Fishing with Style



Yorkshire Post - Country Week

2006 Fly Fishing Monthly Articles

Since April 2005 Roger Beck and Stephen Cheetham produce a fly fishing column in the Country Week section of the Yorkshire Post once a month.

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Here are the articles, published in 2006, which we trust you will enjoy reading:          

    Cats Whisker        Frank Sawyer Pheasant Tail Nymph        Booby Nymph      Greenwell's Glory        Black Buzzer

The Mayfly      The Grey Duster        The Sedge (Caddis)      Ducks Dun       The Crayfish   

Dawson's Olive        Pot Bellied Pig


January 2006

Cat’s Whisker

If you have all done our bidding in the December column, (Christmas Tree) you will have eaten plenty of turkey over Christmas. As a result, you will be afflicted by what my old Granny called “triple T - tummy touching table”. If so, you need some exercise to reduce the rotundity. What could be better than a few visits to a rainbow trout fishery? If the weather is not too harsh, you can fish for rainbows with confidence in January. If it’s not too cold for you to be out, the chances of success are good; it’s often easier to catch them in these conditions than it is in the heat of the summer. Keep moving, a cast here and another there, not only will you keep the blood circulating, but you will be searching the water effectively. The ideal fly for tempting a winter rainbow trout is the Cat’s Whisker. It all fits together very nicely: you have eaten plenty of turkey, this has produced lots of spare turkey feathers. You will remember, from last month, that turkey is the new marabou and the Cat’s Whisker has a tail and wing made from marabou. Added to this, you are counteracting the effects of eating too much. Perfect! Incidentally, we are working on a fly that has mince pie crumbs in the dressing, ready for next Christmas.

The marabou causes the Cat’s Whisker to pulsate in the water and attract the attention of trout. Introduced in the mid 1980’s by David Train, he produced it at the request of a well known still water angler, Bob Church. Bob was looking for something out of the ordinary to give him the edge in fly fishing competitions. It certainly worked, on one occasion Bob caught 16 trout, his boat partner managed one.

Under the surface of the water, this fly resembles a small fish. Unfortunately, the prototypes would not sink. The marabou feathers trap a lot of air, which causes the fly to float. Weight was required to submerge the fly.

Put the paper down now, go to the kitchen. (Gentlemen, you may need directions). Study the chain attached to the sink plug. It is probably made of small, interconnected hollow metal spheres, known in the trade as “bead chain”. Now, have a look at Steve’s fly and you will see that it has “eyes” made from two links of bead chain. That was Mr. Train’s very clever solution to the buoyancy problem. Also, this ocular adornment helps to mimic a small fish. Steve ties Cats Whiskers with the weight on the underside of the hook. That way, when we pull on the line, the fly dives headfirst and stays upright, just like a minnow.

By now, you are thinking, “hang on, where’s the cat’s whiskers bit come from?”  Well, the other problem that Mr. Train experienced was that the long marabou wing would frequently wrap around the shank of the hook, making the fly less effective. A long stiff fibre is needed to support the wing above the body of the fly. If you have a cat, put the paper down again and creep up on your feline friend. Have a gentle prod at its whiskers – you might want to put gloves on. Can you feel how stiff they are?  David Train tied a few whiskers from his cat on to the top of the hook before adding the wing, the rest, as they say, is history. Now, I don’t want to encourage anyone to go around molesting moggies. I am assured that cats regularly moult their whiskers and that they can be harvested by scrabbling about on the carpet with a comb. All I can say is that we do not find it necessary to include them in the pattern, weighting the underside of the hook helps to keep the wing away from the body. With or without whiskers, this fly retains its original name.

Having pursued rainbows during winter, come the spring, you might want to catch a brown trout from the river. If you would like a bit of help to do that, Steve and myself are running river fishing courses at Bolton Abbey with Mark Whitehead, the river keeper. We have courses for both beginners and improvers. You’d be very welcome, details from Steve or myself.

The Cats Whisker click to enlarge

Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.

Text by Roger Beck                        01439 788483.

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February 2006

Frank Sawyer Pheasant Tail Nymph

Last summer, I urged you all to have a good old fossick around in the bed of a stream or river. As we approach spring (Well, you never know your luck) have another look in the stream. This time, do so with magnifying glass and pie dish. Not any old pie dish though, a white enamelled one is what you need. If you want to make a proper job of this, go down to the pet shop and invest a couple of quid in the finest mesh aquarium net that you can get. So, armed with essential equipment, off to the water.

Collect half an inch depth of water in your pie dish. Pick a part of the stream with some flow and, with your net, have a bit of a scrat (similar to a fossick) around in the gravel and sand on the bottom. Tip the contents of your net into the pie dish and stand back. You will see little swimming creatures that followers of this column will know include immature insects called nymphs. Have a closer look with your magnifying glass.

By the way, youngsters love slopping about in streams with wellies, pie dishes and magnifying glasses. It also provides an opportunity to learn stuff other than the sterile nonsense inflicted upon them in schools. Oops, nearly a rant, but it’s true.

