Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Books that every fisherman should have Part 2

To me this man is as close to the US term  ‘Trout Bum’ as you’re likely to find in the UK.   Gordon Mackie is a one off, and after him they broke the mould.  Renowned for his monthly half page column ‘From the Chalkstreams’ in FFFT Magazine, Gordon has kept diaries from sometime in the fifties and sixties and up to date, on where he fished, how he fished, through a golden period when the taking of 4 – 6lb wild fish was quite a common occurence.  Written in an easy and narrative style, highly observant of his rivers and all wildlife around him, in short chapters,often quite controversial which Gordon is unafraid to shirk the confrontation and he can defend his position robustly based on a wealth of knowledge.  His particular and forthright view of rivers, their management and fishing practices are based on the many years of fishing and how he sees the deterioration in the quality of our fishing today.  He is candid and critical, but always with a stimulating insight.   He is a minimalist in respect of what he thinks you need to carry, with great emphasis on observation and stealth skills and deep scorn for the ‘all the gear – no idea’ types.  There is so much trout and grayling fishing knowledge in this man it should be sweated out of him and presented to us at fishing seminars before he expires.  I think its quite possible that he’s fished more days, for wild fish, around the UK than anyone I’m ever likely to meet again.  This man lived to fish and suffered hardship as a result.  To finance himself he’s even been a gold prospector because it involved him with a river ! a rare man who’s pursuit and his passion of fly fishing for trout was regardless of personal and social consequence, e.g. none of us would want to research a section in the book called ‘chalkstreams on a shoestring’.  If you can’t get a copy of this book, beg, borrow, enquire, and do whatever to ‘acquire’ it.  Currently there are ten used ones on Amazon, go buy. You’ll not be disappointed.   Makes the average fly fisherman look like a home loving wimp.  My hero.

An icon of fly fishing in Ireland.  If you dare to fish in Eire before reading this, the quality of your holiday will be diminished.  A time gone by, written by a man with an astonishing professional career, but who’s command of language and sentence structure make me feel like a mumbling muppet.  Hugh Falkus said this was one his top twenty fishing books ever written.  If you’re an enthusiast of John Geirach you’ll struggle with the intellectual breadth of this mans writing on a subject that he was the master of.  Read this and you know you’ve read a book, beautifully descriptive salmon and sea trout events that give you a mental workout at the same time.  No golden moments of nostalgia, just hard core real knowledge with expertise imparted to the reader.   The final chapters are to do with waves and the effect of stained water on a salmons vision ! if you dodged physics at school, then this bit of the book maybe isn’t for you.    Whilst carving a spectacular careet in the Law and Politics, it made him financially secure whilst at the same time restricting his time with a rod, but he made up for it later. Through an  era when ghillies touched their forelock, and tied flies for the master, Salmon and Sea Trout runs that we can only ever dream about, threaded throughout with nuggets of information, humourous social observations, and cameo moments.  Its phraseology and terminology, not to mention some of the gaelic references make this a tome for the better readers ! – but very rewarding.

The fly pattern and materials source book.   Think of a fly – its in here, together with all the regional variations of how it might be tied.  Contributions and acknowledgements read like a who’s who of the fly tying world.  Every fly has some little comment of note that gives insight to its history, development, application, and how to fish it.   If I have a criticism at all it is that I wish the publishers had not used ivory coloured parchment style of paper as a backdrop to the flies, most of which should have been much larger.   A must have book so you can tie any named fly for UK trout and grayling.

It is precisely what it says on the cover. Not really to identify flies, but showing you the detail and relevant parts and colours of flies and their familial group.   Excellent drawings rather than photographs, and opposite each fly and fly family he offers suggestions of the artificial flies you might want to try.   If you’re relatively new to fly tying and fly fishing, in a single plate this book presents each stage of development for the fly and points out what you should be trying to achieve when tying.  No fishing advice, but thats not what it ever offers, and I found the drawings much better than any photographs I’d ever seen in other books.  An excellent book from which to become more conversant with the denizens of the river and lake.

