Fishing with Style



Yorkshire Post - Country Week

2007 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 newspaper once a month.

Go back to the 2005 articles      Go Back to the 2006 articles   Go to the 2008 articles  Go to the 2009 articles 

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Here are the monthly articles, published in 2007, which we trust you will enjoy reading:

IOTBB Humpy       Soldier Palmer     The Reverend Mother     The Grey Friar     The Clan Chief

The Daddy Long Legs        Parachute Adams        Stewarts Spider    Balloon Caddis        The F Fly

     Alexandra           Mrs Simpson

January 2007

IOTBB Humpy (It Ought To Be Banned - it is so good)

Aka IOTBO (It ought to be outlawed)

It’s now 2007, Christmas is over, the New Years festivities are a hazy memory and as we anglers are now preparing for the forthcoming challenges I thought it was time that I should put finger to keyboard. Our usual narrator is full to bursting not only with Christmas pudding but with good ideas for the flies for our column. In a mad moment I said “Sit back Roger, rest your finger and let me take charge for this once”. Mad? I must be. It is a lot easier to tie the flies.

I am now into my fifth year as a qualified fly fishing and fly tying instructor. Over the past years it has been my privilege and honour not only to work with the finest instructors in the country but also to teach some of the nicest people you could ever wish to meet. What is it about people who want to learn about standing up to their waist in cold water, stand in the pouring rain and sometimes snow, thrashing a rod backwards and forwards? Who wants to learn about insects that fly so fast over the water that identifying them is an art in itself. Who wants to learn about tying fiddly knots with cold fingers in line that they can hardly see? Lots of people do by all accounts. I arranged to teach a lady at Bolton Abbey in March last year, it was blowing a gale, raining, snowing and hailing. “OK Louise shall we come back another day?” “No! Lets get on” she said cheerfully. “I will give you a full refund” I pleaded shivering in my waders. “Come on” she said “I have been looking forward to this all winter” What is it about lady anglers? My wife is just the same, I cannot drag her off the riverbank no matter what the weather is doing.

A couple of years ago I was asked to take over the Malham Tarn Field Studies Centre fly fishing course. This is a one week residential course and over the seven days, working with men and women of all ages, 16 hours a day, eating, talking and fishing you get to know them very well. My mind is full of wonderful memories of the success of the first fish, the laughter and the occasional accidental falling in particularly by me. Only one traumatic event will stay with me for the rest of my days. Cast your mind back to the film The Lord of the Rings the first one, Frodo is being dragged across the marsh and faces are looking up at him from beneath the waves. I had a similar experience when one of my students passed out, straight into water, when I got to him all I could see was his face looking back at me from under the shallow water. Ah! Memories. Fortunately, it was easy to get him out and revive him, a pure unavoidable accident but we instructors are trained in first aid but that was a real first for me.

Anyway I digress, the January fly of the month. The IOTBB (It Ought To Be Banned as it is so good) Humpy. Last year I had the pleasure of fishing as a guest of Rogers on the river Derwent near Scarborough. There I met David Southall who introduced me to a rather small fly tied on a size 26 hook. YES! Size 26. One hook, one CDC feather and Spiderweb thread.

As Roger always says, most anglers will fish with flies on hooks two sizes too big - go smaller. This one is a superb fly for those times when the trout or grayling are sipping those unidentifiable minute flies from the surface

Anyway must go now and get back to the tying bench and leave the keyboard to Roger.

Happy New Year to you all no doubt you will see us on the riverbank.


 Narrative and Fly by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.

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February 2007

Soldier Palmer

I love to fish for truly wild trout in the wilderness of Sutherland or the Western Isles. A couple of summers ago, my old friend Jack Paterson and myself set off to fish a series of lochs in North Sutherland. We drove as far as forestry tracks allowed and then walked from there. Experience told us that chest waders are useful for these journeys into the unknown, so we tramped through bog and heather, chest waders rolled down to the waist in order to keep cool.

