WE ARE creatures of habit and it’s important that fly tyers new and old don’t allow the ‘anything will do’ philosophy to creep into their tyings. So when starting out, we should try to adopt good habits and at least aim to tie something we can be proud of.
Good tyers take pride in their work and if you want to tempt wily trout, it pays to take extra care. Professional tyer Bill McIlroy highlights seven essential areas where you can enhance the profile of your patterns. Read on and iron out your tying faults.
Bill’s chosen pattern - a size 10 Pearly Invicta - is a true all-rounder. A good sedge imitation, the fly also fishes well as a fry pattern.
1 The wrong hook
Although not pictured here, it’s obvious that if the hook is too long for the natural you’re trying to imitate, everything else including wing, tail and body will be too short for the hook. If the hook is too small everything will appear exaggerated.
These are often too short, too long, bulky or even twisted. Again this ruins the fly’s proportion and profile.
This is the fly’s foundation. Remember that you’re actually building something and an uneven, bulky body results in an uneven rib. Indeed, this has a knock-on effect in that too many turns of rib are made over the uneven surface, again spoiling the neatness of the fly. If palmering a hackle over the body, an uneven hackle is also likely. Some tyers wind the body all the way up to the hook eye, leaving no room for the head. The head has to be tied over this resulting in a bulky head.
These are often too long and wound unevenly. Remember that the emphasis is on proportion. There are certain flies, especially Irish wets, where the hackles are deliberately long to create a disturbance in the water, but most hackles should protrude only slightly beyond the hook point. The fly looks better and is more streamlined.
Again, these can be too long, too short or, as in many cases, off centre when looking down from above the fly. They can also be tied in wrong, namely too much of the wing is tied in forming bulk near the head region. This in turn, results in a shorter wing. If using paired slips of feather, they must be married up together, otherwise the fly’s profile is ruined. It’s worth aiming for neatness because the tail, hackle and wing act as rudders helping the fly to fish on an even keel.
6 The head
The head on this fly (above left) is too bulky giving a poor finish. Too thick a thread has been used.
7 Poorly selected materials
You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and this definitely applies when fly tying. Good flies are often ruined by a poor quality hackle, for example.
1 The right hook
Don’t just choose any hook; select one that suits your purposes. Here’s a very general guide to hook sizes to get you started.
Reservoir wet flies: Standard shank from sizes 8 to 16
River wet flies: Standard shank sizes 14 to 22
Mini lures: Longshank sizes 8 to 14
Bigger lures (ranging from normal reservoir lures to pike and saltwater flies): Longshank sizes 2 to 8
River nymphs: Longshank or traditional shank size 16 to longshank size 12
Stillwater nymphs: Size 10 longshanks for Damsels; otherwise size 10 to 14 traditional shank
Dry flies: Size 12 to 16 standard wire dry fly down or up eye hooks depending on preference
These should be even at their tips, sweeping upwards and not too long or short but in proportion to the fly. The tail fibres here are golden pheasant topping feathers and these are ideal because the tips are even and there’s a regular amount of feathers along the length of the stem. Choose the ones that curve and apply them so that they curve upwards. Stop the tail from twisting by holding the fibres between forefinger and thumb on top of the hook, then lock in with three turns of thread.
The length of the tail is again dependent on personal preference, but for the fly to look in proportion the tail should be no more than the length of the beard hackle and slightly shorter than the wing. On a size 10 hook, the Pearly Invicta should be no more than 15/16 of an inch from hook eye to end of tail - in other words complying to international rules.
This should be in proportion to the fly and built up to the thorax area, leaving enough room for the head hackle. It’s important to remember that you’re building something, so always plan ahead and leave room for other sections of the fly. The body should be neat and without bulk, so apply the dubbing evenly to the thread and decrease the thread wraps around the hook. Many tyers think that a few more wraps of thread will make the fly more durable. Don’t use too many.
The hackle tips should just mask the hook point. Preferences differ between tyers but remember that the hackle helps balance the fly, helping it to fish properly. Beginners can find choosing a hackle difficult. Here’s a general guide.
For dry flies purchase a saddle hackle. A Metz grade 1 will cater for hook sizes 12 to 18 and a grade 2 for hooks 8 to 14. A neck cape will suit a whole range of hackles from sizes 8 to 16.
When using matched wings, take a left and right slip from a hen pheasant wing. Tie in by the root just in front of the palmered hackle with three to four thread wraps. The wing should be tied straight on the hook shank and this helps the fly fish on an even keel. A beard hackle adds balance to the fly.
6 The head
To avoid an oversized head use a finer thread. I use UTC 70 Dennier which is somewhere between size 6/0 to 10/0. The head of this fly has about four or five turns of thread but I’ll use more turns if a bigger head is required on another fly. It’s important to varnish the head after casting off with a whip finish. But my advice is to select the colour thread you require and cover with clear varnish. If you accidentally varnish the hackle, you’re not going to discolour the fly.
7 Select good materials
Buy your tying materials from a reputable dealer. There are many available including Veniards, David Rice and Griffiths to name a few.
TACKLING FIVE PROBLEMS WHEN TYING THE PEARLY INVICTA
Professional fly tyer Bill McIlroy explains in detail the skills you need to tie in booby eyes on to your home-tied trout flies...
WHY TIE BOOBIES?
The addition of buoyant booby eyes make a pattern much more versatile. A fly can be fished on the surface, but the same pattern can then be fished near the bottom on a sinking line, with the buoyancy keeping the fly just above the weed and in the taking zone. But it's important that the eyes sit straight on the hook, not leaning to one side, otherwise the fly's profile is ruined and it won't fish on an even keel. The sequence on the right shows a neat little trick to making the eyes sit straight on the hook.
READY TO APPLY
If you're struggling to trim your Booby eyes to shape, try Floozeyes from Veniard (below). They're available in a variety of colours, are perfectly balanced and should be tied on to the hook with a series of figure-of-eight thread wraps. Simple.
THE WRONG WAY
If you try to attach the booby cord straight to the hook without first using Bill’s tip, it's very difficult to sit it straight. As you apply the thread and start winding, the cord moves around the shank making the eyes sit at an angle to the hook and ruining the fly’s profile.
QUICK TYING TIP
USING COTTON BUDS
If it's perfectly round painted eyes you're after, then try this tip. Cut the ends off a cotton bud so that you're left with just the tube. Dip one end in paint and then gently push the painted end onto the flat side of the booby eye. You should end up with a perfect, hollow circle of paint. Now just add a dab of paint in the middle for a pupil.
Don’t slip into the routine of fly fishing with lures this winter. Time your visit and you’ll still find food to imitate. In fact, during winter, nymphing is Iain Barr’s favoured method for reservoir rainbow trout…
For me, the winter months spent fly angling for trout are all about nymph fishing. Insects still live in our waters right through the winter with corixa thriving and buzzers hatching in the warmer part of the day.
The darting corixa loses the comfort of weedbeds and become easier, darting targets and small hatches of buzzers can insight a winter feeding frenzy. Bloodworm thrive in the soft beds of the lake making easy pickings for the now slumbering trout. All these are a good source of protein as the fish search for a fast-food diet exerting as little energy as possible.
Hoglouse can be abundant in the weeds and become vulnerable as the weed dies away. Many anglers associate winter fishing with throwing a long line and the gaudiest lure in their box, often a Booby. For me, there is no more pleasurable way to catch a fish other than on the nymph and the winter months are no exception.
With fewer and fewer fish rising on our reservoirs and lakes in the colder months, it is the nymph angler who is consistently taking the cream of the sport.
I favour nymph fishing over any method although I do enjoy dry flies and pulling lures when I have to. In recent years I have probably caught more than 70 per cent of my fish on nymphs, with that figure rising to near 90 per cent during winter months.
It has always been a mystery to me why I can go to my local reservoir or lake during the winter months and have it almost to myself.
I enjoy being out on those crisp winter mornings when a much appreciated glimmer of sunshine pokes through the dispersing cloud to warm my face.
Where to start?
Water temperatures plummet as the frosty nights set in so you must find warmer water where the hatches are likely to occur. This may mean fishing into a wind but don’t just choose any bank. Look for a sloping gradient and not a deep bank.
Many anglers insist on throwing fast sinking lines as far as they can into a headwind in deep water.
They are probably casting past the fish as they will be feeding in the shallower, warmer water.
Land jutting out into water (points) will always be a favourable place as the often silted bed at the end of these promontories hold insect larvae that will try to hatch during the warmest part of the day. They also offer a bolt hole if disturbed as the fish slope off into the deeper water at the first sign of trouble. Try the bottom of bays in the corners where the wind is blowing into, this may offer a right-to-left or left-to-right wind.
This is larder for food, as a right angle corner of bank will have two currents bringing the food in.
Don’t wade into the water as you will disturb the fish. Stand away from the shoreline and fan cast the water’s edge just a few yards from the bank, covering as much water as possible.
A good friend of mine won the Fur & Feather match on Rutland last year in December on Buzzers fished no more than seven or eight yards from the bank!