There are many more books I have but I didn’t think they deserved mention here.  I’ve deliberately not included any of the John Geihrach books, not because I don’t like them, they’re entertaining and make me smile, but when you finish them you don’t ever think about them again, and don’t refer back to them, – but they did enthuse me to go fishing in the USA for which I’m very thankful.  

Thats it, – there are more I am sure, so if you have a fierce support for a fishing book in particular, let me know and I’d be pleased to read and possibly include it.


How to catch a wild brown trout – contrast and compare !

I spent a few days in a darkened room recovering after my recent day when fishing on a beautiful stock trout fishery.   A few people made contact to chastise, berate,or abuse me for my attitude to stocked brownies, much was presumptious because they didn’t know me and probably never would.   A brave few tried to explain to me that stock trout were more difficult to catch, and fishing for them was an enigmatic and complex challenge (!) – but overwhelmingly, more people were in agreement with my observations to a lesser or greater extent.

Upon recovery, I ventured out onto the river in between the gales and incessant rain.  I went to a stretch that doesn’t seem as popular with club members, and yet it has yielded some significantly good fish in recent seasons.  The renovation and flow improvement work of recent past couple of seasons has partially matured, and there is half a mile or so of quite variable fishing.  Very deep, unwadeable slow pools, fast shallow riffles over large cobbly stones

whilst on each side there is head high vegetation, thick patches of nettles, genuine thistles, and beautiful greeny purple teasels amongst the variety of other meadow flora up to the waters edge where a metre or more of rushes overtake and provide a serried bariier right along the bankings, growing through soft ground, residual silts and shallow water.  In this picture, you can  just about see the rings,  mid picture, that have been left by a good sized trout, he moved only in a small area, just below the surface, sweeping and mopping up the emerging mayflies,  mostly without hardly breaking the surface, taking them with delicate sips.  The approach was going to be quite difficult, the rushes at the waters edge are rooted deceptively in deep muds dropping quickly into waist deep water.   Getting behind the head height rushes wasn’t the problem, but there is no solid foothold, just the mud and shallow water that would quickly, easily, give out a pressure warning rippling bow wave that would put him down and away.  An upstream twitch wiggling lob of a cast getting surplus line onto the water, and onto the side nearest to me essential, to give five or possibly ten seconds of drag and suspicion free presentation of my emerger.  Before I’d arrived at this point, I’d already lower down the reach, spooked three or four similar  sized trout when making my first cast.  As with those, this was a one cast chance, then I’d have to move up a short distance and begin watching again.

I crab like wriggled and crawled through the undergrowth to the edge of the where the solidity gave way to sloppy wet, this was the difficult bit.  Raising to a raised crouching, casting position took a minute.  I began giggling thinking I must have looked like someone practicing Tai Chi in a bog.  Peering through the rushes, I could just about see him snootily sorting the ones he’d take and those that would be untouched to float downstream and maybe fly.  With a whispering silent prayer I made my cast, instantly looking down to ensure I’d not made a compensatory warning ripple.  Emerger a couple of yards upstream of the trout, then suddenly he switched to his left, and with his nose right under the emerger, gently emitted an air bubble and it disappeared.  I tightened and felt the fast moving weight.  You know when you’ve hooked a good trout.  It goes wherever it wants and you just keep it tight…ish, trying to coax it away from any obstructions and giving an impression of exerting your authority.   As I’d hooked it,  I’d stood fully up, step plunging into the water causing disturbance which I thought would force it upstream into the shallower riffle.  During a short delectable thrill of the fish’s plunges and powerful runs, (not without an underlying  fear of loss)  I don’t think I breathed until I had him coming towards the net.  A couple of last moment plunges and in the net he toppled.

Cheapo camera out of vest pocket, trembling wet slimed fingers, couldn’t remember how to focus it, two pictures with the wrist cord in front of the lens ! – (couldn’t be bothered slipping it on my wrist, concerned about time and returning the fish, thats how I came to drop the last expensive one in the river) and then I was cradling him and feeding my eyes on his immediate camouflage as I submerged him and waited for his break for freedom.  My holding hand could only partially encircle his solid powerful girth.

