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End of May thoughts

Thinking about dry flies, and one in particular

I have fly-fished with Geoff Haslam for a good four decades and, other than the rivers of north-west England, our favourite venues have included, in the 1980s, Entwistle Reservoir in the West Pennine Moors between Blackburn and Bolton, and, more recently, Barnsfold, a pair of small ex-reservoirs now run as a trout fishery by our pals Frank and Richard Casson.

When we fished it, Entwisle had a large head of mostly tiny brown trout descended from the trout trapped when the dam creating the reservoir was constructed in the 19th century, but the water company that sold season tickets stocked it every fortnight with bigger rainbows.

Last week Geoff kindly drove me to Barnsfold where we had a couple of hours' fishing. There was a cold, strong south-westerly wind, so we went to the western bank which was sheltered from this wind by a belt of trees. There trout were rising to a fall if landbred flies and beetles and a nice fall of adult alderflies that had been blown onto the water (remember, adult alders hatch on land!). I failed to connect with the first ten offers I had. Then I felt a fish that took the fly, but didn’t hook it. Then I got a great offer and after a good old tussle brought a 3½ -pounder to the net. In its stomach were about 30 items of food, all insects taken at the surface. Those nine offers... my timing is never that bad?

Skip back 35 years ago to Entwisle. There, on a nice sunny day, Geoff, my son Pete and I would sit side by side and cast out our dry flies. Sometimes we left the fly to do the work and put down our rods as we nattered and gazed across to the pine plantation and acid moor.


“Whose rod?”

Rods picked up.

“Mine!” one of us would say, for the trout that had taken the fly had hooked itself. And I cannot recall – nor do my diaries tell of – nine consecutive offers to the dry fly at Entwisle being missed or three or four ‘takes’ not resulting in a trout caught.

My own thoughts are: either that, with Barnsfold has more food generated by the lake itself (it is nutrient-rich) compared with the highly acidic, nutrient-poor Entwistle, trout in the latter are far more desperate for food.. .but here I am almost certainly wrong! Or that the trout that Frank and Richard have raised and recently put into Barnfold haven’t had time to learn to take a real or artificial fly into their mouths... but I may be wrong.

And the trout say nothing.

          *                                      *                                      *

What fly did I use to get twelve offers? 30-odd years ago, my dry fly would have been Kite’s Imperial, for, like its inventor, I found this grey herl-bodied, ginger-tailed and -hackled fly matched much of the surface foods that trout eat. Indeed, my first fish caught for TV (several grayling) in 1988 took that very pattern. But in recent years one dry fly has scored highly, the dry Daddy-long-legs, and that is what got me 12 rises that afternoon at Barnsfold.

So if I can give you a few tips for the coming months whether fishing reservoirs, lochs or loughs, or rivers for brown trout or sea trout, always carry some dry Daddies.
I tend to tie mine on standard size 12 dry fly hooks rather than the long-shanked ones. Like the late and great Dick Walker, I tie eight knotted cock pheasant tail fibres, at the front of the body (see below) splayed out to the back and today I like wings of grey Antron, or similar, tied ‘spent’. And I give the thing a good four turns of a ginger or blue dun cock hackle, two in front and two behind the spent wings. Now, I know that some will say that the legs should be tied in pairs as in the real fly, and/or that the wound hackle is unnecessary/detracts from the natural appearance. But the fish seem not to mind. As for body: any drab brown herl, fine fur dubbing, or a slither of cork tied along the top of the shank.

I have caught wild brown trout and sea trout on the Daddy in several Irish loughs and Scottish lochs, when the wind has dropped, wave become the lightest ripple, and standard wet fly becomes useless. Cast it out and leave it to catch the fish for you. I have caught lots of brown trout and sea trout on the Daddy, especially when the river is very low, in Scottish rivers (eg. Spey, Tweed, Nith) and English rivers (Cumbrian Derwent, Eden, Lune, Ribble and Hodder), and brown trout and Arctic char in several lakes in Norway and Sweden. See a sea trout move just below the surface, and it will take a Daddy-long-legs first chuck.

And the fly should drift naturally, without drag. Tight lines!

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