If you are fishing in more that eight-10ft of water then you are probably fishing in water that is too deep. One of my best winter sessions came in early December with frost and ice on the bank. I actually took the fish on size 16 black dry flies and size 14 Thread Buzzers as they moved into the flooded banks of Rutland’s North Arm. This was in the early 1990s and other anglers nearby also enjoyed a field day. It’s funny though,
I returned the following week and there wasn’t a fish to be seen.
Look for any remaining weedbeds near the margins. The headbobbing swans and diving coots and moorhens can tell you where the weed is. There will be an abundance of food in this weed and rest assured the trout know it’s there too!
Hoglouse and corixa are likely to be here, so a Hare’s Ear, Diawl Bach and Cruncher combination will work. Try to imitate the corixa with short six-inch pulls with eightsecond pauses in between.
You need the right tackle to fish into the wind. A fast-action rod is required to minimise the number of false casts. The greater the number of false casts, the less line speed you will generate as the wind pushes the line back at you.
It is important to punch the last cast hard into the wind to ensure you get the distance. Aim the last cast parallel to the water at head height for maximum distance. A high cast will only drop back at you, due to the head wind, and punching it hard at the water will result in the line crashing down. When fishing into a head wind, I always use a line weight heavier than the rod states.
I am renowned for my 22ft leaders but I will reduce this to about 16ft with just three flies when fishing into the wind, and will go down to two flies if the wind is very strong.
It is important to use fluorocarbon (largely invisible in water) as the water is often gin clear during the winter. The takes from rainbows aren’t as aggressive as in the summer, so I tend to use lighter line and go as little as 6lb. You may be surprised at 6lb, but I catch most of my big fish during the winter months and don’t want to get broke with the fish of a lifetime.
I always use a low or non-stretch line during winter. I tend to miss far too many subtle takes with stretch lines. The fish are preserving energy so will often just mouth the nymph instead of taking aggressively.
Fish them NZ style
I’ve had fantastic success fishing my nymphs New Zealand-style in the shallow, clear water.
I use a Floating Fry with a Cruncher positioned two foot below it. The Cruncher may imitate a corixa that has made the precarious journey to the surface for a gulp of air.
A small Black Buzzer is positioned four to six foot below that, providing perfect presentation as it drifts back towards you when fishing into the head wind. It also allows your flies to be out there for the maximum time possible.
If you were straight-line nymphing in the usual way, your flies could snag bottom in the shallow water, but the Floating Fry suspends the flies above snags and in full view of the trout.
Don’t get frustrated if the fish are not pulling your flies. There can often be just a short window of time during the lunchtime hours when the fish come on the feed.
Watch diligently for any sign of fly life and, as you see it, start fishing those nymphs.
If you wait too long the larvae would have all left the waterbed and the fish will have moved off the shallows. It really can be all over within an hour so make the change quickly.
Winter fishing can produce some explosive action and during the warmer days it can be full-on sport all day long. So why not go fly fishing, leave the lure box at home and use those nymphs? You will be surprised how successful they can be.
The best flies to try
Although the fish may be hungry they will not give themselves up easily if the nymph is not fished correctly. With a headwind or crosswind it is important to fish your flies static. With a headwind cast them out and just let them drift back to you, but keep your line tight. With a crosswind cast them out and let them swing naturally round in an arc.
Buzzers are mostly black and small during the winter so I opt for a size 10 grub hook or size 12 B175 Buzzer. This is still relatively big in comparison, but a tempting and realistic mouthful for the hungry fish.
For the corixa I use my tried and tested Crunchers and a Hare’s Ear. They imitate any shrimps or hoglouse that may be lurking.
When trout are feeding at the surface and in chasing mood nothing beats the thrill of pulling wet flies through the upper layers. It's visual, action-packed and full of excitement. Russell Hill returns to an old and often forgotten technique with the regulars of Staffordshire's Tittesworth Reservoir to target the water's rainbow trout.
A GUST of fresh air breathes life over the water and pockets of fish turn at the surface. The sky's full of broken cloud offering a perfect balance of sunlight and shade. I exchange a knowing look with my boat partner - we're in luck. The fish are up and in lively mood.
Our electric engine's soft whir is barely audible as we gently manoeuvre the boat onto the first drift. Already I feel life's stresses flow out of me and I'm eager to enjoy the action on offer at this scenic, top-of-the-water reservoir.
Drifting parallel to the shore we spot fish head-and-tailing only a few metres from the boat. After a short cast my team of two palmered wet flies lands delicately on the water. Two V-shaped wakes slice the rippled surface as I strip back the flies. The surface chevrons are bound to attract a take. Anticipation pays off and a thick, rolling wall of water gains pace behind – a fish has locked on, no doubt attracted to the wake and the flies' brightly coloured tags. Heart pounding, I quicken the pulls hoping to feel solid resistance as the trout grabs hold. At the end of the retrieve there's still no take. But I'm excited enough to immediately re-cast hoping the fish is still on the look out - you often get a second chance. Ripping the flies back, the bow wave re-appears - I've retrieved right across the fish's nose. This time...a pluck.
After a quick one-metre pull, the fly line tightens and I'm into a fierce scrap. Water sprays everywhere. After initially breaking the surface, the strong, silvery flash heads deep and refuses to budge. With powerful runs left and right it heads straight under the boat and the rod tip follows. The reel screeches as the fighting fish gains line. Eventually, I manage to pull the fish to the top, get its head out of the water and draw it over the net. Phew! It's a pristine blue trout of 2lb-plus, surprisingly small for the fight. But the method, battle and quality of the fish make it a pleasure to catch. This is wonderful fishing and pulling wets is something every angler should try to rediscover - especially those slightly jaded with the sinking line and lure approach.
It's action packed and extremely good fun. Of course, dry fly sport is exhilarating, but it's static when compared to the constant movement of a wet fly fisher working his flies. Visually stimulating, hours can while away as the angler becomes absorbed in casting, retrieving and watching the fish chase. If you're looking for an exciting method to 're-light your fire' then look no further.
It was the lochs and loughs of Scotland and Ireland that first introduced us to the world of wets. Then, visiting anglers took the patterns back home and tweaked them to suit their particular waters. The result is a wealth of variation that characterises today's wet fly patterns.
Some 'older' readers may recall that at one time, traditional wet fly fishing was the method to use - if you went boat fishing, you used wets. But as techniques progressed and new developments appeared the art of wet fly fishing became largely forgotten.
TACKLE ROD: Choose a 10 or 11ft, middle-to-tip or through-action, five or six-weight. A longer rod allows you to work the flies further from the boat. FLY LINE: Nigel uses a double taper floating line offering gentle presentation. The thick belly section is in the middle of the line with the ends tapering to a thin point. A weight forward line, with the bulk of its weight towards the front, can splash down on the water and spook fish. LEADER: Sightfree fluorocarbon. It's clear, strong and is a good compromise in diameter - not too thick or thin. It's also not too stiff or shiny. Fluorocarbon is handy for wets but you don't want it to sink too quickly - 6lb is a fine balance. If fish are really fussy Nigel sometimes reduces the diameter. KNOTS: Nigel uses a Grinner Knot for droppers with an Improved Clinch Knot for connecting the flies. Use a Fourturn Water Knot for droppers.
In the right conditions - overcast and warm with a good breeze - wets will work just about anywhere, but it's an advantage to choose a venue where fish look up for their food. In nutrient-poor upland waters, trout rely on terrestrial insects blown onto the water from surrounding trees and moorland, so they're constantly looking up for food. These fish usually chase wet flies at the surface. Two hundred acre Tittesworth reservoir is one such fishery.
Tree-lined in areas and always under the imposing shadow of the 500ft Roaches Ridge, picturesque Tittesworth offers the kind of idyllic surroundings anglers dream of. The many bays and inlets appeal to those bank anglers craving intimate sport - creeping up on unsuspecting fish as they swim around tree roots and reed stems.
Then there are the many productive drifts available to boat anglers across the middle or parallel to the shore, provided of course that the draw off doesn't lower water levels too much. The whole place is a scenic, tranquil oasis and one that deserves a fishing technique more in tune with its beauty. I couldn't imagine casting a fast sinking line with a team of Blobs here.
Anglers come here to enjoy a bit of top-ofthe- water finesse. With the fishery responding to wet flies, it's no surprise that many of the regulars are masters of the art. Former match anglers Nigel Nixon and Stan Forrester are disillusioned with the way competition fishing has developed.
Having previously been successful in the old Benson & Hedges competitions, they don't like the 'quick limit' and big cash prizes of today's match scene. Instead, they enjoy a method that first captivated their interest over 30 years ago.
Their boat is expertly positioned to start their first drift, just off Carrs Point, which marks the boundary to the dam basin.
Immediately Stan pulls a fish. Nigel politely reels in his line until the fish is netted. Now it's Nigel's turn to enjoy the action. After retrieving he stops the flies and dibbles the wake fly enticingly across the top. A following fish cannot resist and it grabs the fly close to the boat. This pattern continues with both men matching each other fish for fish. Watching two anglers casting short lines and catching fish on small flies close to the boat only fuels my enthusiasm to have another go - it all seems so effortless and there's plenty of action. The smooth loops of fly line contrast against the trees and the flies land so lightly on the water - slowly floating down as the leader unfurls.
