Friday, 12 June 2009

Ballad of nice and easy

(see also the 2002 album "In Our Gun" by Gomez, who we saw live in Belfast a couple of weeks ago... an incredible show! The tour continues, so track them down if you can )

The thrill of findng new, small water keeps me pouring over the local OS maps in search of wild, brown trout throughout the year. There is so much to find, the maps littered with the burns, streams and rivers that traverse this largely rural landscape. Multiple access points exist where lanes cross the current and bridges span water. Many are now familiar, but hundreds of miles remain unchartered.

Finding new, small water in the hope of finding trout is the bread-and-butter business of the small stream fly fisher. That said, it's always welcome when you're lead by the nose to a previously unvisited pool, especially when it comes highly recommended by a discerning fisher with a lifetime of stream knowledge.

So I got speaking with Daniel yesterday, during the kids sports day. Daniel is an expert salmon fisher, and regularly hops across the border in to Co. Donegal to chase large, sea-run salmon. His best fish last year was 14lb, taken on the fly, of course. He also shares my passion for wild trout on small streams and before we agreed to meet up for some fishing (Daniel assures me he knows exactly where we can take wild, brown trout of 2 - 4lb on small dry flies... more to follow), he tipped me off on a local stream, close to home. The stream is a couple of miles from the front door, most of these streams are. It lies on land owned by a local farmer, whom I was assured would be more than happy to oblige with access. And so I set-off at 07:30 this morning to see if the reports of free rising trout were good. On arrival, I introduced myself to the farmer's son and asked permission to fish, which was willingly granted. Over the years, I have found permission is rarely denied if you take the time to ask, and I always repay the favour with a half dozen fresh eggs from home. It's not like the local farmers don't have more than enough of their own eggs, but the gesture is always warmly received. Our hens are worth their weight in gold for this alone.

There were three obvious pools, the first two holdng the smallest of dinks but they made a good start and helped establish a relaxed casting rythym as I settled in to the fishing. The top pool, almost directly opposite the farmhouse was where Daniel advised I fish. It became obvious why as I stood at the bottom of the pool.

The rises came in waves, every 30-40 seconds, as the surface was dimpled with maybe six to eight fish sipping tiny gnats at the surface. These were not large fish, maybe 4-6" but it was wonderful to the see such prolific surface activity as I started to pick off dinks, one at a time as I progressed up the pool. Take a look at the overhanging bush on the right side of the picture above. The activity here appeared more confident and the splashy rises were clearly from larger fish. The water was deeper, and it was possible to side cast low, above the feeding lane and again pick off trout, these were to 9" and very welcome.

A few were lost on the strike, but still they fed confidently. After half a dozen fish, a wayward cast left my fly (a #20 reverse parachute BWO emerger) snagged and irretrievable, so I called time on a wonderful hour or so of fishing.

It was another magical trip. Short but perfect. The thrill of fishing new water, and catching is hard to describe, but it elevates the spirit, and pretty much sets you up for the day.

So thanks go to Daniel, your tip was good. As for tracking down some larger trout, I hope it's this nice and easy...

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Tying for Solar Aid

Commencing at 0900, I'll be tying non-stop to raise money for Solar Aid ( At 0830 on the 22nd June 2009, there will be an auction of the flies on, the world's leading fly fishing and casting website.

The auction will also include flies tied by:

Roy Christie
Niklas Dahlin
Hans Weilenmann

Paul Arden

With others TBC...

During the marathon, there will be live interviews with Nik Wright (founder and MD of Deer Creek), Roy Christie (pro fly tier and innovator) and Phil Holding (Spiders Plus, Fly Tying Boutique) event sponsor and hook supplier to the marathon.

There will also be a live interview with a very special guest, Dr Jeremy Leggett. Jeremy is founder of Solar Aid and author of "The Carbon War" and "Half Gone"

Please visit my fund raising page and help support the amazing work of Solar Aid.

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Back from somewhere...