Back in 1928, a young man by the name of Frank Sawyer became a river keeper on the Wiltshire Avon. Frank realised how important these nymphs were to both fish and anglers. To help the fish he put boards in the river, providing a safe haven for flies to lay their eggs. This increased the number of nymphs, and so increased the food supply for the fish. To help out the anglers, Sawyer devised an extremely simple way to mimic the nymphs upon which the fish feed. He surmised that a mere suggestion of the shape and form of the nymphs, would be sufficient to encourage fish to take the fly confidently. Frank Sawyer devised an imitation made from the tail feathers of a cock pheasant, attached to a hook using thin copper wire; he called the fly “The Pheasant tail Nymph.” It was a phenomenal success and still bears the name of its inventor; it is universally known as the “Sawyer Pheasant Tail Nymph.” This is the version that Steve has tied. Once again, we have a deceptively simple idea that is actually a very clever response to an angling challenge. The choice of material for the artificial fly simulates perfectly the natural colours of the live nymph, nature reflecting herself in a different guise. The body is very slim allowing the fly to sink quickly aided by the weight of the copper wire. The short tuft of fibres at the rear of the fly suggests the tails of the nymph. Check your pie dish for details.

Down the years, this fly has become modified by the addition of sparkly bits here and coloured tufts there. Some modern patterns add bits of fibre to represent legs. Frank Sawyer observed that the nymphs tucked their legs in when swimming and so omitted them from his representation.  Our experience suggests that crafty, wily trout are not seduced by gaudy flashy adornments, they leave flies bearing those appendages to be grabbed by less educated, often smaller, fish. The anglers amongst you may like to know that we have also caught some whopping chub on this fly.

It can sometimes be a problem to discern when a fish has taken one of these tiny flies. The best way to solve that one would be to come on one of our river fishing courses in 2006. What could be better than to spend a day on the Wharfe at Bolton Abbey, learning about the gentle art of fly-fishing? We might even bring along some pie dishes. In fact, here’s the deal; we bring the dishes, you bring the pies.

Details and dates of the courses are available from either of us.

Frank Sawyer Pheasant Tail Nymph click to enlarge

Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.

Text by Roger Beck                        01439 788483.

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March 2006

Booby Nymph

Now, before we start, just let me say that there is great potential for upsetting people this month. This is not the most politically correct fly in the box. It is also classed as an abomination by some anglers. However, we are not daunted, this one had to grace the page sometime and it might as well be now.

I am reliably informed that some readers of our column start by reading the text before looking at the picture; others always study the fly first. Whatever your usual habit, on this occasion, do me a favour and have a long hard look at Steve’s creation before reading any further. Right, having done that, now look at its name. Are you with me? Do you understand my reference to political correctness?  If you do, you should probably be ashamed of yourself and if you don’t, enquiries are welcome in a plain envelope.

I suspect that it will come as no surprise to discover that this fly was invented and named by a man. Gordon Fraser first used it in the 1970’s and it appears to have initially seen action at Eyebrook Reservoir in Leicestershire as a very effective taker of rainbow trout. In the early spring, when the water is cold, the rainbows often stay very close to the bottom of the lake, where all the food is. They also dive for the depths in summer when the sun heats up the surface layers of water. When this happens, the cooler, deeper water will contain more dissolved oxygen, the trout will seek that out in order to maintain energy production. There now, you don’t only get fishing stuff here you get science too! So, when it’s cold and when it’s hot, fly fishers need to present their flies close to the bottom. Using a very heavy fly line will sink a fly, but as it is retrieved will constantly snag on bits of weed and rocks. Gordon Fraser’s brilliant solution is to lift the fly above the debris by making it buoyant. It is attached to the fly line with a short length of nylon, the fly rises up from the lake bed whilst the heavy fly line lies along the bottom. Mr. Fraser created floatation by tying two polystyrene balls to the head of the fly. To keep the foam in place he enclosed it in a piece of fine nylon mesh gleaned from ladies’ stockings. To prevent the soft spheres from masking the eye of the hook, they must be lifted and separated (I did warn you) by firm turns of thread over the nylon and between the polystyrene beads. This effectively positions the appendages on the body of the fly below the eye and above the middle. Having done so, they look for all the world like – well you decide. Whatever conclusion you might reach, the fly was named the booby nymph.

As the heavy, sunk line is inched back towards the angler, the booby nymph slowly rises and falls as the tension on the line changes. The tail, made from the ubiquitous marabou, gently undulates as it moves.  Trout find this irresistible and eat it with gusto. In fact, this method really must only be used if the trout is destined for the table as they are frequently very deeply hooked. Some fly fishing purists fuel the controversy by maintaining that the booby is no different from a worm, chucked out into the water with the aid of a lump of lead fixed to the line. I firmly believe that this fly would be a very effective salmon catcher. I fear that it might be a bit too vulgar for some of my salmon fishing brethren.

