines of "why doesn't my klink float?" The thing is, I think that somewhere down the line we became obsessed with the heavily dressed, long-posted make-up of the original fly and forgot to scale all that down along with hook size when we translated Hans' blueprint to our own better mannered and more manageable streams. What we are now talking about isn't a Klinkhamer in the correct sense, but more a 'para-hackle emerger', tied with a particular hatch in mind. Some anglers seem hellbent on achieving this aim by trying to cram as many turns of top quality hackle on to a thick, overlong post, as possible....and then wonder why it doesn't fool all that many fish, and in a lot of cases doesn't even float properly, despite having more buoyant tying material lashed to it than your average Chernobyl Ant! So a couple of 'para myths' to debunk here:

1. More hackle turns does not result in better buoyancy. Far better to find a nice balance between imitation size, hackle barb length and number of turns. I'm a firm believer (because it has been demonstrated to me through experience time and again), that a hackle of fewer turns, but with longer barb length, results in a fly which fishes more 'realistically' than one with a stack of half a dozen turns of short hackle. A sparse hackle is particularly useful for this and sometimes that means leaving the Gold Grade Whiting in the drawer. This sparseness lends the fly a delicate profile when viewed from below, whilst the slightly longer barb length 'outrigs' the fly nicely, stabilising it and allowing it to ride nice and low in the surface film, but not to the point where it keeps sinking through it.
In fact, too much hackle on a small parachute emerger just results in the fly alighting on the surface poorly, causing it to quickly become waterlogged. Thus the paradox......less is more.

2. The post doesn't float the fly. Jeez I wish I had a quid for every time I heard this one. Why are we so obsessed about wing post material? Granted we don't want an overly absorbent material which actively wicks moisture up from the fly abdomen.....but in the normal course of things any polyprop yarn should be fine, with the TMC Aero-dry wing being a firm favourite amongst many, myself included. What beats me is the way some people tie in so many plys thickness of said material, and cut the post half an inch long in the mistaken belief that it will somehow aid buoyancy of the resultant pattern. All this achieves is to compromise balance; and then when the presented fly lands on its side time after time and quickly sinks, the angler asks.....why?

To sum it up, I think we sometimes tie small para-emergers to be overly top-heavy i.e. with an abdomen to match our particular hatch, but a top half which would better suit a proper Klinkhamer tied on a #10 hook or bigger. This is ok if we have a bunch of sub-surface fluff and iron to act as counterballast and hold the whole shebang down......but on a #16 olive imitation? I'm convinced that sparse and leggy is the way to go and a good balance between buoyancy and delicacy can most certainly be struck with a bit of trial and error.

So magnificent pattern though it is, perhaps it's time we UK anglers stopped thinking about our parachute emerger patterns as Klinkhamers, and more as, well, parachute emergers....and concentrate on adapting them to the specific task in hand?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

This weekend's fly tying has been mostly about......

.......replicating the urban river fly patterns of Gary Hyde. I was very impressed by the effectiveness of Gary's winter grayling patterns in particular, and would like to share a couple with you here. I learned an invaluable lesson recently - one which I've learned a few times before, I admit - and that's not to dismiss something because it doesn't (or you assume it doesn't) work on your usual waters. Not that I would ever have dismissed Gary's patterns, far from it; but they are not the sort of thing I would ever have used under my own steam. The deadliness was there though - demonstrated before my eyes by the repeated interest from quality grayling and small out of season trout. I made a space in my nymph box and set about tying with some of the most gaudy materials I've used in a long time.

The UV Pink Shrimp

You would be hard pressed to find a grayling fisher the length and breadth of this land who doesn't have a few pink shrimp patterns in the box, and I am no different. I have to be honest and say that I've never found them to be any more effective for grayling than some of my other patterns, and they tend to get reserved until there is some colour in the water; then the pink shrimps - and orange ones too - get a run out. A point worth making though, is that the shades of pink I use are fairly subtle and washed out - a development that initially came about from looking into the fly boxes of my more experienced flyfishing peers. That's the way I've always done it - Sow Scud dubbing in shrimp pink has served me well in this respect, as has a 'Tups' dye mix for lambswool, gleaned from a Jeremy Lucas article a few years ago.

