Photograph by Steve Barnett

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

"Clothes maketh man..."

They also maketh more successful anglers, especially anglers who must be stealthy for their branch of our wonderful Sport.  If you are coming to dry fly fishing from still water fly fishing you probably have perfectly suitable clobber already.  BUT there is a chance that you may need to watch out for the colours.  The lush vegetation by the side of a typical lowland river means that greenish hues rather than limestone "whites" will be more appropriate.  Darker shades seem to be the most useful, let cow pats be your inspiration rather than the High Street.

Clothes can contribute, or detract, from your ability to make use of the second and third basic principles for successful dry fly fishing, observation and stealth.  Let us begin at the top with the head.  Starting with the eyes.  Your polarised spectacles will be vital for fish spotting and protection from a wayward cast.  Mine are a very old pair of Optix Cormorants that are a pale grey and work well even in dim light.  Whatever sort you prefer, you can optimise the effectiveness of your polarised spectacles by wearing a hat with a full brim to shade them from behind as well as above.  This will let you see more clearly, in the same way a lens hood often improves the quality of photographs.

On a recent comment, Warren kindly put a link to a photograph he took that shows two pretty reasonable examples of good shape and good colours of hat to go for.

John's hat is a darker greenish olive of rabbit fur felt.  This is pretty good in cool weather and is okay in light rain too.  Mine is the khaki one in canvas duck that came from Orvis.  It needed modifying by covering the silly leather hat band with a strip of material, webbing in my case, so damp flies can be stuck into it.  That way they do not bring water into the fly boxes and rust all that hard work away... 

This hat has been superceded at Orvis by the River Guide Hat and sports a reinforced brim so you can shape it.  My advice would be to keep it shaped like an upside down dish to get the maximum shading effect for your polarised spec's.
You may like to obtain several hats to cope with the vagaries of weather, a dark green or brown straw hat maybe, for boiling hot days in summer; one of canvas duck for most days and maybe something waterproof, or at least water resistant for rainy days.  Just make sure that whatever you get, your hats should shade the back of your polaroids as well as the top and, most importantly, they are always as drab as you can get.

Well that's your head taken care of.  Next time trousers and how they also contribute to observation and stealth!

Regular Rod 

Wednesday, 24 November 2010


John Neville in typical pose at Ladybower in the late 60's

...from still waters

"Whence come you?"
"The Lakes and Reservoirs!"
"Whither directing your course?"
"The rivers and streams!"
"What do you hope to find?"
"The true secrets of dry fly fishing!"

Of course they are not really secrets!  Nevertheless, there are some key differences from all the things you had to learn whilst fishing the Lakes and Reservoirs.  Having a go at dry fly fishing need not be a disappointing experience. 

Over the next few weeks we can consider some of the differences facing the many anglers who, having built up a treasury of experience on still waters, fancy getting to know, first hand, the joys of dry fly fishing on rivers and streams.

There are mainly 3 adjustments to make in a migration from still waters to dry fly rivers: 
  1. Clothes
  2. Tackle
  3. Approach
There!  Now that doesn't look too hard a list does it?  It need not be but we will take it on in easy stages just to make sure.  If you are fancying this migration do feel free to drop in a comment with any aspects of the move that concern you particularly and I will make sure we cover your points specifically.

Regular Rod

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Wandering and Wondering in Winter

Winter dry fly fishing, in England, need not be a complete waste of time.  It seems that some flies will appear in all weathers and at all times of the year.  The Large Dark Olive has already been discussed here and is a true winter fly, but there are other excellences to which your attention may be peculiarly and forcibly directed...

Look at this little fellow here:

He is sitting on the Head River Keeper's finger by the river Lathkill.  This picture was taken one January a year or two ago.  Our main fly of high summer, the Blue Winged Olive, is here seen having a try for life in the middle of winter!  Nature surely brackets her exposures quite widely to get her perfect pictures.

Other flies too make their entrances on winter days.  Mild days will usually produce a nice crop of midges and the grayling will take these dainty victuals with alacrity.  Really harsh days with sleet on the edge of a biting wind will sometimes see the appearance of that treasure of English trout streams, the Iron Blue Dun, in veritable fleets of little, dark-sailed ships.  The fish lock onto them in earnest with grayling prepared to rise up through several feet of water just to eat flies we normally mimic on size 18 or even 20 hooks.

It's the same recipe for success that you follow in summertime.  Only this time, you might have set out to fish with heavy nymphs for your winter grayling but by staying observant you can often gain great opportunities to change over to the dry fly, making your season last just that little bit longer and remind you of what is to come when the days once more lengthen.

What happens with winter fly life in other parts of the world, I wonder? 

Regular Rod

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Charles Cotton's Black-Fly!

In 1676 Charles Cotton had it as one of the pretenders to the crown of "Mayfly" but it came in Bronze Medal position after the Stonefly (Silver Medal) and the Drake (Gold Medal).  It is superb as a Hawthorn Fly and seems not to suffer through a lack of legs and wings.
No it is not a Fifth Edition! it is only a Seventh...
Here is how Charles Cotton described the dressing.  See how few words he needed to describe the dressing. 