SIXTY-EIGHT year old Stan Forrester began fly fishing almost 30 years ago and after a spell with lures he discovered traditional wet flies and became smitten. He continued with wets until taking up match fishing about 12 years ago. After a credible 5th position in the Benson & Hedges champs he started to lose interest in competitions.
"It's the way that match fishing is evolving that troubles me. The competition scene, and to some extent the angling media, seem to be pushing anglers towards sinking lines, Blobs and 13lb leader. To me, that's not really fly fishing. I prefer the finesse of wet flies and feel that youngsters are missing out on a really exciting method."
Both anglers continue to drift slowly towards the cages enjoying the many chasing fish coming their way. Even from distance, we're gripped spectators excited by the rolling bow waves locking onto the flies like underwater guided missiles.
Stan, a former coal miner, has three flies - a Silver Invicta on the point with a Peter Ross in the middle and a Steely Blue on the top dropper. Stan usually sticks to a figure of eight retrieve and then stops the fly suddenly - this is when he gets a lot of takes. Obviously, the fish follow the disturbance fly, which stops when the rod is raised and held. The fish either takes it or turns away and snaps up the next fly it sees following behind.
The chasing trout is attracted to the bushy wake fly. As it chases, speed up the retrieve and then dibble or hang the flies.
Working in transport management, 54- year-old Nigel Nixon claims former Welsh international Selwyn Hughes to be the main reason he took up wet fly fishing.
Selwyn was the bailiff at Tittesworth when they took over management from Severn- Trent Water about 20 years ago. It was Selwyn who introduced the Harry Tom fly to Tittesworth and it's still very successful today.
Looking for rising fish, Nigel casts to them and begins a steady figure of eight retrieve all the while anticipating a chase. Nothing happens, so he adds variety.
Casting 10 to 15 yards he gives two or three steady pulls and then starts lifting the rod. Holding everything still he feels a "thud" and his rod tip jolts abruptly. A following fish took his middle dropper as soon as the fly stopped moving.
While retrieving, takes are usually straightforward lock ups. But whether in motion or static, all takes are usually confident because the fish see the fly as a natural food form. And because they're focussed on the fly they will chase right up to the boat.
Says Nigel: "Wet fly fishing is not just throwing a long line and stripping the flies back, although this might work well on the day. It involves a variety of techniques including short lining, lifting, dibbling and holding the flies still.
People are locked into today's methods and they've largely forgotten the thrill of fishing wets."
Nigel maintains that many of today's sunk-line tactics result in anglers often fishing below the fish. Wet flies fished on or just below the surface will produce more trout on many occasions.
Continues Nigel: "Anyway, to me, traditional wets and dry fly is proper fly fishing. I've fished all techniques but this is my favourite. Anyone who says wet flies no longer work should go out next time with an open mind and try it."
Being experienced anglers, Stan and Nigel use long leaders - Stan's is 15ft and Nigel's 22ft. This is important for wet fly fishing but so is the spacing between the flies. There has to be a long length from the end of the fly line to the top dropper fly. This allows the angler to work the flies - dibbling, holding etc - well away from the boat. On Nigel's 22ft leader he has 11ft to the top dropper, 5ft to the middle and 6ft to the point.
First time wet fly anglers might find Stan's set up easier to manage. His 15ft leader comprises 7ft to the top dropper with 4ft between the flies.
If those new to this method are uncomfortable with three flies on a leader, Nigel suggests using two- although you could be significantly reducing your chances. The fly you omit could be the one that really works on the day. With a softish rod and a little casting practice, turnover will improve and then it's best to use three flies. Softer, middle-to-tip or through action rods cast open loops, reducing the risk of tangles. Tighter loops mean the droppers have every chance of tangling around the leader or fly line as the loop is made - especially if it's windy.
MORE fish come and both anglers regularly play fish simultaneously. But why is this particular area of Tittesworth productive today?
Says Stan: "Drifts across the centre of the reservoir are good, but during summer many fish move towards the deeper water near the dam. The trout start off in the shallows during early season then they move to the deeps through summer, ending up in the shallows again during late September."
Wet fly fishing seems to work early season, as soon as the fish are at the surface. Through July and high summer the trout often prefer static dries, but the fresher winds of September render wets a worthy option again.
After countless fish, it's time for a break and our two anglers retire to the shelter of the wooded Scar Hole - upwind of the dam basin. It's here that they discuss their flies, rigs and memories in more detail.
Things tend to go around in cycles. In the days of the B&H championship they would go out on the Midland reservoirs and catch huge bags of fish all on wets.
In the early 90s, dry fly was the top method. What will the changing trends in modern fly fishing bring next? Maybe a return to the good old days of wet fly fishing? Let's hope so.
The cool breezes of autumn freshen the water and liven up those wild brown trout. These cooler conditions mean it's time to fly fish with buzzers, olives and fry.
AS autumn takes hold, shorter days often see heavy overnight dew giving cooler, fresher conditions after dark and more risk of frost. This change curtails evening activity and, with hatches usually confined to the warmer parts of the day, sensing winter, trout generally feed in earnest now. Many insects that kept us going in spring make a second appearance now, but we cannot simply revert back to the tactics of early season.
CHASING trout in the small hours of a sultry summer night is exciting stuff and, while you’ll often have the water to yourself, such a regime can be tiring, especially when a decent hatch stretches well into the night. Thankfully, late-season fishing usually centres around midday and, even when warmer conditions prolong insect activity, dusk occurs much earlier so there’s no danger of burning the candle at both ends.
OCCURRING around September 22 the autumnal equinox sees day and night of equal length. Obviously, past this date, night becomes longer than day and we’re on the slippery slope to winter. This profound change can bring a particularly unsettled spell of weather with strong winds and sometimes gales persisting for days. Such winds stir up the water, cancelling out the thermal stratification (layering) of summer and introduce cooler more oxygenated conditions that favour trout. Shaking off their hot weather lethargy and feeling more rejuvenated, trout are often in chasing mood now. Being sensitive to their surroundings fish are aware that winter is just around the corner. With hard times ahead, such fish usually have an edge to their appetite.
Don’t get caught out
ALL too frequently, you’ll end up miles from your vehicle searching for wild trout. With topsy-turvy weather in the offing, carry appropriate waterproofs. Aside from a jacket and cap, waders help explore water and protect against foul weather. If walking a fair distance to a desired fishing area, bundle these into a haversack. Breathable waders are far more comfortable when covering lots of ground. Forget those with the bootfoot fitting. Although easier to pull on and take off, the boots behave more like Wellingtons, rattling round on your feet, making distance walking more arduous. Instead, the stocking foot type require a lace-up boot that fits snugly onto the foot and provides reinforcement, perfect when covering rocky terrain often found along the shores of wild waters.
Felt soles offer superior grip on slippery rock when in water, but can be unpredictable when walking on wet grass or exposed mud. Aquastealth soles are a better option though not quite as good on slimy rocks. Whichever you chose, refrain from inserting tungsten stubs. Although affording extra purchase on tricky surfaces they tend to be noisy, potentially alerting nearby trout.
AS discussed last month, some insects remain throughout the season, typically buzzers and the olive family. Autumn sees a resurgence of these flies as they have one last fling before winter arrives. Even with the threat of frost, come midday, buzzers and olives hatch in earnest. Given breezy conditions then we can revert to our trusty team of wets worked through the upper layers. Despite weather trends reminiscent of spring, water temperatures generally remain comfortable with trout holding in the upper layers. Obviously a floating line is a must with little call for a sinker.
Faced with zephyr like winds, dry flies or sparse nymphs will stay in touch with fish. Trout quietly sipping at the surface are a sure sign that buzzers are on the menu. Of course, fish taking terrestrials do so in a similar fashion, so always try to identify what fish are feeding on. A look at the windward shore (exposed bank) ascertains potential trout food. Here many nymphs, emergers and sometimes winged adults that didn’t make it are amongst the foam and flotsam. Generally, more splashy rises are trout moving at speed to seize their meal. Both sedges and to a lesser extent olives can be responsible for this. Although a summer fly, sedge hatches frequently stretch into September. Emerging sedges and olives are keen to fly off quickly and, aware that their potential meal may vanish, trout are close on their heels. The effects of such feeding behaviour are those exciting, healthy rise forms, often mistaken for trout hitting terrestrials at the surface.
LAND-BORNE insects are equally aware of the encroaching cold and they too seem eager to secure next season’s generation. Now, flying ants, black gnats and daddies can show in surprising numbers. In particular, ants and gnats often occur close to water, providing trout with a back-end beanfeast.
Ants sprout wings before taking to the air. Usually the first sign that anything is afoot will be gulls wheeling overhead. Late afternoon and early evening when the day is warmest often sees the best of ant activity and, as the breeze dies away, many naturals litter the surface. Trout homing in on ants rarely have eyes for anything else. So be sure to have an imitation. That said, I’ve been caught out before, yet still managed to tempt fish with small black Klinkhamers or Black Gnat dry flies.