It might be worth mentioning that this method of inducing buoyancy was probably inspired by a creation of Messrs. Goddard and Clarke. This was a smaller fly, held just under the water surface by a small polystyrene bead and called the suspender nymph. Some readers might now be hurtling towards a mental association between ladies’ stockings and suspenders.  Stop it!

If you think I have forgotten to mention our fly fishing courses this month, you are wrong.  I just have. As usual, enquiries to either of us, preferably written on a piece of 15 denier nylon and in another plain envelope. 

Booby Nymph click to enlarge

Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.

Text by Roger Beck                        01439 788483.

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April 2006

Greenwell’s Glory

 On March 9th 2006, as I write, a conference is underway in Durham, recalling the life of Canon William Greenwell. Our fly this month is the Greenwell’s Glory and was named after him.

Canon Greenwell lived to the ripe old age of 98 and by the time he died in 1918 had (in order of importance) invented one of the most important river fishing flies ever, laid the foundations of modern archaeology and saved countless historical relics for the nation. By all accounts, the Canon was a cantankerous old stick. In addition to being a Churchman, he was a magistrate. In this capacity, at the age of eighty-five, he called for speeding motor cyclists to be shot. His outburst was even raised in the House of Commons, a lot more entertaining than the claptrap that they witter on about nowadays. At 97 he spent three weeks fishing in Sutherland, returning with four hundred perch, nine eels and six trout.  Even at school, he was a bit of a handful; he was thrown out of Durham School for touting some dodgy French literature round his schoolmates. Despite this, he was eventually ordained and spent his life as a clergyman, claming that he never went to church unless he was paid.

Amidst all his clerical commitments, William loved to go fishing.  As a teenager, he visited the little river Browney, a tributary of the Wear. In his thirties, he was visiting the mighty river Tweed, as a member of the Durham Rangers fishing club. On one occasion, in May 1854, whilst fishing the river at Sprouston, our man had a bad day; in fact he caught nowt! He was a bit peeved but he did have the foresight to collect from the water, some flies upon which the fish were feeding. Greenwell decided to call round at Jimmy Wright’s house with the flies because he was a top-notch fly tier. Jimmy had a good look at the flies, started fiddling about with bits of thread, fluff and feathers and quickly produced an imitation. The story goes that the Canon popped round to Jimmy’s place again the following evening with 32 lbs. of trout in his creel and fish tails poking out of his pockets, all caught on the new fly. Our ecclesiastical entomologist purchased another dozen flies and went on his way, rejoicing. Now, I’m not sure exactly what happened the next day. It seems that some of the local lads found out that our piscatorial parson was having another bumper day on the river. Anyway, by the time he reached Jimmy’s that evening, there was a team of about fourteen people gathered, all a bit worse for wear, having had a few bevvies whilst celebrating the success of Jimmy’s fly.  Leading this motley crew was the local schoolteacher, Mr. Brown, allegedly a bit squiffy on punch – typical of the genre. At some stage, obviously still conscious for a change, Brown decreed that the new fly should be called the Greenwell’s Glory. Now, Steve says that this is typical and unfair. The fly tyer does all the work and the angler, who just flaps about in the river, wins the credit. I blame the schoolteacher. I have some sympathy; though whether Jimmy’s Joy or Wright’s Revenge would have endured since 1854, I know not.

The fact remains that Greenwell’s Glory is still, today, the first choice of many anglers when the up-wing species are hatching.  The large dark olive is the first of these to appear and we expect them on Yorkshire’s rivers at the first sign of spring, which reminds me. I know someone who eagerly anticipates the early olive hatches and that is our friend Mark Whitehead. Mark is the river keeper at Bolton Abbey, all round fine fellow and held in high esteem by all that meet him, with the possible exception of poachers! Mark has been a bit out of sorts recently, so this is to wish him a speedy return to health and to the river that he loves and cherishes. Both of us are looking forward to seeing Mark dispensing wisdom (and hopefully a few flies) at our first course of the season on May 6. This month’s column is for you, Mark. Get well soon.

Greenwells Glory click to enlarge

Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.

Text by Roger Beck                        01439 788483.

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May 2006

Black Buzzer


Frank had brought his two sons-in-law up to Yorkshire to try their hand at fly-fishing. They wanted to go somewhere special, so I arranged a day on Driffield Beck.

Trevor, the river keeper, was waiting for us. He looked a bit glum, which is quite out of character. “What’s up?” I enquired. Trevor pulled a face and then confided; “There’s a couple of escapee rainbows in the run below the island; big fellows too.” Actually, Trevor didn’t use the word “fellows”; He used instead an old Yorkshire term that kind of means the same thing – honest!

