Photograph by Steve Barnett

Friday 6 May 2011

Prepare for later this season...

It may still seem a while away yet but before you know it high summer will be here.  The grass will be taller and seed heads will begin to appear, cow parsley will be in flower.  Then it will be time to watch out for another crop of terrestrial insects that have crash landings on the water.  The soldier beetles will be with us.  There is unlikely to be a furious flurry of activity with these in the way that trout behave when the Hawthorn flies are all around us (as they still are right now).  Instead the soldier beetle casualties are more likely to be quietly engulfed in the back eddies and the edges to slack water.  As such, the fake of the soldier beetle makes a great ambush fly, which you deploy whilst laid face down to carefully watch a big brown trout perambulating his bailiwick.  Every now and then up will tilt the trout to take a morsel.  You gauge where and when to place your fly and, as the trout comes round on his serene progress, your fake is too good to leave behind.  Up tilts the trout and the rest is down to you.
There is a circa two thousand year old fly pattern that makes an excellent fake of the soldier beetle.  It works as a caricature rather than an exact imitation but is seems to have all the stimuli necessary to convince the trout that it is indeed another of the nutritious beetles.

It is called the Red Hackle and it is a simple and fast fly to tie.  You can have a dozen ready in twenty minutes or less so put a little time aside and make sure you have a few in readiness for the return of the soldier beetles.

You need red knitting wool (I use scarlet wool), natural red cock hackles, black thread and some hooks about size 12 or 10.

Put the hook in the vice as shewn.  Run on a short bed of thread at the front of the hook

Tie in the cock hackle as shewn with six turns of thread.  Snip off the waste hackle stalk.


Teeze out a small ball of red wool from a strand of the knitting wool and dub this onto the thread in a long thin sausage of wool.

Wind the body tightly down to the bend of the hook.  If the amount of wool is guessed correctly it will all be used up when you reach the bend.  Let the thread dangle here under the weight of the bobbin holder.

Take the hackle point in the hackle pliers and wind four to six tight, touching turns up to the start of the body.  Then carry on winding down to the hook bend in open, spiralled ribbing turns.  Tie in the hackle with a couple of tight , touching turns and then rib the body with the tying thread and wind the thread quickly  through the front part of the hackle.  Make a bold head with your whip finish and varnish it well.  Use the waste hackle point to clear the varnish out of the hook eye whilst it is still wet.

Voila!  The Red Hackle.

You can use this fly on fast rapids too.  It shows up well and is another good "bring 'em up" fly.   This might possibly be because it looks a good mouthful and so worth the effort of rising?

Regular Rod


  1. Quick question for one far more experienced than I. How much emphasis do you put on the colour of a dry fly? In my mind when viewed back lit from below trout are going to mainly see the silhouette and nto the colour. Would you say size and shape are more important than colour? Or all three necessary to tempt them up?

    Obviously a very different case with emergers etc...

    Dan (look forward to seeing you on the Wye again this summer!)

  2. Hi Dan

    Years ago I was crazy enough to take a pair of chlorine goggles with me whilst fishing one hot summer on the Derbyshire Derwent so I could strip off and get under the water and look up at the flies, real and artificial, from below.

    The real flies show their colour well as they are translucent. The artificials with solid bodies such as silk or quill did almost appear solid black/dark brown. However, the bodies made of herls and dubbing did show their colours well, in despite of the solid steel hook through the middle of each fly.

    The most striking effect of real flies and artificial flies is the mass of tiny needle-like searchlights made by the feet (or hackle fibres) pressing the meniscus into depressions that act as lenses. I think that effect is the most important one in a dry fly. The colour seems to help but the stimulus of those tiny searchlight clusters I'm fairly sure is a very important trigger to a fish deciding whether or not to intercept a floating fly.

    Shape might be important but if was vital then flies like the Red Hackle, Double Badger and Charles Cotton's Black Fly would never work. They do work very well indeed and it simply cannot be a coincidence that they each make a very exaggerated version of that light pattern...

    Aren't these mysteries wonderful? No wonder so many of us get besotted by this branch of our wonderful Sport.

    Regular Rod

  3. Very nice simple yet effective pattern. Good answer to the above question. That was very interesting!

  4. Cheers for the answer, very informative. Looks like I will just have to get out there and experiment! Oh well it's a hard job but someone will have to do it lol

  5. fascinating reply. Makes sense though. Now, where did the missus put her knitting basket?