Black gnats can appear in hordes during autumn though their small size means they may go unnoticed. Unless it’s calm, gnats have a habit of becoming almost waterlogged, rendering them low-riding in the surface film. Tired and weak, gnats become easy pickings for trout, which need not expend too much energy. Barely creating any disturbance, it’s natural to assume trout are harvesting emerging buzzer pupae. Again, check the margins or nearby meadows and shrubs for signs of winged adults. Usually, these cling to cover and only venture further in light breezes when you see clouds of them in the open. Usually the early part of a fall sees increased activity close to the lee shore (sheltered bank). But, any appreciable breeze quickly conveys gnats and other terrestrials across the surface to the exposed windward bank.
1. Pearly Invicta
Hook: Size 10-12 Kamasan B170 Thread:Black 14/0 Sheer Rib:Silver wire Tail:Golden pheasant crest Body:Pearly tinsel Hackle:Ginger cock hackle, palmered Wing:Hen pheasant tail Throat Hackle:Blue jay
Often overlooked, traditional wets certainly have a place when it comes to tempting trout feeding on small fish and the Pearly Invicta fits this bill nicely. Although the original Invicta calls for hen pheasant tail fibres, hen pheasant secondaries are a lot easier to work with.
2. Pearly PTN
Hook: Size 10-14 Fulling Mill All-purpose Thread: Orange 14/0 Sheer Rib: Pearly tinsel Tail: Orvis crystal flash, pearl Body and Thorax Cover: Cock pheasant tail fibres Thorax: Veniard’s pearly Glister dubbing Legs: Brown partridge Head: Wapsi fluo orange thread
Nymphs dressed slender with a touch of sparkle are more than adequate imitations of pinfry or small minnows. While this pattern is tied using cock pheasant tail, fibres from the hen bird make a nice alternative.
Hook: Size 8-14 2x longshank Thread: Danville’s 8/0 red Body: Olive Ice Dub Tail and Back: Weasel zonker strip Throat: Orange marabou Head: Red thread
Although using a weasel strip, this pattern falls loosely under the ‘Minkie’ heading. Generally, shorter in hair length, weasel lends itself to smaller flies for imitating minnows and sticklebacks. Various shades of Ice dubbing can be applied with olive, tan and pale yellow popular.
4. Floating Fry
Hook: Size 8-12 2x longshank Thread: White 6/0 Tail and Fins: Pearl flashabou or similar Body: Olive or tan ice chenille Back: Ethafoam
To fully appreciate this tying, it needs viewing from below. Olive and tan body colours are more in keeping with sticklebacks, minnows and infant perch that are the principal prey for many wild trout. White ethafoam is for our benefit, hopefully, making a low-riding fly that bit more visible.
ALTHOUGH our lowland reservoirs steal the headlines at fry time, lakes and tarns are of interest to us now. Despite their apparent lack of richness to support vast shoals of coarse fish, many natural fisheries hold minnows and stickleback that provide a protein packed meal for trout. Even on more barren waters and hill tarns, it’s common to find a thriving population of minnows in the shallows. And while such baitfish are potentially on the menu all season, activity heightens in autumn when trout pack on weight for winter.
With weighty specimens filling the pages of Trout Fishermen at fry time, it’s natural to think that only large trout predate on small fish. Granted, huge fish are far more capable of dealing with large food items. But smaller trout are able to tackle some pretty substantial fish too. I once extracted a seven-inch trout from the throat of a 13- inch wild brownie, so minnows are more than fair game!
Weed beds and marginal boulders (evident on many glacial lakes) provide shelter for minnow shoals and any coarse fry (typically perch) that care to frequent these waters. Shallow regions too hold their share of minnows, as it’s here they feel safest. However, marauding trout, which use speed and guile to secure a meal, are never far away. Ever watchful, they wait for an opportune moment to strike. Charging full throttle into an unsuspecting shoal their aim is to stun or injure small fish. While such explosive strikes are indicative of ‘fry feeders’, there are times when trout feed on baitfish tactfully.
I’ve witnessed wild trout herding minnows in a shallow corner. These trout went almost undetected, my elevated vantage point gave a privileged view. On one occasion three trout clinically shepherded a shoal of minnows into a tight ball. With nervous minnows hugging the shoreline, two trout approached the shoal (one at either end) to drive them into the path of a third waiting trout (Diagram 1). Unaware of the presence of this third trout the fry were deftly pounced upon in slightly deeper water. Creating virtually no disturbance, there was little evidence of this act at the surface. Conversely, a single trout preying on baitfish stands a better chance by pushing them against the shoreline (Diagram 2). Now with one less escape route the shoal become confused. Performing evasive leaps and skipping away from attacking trout results in a dramatic commotion.
Although there’s every chance of experiencing ‘fry bashing’ on wild waters, it would be foolish to become solely reliant on this method. Like trout, we have to remain opportunists and constantly revise our tactics. That said, searching with fry patterns can be extremely productive. I break my approach into two distinct camps. While both methods are in essence a compromise, they’ve served me well through late season.
The first involves a standard three-fly set-up, with the floating line. More breezy conditions may call for an intermediate. Look to flashy patterns that suggest small fish. A typical team might be a Pearly Wickhams on the top dropper, Silver Invicta on the middle with a Zonker on the point. The Invicta makes a good corixa imitation too, which has worth during late summer. In fact, trout hunting corixa in shallow water often home in on their prey creating a distinct bow-wave – commonly mistaken for fry feeding behaviour. Thankfully, this doesn’t always matter, as opportunistic trout will eagerly snap them up, making this the ideal set-up for exploring the shallows.
Experiencing that arm-wrenching pull from a chasing fish is exciting stuff, yet there’s more subtle ways to fool fry-feeding trout. Sick or injured fish often loiter near the surface, making them vulnerable. Trout are in no hurry to seize such an easy meal. They glide up and pluck them from the surface. Now we can present floating patterns in the surface film. While static or partially submerged flies usually do the trick, try hedging you bets with the New Zealand style (duo). Suspending a Corixa or Pearly PTN two feet beneath a Floating Fry improves your odds and on its day is lethal (Diagram 3). Finally, it’s too easy to think “the bigger the better” when it comes to fry patterns. Small, unassuming dressings on size 12-14 hooks can have just as much impact!
Q. How close does a fly have to be presented to a fish before it actually sees it and will this depend on whether the fish is taking flies from the surface or subsurface? I find it difficult to intercept a trout that is surface feeding and wonder if it just doesn’t see the fly, or if I’m misinterpreting the feeding pattern.
A. When a trout is looking up, its window of vision consists of an angle of 97.5 degrees (see diagram 1). Bearing this in mind, the deeper the fish swims, the greater its window of vision becomes (diagram 2). This is in theory only as other factors come into play here. For example, turbid (or murky) water will affect the distance a fish is able to see.
To conserve energy, trout feeding on flies close to the surface or in the surface film, often cruise in the upper layers. The result is a reduced window of vision (diagram 2) and if your fly falls outside the trout’s window, then it won’t be able to see it.
A simple calculation can be made if, for the purposes of this exercise, we assume the trout’s window is 90 degrees. With this angle in mind a trout holding some four feet deep will have a window of eight feet. Conversely, a trout cruising a mere five inches beneath the surface will only have a window of 10 inches (diagram 2).
Bear in mind, too, that fish are usually looking forward and concentrating on the front half of the window in the direction they’re moving. So, in many circumstances we have to divide the window of vision in two. Thinking back to the trout holding at five inches deep, means we have a target of 2.5 inches. Of course, trout will still see potential food fall into the window behind them, but then it’s a case of whether they feel that circling round to take the offering warrants the effort.
From your question, it seems the biggest problem you encounter is targeting trout at the surface. When fishing a dry fly, try to establish if trout are cruising at depth, or near the surface. This is done by carefully studying rising forms, which can also help in determining which direction fish are heading. As a guide, trout often work upwind when feeding, especially on larger waters. So, if you see a rise under these circumstances, try casting upwind, ahead of the fish.
Trout feeding on an abundance of surface insects will often cruise close to the surface. With a reduced window of vision, landing the fly close to the fish is paramount, calling for accurate and delicate presentation. Look for head-and-tail rise forms (diagram 3), or any gentle bulging disturbances. Notice this rise disturbance often appears as oval-shaped rings with a pronounced side, indicating in which direction the trout is heading (diagram 4). Occasionally, and usually in calmer conditions, trout will adopt a more roving feeding pattern and tracking these random rises can be tricky. Generally, more splashy rises are a result of trout intercepting prey at speed and usually points to fish holding that bit deeper.
As to how far you need to cast in front of a rise to intercept it, this depends on several factors like food availability, wind strength, insect stage and of course, each individual fish. As a guide, start by giving the fish a lead of approximately three to four feet and revise it from there. Naturally, you need to cast well ahead of trout that are cruising at speed.
Conversely, if you cast too far in front of fish feeding haphazardly then there’s a good chance they’ll have changed direction before they ever reach your fly. Dimpling rings usually occur during flat clams and suggest fish are selecting insects stuck fast in the surface film.
Caenis or emerging buzzers spring to mind here and, with so many naturals on the water, trout will cruise just beneath the surface mopping them up. In such circumstances a cast that delivers your fly inches in front of the previous rise will be called for.
