Saturday, October 22, 2011

Step by step: Oliver Edwards heptagenid nymph variant - part 2 of 2

If you've followed this sequence through part one, you may well be forming the opinion that this pattern is a bit of a pain in the arse to tie. To be honest, it's not too bad when you've got used to the proportions and so on; but still, there's no denying it's a bit long-winded and I always curse when I lose one in a tree. So why bother?

Actually, that's a good question and I'll start at the beginning. Anyone who has ever lifted a stone from the bed of a trout stream and had a look at what's living underneath, will probably have encountered a heptagenid or stoneclinger nymph. They are widespread and common in our UK rivers and although they are said to be very intolerant of pollution, most of our streams contain decent populations. The heptageniidae account for several different species of upwing aquatic flies in this country, of the genera heptagenia, rithrogena and ecdyonurus. Species familiar to anglers include the March Brown, Yellow May Dun, Olive Upright and Large Brook Dun. Many of these hatch by crawling out of the river margins onto part submerged reeds or stones, but some do hatch in open water at the surface (the Yellow May is an oddball owing to, it would appear, more than one emergence pattern - see brief discussion here).
Whatever their mode of emergence, there is little doubt that these stoneclinger nymphs do form an important part of the trout and graylings' menu - something not lost on expert entomologist Edwards, who set about solving the problem of how to represent the unusual profile of these invertebrates. The resulting pattern has become famous and rightly so - its profile is accurate and the general impression of realism which the use of accurate tail and leg configurations creates, makes it an attractive looking pattern to both anglers and fish. Oliver has utmost confidence in it and would have no hesitation in recommending it to any fisher of freestone trout rivers.

My experiences have proved equally convincing. Used singly, or as part of a two or three fly team, it is deadly when fished classic upstream nymph style into pocket water and riffles. I have even used it in slower water to fool sighted fish, apparently not actively feeding. Here, the realistic profile of the fly excels - few other patterns would work so well in similar situations.

But the big question is this: is it so effective that the time and effort taken in its tying is justified by its increased effectiveness over other, simpler patterns? Well I've given this a lot of consideration over the last 6 or 7 years, and I have to say that for me, the answer is no. Well not insofar as I would abandon my general purpose bead headed nymphs in favour solely of more realistic patterns. I went through a spell of only tying and using close copy imitative nymphs for a year or two. I caught and caught well as you might expect. However, as time at the vice became harder to come by and I became increasingly reliant on quick, easy patterns to get a few flies in the box before a session, I began to realise that small bead heads of the PTN formula and such-like, not only matched the realistic patterns, but quite often outfished them. There are reasons for this which I won't bore you with here; but suffice to say that the Edwards patterns remained in my fly box, albeit used a good deal less frequently than before.

What I will say is that whilst not necessarily the fly fisher's panacea I once thought them to be, these patterns are very worthwhile and I would never be without at least half a dozen of them tucked away somewhere. On the river in early summer when the Uprights and Yellow Mays are around, in pocket water (maybe teamed up with a weightier pattern on a dropper above), or in low, clear conditions when the fish are nervous; in all the above situations, the OE heptagenid is indispensable to the spate river fisher of nymphs. And there is something undeniably satisfying about the catching of fish on an imitation which represents a close copy of their natural foodsource. A couple of hours spent knocking a few of these together will be time well spent indeed.

Back to business!

12. We need to make the wingbuds now. Take a spoon-shaped marginal covert feather from the wing of a grouse and saturate it in head cement. Now start to smooth the feather between thumb and forefinger until it adopts a more elongated shape and the cement begins to dry. the result should look like this:

13. When dry, turn it upside down and tie in to the top of the body approximately halfway along.

14. Now apply your dubbing to the thread and dub on the body from tail to the root of the wingbuds. Follow behind with the ribbing material.