Our first port of call was a "wee lochan", about half a mile long. It is a beautiful, unnamed,  reed fringed patch of water in the middle of nowhere. It has a magical feel about it, like a pale blue opal nestling amidst the purple of the heather, the kind of place where one might meet an ethereal being. And so it came to pass as I rested amidst the natural splendour of the flow country, that I met Hybomitra. She waited for me patiently; huge green eyes ever watchful for my arrival. I knew that she was a femme fatale from the moment that I saw her. Those beguiling green eyes held me transfixed. My host confirmed my first impressions by assuring me that, granted the opportunity, she would “give you a night to remember”. I trembled at the very thought of a whole night in the company of Hybomitra, or to use her full name, Hybomitra montana, one of the nastiest clegs (horse flies) you would ever wish to meet. The female of the species is green-eyed and has a potent bite. There was a veritable hoard of Hybomitra along the shore of that little loch. I have a particular aversion to clegs; their bite makes me swell up quite alarmingly, itch like crazy and occasionally, pass out. I was assured that this particular green-eyed goddess is infamous. She could keep a man awake all night long. I really could manage without that experience. At my age, I need my sleep!

One of the things that made this water special was its incredible clarity. I knew that I had to crawl the last 15 yards or so in order to keep below the skyline. There was a weed bed in the down-wind corner alongside which I needed to present my flies.  I pulled the waders to “full up” and slithered my way through the heather.

Midges sleep amongst heather, waiting for lunatics to disturb them. They are a nuisance, but a bath in Jungle Formula and a good midge hood make them bearable – just. When they are disturbed though, they call up their mates the Hybomitra, just out of spite. That would even put the wind up Jean-Luc Picard!  Out they came and made every attempt to enhance their reputation by diving inside my waders.  Manufacturers, hear my prayer. That drawstring on the front does not present any barrier to a determined Hybomitra on a mission.

Picture this then: - One angler rolling about on his back in the heather, head enveloped in fine mesh, rod held skyward in his left hand. Meanwhile, right hand unties the drawstring and grovels inside the PVC parcel in an attempt to intercept a green-eyed she-devil before she creates unprecedented swellings about his lower person. This is interspersed with demented flapping up and down of the front of the waders as the left hand (still grasping the rod) tries to prevent another invasion. This creates such a commotion that I have to scuttle back to the track, inspect the contents of my waders for damage, before beginning another approach to the waterside.

Eventually, I peered over the heather stalks at the weed bed. Gradually, working down the wind I rose a fish to the Soldier Palmer on the bob only to pull it straight off his nose end. A few casts later, however, a superb wild brownie of about 1¼ pounds ate the same fly with abandon.  I slipped it back, ever watchful for Hybomitra.

The good news is that there are no Hybomitra by the river Wharfe in spring. Join one of our courses for a cleg free experience. Details from either of us.

Soldier Palmer

Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.

Text by Roger Beck                        01439 788483.


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March 2007

The Reverend Mother

I think it best to get the confession bit over quickly, particularly considering the subject of our column this month. I need to have my soul well and truly cleansed before we embark upon this particular venture. So, here goes.

If you ask any of the folk that I work with regularly, especially Steve or Jeff, they will tell you the same lamentable story. I simply am not at my best in the early mornings. In fact, I can be a wee bit confused and just slightly tetchy. Now, that's not really a problem if you are fishing with me. By the time that we meet, I shall be a nice person. On the other hand, when we run a course, Steve has to insist that I arrive at Bolton Abbey by 08.45 and Jeff has to travel in the car with me from about 07.30. Both those tasks, I have to admit, must be a bit of a chore. Things might be even worse but for the thought of the stop for hot bacon sandwiches in Pateley Bridge. It beats me how on earth those lads in the shop can be so incredibly cheerful at eight o'clock on a Saturday morning. They are my heroes.

The point is that what some have the temerity to call this flaw in my character, can cause a bit of confusion. Such was the case when I was first introduced to The Reverend Mother.

Malcolm Plant and I were having a chinwag on the river bank fairly early one morning, well, early for me. He was newly returned from the Western Isles and bursting to tell me about the trip  "I brought back a Reverend Mother from South Uist," he suddenly announced. I was a bit taken aback, Malcolm is very liberal in outlook and loves collecting things but I thought this really was going a bit too far. "They are not all that easy to find, even in the Hebrides" he proclaimed, "so I thought it best to grab one whilst I had the opportunity." I think that my rapidly rising eyebrows were beginning to cause Malcolm some consternation because he quickly tried to pacify me.

