Photograph by Steve Barnett

Saturday 19 February 2011

Still approaching but...

What fly to put on?

Aha!   Don't get caught out by that question.  You can make an intelligent guess what to put on but remember what we have been considering in the approach.  Let the results of your observations determine the fly you will start the season with...

Yes put something on before you start. (Ooh very Norman Evans!)  Do be ready though to change it immediately you have been able to reconnoitre the water.

Nevertheless, we can start guessing.
In spring we often have the benefit of the end of the Large Dark Olive's season.  The Large Dark Olive (or LDO) is a true winter fly putting in its first appearances towards the end of a typical trout season.  It then carries on appearing to conduct its affairs of the air world until the early part of May.  It is worth carrying something to represent it in the Dun or Sub Imago stage of its life.  There are lots of artificials that can be used for this fakery.  You already you know of the Grey Duster

Here is another, very well known fly that can be tied to make a pretty good effort at the real thing.  You will find it particularly effective when there is some sunshine around, under which conditions it seems to have the edge over the Grey Duster.  It is the Kite's Imperial and was invented by Oliver Kite, I believe inspired at the time by a traditional Welsh pattern.  The original dressing asked for a thorax made by doubling the body material, heron herl, back and forward again as is done with a Pheasant Tail Nymph.  The version here is slightly easier to tie as experience has shown that a thorax is better hinted at by the list in the hackle.

The materials are worthy of consideration.  The hackles specified are Honey Dun but that choice is almost certainly for making Kite's Imperials to mimic the Blue Winged Olive rather than the LDO.  By using subtle variations of hackle you can make Kite's Imperial represent many different types of upwinged naturals.  For the LDO we will use Dark Honey Dun hackles, which in this case we are using the cape in the bottom right corner of the picture on the right.

Here are the materials you will need for a Kite's Imperial to represent a Large Dark Olive.  They consist of: the Dark Honey Dun cape; a Heron hackle with long herls; fine gold wire size 26 gauge is good; purple tying thread and for the size of fly we are intending to fake we will use a size 14 hook.

Don't forget if you use this fly for other upwinged flies such as a Blue Winged Olive you will use a more orangey cape.  If you tie some little versions for the Iron Blue Dun, you would use a very dark cape and maybe use heron herl from a wing primary that are a lovely deep slate blue.  Heron feathers cannot be bought and sold in the UK.  You have to find your own.  You need to look around for the feathers on the ground under their heronries or, typically in a hard winter, look for corpses usually washed up on the bank after the floods.  It is Nature's way that for these splendid birds life is pretty tough in winter.  That is probably why you rarely see herons that are not in the peak of condition, only the strongest survive to pass on their genes.

Here is how to tie it:

Run on a bed of the purple thread, well waxed to where the bend starts

Take a large hackle from the cape, tear off a good bunch of fibres and tie them in to make a tail a little longer than the hook

Bite off a length of the ribbing wire and tie it in as shewn (biting it off makes a little hook on the end that will grip well when tied in fully)

Take five herls and nip about 5mm off the thin ends.  Tie them in as shewn.

Wind a bed of touching turns back to the starting position tying the tails, herls and wire in tightly as you go.  Trim off the waste ends of the hackle fibres used to make the tail.

Wind the herls up to the start of the body and tie them in tightly.

Wind the gold wire ribbing in open spiralled turns in the opposite direction to the way the herls were wound.  Tie in the wire tightly and rock the wire back and forth until it fatigues and breaks away.  This makes another little hook on the end of the wire and two more tight turns of thread will anchor it very firmly by that hook.

Trim away the herls and wind the thread forward two or three more turns to make a bed for the hackle stalk.

Tie in the hackle with the concave side facing you and the stripped stalk pointing to the rear of the fly.  The tying in turns make a neat bed for you to wind the hackle.

Wind the hackle, six turns is good for a hook this size (14).  Tie it in and wind the thread quickly through the hackle to avoid trapping too many fibres (do it slowly and you will catch in lots of hackle fibres, so do it quickly) finishing with the thread just behind the hook eye.  Tweak off the hackle tip held in your hackle pliers.  Make a neat whip finish of three or four turns.  Cut off the thread. Varnish the head well.  Sally Hanson Hard as Nails is good.  Whilst the varnish is still wet take the hackle tip out of the pliers and use it as a pull-through to clean out the surplus varnish from the hook eye.