You can imagine my surprise then, when I feasted my eyes on Gary's UV job the other day; it almost scorched my retinas! "Wait 'til you see it wet," Gary said, and you know what? He was right - the bloody thing looked like it was going to crawl up my an alarming radioactive kind of way. Sure enough, in the turbid water of the town centre river, the UV shrimp proved its worth several times over. Needless to say I have since tied up half a dozen of my own.

Hook: Skalka RD #12
Thread: UTC 70 in shell pink
Rib: 6lb copoly
Back: clear scud back
Dubbing: hot pink UV ice dubbing

San Juan Worm

If the pink shrimp was a familiar pattern to me (albeit in more subdued guise), then the San Juan Worm is something far removed from anything I've ever tied on a leader before. I've been aware of the worm for years now - it is extremely popular across the Atlantic where it is tied on very large hooks using red chenille, and to this day appears to generate a degree of controversy amongst the more conservative US flyfishers. The logic behind its use is completely sound as anyone who has ever fished small redworms for trout in the days following a spate will no doubt be able to testify. Fish eat worms and in that sense, offering a worm imitation could be argued to be no less kosher than the offering the most finely crafted dun pattern in an olive hatch.

Despite this, I admit that trying a San Juan Worm type pattern never really occurred to me; it just slipped under my radar somehow. Not so with Gary, who was quick to slip a couple my way with the instruction "stick one on the point and hang on!" I duly obliged and although the UV shrimp did the most damage on the day, there was no doubting the worm's effectiveness either - particularly where brown trout were concerned. I made a mental note to put a few of these in my box for the coming season, to use whenever there is colour in the water. They are so quick and easy to tie that once I had procured the requisite materials, it took 20 minutes to knock up a dozen.

Hook: Kamasan B170 #12
Thread: UTC70 hot orange
Bead: 3mm red tungsten
Worm: 2" piece of red micro pearl core braid

White-head Melanist

Although this wasn't a fly we used on the day, it comes from a series of discussions I have had with several northern flyfishers about the visibility of nymph patterns in less than clear water conditions. My usual MO in such scenarios is to default to a nymph with a collar or tag of bright, flashy material, or even a black nymph, the bold outline of which I believe stands out well in mucky water. However, at least three anglers have told me recently they believe a white headed nymph to be very effective in such conditions, presumably for similar reasons of visibility. It's unclear where this mini trend began, but I have a feeling that Ripon-based competition angler Fred Bainbridge might be the originator.
In stocking up on tungsten this week, I added a packet of 2.5mm white beads to my order. Initial trials have been with my melanistic pheasant tail nymph, a fly which I rely upon quite heavily, but which usually sports a copper coloured bead.

Hook: Dohiku 644 #14
Thread: sheer 14/0
Bead: 2.5mm white tungsten
Rib: fine copper
Tails and body: melanistic PT
Thorax: brown Diamond Brite dubbing

So an interesting few hours at the vice, all told. Given that I generally spend the winter stocking up on tried and tested patterns that I've become so familiar with that I can tie with my eyes closed, it was a refreshing change to mess about with some slightly more off-the-wall stuff. The grayling season has only 8 weeks to run here (less across the Pennines), and my thoughts will soon return to trout and the spring LDO and March brown hatches; but in the meantime I will be continuing to fish for the grayling, be it urban or rural incarnations, whenever time and water levels permit.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Diamonds from the dirt.

Brownlining, Alistair Stewart calls it; more commonly known as urban flyfishing, and something that until very recently I had absolutely no experience of whatsoever. There are several reasons why this should be so, but prime amongst them has to be the fact that my fly fishing ideal never really incorporated towering vacant buildings and riverbanks strewn with industrial detritus.