" Well what would you have done? I found one lying on the bar in the Lochboisdale Hotel just asking to be picked up".  By now, The eyebrows were at their upper limit and their companions like saucers.   "Wee Willie, the gillie, said it was OK for me to take her. She'd been in the boat with him all day and was starting to look a bit battered from being dragged through the water. He said I could take her home if I wanted" At this stage, the mental morning mists began to melt away. "Are we talking fishing or kidnap?" I tentatively enquired. "We’re talking flies, you idiot!" and the confused images in my head began to retreat, slowly.  "We used them all the time in the Hebrides, they worked really well. Willie gave me his last one.  I’m thinking of framing her," Malcolm said. 

When I was finally introduced to the said Reverend Lady, neatly framed and mounted, one look was enough to confirm the potential of this fly as a fish-taker. Her pedigree was impeccable too, having been created by the Irish angler, Dan O’Donovan.  She had crossed the Irish Sea, cloaked in a long black hackle with the subtle hint of silver shining through it.

It transpired that Irish Dan had tied the very fly in Malcolm's frame. He was, apparently visiting South Uist building his reputation both as an angler and a singer and had given wee Willie Gallacher some of his flies. Upon learning of Malcolm's infatuation with his creation, he had insisted upon tying for him a new, blemish free example of his fly. Which is what one might expect of a Reverend Mother.

The Reverend Mother


Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.

Text by Roger Beck                        01439 788483

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April 2007

The Grey Friar

Malcolm had returned from South Uist, having picked up The Reverend Mother in a bar. He is an avid collector of stuff and this was a unique acquisition.  As soon as he was back home, he invited me to come and have a look at her. At first glance, she had quite an ample profile, well filled out, as they say. The soft feathers veiling the head and shoulders also suggested that she would be a lovely little mover. It is never easy to be sure about these things until they are put to the test. So, in order to gain a real impression of her character, we threw her in the river. Once wet and bedraggled she seemed to slim down; that initial impression of brashness was gone. When left to sink under her own weight, she had a habit of undulating through the depths, her black collar acting as a kind of sub-aqua parachute. The silver adornment around the shoulders became much more obvious as she we drew her back to the bank, causing her to splash about on the surface.  That rather flashy part of her character had remained obscured until the water parted the embellishment of feathers and revealed what was beneath. I came to the conclusion that the Reverend Mother was the perfect candidate to use on the point of a team of flies.

Perhaps we'd better have a quick technical interlude. A team of flies means that two or three flies are spaced out along a length of nylon, which is, in turn, tied to the end of a fly line. The one on the very end is called the point fly. The whole lot is chucked into the water and retrieved back towards the angler.

This fly was crying out for a companion, of chunkier proportions, that I could tie on to the nylon about six feet away. If I could do that, this cohort could bumble about on the surface, whilst the Reverend Mother did her thing a bit deeper down. I decided that she needed a special companion, as befitted her status. One rainy afternoon, I settled to the vice and came up with our fly for this month. (Steve has tied a proper one for this picture). Having invented it, I was tempted to name this plump fellow the Friar Tuck but thought better of it. I settled for "The Grey Friar" instead.

I considered introducing him to our English rainbows but that seemed sacrilegious. The antecedent of my new friends had first seen action amongst the wild inhabitants of the land of her birth. I needed wild Celtic browns to inspect this new religious order and give me an honest opinion of their potential longevity.

It was late July; I waded the West shore of Loch Loyal watching the setting sun paint Beinn Stumanadh a golden colour that defies description. My Ecclesiastical companions were attached to my line.  I felt the "bump-and-gone" on my line. One of Loyal’s yellow-bellied blighters had been and gone, again! Actually, I didn’t really mind. Just to absorb that awe inspiring sunset was worth it. Also, because the view could truly be describes as heavenly, I decided it was appropriate that the Reverend Mother and the Grey Friar were my companions for the evening. It is entirely fitting that under the glow of that amazing evening light, in the shadow of those magnificent mountains, Grey Friar made his first conversion; of a solid pull to a bouncing resistance. The beautiful little trout reflected both the dying sun and my intense satisfaction as I slipped him back beneath the surface a few moments later. 