As for subsurface flies like nymphs and buzzer pupae this can be relatively academic, as we’re often fishing the water blind rather than visually targeting individual trout by sight. However, given clear water and the luxury of seeing trout beneath the surface, again I aim to drop the fly some four-foot in front of a fish.
Of course, the speed a fish is moving, its actual holding depth and water clarity will have a bearing here. Deep-lying trout require a cast several feet ahead, giving the fly time to sink.
IT’S Mayfly time and you only need to take notice of what’s going on around you to have the best fun you will ever have with a fly rod and some hard-fighting trout.
In late May, the weather is glorious, mayfly are hatching and there’s virtually no-one on the water.
In between the twittering of swallows and the ever-present hum of traffic there’s an occasional heavy splash.
We are at Barnes Lakes, near Standlake in Oxfordshire, and I’m frantically tying on a dry Mayfly pattern while photographer Peter Gathercole is nagging me to get on with things, as the afternoon light is perfect!
Amazingly, there are only a couple of other anglers on the water but this could be the scenario on virtually any stillwater fishery. Why do so few anglers take advantage of what is one of the best periods in the flyfishing calendar?
When trout are rising freely to an easily-identifiable fly and will readily accept an artificial, it’s surely about as good as it gets. Plus, it happens during arguably the most pleasant time of the year with long, warm days when nature is doing its utmost to put on a show.
There are scores of stillwaters where mayfly hatch in large numbers and yet many of the regulars on these fisheries have either left before the hatch begins or stubbornly refuse to try a dry. It’s such a shame as this really is a fun way to fish as well as being very satisfying.
It’s hard not to be at ease with life at Barnes Lakes and from the cosy lodge through to the immaculate grassed areas and beautifully tended hedgerows, it is all too apparent that John Barnes is immensely proud of his fishery. He runs it to appeal to those who like a fair day with a bit of a challenge. All he asks is that you use conventional flies and don’t overstep the limit for catch-and-release or catch-and-kill. Insist on using big lures or behave badly and you won’t be welcome to return. In essence, fish as though you personally own the water. There can’t be a better maxim than that.
My challenge was to catch something for Peter’s cameras and to have a play with a pattern I’d been developing over the winter to see if it worked. I am one of those guys who’s constantly looking around and, on small waters, I often notice adult mayfly on the surface, particularly during calm periods, but they just seem to stay there even though heavy rises are happening.
It seems that the fish must be selecting the hatching stage and leaving the adult insect alone. Even during periods when there’s a ripple on the water and fish are taking the adult, I’ll still see feeding evidence without spotting a fly. The obvious conclusion is that the fish really like to take the fly just before and during its hatching stage. This is called the emerger stage and is well known to anyone who enjoys fishing chironomid (buzzer) imitations - there are already some effective Mayfly emergers too. But I wanted to put some movement into my imitation. I’d often watch the nymph coming to the surface with a most attractive wiggle and then it would move along in the surface film while struggling to hatch. I came up with an odd-looking creation using a Kamasan B810 hook, intended for Klinkhamer tyings and always incongruously large for a size 10 (click here to see).
It’s more tedious to tie than most of my patterns but I assure you it works and is worth the extra effort at the vice. When fishing the fly I usually cover an area where I've seen a fish move and either let it drift if there's surface movement, or impart the occasional twitch or a very slow retrieve. All options work and I think some trout actively cover quite a large area looking for the hatching fly, which is why a direct cast to a rise will often not work. Put the fly into the general area and be patient…it should produce a take.
IT can be puzzling when looking at a selection of Mayfly patterns and then choosing one that's going to work. They can be so different. To help us we must appreciate that there are two principal species, but that each has several stages to its life and can also have regional colour phases.
We are really only concerned with Emphemera Danica and Ephemera Vulgata but each starts life in the nymphal form spending about two years living in the silt of a lake bed. As hatching time approaches they swim to the surface or crawl up through weed beds to emerge into the dun stage. This has a sort of matt finish and can vary from pale olive/yellow through to almost black. The dun stage soon leaves the water and takes shelter in nearby shrubbery where it will settle for the night. The following day it will once more split its skin and seemingly hatch again into the spinner stage. This is the sexually mature adult and is a glossy finish with more pronounced body markings, longer tail filaments and shinier wings. Come evening, these spinners, both male and female, fly upwards and mate in the air. The males fall back to the water where they die in the spent position with their wings outstretched. The females fly upstream and lay their eggs before also dying, again in the spent position.
Now you can see why there are so many patterns because you might well need to suggest the nymph, the emerger, the dun, the spinner or the spent stages.
Today at Barnes Lakes there's a pretty good hatch of fly and a cruise around the lake immediately in front of the lodge finds several fish feeding off weed beds. They provide some action and, as ever with a partial catch-and-release fishery, there are some fish that are just too smart and they defeat me, even though I have this deadly new fly!
Moving to Kingfisher Lake, which is rather more open to the breeze, there are more fish moving here as well as some stunning tench in the shallows. These fish will also take a well-cast nymph and are really tough fighters on fly gear, but trout are the target and I have to get Peter a pretty fish so that he can be happy with his day’s work. Feature days are enormous fun and sometimes it’s a struggle to always come up with the goods. I well remember the late Chris Dawn’s words in the preface of my last book when he said that I had never failed to meet any challenge he had ever set me. Chris made an enormous contribution to the success of Trout Fisherman and I hope I always emulate the faith he put in me.
This was proving to be one of those days when I could get great takes and generate good action pictures but then drop the fish just when I thought the job was done. What I really want is to have a go at the tench, but the evening is coming with consequent cooling of the margins and the tench are moving off to deeper water. This lack of concentration led me to hustle a hooked trout just a little too much, which meant it would come unstuck just as it was ready for netting. Hence, I was getting a bit desperate but every so often I seem to get lucky and we catch the lovely brown you can see here, although I did foolishly pull my fly away from a real 'beast' of a brown.
Nevertheless, this beauty is a fitting testament to John’s lovely water. I will have to go back to try for the tench another day and I wish that it was closer to home.
10 TIPS FOR MAYFLY TIME
1. Some fisheries enjoy a really early hatch and it can be mid-April in the far south.
2. The best of the hatch is usually mid-to-late afternoon.
3. Warm evenings can bring on a really heavy fall of the spent fly.
4. Don’t fish too light a leader; it twists when using big patterns like Mayflies.
5. Expect to find some of the biggest fish feeding on the surface.
6. Look for bird life to give you a clue as to the best hatch area.
7. Listen for the sound of the fish rising, they can be noisy when feeding on mayfly adults.
8. Try around weed beds for fish following the nymph through the weed.
9. A drowned dry is often better than one sitting up on the surface.
10. A trout on a dry is worth 10 on a lure.
WITH a couple of seasons’ experience, Emily has just two trout to show for her efforts. It’s no surprise that she’s beginning to despair a little. But, the fact that she has continued fishing at all, even though most of her sessions had drawn a blank, is a good indication of her dedication and determination.
Arriving at Combe Sydenham fishery, in West Somerset, we check out Emily’s fishing gear. Previously, her tackle proved a little heavy so I suggest one of the new Greys GRXi rods, rated 5/6 with a reversed half wells handle, ideal for the smaller hand and not too tough on the wrist.
Very quickly Emily found the Greys to her liking, as it’s much lighter than her usual blank, so we set about working on casting for a quick half hour. Emily’s main problem is a lack of timing on the back cast and releasing the line a little too early on the final shoot. This is soon corrected and so it’s time to sort out Emily’s real dilemma, the fact that she spends more time looking into her fly box trying to decide what pattern to use when actually fishing.
WHATS IN THE BOX
Emily’s fly box is a mass of assorted colours and disorganised. Lures are mixed in with nymphs and dries with wets. The result is a confusing mess that Emily can’t make sense of.
I really enjoy organising my own fly boxes, sorting through the rubbish and filing flies away carefully in ordered groups, making for easy identification and allowing quick changes when required.
While grouping Emily’s flies I point out the difference between the various categories, breaking them down into Lures, Nymphs, Damsels, the Buzzer Lifecycle, Traditional Wet Flies and Dry Flies. Soon the fly box takes on a different appearance.
Many of Emily’s patterns originate from a large bargain pack purchased when she first started out and while many patterns are quite fishable, plenty have bulky bodies or too much dressing. I explain that much of the trout’s diet is fairly delicate and that sparse patterns out-fish their gaudy cousins tenfold. There are also many traditional patterns in circulation that do catch fish but, with modern day manmade materials such as holographic tinsel widely available, it’s now possible to purchase flies with an “x factor” many fish find hard to resist.
To demonstrate this I pick out an old style Buzzer and a Sweeney Todd. Both will catch fish but against the modern Cormorant and Superglue Buzzers they look dated. Many of Emily’s flies are tied on far from perfect hooks. The points actually curving inwards on many of them, therefore reducing the gape. She says that several fish had come unstuck during play in the past and it was quite likely down to this inferior hooking ability. Decent flies may cost a few pence more, but, the result is often plenty more fish in the bag. The alternative and a great way to keep costs down; tie your own flies, which also allows them to be customised easily.