Despite my misgivings though, it hasn't escaped my notice that the urban trout and grayling scene has taken off somewhat in recent years as a number of once knackered rivers have risen from the ashes of gross pollution through better legislation, the decline of manufacturing, and the Wild Trout Trust's 'Trout in the Town' programme, helping and inspiring all manner of local restorations groups such as S.P.R.I.T.E and The Wandle Trust.

It doesn't take too much digging around the internet forums and blogosphere to see that an increasing number of clued-up flyfishers are taking to the centres of our towns and cities and finding surprising sport where once there was nothing but exploitation and neglect. Theo Pike's respected book Trout in Dirty Places epitomises this culture shift perfectly - a whole volume devoted to finding game fish in fifty of our once most polluted arteries. I bought a copy recently and the reading of it sealed a deal for me, the embryonic form of which had already been brokered back in late December by a certain Mr Gary Hyde, when we met to discuss angling possibilities in the West Yorkshire area.

We had fished that day, for maybe an hour at most. We caught nothing. The river was high, brown and bordering on unapproachable. I kept snagging bogroll on my point fly, nearly fell in twice as my ankle turned between blocks of broken rubble, and later when I got home, my waders smelled funny. My initial impressions of brownlining? Well, I was underwhelmed.....but also strangely intrigued. Gary's enthusiasm and quiet confidence was infectious. "That pool holds a lot of fish," he would say; "expect maybe two dozen fish from that stretch in lower water." I believed him and I wanted to find out more. A return visit was quickly arranged.

I have spent most of the last three weeks thinking about that little river, and others like it too. I'm a terrible creature of habit and although each winter I hatch all sorts of plans to broaden my angling horizons, I all too readily slip back into the comfort zone as the new season approaches and with an air of inevitability, show up on cue at all the usual haunts. I value the insight that time invested on a certain bit of river brings and gain comfort from my successes, brought about by observation and effort over an extended period of time. Of course the other way of looking at it could be to accuse me of being a 'play-it-safer', of lacking imagination, or worse still (but probably true), of being bone idle. I acknowledge all of these things and draw satisfaction and dissatisfaction from them by turns. I have decided: this season will be the one when I broaden my angling horizons just a little and fish a few of those places I've been promising to myself for a number of years now.

I met with Gary again this week and was once again bowled over by his generosity of spirit as he chauffeured me around his patch, dropping flies into my palm with alarming regularity before offering me in to the likely spots. I hope I get the chance to return the favour later this year.

The river on this occasion was an altogether more viable prospect. Still swollen with floodwater, still carrying colour, but considerably less of both than on the previous occasion; almost straightaway, we were into fish. And if the earlier reading of Theo Pike's book had sealed the deal for me, the grayling we caught underpinned the whole thing. They were superb specimens, fat from warm floodwater feeding and of a size averaging somewhere between 12 and 14 inches. I was astounded - every time I lifted into a fish, I looked up at my surroundings, taking in the smokestained masonry, the shattered glass and drone of nearby traffic. It was surreal, like sifting through a trash heap and bringing up diamonds. I watched my indicator as I led it down the very edge of the stream, within inches of the bank, watched it nudge time after time. The fish were lined up in the quiet places out of the main torrent, and although the river was still big and difficult to fish, it was plainly obvious to me that in better conditions, here was a water with simply massive potential.

Of course, there are anglers who are already well aware of this fact. As is usually the case, I have arrived at the party a little later than is considered fashionable. I had a vague idea of what was going on beforehand but still, it was a real revelation for me and I stood for a minute after every fish, looking around and quietly shaking my head in disbelief.

As if to finally persuade me I had dropped into some weird parallel dimension, I paused a moment to consider the flies I was using. I had relied upon Gary's beautifully tied creations of course - it's never wise to ignore the advice of an experienced local angler - although I had swapped and changed about a bit with some of my own tried and trusted grayling bugs. None of the latter had tempted a fish, whilst Gary's suggested brace of UV pink shrimp and San Juan Worm accounted for all but one of the grayling (and unseasonable trout) I caught. Only recently a few of us were discussing how effective pink is for grayling and I stuck my head above the parapet and stated that on the rivers I fish, it isn't actually all that deadly. Looking at my fly box, I realised how heavily I rely upon drab nymph patterns with maybe only a touch of sparkle or colour here and there....and yet here I was catching on stuff which looked like the by-product of some strange genetic experiment! It only served to reinforce the sense that I've led far too sheltered a flyfishing existence over recent years, and added to that incomparable feeling of having discovered something new and so very exiting.
Thanks are due then, to Gary Hyde and Theo Pike who between them have escorted me into the heart of a flyfishing darkness. My pith helmet is donned; let the exploration begin!

