Bev Perkins describes a blank-saving fly
Perhaps it was because it was part Dog Nobbler, part Tadpole that no-one really wanted to hold their hand up and say: “I devised the Pitsford Pea!”. Some flies appear from nowhere, enjoying overnight success and glory for their inventor, others gradually keep cropping up in clandestine conversations on the bankside and dark mutterings in the pub. The Pitsford Pea is definitely one of the latter. Some bright spark around the Northampton area originally came up with the pattern and its name and it gradually became a reliable fly box dweller of anyone who fished Pitsford and Ravensthorpe regularly.
It’s one of those flies that was never an instant success, but it has still managed to stick around. For nigh-on 30 years it has been scraping the occasional fish or two from a seemingly barren water, and saving many a blank. Not a glamorous or celebrity fly, but not a one-hit wonder either. It’s a relaible fly that has stood the hardest test of all – the test of time.
It’s roots are certainly somewhere on the Pitsford bank where it has saved many a bad day. It’s an ‘ever-faithful’ which you can turn to whenever you are struggling from the bank.
Why is it such a good fly? What does it possess that thousands of other flies with far better names never managed? The beauty of the Pitsford Pea is hidden underneath that chenille body. The Pitsford Pea can either be weighted - anything from two turns of lead at the head to a whole shank full - or unweighted. It can be tied in a variety of sizes, from a size 12 wet fly hook to a size 4 long-shank. So, regardless of hook-size this fly performs - an important prerequisite for a good all-rounder.
Depending on the weight it is carrying under that chenille body, the Pea can be used to explore all depths when using a floating line. However, so adaptable is the Pitsford Pea that it can be used with any line – intermediate, slow sinker, fast sinker, even a shooting head. True versatility; a bit like the pea the vegetable, I suppose.
Versatility brings adaptability, and thus various designs of the Pitsford Pea evolved. Although we know little about the original fly, the family history over later years is easier to trace. It goes like this:
The Grafham Pea came about from the competition sector of the sport. It was designed as an alternative to the great attractor pulling flies – Peach Doll, Soldier Palmer and Grenadier – that were all the rage at the time. They were something for the fish to focus on – not only to lure, but also to draw the attention to other more drab and smaller flies on the leader. Here, the Pea’s design versatility came to the aid of the competition boys, as they were restricted to size 10 hook. Having made an impact in this guise, pleasure anglers followed suit but, not bound by international rules, they were tied bigger and weighted.
New breeds of Peas emerged as modern materials came to the fore. When Aberdeen’s Keith Fraser began dyeing rich colours of Fritz, it opened new doors for the Pea. I used some of the red and green mix on a size 10 hook and added the usual chartreuse head. Drifting parallel to the Gravelbank at Pitsford the first fish that took my new design actually made a bow-wave as it streaked just under the surface to take the fly. This has to be one of the most awesome and exciting sights in fly fishing, matched by and the 31/2lb bundle of solid silver muscle that streaked off with my line, which completed the memory. Actually, the memory was not quite complete: by the time I had pulled up the drogue at the end of the Gravelbank, as I neared the Stone Barn, I had landed four more fish of the same quality and size. Not bad for a new fly!
As we drifted on Rutland, Dave Mitchell asked me about the white and green fly I’d just given him. By now the Pitsford and Grafham versions were doing rather well. “Not another bloody Pea”, he declared. He then cast it out and a 5lb brownie latched onto it. It signalled the start of an excellent period on Rutland when a floating line coupled with the new white Rutland Pea – either weighted or unweighted (it didn’t seem to matter) - produced some great sport to some of those fantastic Rutland browns.
If you read the December 2006 issue of FF&FT, you’ll have met the Ravensthorpe Pea already. Yes, this was the fly I was using when Charles Jardine and Nathan Clayton came across me fishing on the day Charles wrote that article. This was the “shiny, attenuated, green-headed, sparkly black rat of a thing” which I was fishing loch-style on the point. I think it upset Charles just a little that anyone could think of short-lining such a fly... but the proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say. It did well that day.
As the name implies, this fly actually comes from Ravensthorpe. Again, it owed much of its origins to the material from Keith Fraser, but since that source disappeared we’ve now discovered it is now available from Hobbycraft – a nationwide chain of stores. The body material is Madeira Glissenglass – what an inspiring body material and a godsend to the enquiring mind!
On the first outing with this fly, and old friend of mine had actually had a fish before I had finished tackling up. It weighed 9lb 9oz, and he was over the moon! By the end of the morning he was ecstatic. That day, I lost count of the number of trout we caught; all the fish were over two pounds, and a good few went over four pounds. However pleased I was with the fly, the question at the back of mind was “is it a one-day wonder?” It was only through later expeditions that the Ravensthorpe Pea evolved into a proven fly - within a month it had accounted for over 100 fish between me and three or four of my friends. OK, so would it work next season? The answer was resounding Yes! During the course of its second season, some manufacturers began to produce cone-heads which were green. It didn’t take long before those ‘in the know’ were slipping these cones onto a Ravensthorpe Pea. Try it, it works!