The finished Kite's Imperial
The most useful sizes for Kite's Imperial through the season are 14, 16 and 18 but do try a few extreme sizes like 10, 12 and 20. The LDO can seem right on a 14 one day and then another you might need a 12!

This is a fine fly and has caught me well over an Imperial Ton of fish in the past forty odd years.  Here is an extract from an old journal of mine that I had posted on a forum six years ago this spring.  It illustrates the efficacy of this splendid fly quite well.

5th May 2005
 "On what was intended to be a saunter up to Black Barn Weir and the end of the day, I peeped over some sedges that were already high enough to shield the right side of a very long and slow eddy. A rise had me genuflecting immediately. The saunter forgotten I slid into a vantage spot to sit and watch awhile. Several fish were rising. Two or three in the central main downstream current but...

Less than a yard from my bank head facing downriver but actually into the eddy's upstream current was a monster of a brown trout. The light was awkward but I could see it was a cock fish and that it was longer than my arm (and much fatter than my arm). What was it eating? Well it was eating anything and everything, midges, duns, bits of stuff I couldn't see, everything! I had on a Kite's Imperial tied on a Drennan Super Specialist carp/barbel hook nominally a size 14 but really between a normal 16 and 18. The big fish had a beat. It went downriver a yard from the bank passing under some dead stalks from last year's marginal fringe. It carried on down a good 10 yards then turned left coming back upriver, on the edge of the current proper, passing me and turning to start his mopping up operations all over again. I decided to cast as he reached the overhanging dead stalks. He tilted, levelled off and then I struck...

 He fought quite well but I was able to keep him turning and turning until he was turning above my net and that was that. The hook was never going to come out without human intervention, it being firmly in the right hand scissors. Out it came and wasting no time I decided to weigh him. I can guess fish up to 3 pounds quite well but I don't have fish of this size often enough to trust my guesses.

The scales showed me 8¼ lbs. So in my head subtracting 1lbs 2oz for the wet net my beautiful brown trout was 7lbs 2oz, or was it? After a careful release and the butterflies in my stomach settling down I picked up my scales to put them away. Aargh! The dratted things weren't zeroed properly. In fact they were fast by quite a bit. I ended up guessing that I'd been a good half pound out. It was therefore "only" 6½ lbs or so. Who cares? It was a splendid fish and after all, "Numbers don't matter anyway" do they?

The saunter was reinstated. A few fish were caught in the Black barn Weirpool. A pleasant 10 minutes were spent chatting with a young man from Congleton who had had a good day. A last cast at the junction pool by the big island and then home.

The evening had been a delight and reinforced my long held view that this river, on which I have been taught so very much, is one of the very best places to be. If they won't hang my carcase over it when I die (so the maggots can drip out and feed the fish) maybe they'll use my fishing clothes to reinforce the bank somewhere? Anything like that will do. I just don't like leaving the place behind!" 

Regular Rod


  1. My question is ' Why no wings on your flies thus far, is tradition overtaken by efficacy and common sense'?

    I realise a number of gifted anglers of the past, Richard Walker being but one, avoided tying wings on Dry flies, suggested that after 30 mins fishing, the wings would be a mess. Is this your reasoning?


  2. I don't tie any of my dries with wings, and find it makes no difference to the fish?

    Thanks for the story.

  3. I've tied a few of the flies on your webpage now but am wondering what could be used as an alternative to the heron herl for I reqally like the look of this little fly. Your site is a great resource so thanks :-)

    1. Hello Iain

      Until you find a heron feather, which you will if you keep your eyes open when out and about near where herons frequent as they do discard them if not perfect during their preening processes, you can use a Canada Goose wing primary feather. It's not correct but it makes a nice drab little fly and the fish will eat it for you...

      Another option is to use herl from a slate grey dyed white turkey (or goose) feather.


  4. Thanks for tip RR :-) I like my grey dusters and tailed variants of GD's but sometimes the subtle differences make all the difference on the day!