“We need ‘em catching. Them rainbows’ll scoff a lot of little ‘uns, given ‘arf a chance” Trevor continued. “Don’t worry”, I replied “we’ll get ‘em out.” “Hmmmm” said Trevor, climbing into his Land Rover “I’ll be back at tea time to weigh em. Keep an eye out for low flying pigs while yer at it”

By lunchtime, Frank and the boys had each caught a couple of lovely chalk stream brownies.  I left my three apprentice anglers on a wooden seat by the river, enthusing madly and exaggerating wildly. Quietly, I made my way round a bend in the river, towards the island. Sure enough, there lay a rainbow of about four pounds. Satisfied, I retreated back to my sandwiches. I said nothing until lunch was over.  “Trevor’s rainbow is just round that bend,” I announced. I went on to explain that a chalk stream is no place for a big rainbow trout and that I needed a volunteer to catch him.”  The decision didn’t take long, the two boys were adamant that Frank should do the honours. “Right,” he said, and pulled his hat down a bit. “Let the dog see the rabbit”.

We slowly crept to within about eight yards of where I could still see a rainbow trout. Not the same one though. This was another fish that dwarfed the original target. We stayed still for a minute or more, transfixed at the sight of this huge fish grazing greedily on tiny nymphs. I snipped the Greenwell’s Glory from the leader. I needed a very small, slim nymph imitation that would sink quickly in the fast moving water. I tied on a black buzzer.  “Right, Frank” I whispered, “I want you to put this fly diagonally across the river, a yard in front of his nose. You will get one shot.” Frank glanced at me from under his hat as he stripped line carefully off the reel. “No pressure then” he observed. “No, indeed”, I replied. I had every faith in him; he’d proved himself a willing and able pupil. He popped that fly right on target. The rainbow did not even have to move; he just inhaled the nymph as it passed him. Without my saying a single word, Frank raised the rod and set the hook. “Gotcha!” he announced. At this point, the fish leaped three feet out of the water and set off upstream at about forty knots, creating a bow-wave like a submarine. Frank immediately proved his linguistic skills. Despite being a Londoner, he chose Trevor’s Yorkshire word to describe the fish as the whirling reel handles rapped his knuckles.

The reel screamed as the fish took more line whilst the rod bent willingly to its task; Frank just perspired. Even though he had never held a rod before, Frank took advice and played that fish like a pro. It spent a lot of time in the air and a bit longer in a weed bed. Eventually, it began to tire and I slipped into the water ready to land it. He steered the fish towards my inadequate bamboo framed stream net. I managed to encase just its head and lifted. The crack of breaking bamboo is quite loud and I resorted to my native tongue in order to express my opinion. There was no alternative, having flung my useless net away, I stooped, gathered the fish in my arms, spilled several gallons of Driffield Beck down my waders and scrambled up the bank. Frank was an instant hero. He spent a little time admiring his catch before announcing that he was exhausted and retiring to the shade of a tree to regain his strength. By the time Trevor arrived, Frank had also accounted for the other rainbow. The “big fellow” stopped the scales at a little over eleven pounds; the other one went four and a half. We never did see a pig all day.

Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.

Words by Roger Beck                        01439 788483.

Black Buzzer click to enlarge

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June 2006


The telephone warbled one cold, February afternoon. “What time do the mayfly hatch in Yorkshire, Roger?” “Half past two” I replied. It was one of my clients wanting to finalise arrangements for a fishing expedition the following June. “OK, so we don’t need to make an early start” No, indeed we didn’t, I do not do early starts. Next time you bump into Steve Cheetham, ask him about early starts and me. I am a lovely person, but not at early start o’clock. “So I’ll drive up that morning and aim to be on the river around noon.” That all sounded good to me. “I’ll meet you in the hotel car park then, look forward to seeing you again.”

Herman is a great guy, but he’s a stickler for detail. Had I expressed any doubt about mayfly hatch time, we could have been debating for a week. The truth is, of course, that I have no idea what time the mayfly will hatch. In fact, these days I am never sure whether they will hatch. It’s a great shame; the mayfly is the largest and most spectacular of our upwing fly species, having a wing span of up to two inches. They rely upon clean water with uncontaminated silt in which their nymphs can live and grow for a year or more. Sadly, such habitats are becoming scarcer. There are a number of Yorkshire rivers where the mayfly population has seriously declined over the last few years. My local river, the Rye, is a prime example. I can recall warm afternoons when, in places, the surface of the river resembled a posh marina; the sail-like wings of the myriad of mayflies gave the impression of Lilliputian yachts, jostling for position.  In recent years, there has been no such exhibition. Instead, on very favourable days, there have appeared only modest flotillas of the mayfly. It seems that the river no longer sustains and nourishes the nymphs. Many of us suspect that it poisons them, along with the freshwater shrimps, once numerous, now almost completely absent.

All the news is not bad. The Derwent is another Yorkshire river that I am privileged to fish. Here, mayfly numbers remain fairly healthy.