Bog Bay Pea
This one originated in 2005, and was the logical offspring once the appearance of a lovely pink Glissenglass appeared in the shops, and I spotted some pretty pink marabou for sale in the Pitsford tackle shop. We , by now , knew all about green cone-heads so these two materials were coupled together and a sprinkling of pearl was added to the tail. It looked great, but would it work? No!
That was until Mick Glennon saw the fly. After firstly being slightly horrified he took a few to try. Now Mick doesn’t mess about when it comes to fishing. He’s a 10ft rod and nine-weight shooting head kind of a guy – he chucks it out and pulls it back; subtlety is not his forte, but he enjoys this style.
I was pleassantly surprised when he phoned that evening for some more. It transpired that he had been to Bog Bay and the fish had pulled his flies to pieces. “But I gave you three!” I exclaimed!
“Pike like them as well!”, Mick informed me.
I met him on the jetty next morning, at 9am. I didn’t need to ask where he was going, but I later discovered he’d had four rainbows to three pounds. This fly later became known as the Bog Pink. Since then, I’ve known it work on flat calm days, and in big waves. It can work at the beginning of the season, right to the end. On its day it’s great and it has now joined the ranks of all the other Peas.
Tips to tying Peas
Hooks: I use Hyabusa 761 or long-shank 376, or Fulling Mill 31530 Competition Heavyweight.
Thread: UTC black for building the fly; Glo-Brite No.11 or UTC 140 (chartreuse) to finish the head.
Procedure: Pull a bunch of marabou off the stalk, wet the thick butt-ends and twist them to make a ‘shuttlecock’. Don’t be tempted to use too much in one hit. I tie the first bunch at the bend and run my thread down the shank, trapping all the ends down as I work up to the head. If you are using a cone-head, push the very ends right into the base of the cone. Now run the thread back to level the under-body and tie in another bunch of marabou to thicken the tail. Once at the bend again catch in Glissenglass/ cactus chenille/ Fritz and wind up the body. It is not necessary to be particular about touching turns, because it is a densely twisted product. Unless, however, you are using standard chenille.
These are all useful, versatile lures which over the years have caught hundreds of trout, nay, thousands. OK, the Bog Pink is lagging behind a bit, but only last season, during extremey difficult times when hard frosts and storms of November and December combined to produce a sudden, cold influx of freshwater into our reservoirs, the Peas continued to ply their trade whilst others went out of business. Various patterns were responsible for good bags of up to half-a-dozen fish to double-figures when most folk were struggling.
Such a scenario is typical of the reliable old Pea: irrespective of the water conditions you can fish it with confidence, and there’s no greater attribute for a successful fly fisher.
Since they emerged 30 years ago, they’ve worked well from Devon and Cornwall right up into Scotland, and from West Wales across to East Anglia. I know it sounds odd, but trout like Peas.
The secrets to fishing Peas
The beauty about these flies is that they are not strictly lures. They can be fished fast, but more often than not I will fish them slowly. By slowly I mean very, very slowly – like a big nymph. Remember the Pitsford originated on the bank, and it was fishing it in this syle that it first came to notice.
The best bet to save a blank is as we used to do way back in the early days. Put it on the point and use maybe a Hare’s Ear Nymph on the dropper and a Buzzer on the top (or even a Black & Peacock Spider), especially in April. The leader would have been a 15 ft leader from tip of line to point. It was mainly fished on a floater, but for really deep holes off the bank – the dams of Ravensthorpe, Rutland, Eyebrook and Graham, and any other deep-water marks such as Rutland’s Ernie’s Point, we might use an Aquasink (a copper wire coated line which had a sink-rate of between a Di 7 and a Di 5) retrieving steadily then speeding up to lift the flies at the end of the retrieve.
The type of fly dictates the line used and the speed of retrieve. If you fish an unweighted Pea, let it sink, but watch out for takes ‘on the drop’. However, if you are fishing for rainbows holding at any depth down to five feet, think about using a cone-head version – the ‘plop’ of it entering the water will attract the attention of the fish. I think this mimics the plop of an escaping fry. After the ‘plop’ be prepared for anything from a gentle draw on the line to the genuine ‘smash take’! This is why you should move your rod off to one side after the cast, don’t fish with your rod tip straight down the line; with bigger fish being stocked these days the last thing you want is your fly pinging off with the crack of a .22 rifle.
Green cone-heads: Rutland Fishing or Anglian Water shops.
List of hobbycraft shops at: www.hobbycraft.co.uk