Gary Hyde is a respected West Yorkshire angling guide and altogether smashing bloke. He can be contacted through his website:
West Yorkshire Fly Fishing Services

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Heads Up.

It might be worth mentioning a couple of interesting links for anyone who hasn't already seen them. First, if you like the look of the fly line to leader connection method above, feast your eyes on this:

I've spent the last few years creating loops in the end of my floating lines by exposing the braid core, doubling back and then applying a varnished thread whipping to hold it all in place (see here). This has proved to be infinitely better than the shop bought braided loop/minicon type job and I've been reasonably pleased with it. The method isn't infallible though; there is a tendency over time for the end of the plastic line coating to split where it meets the varnished whip, and the whole shebang needs re-doing. Sometimes I get a full season out of a loop, often I don't. I'd say overall, that I'm 75% happy with the loop formed in this manner.

Of course, we flyfishers are always on the lookout for better solutions to problems, and the method described by Stuart Minnikin in the link above certainly looks like a better solution to me. I won't lie to you: it's a bit tricky.....and it took me a few goes to arrive at the acceptably neat result shown in the photo at top. But I'm really impressed by the seamless transition it gives, along with the short 'sighter' of braid which will come in very useful when nymphing. It's something I'm very much looking forward to trying.
A tip: I found the key to the operation to be correct needle size - big enough eye to be able to thread the 20lb braid though, but slim enough to push up the core of a #3 fly line (obviously it gets easier on heavier weight lines and my #4 and #6 floaters proved a relative doddle). I took a trip to Hobbycraft and purchased a few different needle sets - the one which worked best for me was an embroidery needle size 9.

The second link to which I would like to draw your attention is this one:

Regular visitors here will know that Rob is a good mate of mine, and obviously I'm going to be biased about this. Even so, I'm sure you'll agree that his new website is a splendid effort. Rob's flair for fly tying and photography is impressive and over the last year or two has deservedly found a place in the pages of Trout and Salmon magazine, most recently with his 'Fly of the Month' slot. Each of those articles can be revisited on the website, along with a whole bunch of other stuff, including the opportunity to purchase Rob's now legendary threadless buzzers. Have a gander - it's good stuff.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Tungsten Jig Backs - the case for density.

There is certainly no fishing to be had at present, what with 30mph winds lashing heavy rain against the front door, and little change to the situation forecast over the coming few days. So with a couple of hours to kill, I settled for second best and tied some flies instead. Inevitably they were grayling bugs, and it's ironic that I've tied more weighted nymphs up lately than for some years, yet haven't had the chance to fish any of them yet. Maybe the weather will ease up towards the new year.

So, to the tungsten jig backs I have been experimenting with. We anglers like a bit of tungsten, it's true. At nearly 50% greater density than lead, it allows us to pack a lot of weight onto a relatively small hook, thus allowing a reasonably life sized nymph pattern to be fished at depth in even strong flows. Tungsten beads of various size and colour are the contemporary river angler's staple these days, and it's not uncommon to find dozens of bead headed bugs lined up for duty in the nymph box of any fisherman you meet. However, even tungsten beads represent a compromise in the quest to get small flies down deep; unless you go for a slot-drilled version on a jig hook (popular with many, but not something I use much), then a good chunk of the precious metal mass is lost in the countersinking of the bead back. Obviously we can pack a few turns of lead wire into the back of this cavity before we start the tying proper - and this proves ample for most general purpose nymphing scenarios - but wouldn't it be nice to take things a stage further, to go denser and smaller yet?