He didn’t hang about, after five or ten seconds and he robustly lunged away and into the depths.  I guesstimated his weight about three to three and half pounds, (sounds better than 1.5kg) and for his length on the Sturdy Scale this fish should have been much lighter, so the extra weight possibly comes from gorging in the past couple of weeks on Mayflies.

Compared to my previous fishing day, this was a deeply satisfying catch, even if it had been a much smaller fish.  I’d actually had to observe, think, calculate the possibilities, present the appropriate fly, in difficult circumstances to a fish that would have melted away if he’d been momentarily aware of anything in his surroundings being untoward.   Its a fairly safe bet, and I offer my apologies now for the unavoidable characterisation, not one of the chortling chaps who had nonchalantly strolled along the manicured bank of the stocked fishery, waving an expensive rod at the river, occasionally calling to each other, would have caught even the most suicidal of fingerling trout on this river.

Again, to quote one of Bob Wyatts beautiful analogies. (And I hope this doesn’t bring a law suit from his publishers)….. ‘Just to make worthwhile the inevitable indignant comments of elitism and snobbery or differerences of taste, stocked trout fisheries are so badly off plumb, that it isn’t trout fishing at all, it just looks like trout fishing.  Its similar to going out to for a romantic dinner with a woman who you have found to be attractive and interesting, one who you have chatted, wooed and charmed over a period of time before inviting out, against the option of hiring a hooker by the hour.   There may be superficial similarities, and a certain amount of fun may be involved, in one case its a possibility, in the other its an absolute certainty, but the distinction is very important, and its not only a matter of taste.’

Back to the fly tying and crawling through nettles, – I know my place, its the River Wylye, a sinously beautiful but challenging chalk stream populated by some of the most ‘ornery’ and difficult wild trout, some uncatchable, in the South of England.   It isn’t for the faint hearted, nor those with mental image of creels of fat buttery trout, Masochists only need apply.

As Evening Light Falls

We’re having a tough seasons beginning on the chalkstreams.  After the April deluges that extended into early May, things are now getting off to a late start.  Hawthorns in Spring just didn’t have a chance to work, and I’m told that all the chalkstreams currently have an algal bloom brought about by the intense sunlight and high temperatures, possibly aided by phosphate and nitrate wash off.

I saw on Dave Wiltshires blog, ( that where he fishes the Mayfly has almost finished, and the fish have become ‘picky’, whilst on the Wylye, Mayfly hasn’t really yet begun ! 

Because of the recent very hot sunny days,  I’ve not been arriving at the river until after six pm, there’s very little point before the sun has begun to cool and lose the brightness on days like these.  My last visit was cut short because I had a minor accident.  I’d hooked and was playing good fish that was giving me a fair old tussle in the fast current, for a split second the line went slack and I thought I’d lost him, then just as quickly it tightened again enabling my heart to re-start.  In that instant the hook pinged out of the water back towards me and embedded itself in the back of my right hand.   Now, here’s a confession I’m ashamed of, – I had failed to  crush the micro barb down when I was tying, and now I couldn’t extract it from my bleeding hand, the only solution was to snip the tippet, and pack up, very carefully, so as not to catch it on anything that made me yell.  I had to go somewhere, anywhere, to get someone, anyone, to remove it for me.  It was painful.   So on this visit, I began upstream of where I last finished.

Whilst I was fishing  a  nymph through a pool at the head of a small weir, I spotted a single newly hatched duckling desperately paddling and swirling in vain against the powerful current doing its best not to drown.  It was directly above me, so I just passed the rod to my left hand, scooping up the duckling in my right, this was the signal for a trout to snatch the nymph.  I stuffed the duckling in a vest pocket and caught the trout.    

After searching upstream I couldn’t find either a distressed female mallard or a nest, but I did espy this nest and placed the duckling in amongst the eggs, I hope the owner, probably a Moorhen wasn’t too confused on its return.  The duckling would probably have perished if I hadn’t picked it up, and on this small island it just might survive.