My advice to anyone heading for Scotland or the Isles with a fishing rod is to tie up a few Reverend Mothers and Grey Friars before you go.

Grey Friar


Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.

Text by Roger Beck                        01439 788483.

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May 2007

The Clan Chief

I thought that we would remain in the Western Isles for one more episode, which is a very selfish decision. If we linger there just a little longer it will help me to recall the primitive beauty of that string of islands marooned in the Atlantic off the Northwest coast of Scotland. It will enhance the anticipation of my return to North Uist during the summer.  Make no mistake, this is a wild place but it also possesses a mellowness and tranquillity that I have found nowhere else. For me, it is a haven of calmness that allows me to slow down the pace of life for a few precious weeks. It takes less than two hours for the Calmac ferry to plough its route from the western tip of Skye to Lochmaddy, the capital of North Uist. Strange things happen though during this short voyage; time does not stand still, but rolls backwards. Having departed from the partly commercialised throng of the Inner Hebrides, one disembarks in another world. The passage of time seems hardly to have impinged upon this lump of Lewisian Gneiss. (That's geology speak for very hard rocks, by the way).  The most obvious clue is the fact that Gaelic is the first language of the island. The western islanders are, quite rightly, proud of their heritage and converse, between themselves, in a rolling, lilting and mysterious tongue. Ever polite and welcoming, they revert to English the moment a non-Gaelic speaker enters the conversation.

It is in this context that I first met the Clan Chief. He was quite an enigma when encountered amongst the quiet and reserved surroundings of the Uists. The Clan Chief is a gaudy, flashy and ebullient character who demands attention and usually succeeds in attracting it, reds and yellows, contrasting with black and bits of silver here and there. It is a bit like looking at a caricature of the archetypal Highland Chieftain. A swirl of yellow in his stockings setting off the crimson tartan of his kilt and the metallic dangly bits on his sporran.

So, whilst the Highland Chief might attract the attention of Clansmen, the Clan Chief attracts the attention of trout. The original plan of Captain John Kennedy, the inventor of the Clan Chief fly, was to attract the attention of that enigmatic salmonid, the sea trout. Having proved his worth in that respect, he has also become gainfully employed in catching brown trout. Not surprising, because sea trout are just brown trout that elect to go to the seaside for their holidays; it's a bit more complicated, but it gives you the gist of the story.

Anyway, I always derived great satisfaction from catching fish in the Western Isles by using a fly that was born there. Then I heard a rumour: A rather brash and irritating person arrived on the Outer Hebrides for the fishing. Sensibly, he sought out Captain John Kennedy, who is the acknowledged expert on the fishing in South Uist. It is suggested that he might even have stayed at the Lochboisdale Hotel, where Malcolm first picked up The Reverend Mother. The rumour goes on to suggest that this person may well have claimed to have links to Scottish aristocracy and had felt imbued with the necessity to act in a rather superior and bombastic manner. This did not go down well with the angling community of South Uist and all were relieved when the arrogant, tartan apparelled individual returned to the mainland. Polite as ever, they had bitten their tongues, and kept their calm. Revenge was sweet however. John produced a fly that mimicked the colours of the tartan worn by their irksome guest. So, in effect, every time it is tied on the fishing line, the angler in the know is drowning an overbearing, pompous and loud alleged aristocrat who had caused a good deal of grief in a short visit. Only a rumour, as I said at the outset, but I hope that it's true.  It certainly enhances my enjoyment of using the Clan Chief.

The Clan Chief


Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.

Narrative by Roger Beck                   01439 788483.

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June 2007

Daddy Long Legs.

Along the West coast of Western Isles, is a strip of land called machair. This is pronounced to rhyme with cracker, with a sort of a gargle in the middle. The acid soil has, over the millennia, been neutralised by shell sand blown onto it by the prevailing winds. Within the hollows in the machair, lochs are formed that are as rich as the land that surrounds them. They are shallow, crystal clear and have prolific weed growth. Within the weed beds, myriad invertebrates thrive. This is a huge pantry for brown trout. They thrive upon this high protein diet and grow to monumental proportions. I am a member of North Uist Angling Club and, as such, have the privilege of fishing the machair lochs of the island.