(see also the album track from Husker Du's 1987 album "Warehouse: songs & stories")

When time is limited and fishing trips are possibly weeks apart, it's tempting to remain on familiar water where contact with wild trout is almost certain. This Saturday started out that way... with an hour on several pools featured here previously. It's still early season, trout are low in the water column, surface activity, both fly and fish is limited and days are punctuated with unpredictable rainfall that can wipe-out dry fly fishing in a matter of hours, for several days- all typical enough for this time of year.

The preceeding week had seen little rain - whilst I worked in London. Regular SMS reports from Cal confirmed low, clear water and increased surface activity back home. I had to make do with purchasing a few hooks from Granger's in S. Kensington and reading Ed Engle's "Fishing Small Flies". The rain commenced almost as I touched back down, undoing what sounded like perfect dry fly conditions and thereby delaying plans for time on the water. After only light drizzle for a couple of days, conditions started to improve and I headed out - just a couple of miles from home. I expect the fishing to be slower at this time of year, so rather than thrash familiar pools that will liven up within a few weeks, the search for somewhere new and unknown got underway.

So I walked, and walked... heading out past the upper reaches of a local stream. The furthest run of pools I fish regularly are maybe 1 1/4 miles either side of convenient and safe parking. Heading south, the landscape opens up and the stream is a little wider, certainly deeper and less interesting. There must be some large trout along this length of water, but finding them in largely characterless, albeit very scenic habitat isn't something I'm drawn to. Moving North however, and the landscape and stream becomes more diverse - more interesting. Long, wide and shallow stretches of water open up before the stream narrows, turns hard and back on itself, and even at this time of year, darkens with thicker brush and the emerging, Spring canopy.

Walking maybe 2 1/2 miles from the car, the relative peace of open countryside and quiet water shifted towards greater velocity and volume. Beyond a flat glide of water and obscured by trees the pool above came in to view. Pictures so often fail to capture the reality of a scene, and the images above and below may appear unspectacular, but this newly discovered pool is something else.

Firstly, there is a grand scale that is hard to sense from the pictures. The sheer, clay-red rock face that forms a backdrop to the lower and upper pool sections is maybe 60-80 ft high and very unusual within this rural setting and rich in varied flora, adding a depth of character that I hadn't expected to see here. At the throat of the lower pool, there are numerous and varied features. The far bank holds deeper water, the nearside is shallower and the current in both cuts back against the main flow passing centrally through the pool. Large, smooth boulders break the water in to multiple channels, some with amazing pace and force before opening in to a wide and smoother pool.

Beyond the lower pool, there's a narrow and deep run of glass-smooth water gently ushered towards the lower pool by the curved and sheer incline of the rock-face. It's smooth but there is real pace on the water. The whole place is so very un-typical of the area, uncharacteristically dramatic and it's a thrilling find. I must have spent 40 minutes or so just taking it all in before fishing the side channel of the lower pool with a single #20 olive emerger and taking two trout to just a touch over 12".

So I plan to keep this new found pool in reserve, and wait for later in the season and lower water when I expect it will offer some spectacular dry fly fishing. There's such a variety of water across the 300 yards between both pools, enough for a couple of hours of thoughtful, measured fishing.

As and when the conditions and opportunity align, I'll report back with more. There could be some larger trout in these pools...

Monday, 16 March 2009


The season is underway... No fireworks and fanfare, just a quiet few hours on the water.

Sunrise and the view from the bridge, before the first cast of the season is made.

The start of the new season coincides with the end of the fiscal year, a time when, this year more than most, the relentless chasing of revenue occupies every waking hour between Monday and Friday and typically encroaches in to the weekend, too. After a few days without rain, water levels were at status normal and despite a chilling breeze and a late night on Saturday, I simply couldn't let another Sunday morning pass without commencing the '09 season.

Expectations were realistic, rather than elevated. Early season provides opportunities to catch early season trout, albeit without the carnival atmosphere of late April and May. And so the approach was relaxed, contemplative and calm. The banks are more exposed at this time of year, the lush growth of Spring yet to really kick in. And so the form of the river is clear to see, exposed and less characterfull.