Well yes and no. I had an interesting chat with Glen Pointon recently about the effectiveness of his silicone-based Soft Touch Shrimp  (details here). I've yet to get around to trying this pattern, but it's certainly been creating a bit of a buzz over the last year or so. Glen tells me he has been able to watch sight-fished grayling inhale and then reject weighted offerings in the blink of an eye - something you read about all the time, but few of us who fish mucky spate rivers ever get to witness. Interestingly though, when the soft touch version was drifted past the same fish, not only did they take hold, but the kept hold....for much much longer. I don't suppose there's any great surprise in that, but it does raise a number of questions about the frequency with which grayling anglers miss takes - or don't even register them in the first place - due to the fish ejecting the weighted offering almost immediately.

Thinking back to my recent day on the Nith, it's difficult to say whether this happened to me. I think I missed two takes, but it could have been a momentary catching of one of the flies on the bottom, who knows.....and as for offers which didn't even manifest at my end? Well there's simply no way of saying for sure. What I can confirm is that small, very densely weighted bugs proved the difference on that particular day, and I can't think of how we would have got equivalently sized bead heads to grip down sufficiently in the current to achieve the same presentation. The damage was done with the 'McDonald's Killers' mentioned in the previous post, and that's motivation enough for me to look further into the possibilities afforded by moulded tungsten 'jig backs' as heavyweight alternatives to standard countersunk beads. Of course there is nothing particularly new here; I remember writing on this blog nearly six years ago about 'Bidoz bodies' and have used them on and off ever since with some success. However, I'm pretty sure the jig backs usurp even those for compactness as they are a touch wider and lack the ridges and troughs of the Bidoz bodies, which made the latter somewhat difficult to dub over, thus limiting the variations of pattern which could be tied with them. I'd have to get a set of sensitive scales to confirm this (and although I'm a self confessed fly fishing geek, I'm not that sad), but I'd be willing to bet you get more wolfram bangs for your buck with the jig backs.

First things first: where to get them and the appropriately sized hooks. On the advice of Messrs McDonald and Walker, I headed straight for Joel and and furnished myself with some medium and small jig backs in various finishes including copper, gold and plain tungsten. Joel provides a handy hook sizing chart on his website which shows what models of hook suit what size of jig back. At the end of the day, the choice is yours and there are plenty of excellent hooks out there (I'm told Fulling Mill 'grab gape' are very much worth giving a run and are well suited to this type of fly), but I went for the Dohiku 644 shrimp hook, simply because it's one I use already and am quite happy with. So, medium jig backs = #14 hook; small jig backs = #16 hook. Simples!

The basic premise is that you superglue the jig backs to the shank of the hook, using the slot on the underside to locate. The slots are however quite narrow and it means that some consideration has to be given to how you tie your materials in, and in what quantity, because if you work down the shank, tying down tails, ribbing, wrapping etc etc, you just end up creating too much bulk and the jig back won't slot on to the hook at all. To be honest, these are fat, squat little lumps of tungsten anyway, so they don't lend themselves to being heavily dressed lest they end up looking like tiny blobs - something I've found to my cost during initial trials at the vice. Craigie's fly is simplicity itself - thread, tails and a few wraps of nymph skin. The rest is achieved using marker pens, fluo nail varnish and UV cure resin - a streamlined mini-bomb of a fly which gets down deep, quickly, and fishes hook point up in the manner of a conventional jig pattern. I've filled two rows in my nymph box with 'em!

However, we fly tyers are an experimental bunch and I couldn't help but wonder if the template could be applied to some of my favourite trout and grayling nymphs. I've chosen one such for a step-by-step below, to illustrate how simple these things are to use, and to highlight some of the pitfalls I've encountered whilst messing about with them over the last fortnight. A chance to actually fish some of these bugs would be a fine thing, but in the meantime It's exciting to think about the possibilities at least. How would a brace consisting of a McDonald's Killer and a Pointon's Soft Touch Shrimp fare do you reckon? I promise you one thing, I'm bloody well going to find out!