One evening in July 2004, fishing rod in hand, I sat quietly beside such a loch, surrounded by the reds and blues of the machair flowers, soothed by the plaintive call of curlews. Behind me, the corncrakes rattled their warning and on the opposite bank a short eared owl began her supper patrol over the meadows.  As I watched the loch for signs of fish, my attention was focussed on a line of reed stems, about two feet long, growing from the water, some thirty yards away from me. At regular intervals, a huge golden-yellow dorsal fin porpoised, silently slicing the slightly rippled surface before dissolving away. As I watched I saw the sharp end of the dorsal fin's owner emerge through the surface, suck something from the reed fringe and quietly submerge. I realised that I was contemplating one of the biggest wild brownies that I have ever encountered. I tucked my trusty Hardy Gem under my arm and slipped quietly into the water. I waded infinitely slowly through the liquid crystal, pausing every step to ensure that I did not create any unnecessary disturbance that might alarm this piscatorial giant. Fortunately, my ballet dancer's physique lends itself to stealth.

Twenty yards from my quarry, I understood why the fish was positioned so close to the reed stalks. The surrounding grassland is the breeding ground for thousands of crane flies, Daddy Long Legs to you and me. Some of these ungainly creatures, wafted onto the water by the breeze, were eventually trapped against the reed stalks. There they sprottled on the surface. By the way, The verb "to sprottle" is in the same dictionary as the verb "to fossick" and, in South Yorkshire, means to twitch about.

The leviathan was grazing upon the hapless sprottlers. Barely able to control my trembling fingers, I carefully tied an imitation Daddy Long Legs to my leader. I checked that knot three times; make no mistake, this really was a fish of a lifetime.

I knew that I had only one chance to catch this monster, he had not grown to such proportions by making foolish mistakes. I needed a very accurate cast that dropped my fly about a yard upwind of the reeds. I then must ensure that my fly drifted on the breeze, unimpeded by any tension in my line, towards the larder. I slowed my approach to a snail pace, fearful that the slightest commotion would spook my target. At a range of fifteen yards, I dare approach no closer. Neb and fin were still busy. I went through the mechanics of the cast in my mind. It must be made parallel to the water to avoid the silhouette of rod against sky. The reel purred as I peeled off the line.  My heart went on strike until the fly alighted like thistle down exactly on target. As it drifted into the dining room, I stood like a coiled spring as everything went according to plan. My anticipation soared as the fly was suddenly sucked beneath the surface with an audible slurp. My spirits lifted as I raised my rod to tighten the line. I felt the resistance of the fish as six inches of cheeky, opportunistic infant trout threw itself into the air. A huge bow wave erupted from the reed fringe as my intended victim headed for sanctuary.

I waded slowly back to the shore and just sat, quietly watching the sunset for a very long time.

Daddy Long Legs

Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.

Narrative by Roger Beck                   01439 788483.

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July 2007

Parachute Adams.

I hate thigh waders. Whenever I wear them, I go always go a step too far and finish up with wet bits. I prefer chest waders.

I also hate fishing under pressure.

One of my favourite places to fish is the Kilnsey Angling Club water on the river Wharfe. My friends at Kilnsey have a rule that only thigh waders are allowed.

So, one day in early May, I found myself at Kilnsey, in thigh waders fishing under pressure. Andrew, a journalist friend, wanted to write a feature about the upper Wharfe and its inhabitants; my job was simply to be there and catch a fish. Easy as that … but it never is.

I peered into the river from Conistone bridge. The water low and as clear as crystal, the fishing would be hard. To make my day complete, there was a nasty strong breeze scything down the valley from the north. Andrew drew up and greeted me with the unnecessary reminder that “we need to catch a fish, no fish, no feature, but no pressure.” The only thing that he carried was a camera; the "we" was me. This was going to be difficult, the only hope in such low, clear water was to sneak up behind the fish, and that meant casting against that strengthening breeze. So, in short, I was facing very demanding fishing, under pressure, in thigh waders. Oh, and the sun was shining, which meant that the fish would see me very easily Got the picture?

My first investigation was by a small clump of trees. There is usually a fish or two lying in their protective shadow. Sure enough there were. Two to be exact. As my small nymph touched the water, they both made a beeline for it. The biggest one got there first.  The words “job done” threatened my subconscious as I tightened the line pulling the fly straight out of his mouth. Andrew kind of sniffed and I said bad words. Two to be exact. During the next hour I managed to spook five fish in a shallow glide, they saw me before I saw them. I think that they practise a lot.