Just up from the island as the light slipped away, there was a slight ‘plop’, I looked up in time to see the rapidly dissipating rings in the half light.   This is the point where carriers rejoin the main river, you can see them to the right in the picture, presumably with the higher flows, the carriers brings in numerous nymphs, emergers and spinners to waiting mouths.  Carefully stalking to within casting distance, pausing to carefully watch and consider the complex surface currents – this is a one cast opportunity.

The absence of any obvious surface flies gave me some food for thought, I presumed they were Baetis, so opted for a rather bedraggled medium olive, which I thought might better resemble a spinner just before it lays its eggs and dies, but it was quite difficult to see in the dying light, – I took this picture earlier when the light was much better.   An invented casting style was required, and it was one that I wouldn’t want any of my peers to witness, a kind of high upward dump, upstream and to the left of the incoming ripple, with a final rod tip wiggle as I lowered to the finishing point.  This was to put some snakes in the line and leader and to keep the tippet curves close together sufficiently to give me a few more moments of drag free drift.  Just two seconds and there was the tiniest dimple on the surface where I perceived the fly to be,  I couldn’t be sure, was it a take or just a spinner alighting on the river.  An instinctive lift, and there it was, that rewarding beautiful sense of a subsurface moving weight. I don’t know what it is about trout, I try not to anthropomorphise about them, but I often have the impression that they’re bloody furious at being hooked.  

This is a reasonable fish, what I wanted to show here is the incredible depth of the tail compared to the depth of the body.  An evolutionary development for living in speedy currents with the necessity for rapid propulsion  in order to devour passing food items.    As the light fell rapidly into almost total darkness, there were just a few occasional surface rings, hardly a plop, and not a splash anywhere.  I managed another couple of trout in the last of the twilight before complete darkness fell.   A few minutes later I was left with just the eerie silhouettes of trees, skimming bats and the clucking of moorhens in the reeds for company.  Every fishing day so far this season I’ve seen water voles calmly criss crossing the river, sometimes less than a metre away.  

Thoughts on Last Season

This is a quick off the cuff temporary holding post as I develop other areas of designing this BLOG.  I intend to make it fully live in the next couple of weeks with photographs, much more fly fishing detail and some step by steps of fly tying and much more.

The Spring of 2011 was warm, almost balmy at Easter time, warmer than the Med resorts, so many of us got out to take advantage of the unseasonal weather to tempt and taunt the Trout with Hawthorn Flies.  The Hawthorn flies of 2011, were the most numerous I can recall, and the footpath between the trees as I walked down to the river so littered with their bodies that it had the appearance of black confetti.

April was an excellent beginning to the season, but by the time Mayfly were showing the weather had become noticably colder and unusually, cold winds continued to blow, sometimes, gust, down the valley and around the river meadows for most of the Summer months preventing spinners to return and die on the water for the evening bounty that many of us look forward to. It was during May that the first mumblings of Drought were circulating in the media, East Anglia farming combines were clarioning increased vegetable prices, and by mid summer, fish were being rescued from some once beautiful and flourishing rivers.

By mid September the warmth returned and good fishing was had right through well into the Autumn,  as fish became voracious, feeding up before the breeding season, and once again catches were good with some superb fish being caught, – on the particular chalk stream that I fish, the guest of a member took a 28″ Wild Trout that might later be verified as a record for our particular river. 

But for much of the Summer, the river looked a sorry sight as the levels fell to a worrying level.  Abstraction is primarily the main culprit, which at a time of low rainfall only exacerbates the problem.  Fish were easier to spot usually skulking under bankings or around tree roots, but they were noticeably spookier, I should imaging that handbooks on Gurkha stalking skills must have flown off the shelves of bookshops throughout the country.

As I write, the winter levels are not encouraging, and I have to confess that I’m beginning to have reservations about the coming season. If you know how to do a raindance, or know of any of those 18th Century Mid Western Charlatans, ‘the Rainmaker’ maybe you’d forward their contact details, at the moment I’m doing my bit by not washing my car, and turning the tap off while I clean my teeth, – it might be something that all of us in the fishing community become evangelistic upon in the near future.