Friday, January 08, 2016

Top Flies of 2015 - Pimped-up Snipe & Purple

How reassuring that a fly dating back to the 19th Century should prove to be one of my little revelations of 2015, the introduction of a tiny smear of synthetic fibres resulting in something very interesting indeed. Not that it would be the first time I've meddled with a traditional spider pattern. In moments of boredom I have in the past committed all sorts of heinous crimes against the principles of our flytying forebears, the jumbled results of which used to occupy a compartment of my spider box which was seldom opened except in moments of desperation and/or clouded judgement. Time wasted stripping hooks with a razor blade has taught me one thing: if an embellishment is to be made to such a classic, then it must be a subtle one if the resultant variant is to be fished with anything like seriousness.

So after a glut of failed experiments, I always played a straight bat where my spiders are concerned, and tied them pretty much as the textbooks dictate....up until a couple of years ago when Paul Procter converted me to his Waterhen Bloa variant, the 'Pearly Butt'. That fly was - and still is - a revelation, to the point where I seldom tie my waterhens 'neat' anymore. To look into a box of Pearly Butt Bloas and see tiny glints of yellow olive irridescence winking out from the tangle of gunmetal, is to appreciate that a couple of turns of tinsel can lift an already deadly pattern to a whole new level.

I took inspiration from Paul a while later and after being amazed at the weird lilac-green fire emitted from certain shades of Hends Microflash dubbing, took a punt one afternoon and tied a batch of Dark Purple Snipes with a tiny dab of the aforesaid dubbed in behind the hackle. I kind of liked the result and gave the 'pimped-up' snipes a couple of run outs in the weeks that followed. The results were surprising. Fished upstream on a tenkara leader, I caught late season grayling straightaway. If paired with another fly, the flashy number always seemed to be the one to score, be it at point or dropper position. One afternoon I conducted an experiment and fished a team of three down and across: a pair of traditional snipes with the new version occupying the traditionally 'troublesome' middle dropper between them. You can guess where this is headed eh? An hour later I'd seen enough and my confidence in that tiny speck of flash was reinforced.........

Since then, I have - much as the case with Paul's waterhen variant - more or less eschewed the old school pattern altogether. Whether over time that proves to be an error of judgement, who knows; but for the time being it feels like a good call. Give this one a swim and see if you find the same.

4. Pimped-up Snipe & Purple

Hook: spider hook of choice #14-18
Thread: purple silk
Thorax: tiny wisp of Microflash #18
Hackle: snipe over covert

This might be a good juncture to mention the forthcoming Wild Trout Trust auction which takes place from 4th March this year. As always, there will be some excellent lots available and I cannot think of a better conservation body to support for anyone who cares about wild trout and their environment. Our club - the Yorkshire Fly Fishers' Club - will be donating a couple of days fishing on otherwise private beats of fine northern game rivers; and I have donated a box of spiders, the two patterns above featuring along with some other more conventional tyings (and an oddball one of my own favourites). If you like the look of the flies below, please do have a bid for this great cause!

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Top Flies of 2015 - Deerhair Daddy

I spent most of the first half of 2015 eagerly anticipating a weeklong jaunt up into the wilds of Sutherland - call it an early 40th birthday present from an ever generous wife - and the weeks which preceded this adventure were spent accumulating all sorts of camping and fishing related stuff, and tying flies. Lots of flies. After a few seasons of neglecting stillwater trout somewhat, my boxes of suitable patterns had come to look a little neglected - more gap than fly, and an awful lot of that crushed and flattened hackle look which even a blast over the steaming kettle failed to reverse satisfactorily. Besides, I had all sorts of plans for tyings which would drive those stupidly ravenous educated and wily loch bandies mad; so I embarked upon a concerted attempt to fill my sorry boxes with a decent selection of wets and dries.

This sort of thing doesn't come easy to me. It requires a wholesale leap of faith from the usual form/profile/attitude paradigm of river fly dressing and a step into the altogether less prescriptive realms of colour blends, transmitted light and mobility. It is a task for a more creative mind than mine, and when I look at the output of exponents such as Rob Denson it leaves me feeling deflated that I will never have the ability to produce work of such a standard. Nevertheless I cracked on and with practice began to turn out flies which I felt were of at least an acceptable standard. I knew at the time that the vast majority would remain more or less unfished; trips like these usually result in a good deal of experimentation, but only handful of favourite patterns - perhaps even a single team - being fished religiously every day after proving successful early on. And so it was: muddled Kate McLaren and Peter Ross variants, Arthur MacDonald's 'Wee Westie'.....and this - a regulation deerhair daddy. Little else was required other than Mayfly patterns when treated to a big mixed hatch of danica and vulgata one day on Loch Awe.