Arriving at a familiar pool, it was good to lean back against the bank and observe the water as preparations to fish were made. In the absence of surface activity, and in keeping with seasonal tactics the season opened with a steady search of the water with a #20 biot-bodied nymph. It was slow going, but the rythmic roll-cast, dead-drift prospecting came very naturally after a five month break. I'm not a great nymph fisher, it is a skill I will develop in time. I rarely have the sense of control and insight that I enjoy when fishing on, or in the surface film. And so I was satisfied to spend a couple of hours keying in to the season, just easing in to the experience of time on the water, rod in hand. Working downstream towards the throat of the next pool I hooked up, three, maybe four seconds later and the trout slipped the hook. Cool, the river still holds fish. It was a fitting introduction to the season and a stark reminder of who has the evolutionary advantage. I didn't see the strike, I haven't developed that sense of the sub-surface world in it's multiple dimensions. But it was thrilling to feel the fizz and spark of a wild trout on the line...

The season, like all new seasons, is full of expectation and so it was time to focus, to maybe get serious in the interests of bringing a wild trout to hand and marking the occasion of a new season. Getting skunked is no longer part of the game.

Heading towards a favourite pool, I ran through the approach in my head. It may be early season, but the sight of a small, fully emerged olive sailing by provided hope, it alighted the surface without interference or threat from below - I guess some of them have to make it.

It was so good to see the pool ahead of me, I haven't visited this spot during the Winter. Where, at the close of last season the water's surface carried the spent foliage from upstream through a feeding pod of trout, the surface and surroundings are now bare, stark and still.

The banks, bare of vegetation and the familiar, overhanging branches that mark the location of swift summer sport are naked but for the early buds of Spring growth. And then, exactly where expected the surface is broken by a trout sipping at the surface. The feeding trout shares my easy-like-Sunday-morning mood. It may be cool, early season but there are trout high in the water column and I am keen to exploit this surface feeding and launch the season.

The close season was spent tying multiples of proven patterns, and experimenting with the tiny stuff (sub #24 micropatterns). I don't intend to return home without bringing a trout to hand and so I gain an immediate advantage and select a fly that will "catch any trout, anywhere..." the Roy Christie designed (and in this case, tied) Reverse Parachute Emerger. This is a fly design of genius proportions, almost unfair in it's proven effectiveness at taking selective trout.

This early in the season, my casting is off the mark, so any advantage is welcome. It will be all too easy to put the lone, feeding trout down with a clumsy presentation. A few practice casts, downstream of the main target are made and I'm keyed in - now more alert and focused. A careful reach cast drops the fly 18" inches upstream of an earlier rise, the flow is incredibly slow and the surface like glass. It is easy to see the small fly at distance and right on cue, it is gently sipped from the surface. Lifting in to the strike, the hook is set and a lively. 8" trout is brought to hand and released.

There's time to fish on for an hour, but I take a few mintues to sit back and take it all in, reflecting on that first trout. There's no rush or urgency this early in the season. So I head home for breakfast with the kids, looking forward to sharing a few, embellished stories over fresh eggs and bacon.

It was good to have the best dry fly ever created in my box, to get things underway at a tricky time of year.

I'm braced for a blinding season.

This is just the start...

Wednesday, 4 March 2009


March 1st arrived on Sunday, and so the new season is underway...

Home waters are high, the colour largely normal a few days after heavy rain. Temperatures are low, with a hard frost and some light snow last night.

I missed the start of the season to celebrate a landmark 40th birthday (my brothers, not mine...) with family and good people I haven't seen for a very long time, it all happened in Cumbria last weekend. It was worth it, we had an amazing time which included a visit to Dove Cottage, one time home of Wordsworth... and a wee peek at some small water near a place called Troutbeck.

And I got to freak out, dance and party like it's 1999... two thousand, zero-zero party over oops, out of time.