Trout will often feed greedily upon mayfly, once recovered from the shock of seeing the entomological equivalent of a barge floating past their front door. Indeed, I have witnessed very modest little fellows guzzling down huge mayflies that scarcely fit in their mouth. It reminds me of a kind of piscatorial pie-eating contest. The two weeks or so when mayflies are most numerous, in Yorkshire, normally occurs in June. Some have dubbed this “duffers fortnight” implying that the fish are easy to catch during this fast food feast. Even the least adept, it is said, catch trout at mayfly time. I suspect that this is a southerners’ tale, things are not that easy up here. On the Derwent, for example, the silt in which the nymphs live is confined to the edges of the river, where the current is sluggish. Consequently, the flies tend to hatch from the surface very close to the bank, right beneath the bushes. That’s where the fish lie in wait. Casting an artificial to these fish lurking in the shadows is definitely not for duffers. I have seen grown men cry as the alders, not the trout, snatch their precious flies. I am willing to believe that things are different on some of the corporate beats of southern chalk streams. This is fishing specifically designed for duffers. The river is, allegedly, stuffed with fish in order to ensure that anyone can catch one, even after a lengthy champagne lunch. Over stocking creates competition for food. As a consequence, I am reliably informed, one can rise fish to a badly presented Yorkshire pudding.

Herman visited me early in the second week in June. The day showed very little promise at first; a cooling northerly breeze whispered down a hazy Derwent valley. Eventually, the sun gained the upper hand and the air temperature rose by a couple of degrees. I scanned the river. There it was the first mayfly of the day, carried on that breeze. Gently, I tapped Herman’s left wrist. He glanced at his Rolex. “Two thirty two” he exclaimed. “They’re late”

Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.

Words by Roger Beck                        01439 788483.

Mayfly click to enlarge

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July 2006

Grey Duster

If you are at all squeamish, may I suggest that you give the column a miss this month? Traditional fly patterns have been around for a long time. Any fly that first kissed the water a century ago must have been made from naturally occurring materials; feathers and fur to be exact. Now, if you are going to use feathers and fur, you need birds and animals, dead ones. It is no coincidence that the plumage and pelts of game are common ingredients of our artificial flies, after all these are easily available and have been for many years. I also believe that this helps to explain why fly-fishing was once the exclusive preserve of posh people. Think about it, only “hooray Henries” had legitimate access to game until fairly recently. Most people could not afford to buy pheasants and partridges and only the upper classes had the opportunity or money to shoot them. A peasant with a pheasant was a poacher. The Sheriff of Nottingham took a dim view of Robin Hood slaying the odd deer so that he could make the wings for his deer hair sedge patterns. That’s why the former might have been a fly fisher and why the latter certainly was not. Things have changed, game is easily and cheaply available and the vast majority of modern fly fishers are not posh. However, I digress, back to dead stuff.

This month’s pattern requires the demise of a bird and an animal. The hackle, tail and wing come from a dead bird and the body of the fly from a dead animal. The animal was a rabbit. I tie very few flies, but being a Yorkshireman, I try very hard to avoid having to buy any natural materials. On summer evenings, I occasionally stroll through the meadows, rifle over my shoulder, and shoot a few rabbits. There are always grateful recipients of a couple of young tender bunnies for the pot and the gardeners and farmers are delighted to see me with a few dead ones. The grey under fur is ideal for making a number of flies, including the Grey Duster. I used to nail rabbit skins to planks of wood, rub them with boracic powder and leave them to dry. This, however, is time-consuming and I needed a better plan. After all, I only used the fur, why keep the whole pelt? I began to think about the best way to remove the fur. I tried a pair of old sheep clippers, but rabbit fur proved to be too fine for them. I had similar problems with hand operated hair clippers, bought from a junk shop. Incidentally, there was also a minor domestic rift involving rabbit fur, fleas and the kitchen floor; less said about that the better. Eventually, it dawned on me that the answer was not to clip rabbits, but to shave them. I still have several of my dad’s old cut-throat razors, which proved to be ideal. After some experimentation, I discovered that the best formula is to give the dead rabbit a quick spray with flea powder, dunk it in a bucket of water and then set to work with the razor. The wet fur is shaken into a pie dish. The dish goes into a warm oven (gas mark three, top shelf) for twenty minutes and “Bob’s your Uncle” – clean dry rabbit fur. It is very therapeutic to undertake this task whilst seated on the bench in the front garden, glass of beer close by.

In retrospect, I would like to offer an apology to a young couple from Leeds. They were lost amongst the by-roads of Ryedale and found themselves outside our gate. They really only wanted to ask directions. I suppose, upon reflection, that the sight of a razor wielding man, a half bald rabbit wedged between his knees, dousing another one with an aerosol, must have looked a trifle strange. I now admit that I should not have told them that I was a trainee barber and that the spray was setting lotion. I just hope that they found their way home and that they didn’t have to spend too long in therapy.

Grey Duster click to enlarge

Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.

Narrative by Roger Beck                        01439 788483.