Jig Back Red Tag

Hook: Dohiku 644 #14, 16
Thread: Sheer 14/0
Tail: red Globrite floss
Rib: fine copper wire
Body: tungsten jig back, size to suit hook, copper finish used here.
Dubbing: natural hare's ear
Collar dubbing: chocolate Diamond Brite dubbing

1. Vice the hook. I include the photo below only to show the type of hook profile which is best suited to the jig back. Straight shank hooks just don't look right.

2. Run on the thread. Stick to a fine thread to avoid unnecessary build-up as we need to slot the jig back over the shank later on (used 14/0 here). For the red tag I've used Glo-brite floss doubled up to give 8-ply thickness, which is pushing it about as far as possible bulk-wise whilst still giving a substantial tail. The floss needs to be tied on to the top of the shank, not the side, for the same reason as above.


3. Continue to tightly bind down the floss towards the bend of the hook, to reach a point where when you offer up the jig back 'dry', the thread is parked just behind the butt end. Snip off the waste floss.

4. Add a drop of superglue to the top of the hook shank. I like Loctite Powerflex gel for this as it is more viscous than normal superglue, so doesn't run everywhere and has a slightly longer curing time, which allows us to make sure the tungsten is properly positioned. Drop the jig back on and if necessary, squeeze down into position with a pair of fine pliers.

5. Under normal circumstances we would have preferred to catch the wire rib in early on and bind down the full length of the hook shank. We don't have that luxury here as we are using a relatively bulky material for the tail. All is not lost however - I've found that a short thread taper is required immediately to the rear of the jig back to form a neat transition from body back down to the tail. We can use this taper section to catch in the wire rib. It is only short though, so I give the wire a double 'figure of eight' tying in, before building the thread taper over it, wiggling off the tag end of wire and then adding a tiny dab of superglue for good measure.

6. Dubbing. The jig back is bulky in itself, so any dubbing needs to be thinly spun and tightly applied to avoid the 'blob' look. I've included the stage below because the initial wraps of dubbing can be tricky - the thread wants to slip back down the steep initial taper to the tail, so you need to take a bit of tension off the first few wraps to get the dubbing nicely seated on the arse of the jig back...while still maintaining enough tension to get touching turns so tungsten doesn't show through the dubbing later.

7. Complete the dubbing up into the grooved section of the jig back. I'm introducing a glistery thorax material here, so I've stopped the hare's ear off at about the 2nd groove back, to leave room. Follow up with the wire rib - again, care needs to be taken with the initial turns as too much tension will drag the dubbing backwards down to the tail.....go lightly with the first couple of turns and then bite down as you get onto the body section.

8. Add the thorax dubbing, whip finish and snip off the thread.

9. Nearly there - all that remains is to varnish the whip finish thread and snip the floss tail to length.

Done! Not the most streamlined nymph you'll ever see, but small, dense and with a touch of colour. The conventional red tag hare's ear is a fly which has never let me down. It will be interesting to see if this incarnation proves as effective.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Values reassessed

A strange thing has happened: somehow over the past few weeks I have become altogether more enthused with winter grayling fishing. Maybe it's the mild weather we have been having; maybe having the chance to fish once more after a period of enforced lay-off has made me keener than usual to get to the river than I otherwise would be at this time of year. Whichever way, I have enjoyed a handful of afternoons tossing nymphs around, and have a further handful planned over the coming holiday weeks. I'm quite excited about the whole thing, which is a revelation in itself!

It's not like I've landed a huge fish, or enjoyed exceptional fishing or anything; but a couple of recent sessions reminded me of everything that is good about river fly fishing, whatever the season or target species. And for the second time in recent years, I was introduced to a fly pattern from north of the border which is stunningly effective; a pattern which had me ordering the requisite bits and bobs for its tying almost as soon as I had got through the front door home.

Back in late November, I had the great pleasure of fishing with Stuart Minnikin of Yorkshire Dales Fly Fishing. Regular visitors here will know that I have a great respect for Stuart's blog and excellent sets of photos on Flickr.  We had met at the annual Malham Tarn research seminar and tied up shortly after for a day that involved a whole lot of chinwagging, somewhat less fishing, and absolutely no grayling whatsoever.