THE RIGHT LEADER LENGTH
Flies sorted, it’s time to get fishing and to show Emily how to pick flies according to conditions. But, before we do this we check out her leader that she is happily constructing from one strand of mono, just a few feet in length! I explain that the fly needs to be positioned well away from the fly line and that this is the job of the leader. It’s also wise to taper leaders to enhance turnover using differing breaking strains starting from 12lb and working down to 6lb test.
Leaders should also be a minimum of 10ft in most circumstances and I find myself using 12ft to 14ft more often then not. Emily’s flies had been so close to her line on many occasions that it was no wonder the fish were not taking.
WALK AROUND BEFORE CASTING
Before casting we take a walk around the lake. Combe Sydenham is a new venue for Emily and so it is all-important to check what options are available and then have a plan for the day. This may sound a little regimented or military, after all we are supposed to be enjoying ourselves, but many anglers seem happy to stay in one spot all day then moan when they don’t catch.
Small waters are less testing than reservoirs in this respect, but it’s still wise to move around trying different areas and covering a variety of depths and features. Working out the depth of a fishery can be done with sinking lines and counting down once cast, while another trick is to use the rod as a makeshift measuring device, but don’t break the rod tip when practicing this method.
FIND THE DEPTH
Combe Sydenham is very deep, especially near the dam end of the two main lakes (Sir George’s or Lady Elizabeth’s Ponds) and as the air temperature is cold I explain that fish are probably lying deep, making use of a warm layer of water, so we just need to get a fly down to them.
A sinking line is a natural choice, but as Emily is using a light rod not suited to fishing sunk lines, we opt for a long leader and then the first of our fly choices, a Damsel sporting heavy dumbbell eyes and a long, flowing marabou tail.
To fish this fly is easy, throw it out, count down for a good while allowing the long leader to do its duty and then start experimenting with the retrieve. The fishing certainly proves slow, but rather than sending Emily back to pore over the fly box I explain that all she need do is continue to experiment with retrieves and depth. Flies are certainly important but Emily’s fishing had been revolving around the choice of pattern and not finding the fish. It may seem obvious but all the best flies in the world will lead to little success if the fish can’t see them in the first place.
THE DRAB FLY CATCHES THE FISH
A chat with Combe Sydenham’s manager, Jim Laver, reveals that the deep water has produced the most fish and so I am not surprised when Emily lets out a sudden shriek of delight, the Damsel has worked. Despite her lack of fish catching action Emily deals with the fish perfectly, keeping the rod high and only allowing the fish to take line when it pulls away hard.
Emily looks pleased and is surprised to catch a fish on such a dull looking fly; most of her previous selections had been based around the biggest or brightest fly in the box. With her fish safely in the bass bag I show Emily the contents of my Wasatch Tech Pack by Fishpond.
The pockets doubling as useful fly storage and set out as lures, dries, nymphs and buzzers, ready for super quick changes when required.
Rummaging through the mountains of flies in a few of my spare boxes I pull out some slightly more specialist patterns. A Parasol Buzzer to use when the pupa are just below the surface about to hatch, some sight indicators when fishing Buzzers fished across the wind and also a couple of fry patterns, a must have when fishing many large reservoirs in autumn.
Other back up flies include Corixa, Daddy Longlegs and perhaps a Shrimp or two, but in the main go with Buzzers, a few nymphs including Damsels and some lure variations to cover most options. The trick is to keep your stock well ordered and give each fly at least half an hour to work, otherwise we spend more time out of the water tying knots than in it catching fish!
FISH NUMBER TWO
Now Emily has caught, I try my luck. In cold water the fish don’t want to see the fly moving at speed, so the long tail of a Damsel pulsating enticingly is more than enough to attract their attention.
When stocking a fly box, always remember to have a good selection incorporating movement, such as Tadpoles, Damsels and various other patterns tied with marabou feathers, picked out fur bodies or long webby hackles.
The Combe Sydenham fish certainly agree, as an aggressive take signaled that another fish had fallen foul of the long leader and Damsel approach, so simple and yet so effective!
THE TROUT GET WISE
Our corner goes quiet and we see several fish follow in and turn away, curious enough to pursue the fly but perhaps on their guard now that a couple of their friends had gone missing.
This calls for a fly change, obviously we are at the right depth because fish are following, but something is wrong. The leader is of a good length so it has to be the fly, or possibly the retrieve?
A change to a Black Tadpole tied over a lead underbody gets instant results at exactly the same depth and speed, proof that fish can become wary of a fly once they have seen it too often. I explain to Emily that this is why we keep selections of alternatively coloured Buzzers, Diawl Bachs and similar popular imitative patterns, not only to mimic the colours found in the naturals but also to allow for changes when the fish have grown wise to a particular shade.
THE SUNK LINE APPROACH
Heading to the top lake I hand over my slightly heavier rod, a 9ft 6in Greys GRXi rated for a 6/7 line, possessing good reserves of power and ideal for throwing sinking lines.
The fish are taking deep so the obvious choice is a sunken line. Emily certainly finds the bigger rod tougher going, but before long a fast sinking line is covering a decent section of water and once again we resort to the Damsel that had produced on the lower lake.
Sinking at around three inches per second our line is soon among the fish and before long Emily is beaming again as the rod dances to the tune of another Combe Sydenham beauty. That’s it, Emily has gone for a three fish ticket and the limit is complete!
Emily could not believe the results from actually keeping the fly in the water and choosing patterns logically, rather than opting for any old thing resembling a Christmas decoration.
I learned so much that I’ve bought two new rods and joined my local angling association. I was surprised that the most successful fly was a dull Damsel Nymph. The brightest or prettiest fly isn’t always the best. Today, I caught two fish. It took me two years to achieve this before my tuition day.
If you're shopping for a new vice, we tell you what to look for so your money is well spent.
In most quality vices the vice body turns 360 degrees, a useful feature if you want to turn the fly and check the underneath or other side of the fly. But this does not make it a true rotary vice. For this you need an offset or cranked jaw that will rotate the hook shank around its own axis.
The jaws should be made of the best tool hardened steel as this won’t wear or groove as badly as cheaper mild steel. Serrated pads on the inside edges give added grip. Jaws with two purpose-made grooves on the inside edge to accommodate the hook allow you to clamp down on both large and medium sized hooks with ease. Tips are only used for small hook sizes. In the case of the Kingfisher featured, the standard jaws hold sizes 8/0 in the rear groove right through to size 22 on the tips. Or, get a set of un-grooved midge jaws that will take sizes 8 to 32.
Some vices are fitted with a material spring/clip as standard; on others it is an extra accessory. A useful little gadget as you can tuck materials out of the way while tying the fly. For example, a wire tied in ready for the rib could get in the way while you are trying to dub on a body, so just slot the wire into the spring to hold it out of the way until needed.
Fixed or adjustable head
Some vices come with a fixed head; others have a notch system able to lock the head into different positions. These are ideal when tying larger flies where a lot of pressure is exerted on the hook therefore risking vice head movement. A vice with a friction plate system can alter the head position like a see-saw and would be ideal for most applications.
Pedestal and c-clamp
A pedestal base is useful because you don’t have to rely on having the right size table edge to accommodate a clamp, and it can be used on any flat surface. A C-clamp version is lighter and more suitable if you intend carrying the vice around. If you opt for a pedestal make sure the base is heavy (at least 2lb) and has some rubber feet on the bottom to prevent slippage.
Shaft and fitting
Some manufacturers make C-clamp vices with a much longer shaft than their pedestal counterparts. This is one thing to keep in mind if you have an existing pedestal vice and want to use it in a C-clamp fitting. You might find that the shaft is too short and your working height becomes difficult. The vice stem can be connected to the pedestal base with either screws or directly into the base (as in the vice pictured). Or on more expensive versions you will often find a collar extension fitted to the base. The stem slides into this collar and secures with a locking screw.
This varies widely from cheaper cast or mild steel and composite plastics through to quality stainless steel and machine cut alloy. Stainless steel is the optimum material for all of the vice construction apart from the jaws.
Type of operation
There are four main types of vice operation – screw collet, cam lever, spring lever and draw or push collet. Many cheaper vices use the screw collet system where a knurled wheel or screw pulls the jaws into a tube that closes them around the hook. Although this system gives an adequate grip it is not the best.
A cam lever operation gives a far superior hook hold. A pin holds two bars together and a small lever is placed between them at the back of the bars. When this is turned it spreads the bars at the back, forcing the tips together, which in turn grip the hook. A small knurled bolt at the front allows for finer adjustments.
The spring lever is similar, squeezing a lever forces the jaws open and releasing it grips the hook. There is no fine adjustment tool but it holds a range of hook sizes. With the draw or push collet system (as pictured) the jaws are set within a tube and by operating the cam lever at the back they are either drawn back into the tube or forced forwards to make them close securely around the hook. In many vices the cam lever has a notch in it so it locks tight into the final clamping position.
If you wish to start tying your own flies, there are certain fly tying tools that you will need to make the job easier and a whole lot more enjoyable.
Here's a detailed list of the items that you will need...