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August 2006

The Sedge (Caddis)

There is a group of flies known sometimes as sedge flies; they also go by the name of caddis flies. Perhaps the most sensible thing to do is to use the scientific, nomenclature and refer to them as members of the Trichoptera order. The name Trichoptera, derived from the Greek words "trichos" meaning hair and "ptera" meaning wings, refers to the long, silky hairs that cover most of the body and wings. It would be a shame to use crusty old terminology like this; some of the common names are just so much more evocative. Who could resist such descriptions as Caperer, Cinnamon Sedge, Longhorn Sedge, Grannom, Grey Flag and my favourite, the Welshman’s Button?   So, what do they really look like? Well, the adult has two pairs of wings, both of which can be seen whilst the fly is air-borne. However when it settles, the back pair is tucked under the front pair and all four are held in a tent shape above the back. Steve’s fly shows this perfectly, he has used a folded feather to create that characteristic profile. The larger members of this group can be up to 3cm. long with a wing span of up to 5cm. On the other hand, there are some tiny sedges, less than 5mm. in length. Many members of the family tend to be nocturnal, often showing up as dusk falls. That latter fact ought to give anglers a few clues.

As I write, I am informed daily that we are in the midst of a heat wave. I find this most confusing; when I was a lad we called it summer. Anyway, in these bright, hot conditions trout can be very reclusive during the hours of daylight. In the rivers, they tend to slink away under the shade of trees either into dark, deep pools or into fast, well-oxygenated water. In still waters, they head for the bottom.

As the sun sinks in the west and dusk descends, the fish will begin to venture out to seek food. The food that they often encounter consists of sedge flies. The thinking angler will often know when trout turn their attention to these creatures. Some of them hatch from the pupae in open water; the larger species taking some time to dry their wings in preparation for flight. Consequently, they are forced to struggle and twitch in an attempt to take off. The lateral line of a fish is very sensitive to vibrations and they home-in on this flailing food with great gusto. Some adult sedges lay their eggs by flying low over the water surface and touching down briefly, but frequently as they deposit their eggs. It looks, for all the world, like a game of insect hop-scotch. If the fish are to succeed in grabbing one of these cavorting caddis flies, they must do so at the instant of touch down. This results in very enthusiastic, slashing lunges, which create noisy splashes. I have seen trout hurl themselves well out of the water to grab the flies between landings. So, the wily summer angler stays out of the mid day sun and heads for the waterside as the sun sets. She then listens for the telltale sounds of trout splashing eagerly at the source of nocturnal nourishment. She will have already tied a sedge imitation to the end of her leader, to try and do so in the semi-gloom is courting disaster. Having cast the fly upon the water, it is often effective to provoke the fish by dragging it across the surface, with a bit of practice, it can be made to bounce and twitch like the natural. The sport can be very exciting.

There is one thing that I have never fully understood; without exception, the fish cease their feeding frenzy about an hour before the pubs shut.

The Sedge or Caddis click to enlarge


Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.

Narrative by Roger Beck                        01439 788483.

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September 2006

Ducks Dun

Throughout the fishing season, many anglers hope that trout will accommodate their desire to fish with a floating fly, a so-called "dry fly". This requires the fish to actively feed at the surface, usually upon flies that hatch from below. It is, undoubtedly, a very exciting way to pursue our sport; the heart can miss a beat as the fly disappears amidst a swirl, a splash or simply a sip.

The fact of the matter is though, that fish obtain something like 75% of their food from underneath the surface. Added to that, food availability in our waterways is changing. National research over the last few years has revealed a serious decline in some species of aquatic insects. Notably, amongst the flies that normally bring fish up to the surface to feed.  The reasons for this are complex, but I am sorry to say that the human species is very strongly implicated in all the possible explanations. So, our desire to fish with the dry fly can be frequently thwarted. I have been by the waterside upon many occasions this year when conditions for hatching insects have appeared to be perfect, and yet it just has not happened. The sensible approach to this scenario is, of course, to fish with a sinking fly that simulates the fish's sub-surface dish of the day. Successful anglers are the ones who adapt their tactics to the prevailing feeding patterns of their quarry; it's obvious really, it just simply makes sense. There is however, a bit of a problem. Some angling clubs ban the use of sinking flies for all or part of the season. They insist that all fishing is by dry fly only, whatever the fish are doing. I can see, historically, why these rules were initiated, but they remain in place when the feeding patterns upon which they were based have demonstrably changed. Some enlightened clubs and fisheries have adapted their regulations; others express a preference for dry fly fishing, but allow the thinking angler a little leeway. There remain, however, places where the "dry fly" only rule still applies. Just as there are diverse explanations for the observed changes in the feeding behaviour of fish, I suspect that the same applies to the lack of change to anglers' responses. If the status quo is retained after careful consideration of the facts, so be it. I respect any decision that arises from due deliberation. I just wonder whether some anglers are prepared to engage in that risky business of embracing change. If I were to press my argument to its logical conclusion, I would suggest that some fished with bits of wool instead of flies, which would be an alternative way to avoid catching fish.