But despite its graylingless nature, I enjoyed the session immensely. Stuart is an angler of the highest calibre, having plied his trade at international level. I enjoyed listening to his descriptions of the workings of river competition fishing and it occurred to me later how rewarding it must be to compete against and discuss tactics with anglers of such technical ability. It was certainly a great experience for me to watch Stuart as he picked his way with precision up one pool using a French leader setup, his delivery and line control showing my own up to be the horrific mess that it undoubtedly is!

SM showing how it should be done.

A few days later, I again had the pleasure of fishing with friends when I made an all too rare foray up into Scotland to tackle the legendary grayling of the River Nith with Davie Walker and Craig McDonald. My two companions for the day have been making this pilgrimage for a few years now, every December when the salmon season closes and the river becomes available to the winter grayling fisher, and each time I listen with envy to Davie's reports of impressive numbers of large fish. This time I was able to take up the offer and tag along.

On the day, the fishing was steady if unspectacular. A ridiculously mild start to the winter (which a month on, persists still), has meant the conditions may have been pleasant, but the fish remain well spread and sometimes difficult to locate with any consistency. I had found it on my preceding couple of sessions and I found it too on the Nith. Davie and Craigie confirmed as much, bemoaning the fact that the grayling had not yet become concentrated in certain pools -  a scenario which can lead to real red letter days when the hard work of fish location is rewarded by fantastic sport.

As it happened, we tended to find them in the sorts of spots you would more normally associate with early autumn fishing. I got off the mark quickly with three fish inside the first 40 minutes, from a bouldery run averaging 2' deep. Fine grayling they were too, all around the 1lb 8oz mark - an average size which held up throughout the entire day, with only an odd smaller one caught. I admit, I then got a bit carried away by the shallow pockets in which I'd had sport and wasted a couple of hours targeting similar water at the expense of more 'graylingy' stuff. But later on, things got back on track and by that time my two mates were well into the fish too, with French nymph proving most effective tactic. At the end of the day, a respectable number of fish had been returned, and although the really big girls proved elusive (one I returned, a little over 2lb was about the best), the average size  - and strength - of these fine grayling was remarkable. This one was actually about the smallest of the day - but what a spanking clean fish!

To say the Nith is a river designed with grayling in mind, would be an understatement. I was absolutely amazed by the sheer quantity of likely holding water. The beat we fished would be well over two miles long and the vast majority consisted of the finest gravel you will find anywhere - small, loose stuff which shifts and crunches under your boots. And the general depth and evenness of flow, the length of the runs and current seams, back eddies and pots: it all just screams grayling. There is no doubt whatsoever that persistence here would be rewarded in the form of some special sport indeed. I'll certainly not forget the strength of those superb fish, flexing and twisting in the clear currents.....

And so finally to that fly I mentioned earlier. It is a pattern of Craig McDonald's devising and one which is about to become part of the Fulling Mill range in the new year, under the name of - don't quote me on this - the McDonald's Killer. A small tungsten bodied bug, it looks pretty unassuming, but believe me, it's a winner. Craig had enjoyed spectacular success with it in the Czech Republic, and it has since proved equally effective on home waters. The size 14 job which Craig passed me to try, accounted for every one of the half dozen fish I caught, despite moving it about on the leader and swapping and changing the other flies for all sorts of other stuff from my box.

I'm sure that a large part of its appeal rests in the superbly dense little tungsten 'jig backs' which are used in its construction. Similar to the popular 'Bidoz bodies' which I've been using for a while, but a bit more compact and easier to use, they lend themselves to being encased in a wrapping of nymph skin. And that's basically what Craig's flies are - jig back, nymph skin, marker pen and a coating of UV resin. In sizes 14 and 16 there is more than enough density there to get a brace down to grayling level, very quickly indeed. I was mighty impressed with how they fished and having stocked up on the necessary materials, intend to give them a good trial over the coming weeks. A pair of my efforts can be seen below - the finished fly waiting for a coat or two of resin. Craig's originals are somewhat neater!