That was then. This weekend? Time to get serious, f'real...

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Small Fly Funk III

This will be the last fly tying post here, tying now has it's own blog at so this site can focus on ultra-light fly fishing, which was always the plan.

With only ten days to go before the '09 season commences, there should be lot's of new reports to post here. This year, I have a real sense that this could be an amazing seven months of fishing. The season is already planned, I know what to expect during each month, surprise weather conditions aside and I have a finely tuned tactical approach to the familiar waters I'll be fishing.

I'll still be tying during the season, but less so in favour of time on the water. So it seems appropriate to sign-off the close of the main tying season with a pattern that represents a significant personal achievement... a new benchmark in my micropattern tying.

The TMC 518 #32 is the smallest commercially available hook. Ed Engle describes the 518 as the smallest "useable" hook in the world. And so they represent a panacea to the tyer of micropatterns. If you are based in the UK, the trick is first to actually source a supply - they are simply not available. Roy Christie supplied a mixed dozen of #28, #30 and #32's to help me out for which I am hugely grateful. An alternative is the Varivas 2300 available down to #30; this is a nicely proportioned, and strong hook but there is something uniquely authentic about the TMC 518.

The pattern below is a simple, spent spinner, that can be tied in a range of colours to suit hatch conditions. It is very hard to provide any perspective on scale, suffice to say the body on this tie is just 2mm in length. The goal of tying a neat and fishable #32 has evolved over time. Thanks must go to Roy Christie for providing the hooks and telephone tutorials in pursuit of this goal.

Hook: TMC 518 #32
Thread: Sheer 14/0 cinnamon
Wing: Niche "Midge Wing"
Tailing: Niche microfibbets, cream

I'll be fishing this pattern during late evenings in high Summer on Roy's Mystery Burn X, and I look forward to posting a picture of the wild brown trout that succumbs...

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Small fly funk II

To date, the smallest fly I've caught trout on has been a #22. At this scale, even a barbless hook is tricky enough to remove, but the thrill of taking a fish on small flies, balanced with short rods and light lines is simply irresistible.

The coming season will see a continuation of small fly fishing. It's worth highlighting that ultra-light fishing does not necessarily demand small flies. But, in the interest of a balanced approach and immaculate aesthetic appeal, this is how I get my kicks.

As far as fishing goes (as opposed to tying for the sake of tying), I've got a hunch that #26 flies may be the smallest practical size to tie. This is an entirely personal perspective, rather than a statement of fact, not least as the likes of Ed Engle tie and catch fish with #32's and a hunt around the www. will unearth other examples of fish caught on sub-26 size flies.

Roy Christie, aware of my obsession with tying small/tiny flies provided a priceless piece of advice. He said, "Don't get too hung up on the issue of size. Tie your tiny flies exactly as you would the small flies, just smaller!" This goes far beyond stating the obvious, and demonstrates an insight that can only come with tying tiny stuff. To put this in to perspective, Roy has tied his Reverse Parachute Emerger design down to a #30. Of course, materials, and possibly tools need to be scaled down accordingly, but the basic approach is essentially the same, and you will only run in to trouble at this scale if you assume that there is some fundemental difference in process, which there isn't. So I took this advice to heart, and have now achieved a basic level of competence when tying tiny flies.

Hook: Daiichi 1110, #26
Thread: Sheer 14/0, grey
Tailing: Microfibbets, dun
Abdomen: Goose biot, olive
Wing: TMC Aero Dry Wing
Thorax: Fine, natural hare
Hackle: Whiting Midge Saddle, light dun

One last point. There is a strong, aesthetic dimension to the notion that #26 is where I bottom out. My #26 parachute Olive is the same as my #20 parachute Olive, just smaller. They share the same proportions, neat thorax, contoured wing and segmented, biot body. Until such time that I can further scale down these common traits beyond #26, and maintain aesthetic integrity, then I'll accept that #28's, #30's and #32's are just out of reach...