15. The next step requires care. Continue with the dubbing, covering the remaining body and thorax area of the fly completely. Try to avoid excessive buildup of the dubbing, but do ensure that the full width of the thorax is formed to suit the crossbar and thin skin strip. Periodic application of cement and squeezing down with tweezers helps maintain the all important wide, flat profile.

16. Time for the legs. Take three short lengths of spanflex and tie them in to the top of the thorax, perpendicular to the hook shank as you would pairs of spent spinner wings.

17. Now bring the grouse feather wingbud forward over the top of the legs and tie down. Try to make sure the legs are still evenly spaced and not bunched too much together by the wingbud.

18. Trim off the waste end of the feather and then bring the thin skin thorax cover back in the opposite direction, tying off at the same point.

19. After trimming off the waste end of thin skin and whip finishing, we are nearly complete. This last bit is probably the trickiest step of the whole fly - heat kinking the spanflex legs. First, release the tension on the vice jaws and rotate the fly so that it is hanging more or less vertically down wards, like this.

20. It's worth noting here that the following job is made easier if the batteries in the hot tip are halfway flat. It the hot tip glows orange quickly after switching on, then it is probably too hot and will melt the legs far too quickly making it almost impossible to kink them without burning them off altogether. We may have needed a full power hot tip to heat-ball the nylon crossbar earlier, but now is the time to take a battery out and put a nearly dead one in. Have a go on a waste piece of spanflex first - you should be able to hold the hot tip against the rubber for a couple of seconds until it begins to soften and kinks over. Obviously the spanflex will droop in the direction of gravity ie downwards, which is why we point the fly down in the vice - so the legs kink 'forwards'.
Once kinked, trim the forelegs to length. Don't worry if you've burnt one or two off - it may be frustrating to balls things up so late on in the tying, but it won't compromise the effectiveness of the finished fly. My box is full of heptagenids with missing limbs, I can assure you!
On this occasion I was lucky......although as mentioned earlier, the example below is rib-less as the spanflex broke late on in the tying.

The final act is to give the thorax cover and wingbuds a couple of liberal coats of 'hard as nails' vanish which toughens everything up and gives a nice translucent look to the fly. And that's about it really. As a tying exercise, it is almost all about proportion and the best way to get that right is to have a go at tying a few until you get the feel for it. I'm quite pleased with my effort today; usually after a long tying layoff, the main thing which suffers is my sense of proportion and it takes me a few false starts with deformed looking comedy flies to get back in the swing of things. Fortunately, I reckon I've got it about right here - not perfect by any means, but good enough to fool a few fish. I hope you found it as useful as I did enjoyable.

Right, time to find the deer hair. I owe a very patient man in Scotland a dozen balloon caddis.................


phil-k said...

I have never really been convinced by this pattern.I think that the actual Upwing species themselves have survived because there nymphs blend in so well with the river bed.

You only see them if you pick up a stone and look under it closely.

I would therefore rather fish something small drab and scruffy.

Matthew Eastham said...

Well Phil, all upwing larvae (be they baetids, heptagenids, seratella etc) have to leave their stony abodes at some point to hatch. That's when the trout see them, along with when they get washed out in floods. The fact that nymphs of most upwing species appear in trout and grayling stomach samples constantly is proof that they eat them.....and the chitinous remains of heptagenid nymphs feature regularly.

As I said, these don't outfish suggestive patterns all the time. But sometimes, they wipe the floor with 'em, and that's why I always carry a few.


Witham Piscator said...

Excellent SBS, thank you. I've always been a bit intimidated by OE's masterclass SBS, but this looks do-able.

Anonymous said...

Very nice Matt. Well explained and looks fairly straightforward to follow. I have had some super days using similar realistic patterns. Take your time on the rush.


Andy said...

A pattern thats to difficult for one blessed with cobblers thumbs..

and by the way your latest post isnt working right your snapshots page comes up page not found...

Great blog

Flyfishermanrichard. said...

Thanks Matt a cracking tye. I will get onto some after christmas.