One of the most important items in the fly-tying tool kit and something you should not skimp on when it comes to cost. There is nothing more frustrating than scissors that do not perform well or cut cleanly. Two pairs are ideal, one for fine, delicate work cutting thread, feather and fur and these should feature short razor-sharp blades with fine tips. The other pair should be kept for heavy duty cutting of wire, tinsels and quill and should have slightly longer and heavier blades. If you do restrict yourself to just one pair of scissors make sure the harder materials are cut with the part of the blade closest to the join, keeping the tips for more delicate work. Serrated blades will give a better grip on deer hair and fur. Just as important as cutting power is the size of the finger loops, you want a pair that slips easily on and off your fingers.
This needle has a variety of uses, including applying varnish, picking out dubbing fibres, splitting feather fibre, easing out trapped hackle fibres, or clearing the hook eye. They are available in different styles and materials, but usually consist of a wood or brass handle with a needle mounted in the end. If purchasing a shop-bought model look for one that won’t easily roll off the tying bench. You can make your own using a needle glued into a wooden dowel or piece of cork. For picking out fibres, the needle needs to be short and strong, while a long, fine needle is good for applying varnish.
This gadget dispenses the thread while maintaining tension. It allows you to lay the thread down precisely without having to touch it - rough hands can easily snag and break delicate threads. There are various styles but most have sprung steel arms, brass feet and a tube at the top. The holder should grip the spool tightly so the thread is released under control. The tube, made from stainless steel or ceramic, must be silky smooth inside so the thread doesn’t chafe, causing weak spots. The weight of the bobbin and spool hanging under the hook will hold the dressing in place, so you can carry out another task with no fear it will all unravel.
Whip finishing tool
When you’ve finished tying in all the materials, you need to tie the thread off so the whole thing doesn’t unravel. You can tie the finishing knot using your fingers, but if you’ve got rough fingers you could snag or break the thread at a critical moment. This gadget means your hands don’t come into contact with the thread and once mastered it provides a neat, yet secure, whip finish at the head.
These fine-nosed miniature sprung pliers grip hackles while winding them around the hook shank. While still gripping the tied-in hackle they hang from the hook, keeping everything under tension when hands are removed. They also wind tinsels, wires, chenilles and feather herls. They should grip any material securely and a rubber pad on one or both jaw faces enhance holding power. Jaws must have no sharp edges. Styles include rotary pliers that keep the hackle perfectly aligned and have a built-in spring to prevent breakages through too much tension.
It is possible to load a bobbin holder by placing the thread into the bottom of the tube and sucking on the other end until the thread appears. However, some pre-waxed threads cause a build-up of wax in the tube leading to a partial blockage, in which case a bobbin threader can be used.
The threader consists of a fine loop of wire attached to a handle of wood or alloy. The wire loop is pushed through the top of the bobbin tube until it appears at the other end. The thread is then placed in the wire loop and pulled back through the tube.
One tool I wouldn’t be without and it cost next to nothing to make! I used a thin piece of cane or dowel, made a long shallow angled cut at one end and glued on a small piece of hooked Velcro. Excellent for teasing out natural and synthetic dubbing fibres and no risk of cutting through delicate ribs, which you can do with a sharp dubbing needle. Equally adept at brushing out long fur or synthetic wings to give the right shape and profile and won’t become stuck or clogged like a comb. Plenty of shop-bought models also available.
Half hitch tool
An alternative method of tying off a finished fly uses the half hitch tool, a barrel or tube made from brass or alloy with a small hole or recess drilled into the end. You form the half hitch knot on the end of the tool, place the tool onto the eye of the hook and slide the knot off, repeating the process a few times until you are confident the thread is secure. Some dubbing needles have a half hitch tool built in to one end, or you can buy a purpose built tool. The end of an old Biro tube works just the same.
Good lighting is essential, not only to see what you are doing in fine detail, but also to minimise eyestrain. If you have the luxury of your own fly-tying room make the main light source a 100 watt daylight bulb and use an angle-poise desk lamp, also fitted with a daylight bulb, to highlight the fly in the vice. If you have a more mobile workstation, then just go for the angle-poise option. The daylight bulb is designed to simulate true daylight and you can view the materials the fly is dressed with in their true colours, especially useful if colour matching is important. Daylight bulbs are more expensive than standard light bulbs, but are worth it. Daylight and standard bulbs can produce a lot of heat, something to bear in mind if you are working under them for long periods. It may be worth fitting a daylight tube that produces much less heat.
So, we have covered the smaller tools that will make tying your flies a whole lot more easier, but all those little tools need storing somewhere to keep them neat and tidy. Here's some suggestions...
A home-made tool caddy for under £1! Cut a block of dense foam to the right size for your work station. Then stick sharp tools into it. Or cut holes in the foam for bottles of varnish and glue so they can’t be knocked over. Also doubles as a fly rack, place one end of a cocktail stick into the eye of the hook and the other end into the foam base to allow the fly to dry.
Made from wood, dense foam or metal, with pre-drilled holes of different sizes. Small ones will take slimline tools, larger ones can accommodate bottles of varnish or glue. Some have wooden dowels onto which you can slip spools of thread. Make sure the block is quite heavy so it can’t tip over. A rubber base or legs will ensure it doesn’t slide about on the table.
Carousels can be free-standing (like this one) or attachments for a vice stem. Tools can be stored in pre-drilled holes and slots, but also provides extra storage from hanging hooks. Some incorporate a magnetic strip around the outside to which you can attach finished flies to dry.
If you are considering tying your own flies you will most definitely need a suitable fly-tying vice.
A fly-tying vice not only grips your hook securely without damaging it in any way, but it also provides ample workign room around the hook, allowing you to get stuck in with your silk, hackles, feathers and other materials to create the masterpiece you're after.
Here's a short guide to help you when picking a fly vice for the very first time. Take a look at the annotated image and you'll find all the parts of the vice that require your full attention to ensure you buy the right quality of vice.
Remember, you'll certainly get what you pay for when buying a fly-tying vice. The more you can afford, the more stable and secure your vice will be...
POINTS TO LOOK OUT FOR...
A - Jaws
Vice jaws made of tool-hardened steel will last. Ridged pads on the inside faces of the jaws provide a better grip. Tips of the jaws should only be used for small hook sizes. Some of the cheaper vices come with one jaw-type already fitted, while more expensive models offer standard and midge jaws (for smaller hooks), with extras such as tube fly and magnum jaws.
B - Material spring/clip
A material spring/clip is a useful accessory, whether it is already fitted or purchased as an additional item. The spring holds materials out of the way, leaving your hands free to continue tying the fly.
C - Fixed or adjustable head
Price will determine how much tilt and rotation is on offer in the vice head. Cheaper vices usually have a fixed head, while on more expensive ones you will be able to tilt and lock the head into different angles. In quality vices the body will turn through 360 degrees, so you can turn the fly upside down and work on the underside. A true rotary vice with an offset or cranked jaw will rotate the hook shank around its own axis.
D - Type of operation
There are four main types of vice operation – screw collet, cam lever, spring lever and draw or push collet. The screw-collet is usually seen on vices at the cheaper end of the market. A knurled wheel or screw pulls the jaws into a tube that closes them around the hook, providing an adequate grip.
A cam lever gives a superior hook hold. As you push on a small lever the jaws are drawn back into the vice head, squeezing them tightly together. A small knurled bolt at the front allows for finer adjustments. A spring lever mechanism forces the jaws open and releasing the lever closes them so they grip the hook. There is no fine adjustment tool although it will hold a wide range of hook sizes.
With the draw or push collet, the jaws are set in a tube and, using a cam lever at the back, they are either drawn back into the tube or forced forwards to close securely around the hook. In some cases the lever can be locked into position.
E - Stem fitting
The point where the vice stem meets the pedestal base is quite important. On some models it will just slide in, or screw into a pre-drilled hole. A more expensive option involves a collar extension fitted to the base. The stem slides into it and can be secured with a locking screw.
F - Pedestal
The advantage of a pedestal base is that it can be used on any flat surface. Make sure it is heavy (at least 2lb) with rubber feet on the bottom to protect the table’s surface and also prevent slippage. A single piece of solid steel with an enamel or powder coated finish would make an ideal pedestal base.
The vice should be solid and of good build quality. Material used varies from cheaper cast or mild steel and composite plastics through to quality stainless steel and machine cut alloy. Stainless steel is best for the main body of the vice.
EXTRA DESIGN FEATURES
A sight plate fitted to your vice stem, provides a clear, clean background to highlight the fly while you work on it, easing eye strain. Most sight plates (or boards) are white, some have a contrasting colour on the reverse.
Off cuts of fur, feather, thread, wire and tinsel can quickly accumulate on your work top, or drop on the carpet where they’ll stubbornly remain despite your best efforts with a vacuum cleaner. Attach a trim bag to your vice stem and deposit all the rubbish into this before emptying into the bin at the end of the day.
A G-clamp fitting can be clamped to the edge of a table or desktop. You’ll need a longer vice stem to achieve a comfortable working height. Make sure the G-clamp fits your table and add pads to prevent marking the surface. Machined aluminium is the best material for a G-clamp.
Here's an insight into the very best natural fly tying materials to help you create the most realistic patterns known to the fly fisher.
There are many different items you can use, and we have listed the main culprits here, together with details on how best to store them to ensure they retain their bright colouration and pleasing looks.