For the sake of clarity here below will be a somewhat longer description...
With the hook in the vice masking the point, this is a size 14 Edgar Sealey, run on a short bed of black thread like so, leaving a space behind the eye.

Tie in some fine silver braid ("silver twist")

Tie in the silver braid as you continue the bed of thread down to the bend.  At the bend tie in one black herl from an Ostrich feather.

Run the thread back to the start of the body.  Wind the herl in close touching turns to make a flue brush shaped body and tie it in behind the hook eye.

Snip off the waste ostrich herl and tie in the black cock's hackle as shewn with the dull, concave side facing you.

Snip off the waste hackle stalk and wind the thread back to the front as shewn
Wind the first four turns as close touching turns, the same as you would do for a plain hackled fly and then wind the hackle down over the body in open spiralled ribbing turns to the bend.  Tie in the hackle very tightly with the silver braid (this is why the braid was tied in at the middle of the hook with lots of turns to anchor it safely for this tight tying).  Carry on tightly winding the silver braid up the fly in open ribbing turns finishing at the eye next to the thread.  Tie in the braid with the thread and snip off the excess braid.

Make a bold head with a tight whip finish and varnish it well.  Use the waste hackle point from your pliers to pull through the eye whilst the varnish is still wet.

The finished Charles Cotton's Black-Fly
 This is one of those flies that just goes on and on catching fish. It works so very well whenever fish are aware of food that is black, being able to represent beetles as well as various flies both terrestrial and aquatic. It is also a very good fly to use at night when facing west and the water is lit the same colour as the sky. In fact the first time I ever used it was in desperation on Derbyshire's Derwent. I couldn't see my fly so tried the Black Fly in an attempt to see it against the reflected night sky on the water's surface. It was so effective it was still catching fish after midnight.Towards the end of the Hawthorn Fly's season use this fly in bigger sizes 12 or even 10 and DO USE A HEAVY TIPPET.  By the end of the Hawthorn's time the fish have learnt to grab these terrestrial casualties quickly and firmly as they may escape.  You need hardly strike in these conditions, the fish will often hook themselves.  In any case the rises are so violent a fine tippet is asking for trouble.  I use nothing lighter than 5x (about 5lbs BS Co-Polymer) at this exciting time.

Regular Rod

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Basic Principles - Principles Numbers Two and Three

Your success will be greatly affected by how well you apply these two elements of this great Sport of ours - Observation and Stealth.  The rewards you gain from making these two work in your favour are massively out of proportion to the tiny effort needed to apply them.  The penalties for overlooking them are severe but often the severity is missed by the culprit.  How do you prove a negative when the unobservant and careless angler is oblivious to the impact of an approach that is not careful?

So, when you next approach a likely looking spot, make sure you do it as if every fish in the river was able to turn you into stone with just one look.  Sit down, or at least kneel, or if you must wade, do it without making a ripple and do stop a lot.  Watch what is going on.  Think it all through and spend time in contemplation.  Slowing down may be counterintuitive to you, especially if you are keen to get catching, but you will be surprised at how your catches will not suffer.  In fact you will be more satisfied with them, as you see more opportunities.  In addition, your stealthy approach and drab clothing will make sure you see more of the world in and by the water.  You cease to be a visitor.  You are behaving like the residents, so you too become a resident, Homo sapiens sapiens the innocent predator.  Wonderfully, the creatures of that world will come and show themselves to you...

It may be a family of stoats, beating the banks for game, or perhaps a vole will swim across and, because you are staying stock still, it climbs out to sample the salad bars of hemp agrimony, whilst sitting on the toe of your wellington!  If you are really well hidden, Halcyon may join you, taking advantage of an overhanging branch, so close you could touch it with your landing net.  From there, she or he may perch, spy and dive down, right in front of you.  For a moment you can see it beat its wings under water, then out it comes, back to the branch to turn the minnow round and with the head showing out of the front of its beak, it zooms away in a flash of blue and copper on an urgent mission to feed its chicks. 

Late evenings can bring even more delightful surprises to you when being stealthy and staying observant.  Across the stream you may have noticed a little gap in the margin.  Now the evening shadow's closing you become aware of a darkening in the gap.  It's a hare!  It carefully sniffs the air for predators.  Satisfied that all is well, it moves forward to drink and then perform a thorough ablution, remembering to wash behind those long ears.  In a moment it is back through the gap and gone, but you got to see it. 

Another evening and another place, you are enjoying the evening rise and thanks to your stealth and careful observation you are "visited" by a silent and graceful flyer.  It wheels over your head as it turns to make another straight line sortie across the meadow, almost like a gardener mowing a mid-air lawn. Five minutes or so later, you see it wheel round again at the other end of the meadow and make another run, back towards you.  Happily you have your camera in your shirt pocket and you have had chance to get it ready.  Here it comes!  Aha!  Not a perfect exposure, it is going dark after all, but it will still make a brilliant memento of a perfect summer evening when you took part in the world of the river as a resident and not just someone out to catch some fish...

Regular Rod