This Daddy was rarely off my cast; either fished singly or as half of a dry fly pair, or at the top of a pulled wet fly team, it drew lively little trout from nearly everywhere we fished. Not that any special powers can be attributed to it of course - any suitable concoction would have found similar favour among the hoards - but of all the patterns I relied upon that week, I enjoyed fishing this one most. I love how specific fishing memories sometimes become tattoed on the mind and come to define one's recollection of the wider experience: midway through one day drifting Fionn Loch we pitched alongside a bed of bankside rushes and enjoyed a few minutes of sport where bronzed trout rose from inches of water to slash at our flies. The day had warmed and the light was good, and the Daddy looked perfect on the water, and with the backdrop of Scotland's oldest, most iconic landscape and Suilven standing guard over it, as it had seven years earlier when I last drifted this shore; at that moment all was particularly well with the world.

3. Deerhair Daddy

Hook: Kamasan B160 #10
Thread: UTC70 olive
Rib: flat gold tinsel
Body: blend of brassy and golden olive seals fur
Legs: dyed picric pheasant tail, twice knotted
Wing: light roe deer, 'smuddled'

Friday, January 01, 2016

Top flies of 2015 - the Fruit Salad Nymph

Pink and orange: two colours that should never really be seen together, unless on a tasteless 1970s kaftan, or the wrapper of my favourite chewy sweets back from when I was a kid. Or as the by-product of a bored fly-tyer's winter experiments. I incorporated just this combination into a nymph tied with no specific purpose a little over a year ago and shoved a couple in the fly box without any real conviction they would ever see the light of day again. That it proved to be one of my most successful flies of the year goes some way to showing that you should never discount anything in fly fishing, and at the same time generated some interesting discussion with mates about the stock we put in colours in our flies and what actually are the key triggers which induce a fish to eat our imitations.

Tracing my own learning curve back over the years tells a story of an angler who first tried to tie any fly which would catch a fish, followed by a desire to more closely copy the insects upon which trout and grayling subsist, before giving that enterprise up as a waste of energy and reverting to a bare bones 'profile and presentation' ethos much championed by the likes of Bob Wyatt. In other words, after ridding myself of the erroneous belief that correct fly choice is paramount at all times, I happily spudged along for a few seasons using a handful of patterns which I believed - and still do - would catch any trout anywhere, provided I put them in the right place with the right presentation. It's a maxim I still adhere to and I firmly believe that these wild creatures we pursue which possess a brain the size of a pea....well put something which looks and behaves like food in front of them and they aren't going to refuse it are they. In that sense you could view tying for spate river nymph fishing as purely a function of achiveing correct profile and size and density to fish at the required depth, such that when a broadly, say heptagenid-shaped object flits past in brisk water, Mr Trout is compelled to shimmy sideways within his 'territory radius' and intercept.

All well and good. However the problem is that my obsession with the above theory doesn't help explain how bright colours in sub surface flies can apparently give a pattern a real edge in certain conditions. Maybe a touch of colour helps the fly get noticed a fraction quicker as it tumbles past, but for the life of me I cannot envisage a trout or grayling moving any great distance to take a nymph, purely because of some irresistible attraction to a brightly coloured tag; sure, if it is in the right zone then it's probably going to be eaten - even if it's drab and nondescript right? Where the hell this leaves me is anyone's guess and there isn't going to be a definitive answer anytime soon. The reality is probably - as with most ponderables in nature - a coalescence of several subtle variables which add up to a whole that we ignorant humans lack the perception to understand. Plus angler confidence. Plus - to paraphrase Paul Gaskell - our innate tendency to prove things to ourselves by reinforcement of positive outcomes rather than discounting by negative outcomes.

Anyway, I'm waffling. Irrespective of whether this nymph is so effective because of its nymphy profile or the colour combination in the tail, I suppose all we really need to know is that it is effective. In fact on its day and in certain conditions, it has proved unbelievably deadly for me - hence its inclusion in this series. What I can tell you is that it fishes well in smaller sizes, does particularly well in low water conditions fished French leader or Tenkara style, seems to give of its best when the water is clear and although it works for grayling, trout seem to particularly like it. A lot!

