Photograph by Steve Barnett

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Comfort Ye...

Comfort ye my people!

It is a great source of comfort and reassurance when you can walk by the side of the Derbyshire Wye and watch Britain's only self sustaining population of wild rainbow trout doing exactly that - sustaining their population.
She's about 18 to 20 inches long and a moment before I pressed the shutter button she had a companion about half her size on her left side.  My presence was too much for the husband but the wife has invested too much work into that gravel to leave it just yet.

There are actually four redds in this picture but the ones in the background are hidden by the glare.  Same story on each redd, a big girl and some little boys.  Rainbow trout prefer toy boys it would seem!

The pictures are poor, just aides de memoir, but if you look carefully you can make out the clean, freshly turned gravel of the redds and there hovering over them are the just discernable shapes of the breeding wild rainbow trout.

Being one of the dog walkers this morning meant that only the shirt pocket camera was available, the venerable and battered Olympus ยต790 SW that has been the "fishing camera" for a few years now.  This year the fishing trips are going to mean lugging a bigger camera around.  The decision to write a book requires higher quality images than those for the internet, hence the decision to travel less lightly for 2012.

There will be another attempt later this week with the bigger camera and a polarizing filter...


Still struggling with the quality.  The glare means even with the polarizing filter I've had to push the contrast by 200%!  I'll keep trying but in the meantime...

Regular Rod

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

Sunday, 19 February 2012


There!  That should get the search engines buzzing for all the wrong reasons...

"Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone..."  

(Thank you Joni Mitchell you were so right about that.)

Well that's how I feel about hooks.  It is not easy to find hooks with straight ring eyes, normal shank instead of short shank, straight shank instead of curved, strong but fine wire and with a kirbed or reversed round bend.  Once upon a time there were lots of choices open to the fly fisherman for such hooks.  Not anymore it seems.

A little while ago I came across some NOS (New Old Stock) hooks that, although now flecked with tiny rust spots, with a bit of firm testing (stick 'em in the vice and give them a hearty twang), they inspired enough confidence in me to invest a few pounds and I now have a thousand or so hooks that are ideal for my drake and sedge flies.

They need work though, so here's how a few moments with the debarbing pliers can transform a basically good hook into the hooker of my dreams!
Starting point: straight, standard length shank, round bend, ring eye

Debarbed by crushing the barb down as flat as possible
Reversed now instead of straight bend

Finished hook ready for the fly dressing
Now why can't the manufacturers make hooks like that?  It would save a lot of messing about...

Regular Rod


Mark from Partridge has kindly responded, see below in the comments.  The hook he mentions looks pretty good.  Here it is...

Thank you Mark!


George has kindly given us a link to a new website with these hooks for sale.  Here's a picture of the hooks.  They are short shanked so might be good for midge type flies.  The curve to the shank suggests that emerger could be good on these hooks too.  If they had longer shanks, say an addition equivalent to the current overall length of the eye, they might be just what is needed for the upwinged flies.  Personally I'd like a reverse or offset to the bend as well.

Thank you George

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Getting there...

...well I am unable to get there for dry fly fishing right now but there is plenty to do in readiness for the season's beginning, now only 46 days away.  One of which is to overhaul the trusty steed, which silently whisks me the few miles from home to the lower beats of the Derbyshire Wye and its glorious tributary, the Lathkill and Dakin, almost for free!

Marin Team Circa 1991 now about to start its third decade of work
Inspection has shown that it needs a new headset, the tyres need replacing and I'm sure I will find more niggles that need attention.  It's worth it for the peace of mind and frankly the bike owes me nowt these days.  Once it was my MTB serving me for thousands of miles on the Peak District bridleways, a few races, with some Trailquests for good measure.  Now the old Marin Team has reverted to rigid forks, grown mudguards, a rack, two Ortlieb panniers and a fiendishly attached aluminium tube to protect whichever priceless built cane rod has been chosen for the day's Sport...

My goodness, it makes me realise just how lucky I am to be able to live so near to the fishing that legs are sufficient to get me there most days.  It's yet one more thing to look forward to come All Fools' Day!

Regular Rod

Monday, 6 February 2012

Piscatoribus Sacrum

Charles Cotton's Little Fishing House still stands, unlike his home Beresford Hall.  Anglers fishing on these hallowed waters can still enjoy the delight of seeing it on its little peninsular.

The artist, Lady Caroline Hervey-Bathurst, using water colours to capture the Little Fishing House on its peninsular setting

Peeping inside, in need of a sweep and wipe over with a cloth but perfectly ready for you to sit in comfort whilst eating your lunch from a marble table.

Charles Cotton enjoyed the Great Outdoors but he didn't see the need to rough it at mealtimes
There are many things we can still explore here in the cradle of fly fishing's history but let's save them for a fishing trip later this year when the season is underway.  All these historic places and artefacts are very delightful, but they are insignificant when we actually catch trout or grayling, descended from the very fish that Charles Cotton and Izaak Walton fished for and caught here in the waters of the Dove in Beresford Dale, which we will do together in a few months time.

Regular Rod