Photograph by Steve Barnett

Thursday 23 February 2012

Looking Ahead to May and Early June

It is still the time for tying flies and it is easy to concentrate on tying patterns for the very beginning of the season.  So here's a prompter for you to look a little further ahead...

This fly I first tried almost forty years ago.  It is an American pattern devised in the brilliant mind of Lee Wulff but tied to suit the sizes of fly we get hereabouts in May and June - the true mayfly, the Drake.  In those days I was a member at Chatsworth on the Derbyshire Derwent.  I was one of the younger members, in fact I was the youngest member.  As such it was my unfortunate lot for four or five of the older members to keep an eye on me!  Understand this was not a benign eye looking on a younger angler with the kindly warmth of friendly paternalism but rather the gimlet scrutiny of disapproval.  I had already brought problems on my own head by stripping off one day and getting under the water wearing a pair of chlorine goggles to get a better look at what the fish were able to see of the lines of Duns that were drifting down the feedlanes between the ranunculus fronds.  I didn't realise I was being watched.  I had to promise Brian, the keeper, when he tackled me about the complaints, that in future I would remember to bring my trunks...  On another occasion he and I shared a laugh when the same group of members had approached him to enquire whether or not he thought I might be using worms!  The lesson here was to keep my trap shut when asked how my day was going.  Knowing what I now know I should have always said, "Oh just the odd one or two..."  and NOT "Oh it's been fantastic!  I've already had n!"

The crunch came one day in early June.  I'd dressed some of these flies exactly the same size as the real things, using size 8 and 6 long shanked lure hooks to get the bodies the right length.  This had been a deliberate ploy to make it difficult for any smaller trout to take them.  Only the big trout could manage them, in fact they seemed to be taking them that year in preference to the real things that were everywhere on the water.  The exaggerated features mean that this fly is "Darwin'd".  It gets selected because it stands out a little.  In those days I was still a fish hungry angler.  I was at that stage when catching every fish in the river seemed to be the goal.  I had yet to reach the stage where restraint on easy days is normal.  In one of these fish hungry sessions, I had worked up a 100 yards or more of water, casting, catching and releasing fish after fish all the way up and most of the fish were above average size.  On reaching the top end I sat down to work a wonderful pool called "Duffers".  You have to understand the Derbyshire sense of humour here.  The pool is not named because it suits "Duffers" with limited skills but is named "Duffers" because it can make the best of us feel like complete "Duffers"!

Sitting on the edge of the water and keeping as low as possible, I made three casts and caught three fish.  The third fish was newly in my net and then, just as I was removing the fly, I was surrounded by the entire group of my self-appointed monitors. 

"What the Devil have you got on there!  It looks like a canary!"

"It's a mayfly..."

"It's a monstrosity!"

"It's to match the size of the real flies..."

"Look at the thickness of his cast too!  It's a bloody hawser!  You don't give the fish much chance do you!"

"It's ten pound nylon, the thin stuff can break off and leave a hook in the fishes m....."

"Ten pounds!  And bloody shark hooks!  Bloody poacher's gear!"

With that they stormed off.  I was almost used to this and mostly was able to keep away from them.  If I saw them or their car, I'd go elsewhere on the water.  Unfortunately, this time they had arrived after I had started fishing and so it was easy for them to come over and mither me like this.

A few days later Brian reported to me that there had been some complaints.  A rule was going to be introduced for next season that no hook bigger than a size 12 was going to be allowed on the Chatsworth water.  That rule still stands so if you do make some of these flies you have to leave them in the box if you are fishing at Chatsworth.  In fact it's a good policy to check the rules about hook sizes wheresoever you go to fish...

Nevertheless, it is a very good fly and, where allowed, I'd hate to be without it in late May and early June. 

Here's how to tie the Gray Wulff (Variant):

Put the hook in the vice, yes this is the one from the previous post.  Leave a gap behind the eye and run on a bed of brown thread down to  the start of the bend.

Tie in a slim bunch of squirrel tail fibres for a tail.  I don't stack the fibres preferring instead the tail to have an uneven end.

Wind close turns of thread forward making a bed of thread as you tie in the tails.  Trim off the roots at an angle as you reach the middle of the hookshank.  This avoids a notch or step in the underbody of the fly.

For the wing do stack a bigger bunch of squirrel tail fibres.

Tie in the wing.  Trim off the waste ends.  Dab some nail polish onto the roots of the wing.

Run a bed of thread over the wet varnished ends and return to the front of where the body is going to be.

Dub on some blue underfur from a wild rabbit's skin.

Wind the body down to the tail and rib the body back up to the front with open, spiralled turns of the tying thread.  Leave the thread dangling at the front as shewn in the picture.

Tie in two large badger hackles.  Tie down with close touching turns of thread to make the bed for winding the hackles onto.  Leave the thread dangling at the front of the body.

Trim off the waste ends of the hackle stalks.  Wind the first hackle back to the thread and catch it in with a couple of turns.  Tweak off the hackle tip and then wind the second hackle through the first and catch it in with the tying thread.

Quickly wind the thread through the hackle to the front.  Wind quickly and you won't trap too many hackle fibres, wind slowly and carefully and you will!

With your first two fingers and the thumb of the left hand (opposite if you are a Southpaw) get hold of the wing and the hackle fibres and hold them back out of the way as per the picture.  Wind tight touching turns of thread under the wing to push the wing up to an angle of between 30 and 70 degrees.  After you have put these turns on, you can let go of the wing and hackle and examine the position of the wing.  To make it stand higher put more turns on like this or, if you want it lower, unwind a few turns until the wing is as you want it.

Make a whip finish and varnish the head.  Clear the eye of the hook whilst the varnish is still wet.  There you have it.  The Gray Wulff (variant)

There are some important points to remember about this fly:

1.   Only make one wing!  DO NOT MAKE TWO WINGS!  One wing prevents the fly twisting up your tippet.

2.   It nearly always lands the right way up.

3.   It can be made to land very gently even though it is big, the wing and tail make sufficient wind resistance to slow it on its landings.

4.   Please use strong tippets.  3X is about right.  Finer tippets will fatigue at the knot and the fly will come off after a few casts.  The 3X will keep the fly on.  There is no possible justification for risking the chance of a break off in a fish.  Flies this size demand that you use strong tippets.

Have you spotted that this fly is really a development of the ubiquitous Grey Duster?

Regular Rod


  1. I've never trusted myself to go this big on my gray wulffs, and I have tied mine with natural bucktail. I'll definitely tie some up and try them. Thanks.

    1. My pleasure WP.

      The squirrel tail hair folds easier than bucktail and this, I believe, helps with the hooking.

      Regular Rod

  2. Thanks also for the fly box links on the Blog - up till now I have had a separate book mark for each SBS!

  3. Tied some of these, and they cleared up during a recent hatch. Wonderful Fly.