How times change, and how quickly! Just a few years ago I was a mad keen winter grayling fisher and you would find me on the river in all weather, fishing heavily weighted bugs, short lined under the rod tip - sometimes using braid instead of flyline. Now, after a hiatus where I decided I was too soft to venture out unless the birds were singing and the temperature was in double figures; now, I find myself bitten by the bug once more...only this time the fishing is being done with a brace of small nymphs and a very long tapered leader - altogether more civilised if you ask me. Isn't it strange how we sometimes become so entrenched in the fashions of the moment that we lose sight of the fact that other options might be viable?

Watch this space, I have a few more sessions planned; and in the meantime, thanks to all who visited for dropping by this year and following my journey. I hope you have a very happy Christmas!

Matt Eastham

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Itch Scratched/Barrio

November is a shit month. It is also the month of my birthday; and every year as I was growing up, the shitness of November haunted me each time it came around to birthday party time. Not for me those beautiful days of spring and summer when groups of friends would be invited on long walks and picnics, paddling in streams catching bullheads, or generally horsing around at some adventure park or other. No, birthdays for me will always be associated with dull, wet, windy weather and the depressing onset of winter proper.

And so, as I passed this week into my 39th year, nothing could have been further from my mind than the possibility of few hours fishing. Work has been all-consuming of late as the latest deadline of my project based career looms. An accumulation of long, stress-filled days has left me feeling whittled hollow and exhausted. I have a nasty head-cold.....and yesterday when I got home, a letter right out of the blue from my GP, saying I am required to attend an MRI scan, for reasons I still cannot comprehend.

Difficult times. But then, isn't this what flyfishing was made for? I drew a line under recent events, dropped everything for a few hours and shot to the river in search of relief - a moment of selfishness that I still feel guilty about now.

What I found when I got there was this: a mild, almost warm afternoon with a gentle breeze blowing out of the southwest, and a river flowing clear and dark and leaf-laden with water dropping slowly off the back of a midweek lift. I found a handful of dark olives and willow flies, and struggling in a folded mess of partly deformed steelgrey wings, a single pale watery dun, like a distant echo of the summer gone.
And then later, I found fish. Not many of them, but enough to restore my spirits; grayling of a very high quality which writhed and twisted in the currents as I lifted to their sign at the tip of the flyline. They were hooked on weighted nymphs but I could tell from the timing of the takes, that they were prepared to move up in the still-warm water. If the weather man is to be believed, all this will change over the coming days and a cold snap will signal the start of the typical shoaling behaviour and dropping back into the pools, which so typifies winter grayling fishing.

I only fished for three hours, but it was enough. The cathartic properties of time spent next to running water never cease to amaze me.


I must put a mention in to Mike Barrio of I bought myself a new reel this week and a new line to go with it. For the last couple of years I have used one of Mike's double tapered 'Mallard' lines and been thoroughly impressed. On this occasion I decided to go back to a weight forward profile and settled on his 'mushy pea green' GT90. Early impressions are every bit as positive as with the Mallard - well mannered, supple, and completely memory free. There's no wonder Mike has something of a cult following - especially considering the outstanding quality of service provided....and the fact that his lines are half the price of some premium brands. My GT90 cost £27 delivered and came as usual with a hand-written note - a nice touch.

In this day and age, when money is tighter than it was and the big tackle companies seem hell bent on fleecing us for mediocre gear, it's refreshing to know that there are some people out there who can and do still offer a first class product at a reasonable price, and take a pride in their service and reputation. Every credit to Mike - I hope his business continues to prosper.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Thinking March Browns.....

A way off yet, I know. But I've been getting into the swing of fly tying for next season and today the March Brown has been my focal point. Above, the natural fly.......

......and below, some emergers I tied which I hope will match this particular hatch.

MB emerger

Hook: Varivas 2210 #12
Thread: 14/0 cinnamon
Abdomen: turkey biot
Thorax: cdc, spun
Wingpost: white Aero-dry wing
Hackle: hen grey partridge