Right, that's off my chest, now to the fly for this month. On occasions when fish do feed at the surface, an artificial fly is required to imitate a newly hatched member of that family of up-winged flies that we have mentioned before. Many of these species hatch at the surface as adolescents and briefly linger there before fluttering away to prepare for adulthood. As with the adolescents of other species, it is the lingering that beckons their downfall. The fish eagerly devour the hatching and recumbent flies as they are carried along with the flow or the breeze. One of the best is the Duck's Dun.  A pattern cleverly developed by my friend, Mr. Charles Jardine. The Duck bit arises from the fact that the wings of the fly consist of a couple of feathers taken from around the preen gland of a duck. These plumes are known as "cul de canard", the polite translation being duck's bum feathers. Dun is the name given to a newly emerged, not-yet-mature upwing fly. So, we give you the Duck's Dun.

Ducks Dun click to enlarge

Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.

Narrative by Roger Beck                    01439 788483.

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October 2006

The Crayfish

When is a fly not a fly? This is a question that is addressed by philosophers on a regular basis. It encapsulates the very essence of fly-fishing; it is fundamental to the sport and provokes a great deal of heated debate. Erstwhile friends have been brought to the brink of fisticuffs in cogitating this scaly problem.

Now, before you start checking academic tomes and fiddling about with Google, let me elaborate. The philosophers that I allude to have not committed their thoughts to the literature yet. They may do so, however, as soon as the pub shuts. If you feel that you have something to offer in pondering this vexing world problem, then get yourself round to the Fairfax, The White Swan or the Tennant Arms on any Thursday or Sunday night. There, the philosophers will be gathered and you will be made most welcome. Be prepared, though, you may well have to fight your corner vociferously, emotions can run high. The word fly, you see, is very misleading. It suggests a wee beasty that takes to the air with the greatest of ease and by definition is fairly lightweight. Now, forgive me for saying so, but some of the things that salmon fishers chuck in the river are more like dead budgies, have the aerodynamics of a shed and a lump of copper shoved up their nethers. They are still called flies despite this. Witness too some of the creations that are launched from the banks of our reservoirs in the direction of rainbow trout. By way of an experiment, try suggesting to the piscatorial philosophical society that any of these should really be called spinners. Then put your tin hat on and take cover.

So, in view of all that, I have no problem with assuring you that this month's offering is indeed a fly. I'll go a step further by assigning to Steve's creation the accolade of being imitative. The Holy Grail of fly-fishing, or so I'm told, is to use only flies that resemble natural food. So in pursuit of that mythical prize, I'm planning to use the crayfish fly on the river during the closing weeks of this season. Why? Simply because that is what many of our brown trout are eating. Not any old crayfish though, just the Signal Crayfish. This species is now rapidly taking over some of our Yorkshire rivers; I have recently encountered them most frequently in the Wharfe, where they are prolific. These mini lobsters originate from America, and like other invaders from that country are causing mayhem to the indigenous population. They were introduced here in the 1970's and cultivated for food. Inevitably they escaped from their ponds and have spread rapidly. Where they are established, they have completely wiped out the native white-clawed crayfish whose population was already under threat through habitat alteration and pollution. To make matters worse, the diet of signal crayfish includes the insects upon which fish feed, together with small fish and fish eggs. I sometimes wonder if the signal crayfish has contributed to the loss of fly life that I mentioned last month.

Our native brown trout are gastronomic opportunists and will eat whatever is going, including crayfish. I was recently staggered to find eight crayfish up to three inches long in the stomach of a brownie from the upper reaches of the Wharfe. This was in addition to the partially digested ones in the rest of its innards. There is a great deal of protein in a crayfish, especially when compared to a tiny nymph. Over recent years, some huge trout have turned up in Yorkshire rivers, fattened, I suspect, on crayfish.

So, for the philosophers, the answer is "when it's a crustacean."

Armed with this month's fly, I shall try to capture my own leviathan.

Crayfish click to enlargeCray Fish Remains from Brown Trout click to enlargeCray Fish remains from Kilnsey click to enlarge

Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.

Narrative by Roger Beck                    01439 788483.

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November 2006

Dawson's Olive

I try to not to stray outside Yorkshire too often. Most of our readers will reside in that fair county, so no explanation is really necessary. If I do leave my native soil, I tend to take a few precautions, like informing my next of kin. Almost without exception, any travelling that I do undertake has a very definite northerly direction to it. For example, I take an annual trip to the Outer Hebrides and you cannot get a lot more north than that. Admittedly, there's a fair bit of west in there as well, but it's worth it because the Western Islanders closely resemble Yorkshire folk anyway, they are welcoming, full of mirth and generous to a fault. Very occasionally, I have been known to go south but usually only as far as my mate Rob's shop in Nottinghamshire. After that I find that the air turns all funny and my eyes start to water. A couple of years ago, as a favour to a friend, I went all the way to London. It's a mad house and I couldn't understand a word that they say. I know a few people who choose to go there regularly. Some even pretend that they enjoy it and maintain that it can be interesting. I certainly had an interesting time, they decided to cancel my train home and it looked for a while as though I might have to stay there all night. When I found out what that would cost, my eyes started to water again and I set off walking. As luck would have it, I managed to catch another train and finally arrived home on the same day that I set off. I haven't been back though.