2. Fruit Salad Nymph

Hook: small jig hook - I use Hends 120s in #16 and 18
Bead: slotted to suit - pink gold used here
Thread: Griffiths sheer 14/0
Tail: two strands each of Glo brite floss #1 and #7
Rib: fine black wire
Body: dark hare mask
Collar hackle: CDC, wound
Thorax: Spectra #335

Top flies of 2015 - the DSS

Customary as it is to look back and review one's fly fishing season, I have been reflecting of late upon what has been a steady but unspectacular 2015. Actually I might be doing a disservice there, because although the sport in terms of fish caught has been a little undewhelming at times, it has been one of the most enjoyable seasons I can remember. Increasingly, as I get older and supposedly wiser, fishing for me is more about the experience - the places, the friends, the knowledge gained and shared - than what was once an almost rabid desire to catch more and bigger fish than before. Those of you who are older than me will no doubt take this opportunity to roll your eyes and mutter about the naivety of youth and so on. Well please welcome me to the fold. I turned 40 last month, thus entering the second half of my lifetime and will no doubt need to purchase a wading stick soon.

I will spare you the navel gazing review of my season and instead pinch an idea. Back in early 2014, Stuart Minnikin ran a series of blog posts on his top performing fly patterns of the previous year (this link will put you in the right ballpark). I greatly enjoyed this at the time - it's always cool to have a look into another angler's flybox and see which patterns they rate, and why. I struggle to find time to maintain this blog these days, but even so I notice that it's a while since I discussed fly patterns in any depth so maybe now would be a good time to borrow Stuart's format and post half a dozen of the past year's favourites.

It didn't take me too long to pick which six, despite the fact that several very productive little numbers have failed to make the cut. I went for the flies which proved to have something a bit extra and as a result spent most time on my cast in 2015; if a handful of equally deadly patterns - such as Craigies Killer, Arthur's Wee Westie, lilac shrimp etc - have been left unmentioned, then it's not because of any failing on their part but just that, like inviting guests to a wedding, I had to draw a line somewhere.

So here goes. What I can tell you about the following series of flies is that in accordance with my own strict set of guidelines, they are all robust, dead quick and easy to tie, and catch fish reliably. In no particular order........


1. DDS

Naming flies is not one of my strong points. I always feel a little awkward about it - as if by naming a fly I am somehow claiming sole ownership when in fact all I have created is a variant of a formula tried and tested many times before. So any names tend to be functional and descriptive, just a means of identifying each pattern for my own benefit. This one is a great example: you'll notice that the genetic makeup of this excellent little dry follows the now ubiquitous 'CDC dun' template, and there can't be many river fishers up and down the country who haven't carried something similar for a least the last ten years. My own version has always used Masterclass dubbing for the body and proved as successful as any other, although I tended to reserve it for fishing in smaller sizes on quiet glides later in the season when dry fly fishing becomes a bit more testing. I have never been a fan of this template for early season fishing though, purely because I find it a bit too much of a faff for fishing brief spring olive hatches in popply water, when after a long winter lay-off I want to concentrate on catching all those rising trout rather than a CDC maintenance regime (if anyone is interested, a discussion is offered in this edition of Eat Sleep Fish).

So this little variant came about as my attempt to address that issue and give a bit more beef to the deadly CDC dun forumla. I added in a tiny pinch of deerhair to the wing and dubbed a body of snowshoe hare - two more materials noted for their buoyancy, and the 'inspiration' behind my utilitarian label (DDS = Deer/Duck/Snowshoe). Granted, there is a compromise in that some delicacy is lost when compared to say a stripped quill body, but as the intention was to use this in more broken water during spring large dark olive, iron blue and olive upright hatches, it didn't unduly concern me that the fly carried a bit more bulk.

In testing, the DDS proved itself many times over in the first half of the 2015 season and pleasingly, the additonal structural support given by the deer hair and snowshoe does indeed extend the period over which the fly can be fished without having to reach for the bottle brush and Frog's Fanny. More time fishing and less time primping - what's not to like!

Hook: any lightweight dry fly hook in 14-16 range. I like Hends BL404
Thread: Griffiths 14/0 sheer
Tail: Coq de Lyon, or any suitable cock fibres
Body: fine underfur from the foot of a snowshoe hare
Wing: a few coastal deer hair tips, plus a single CDC feather tip

It's worth mentioning that the CDC can also be substituted for a few of the coarser 'guard hairs' from the snowshoe foot, which makes for an even easier to maintain fly, if a little more on the bulky side. I suppose I'd have to call that one something like the DSMS (Deer/Snowshoe/More Snowshoe).