The neck skin of poultry with the feathers (hackles) still attached is called a cape. The tyer of trout flies should look at neck and saddle capes.A neck cape provides a wide range of hackle sizes. The saddle cape is from the bird’s flank and tends to produce much longer hackles.
Capes from the cock (male) bird produce glossy, stiff-fibred hackles, ideal for dry flies as they support the fly in the water’s surface. Hen (female) capes are often duller in appearance and much softer and make ideal hackles for wet flies and nymphs as they collapse easily when wet.
Indian and Chinese capes, often a by-product of the food industry (although this source has been hit by the bird-flu outbreak), are available in natural and dyed colours, from £3 to £10 each. Genetic capes are specifically reared for the fly-tyer’s needs and therefore there is a big jump in price and quality. You can pay from £20 to £60 depending on the grade (quality).
When buying capes, inspect the feathers to make sure they are not damaged and check for signs of bug infestation.
Hare fur with its sandy-brown fibres and black tips makes a wonderful ‘buggy’ dubbing material, the colours combining to give a wonderful brown-grizzle effect. One of the best examples is the Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear (or GRHE) which uses the hair fibres plucked from in and around the hare’s mask. Comes in its natural colour and a wide range of dyed colours and also in a pure dubbing form in packets or dubbing dispenser boxes.
Available pre-cut in lengths of different diameters, or as a complete patch so you can cut your own. Its most famous use is in the Minkie, one of the most effective fry patterns around, where it is tied in in one strip to form both the tail and the wing. Also use in very fine strips to form a hackle, referred to as fur hackle, or pinch off the skin and use as a dubbing.
Comes in natural grey, white, black and beige-brown through to dark chocolate with black tips. Mink farms also produce a large supply of white fur, which is dyed up in every colour under the sun. Unlike rabbit, the hair fibre is reasonably short with a soft underfur and spiky tips so you can tie much smaller flies.
These beautiful feathers are used to create very effective stillwater nymph patterns, such as Diawl Bachs. A single tail feather will give enough material to tie hundreds of patterns. Coming off the central stalk are bronze/green feather fibres (known as herl). The tiny individual fibres are very fine on feathers at the base of the stalk and become denser on the feathers nearer the eye. These herls are used to create bodies, thorax and wingcase. Don’t keep the feathers in direct sunlight or the beautiful green will become bronze – great if that’s what you want but a disaster if you don’t! Also available in a range of dyed colours.
Natural cock and hen pheasant tail feathers are used in many stillwater patterns, including the humble but devastatingly effective Pheasant Tail Nymph. They can be used for tails, bodies, wings, thorax covers, antennae and legs. Natural cock pheasant tail ranges in colour from a very light beige to a dark chestnut brown with black bars running across the feather. These tail feathers can also be dyed while still retaining the bars. Colour extracted dyeing removes almost all visible trace of the bars to produce a solid dyed colour throughout. Natural hen tails tend to be a lot paler and are softer so make ideal wet fly wings.
A soft fluffy highly mobile feather, traditionally sourced from African marabou storks, but now comes from turkeys. Widely used for wings and tails. In its natural domestic state it is white so is perfect for taking dye, hence the huge range of colours available. Quality marabou has a good length of plume with plenty of long fluffy feather fibres. It shouldn’t be matted or have bits missing. If it is dyed the colour should be consistent, and not fade from dark to light.
Dubbing can be natural fur, wool or synthetic fibres which are twisted around a strand of thread and then ‘dubbed’ onto the hook to create a body. The material is often sold in individual packets, or in dubbing dispenser boxes. These boxes are split into individual compartments and each one is filled with dubbing material. Underneath each compartment is a hole that dispenses a little dubbing at a time (and little and often is the trick to a good dubbed body). You can buy empty boxes for £4 to £5 and fill them yourselves, or ready-filled with natural seal’s fur dubbings and synthetic materials for upwards of £10.
Look after your materials
With any new fur or feather material, make sure you seal it in a grip-seal polythene bag and pop it into the freezer for a week. This will kill off any infestation or bug before you place it in with the rest of your valuable materials.
Store natural materials in sealed plastic bags. Those with a white panel on the side are ideal as you can label them clearly. Some capes have a slightly oily skin patch on them in which case I would slide in a piece of absorbent kitchen towel and place the skin patch on top of this. Place these material-filled bags in the dark so they don’t fade or discolour.
Scatter these crystals in the bottom of the container or drawer where your materials are stored to kill off any bugs.
The use of man-made and synthetic materials provide the fly fisher with umpteen different ways to enhance their patterns when tying their own flies at home.
Amazing colours and light-reflecting additions can be added to your home=made flies by usign a vast array of different accessories.
Here's a brief guide to the many different materials available that keen fly fishers have used to great effect...
Metal beads, whether brass or tungsten, are an easy way to add weight to a fly. Beads have a pre-drilled hole through the centre with a small hole one side and a countersunk hole the other. The bead is slipped onto the hook point via the smallest hole, around the hook bend and positioned just behind the eye. It is important to match the bead size to the hook size. Get it wrong and you either won’t be able to get the bead over the barb and around the bend, or the bead will be so big it will slide over and obscure the eye. Gold, silver, copper and black are popular colours, with ‘hot’ and fluorescent colours achieved by giving the bead an enamel finish.
Cones are bullet-shaped and produce a different profile. Fit to the hook in the same way as beads, available in brass, tungsten and alloy in a range of colours.
Dumb-bells also add weight and are mounted onto the hook with a figure-of-eight whipping. Available in a range of materials and colours, some with pre-painted eyes.
Plastic beads add hotspots, whether for a head, or a row of beads slotted onto the hook to produce a complete body.
Available in oval, round and flat in sizes extra small to large. The oval and round are built around various diameter cores to produce different thicknesses and are used mostly for creating ribs and butts. Flat tinsel can be wrapped along the shank in close touching turns to create a whole body, and is also excellent for making ribs, butts, tails, cheeks, shellbacks and wings. Again, there are countless colours available in all three types but oval gold and silver are a good starting point for ribbing. Flat tinsels are very popular in gold and silver, pearl mylar, UTC Mirage and holographic.
Thread is probably the most important material you are going to use as it secures all the other materials to the hook. You will come across two types – twisted and untwisted (flat) and the two popular makes are Uni-Thread and UTC.
Uni-Thread produce a wide range of waxed and unwaxed polyester-based threads from 3/0 (the largest diameter) to 17/0, the finest. The most popular sizes for trout flies are 6/0 and 8/0.
UTC produce lightly waxed nylon threads in sizes from 70 (the finest) to 280 (the thickest) and suitable sizes for trout flies are 70 and 140. It ties in very flat, but if you want to add a twist into it just spin the bobbin.
The colour range covers everything from natural imitative shades to hot fluorescents and day-glow colours. If you want to buy the absolute minimum to start with, go for black, then build up to other colours as and when you need them.
Waxed threads provide additional grip on the hook and also give a bit more longevity. Unwaxed thread are a better choice if you want varnish and adhesives to soak all the way through to the hook.
Flosses are a thicker version of thread and used to be made of silk although multi-stranded nylon and polyester are now more common. Floss can be used to build up a body and is ideal for creating tails, butts and cheeks. Floss is available with a slight twist, and also as a flat material where all the fibres lie parallel to each other. Do watch out when using flat floss as it is all too easy to catch the fibres on rough skin. If they break they weaken the floss and also give an untidy finish to the fly. Huge range of colours, including fluorescents for tails and hotspots.
An effective way of adding weight is to wrap touching turns of lead wire around the hook shank prior to dressing in the other materials. Wire comes in a range of diameters and choice will depend on the amount of weight you require. One of the most traditional wires is copper, and a classic example of its use is in the Pheasant Tail Nymph which uses a fine diameter copper wire for added weight and to replace the thread. Coloured wires can be used as ribs, or in close touching turns to create full bodies, showing the colour off to its full potential.
Straggle and Blob Chenile
These are synthetic ropes formed of multi-fibres. Blob chenille is a very dense Fritz-type material, available in different colours and diameters and ideal for creating the Blob attractor pattern. Straggle chenille is one of the newer materials and is nowhere near as dense as Blob chenille, has slightly longer fibres and gives a more translucent and sparse effect when tied along the hook shank.
Originally obtained from hardware stores, bead chain is now available from specialist fly-tying retailers in plated silver and gold plus various hot colours. To make a pair of eyes on a fly, cut a pair of beads from the chain and mount onto the hook with a figure-of-eight whipping. Not as heavy as dumb-bell or brass beads as they are hollow, but add enough weight to submerge the fly.
Foam comes in many colours, shapes and sizes from blocks and flat sheets to cylinders and long lengths of Booby cord. To cut cylinders from a block of foam either use cylinder cutters in different diameters or, as many do, use the sharpened sections of an old car aerial to do the same job.
Booby cord, or Booby eyes, are coloured cylinders of foam which can be tied in on top of the hook with a figure-of-eight whipping and then trimmed with each side to create a set of highly buoyant eyes, for example in the famous Booby pattern. The slimmer cylinders of foam can be used to make extended bodies on Daddy Longlegs or foam posts in parachute flies.