I should really be used to not understanding people; I run fly-fishing courses near Guisborough, at that beautiful reservoir, Lockwood Beck. Gordon, the manager is a Geordie, so I am fast becoming bilingual in the Queen's Yorkshire and whatever it is that he speaks.  It's definitely not English because there are no words in that language, which end in triple "y". Incidentally, Gordon has installed a coffee machine in his new, lavish fishing lodge. It dispenses drinks via a fifty pence piece. The reason for this, he explains to anyone willing to listen, is that he can use a spanner to remove them from my hand. Despite this foul slander, I love going to Lockwood, the fishing is wonderful and the regulars are great company. We are working together on a Yorkshire/Geordie phrase book.

A very popular fly at this lake is the Dawson's Olive. The late Brian Dawson, fishery manager at County Durham's Whitton Castle Lake, originally tied it. The fly has a strong connection with the north-east and I know a lot of anglers from that region who consider it to be simply essential. I even know of one fly-fisher who uses this pattern exclusively, or a slight modification called the Dawson's Nomad. Tied with a lot of marabou (yes, it's nearly Christmas!) this is a lure, designed to provoke the aggressive instincts of rainbow trout. Some have suggested that it might represent the nymph of a damsel fly on steroids. Whatever it looks like, Dawson's Olive is a fine legacy for Brian; it catches fish all year round both high up in the water and down in the depths.

I've already mentioned fly-fishing courses in passing. By popular demand, Steve and I have already finalised the arrangements for our 2007 tuition days. In addition to Lockwood, there will be learning opportunities at Bolton Abbey and Malham  Tarn. All the details are on our web sites and everyone will be most welcome, even if you live south of the Trent.

Dawsons olive click to enlarge

Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.

Narrative by Roger Beck                    01439 788483.

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December 2006

Pot Belly Pig Salmon Fly

In preparing these articles, we have risked life and limb in order to obtain the correct material for our flies. We risked the wrath of rampant rams in bringing you Tup’s Indispensable. Not content with that, we went on to scour Africa for a few feathers from the marabou stork’s bum when we introduced the Christmas Tree and the Cat’s Whiskers. This time we’re off to China to collect some bristles from a boar’s back. Now you might be forgiven for thinking that this is all becoming a bit exotic and strays somewhat from our Yorkshire roots. Well, you’d be right. The reason for this is that this month’s offering is a salmon fly, The Pot Belly Pig. Now, salmon fishers seem to have a rule that you have to make the flies as complicated as possible. The basic idea was to design a fly that creates a bit of turbulence in the water. Nothing wrong with that, but I have to suggest that tying in, at the back end, bristles from a Chinese pig seems like a rather complicated way of achieving the objective. I would not pretend to be an expert on pigs but I would be interested to compare the bristles from our oriental porker with those from British Saddleback or a Gloucestershire Old Spot. Just what is it about the Chinese boar bristles?  I am sure that someone out there has the answer.  Isn’t it really all about creating a bit of mystique? Perhaps I am becoming a bit cynical in my old age. One of my clients recently went fishing for salmon in Russia. (The salmon farms have killed off most of ours, so you have to travel a bit for reliable salmon fishing these days).  At the advice of a salmon fly seller, he took with him several suitcases full of the things, dressed in all manner of different colours, shapes and sizes. Upon arrival at the fishing camp, he proudly opened one of his fly boxes and asked the guide (that’s an American word for gillie by the way) to help him choose a fly. Our man apparently displayed little inclination to look at the proffered colourful collection. “Just pick one out” he said, “it really doesn’t make any difference.”  Needless to say, the angler was a bit miffed, having arranged a second mortgage to buy the things. For the week of his visit, he purposely kept swapping flies and assured me upon his return that the thirty- odd salmon that he caught appeared to be prepared to grab anything that swam past their noses. I rest my case.

There are, however, a couple of saving graces as far as the Pot Bellied Pig is concerned. For a start, it does look very pretty. More importantly though, I am reliably informed that Chinese pigs cook very well and produce excellent crackling. So, last Christmas we were persuading you to eat plenty of turkey in order to save us from attacks by marabou storks. This year, if you are a salmon fisher, it seems like a good idea to pop down to the butchers and order a bit of Chinese pork for the festive season. I am very confident that most Yorkshire butchers will have a few joints tucked between the turkeys. Just don't tell him that we put you up to it! Ask him to leave the skin on, you can lop off some bristles before you cook it and knock up a few flies on Boxing Day. 

Don’t eat too much of that crackling though, you might finish up a bit pot bellied yourself.

Done the Christmas shopping yet? Don't fret, help is at hand. Your nearest and dearest would definitely appreciate the opportunity to join us on one of our fly fishing courses next season. So the best plan is to get that organised as a present.  You can find out details from either of us.

The compliments of the season to all our readers and “tight lines for 2007” to all you anglers out there.

Pot Bellied Pig

Pot Bellied Pig dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.

Words by Roger Beck    01439 788483.

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