Then, above the waterfall I saw what I realised was my best chance, or last hope if you prefer. Near a bend, where the current traversed the river diagonally, three trout were determinedly ambushing large dark olives as they cruised along the seam of flow. I knew exactly what to do; I told Andrew to ready his camera and crouch low, below the skyline. I needed to cast a size 14 parachute Adams two feet upstream of the nearest trout. I like parachute hackled flies; the abdomen sits down on the surface instead of riding above it as with a conventional hackle. (Technical stuff).  So, everything was now straightforward and sorted. Well, no not really because the fish and I were separated by about twenty yards of bum-deep water. Did I mention that the wind was in my face and that I hate thigh waders? 

Four times I tried to cast the fly where I knew it needed to be. Four times, the wind blew itoff course.  Andrew crouched and seemed a bit apprehensive. “No pressure” he whispered. Something had to be done; I dare not make another cast because I was already risking scaring those fish. I knew that if I could get just a few yards closer, I could put the fly where I wanted it. I took five hesitant steps forward.  It is a defining moment when cold water spills over thigh waders and freezes your assets. Despite watering eyes, I landed the next cast right on target and a big, bold wild Wharfe brownie just simply ate it. Shortly afterwards I netted the fish, accompanied by the whirring of Andrew’s camera shutter. He beamed from ear to ear. “Job done” he announced. Me? I squelched to the bank, sat on a rock and said bad words. More than two this time.

I hate thigh waders.

Parachute Adams

Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.

Narrative by Roger Beck                   01439 788483.

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August 2007

Stewarts Spider

Whilst you are reading this article, Roger will be well ensconced in North Uist with the Reverend Mother, the Clan Chief and his other friend the Grey Friar. Hopefully he had room in the car for his wife!

This year sees the 150th anniversary of a well loved publication The Practical Angler by Mr. W. C. Stewart. During 1857 alone there were at least two reprints with the last full reprint complete with colour plates in the late1900's - such was the popularity of his work.

W.C. Stewart, described as a “dour” Scot, held firm opinions on fly fishing and in particular the spider patterns and the methods of fishing them. He was a great advocate of the upstream method and seemed to be constantly in contention with other authors south of the border, to the point of being verbally aggressive at times, such was his belief.  He would also argue vehemently regarding the best colours for flies. Like Henry Ford, Stewart’s favourite colour appears to have been black, his argument being that, in water, a fly between the fish and the light above is in silhouette, therefore colours are indistinctive, his opinion being that the movement of the hackle (legs) of the fly is the attraction, and this seems to make a lot of sense! Stewart also fiercely maintains that the fly dresser could never truly imitate nature and that Man’s interpretation of what a fly should look like can never ever be truly attained and I quote Those anglers  who think trout will take no fly unless it is an exact imitation of some one of the immense number of flies they are feeding on, must suppose that they know to a shade the colour of every fly on the water, and can detect the least deviation from it – an amount of entomological knowledge that would put to shame the angler himself and a good many naturalists to boot”.

Although Stewart mentions his three “killing spiders”, it is the black spider tied “Stewart style” that, even today, is one of the most loved flies by many. A fellow angler, James Baillie, introduced Mr Stewart to this pattern in the early 1840’s and it became his trusted favourite to the point where he says We were first shown it by James Baillie, and have never been without it on our line ever since”.

With regard to the actual technique of fishing his spiders, without going into too much detail, Mr Stewart, as we have said advocated the upstream method with a team of three or four spiders. However he goes on to say The number of flies that should be used at a time is a matter upon which great diversity of opinion exists; some anglers never use more than three, while others occasionally use a dozen. Oh come on Mr Stewart! Twelve flies on a leader on three inch droppers, twenty to twenty fours inches apart! I will leave it to the reader’s imagination regarding the outcome of casting that lot!

W.C. as we shall call him now, maintains that dressing a spider is a much simpler operation than dressing a fly and in the book he goes on to describe, in detail, the tying method as used in the 1800’s and please do not forget they tied their flies without a vice and without an eye on the hook

Here I can only conclude by saying thank you to W.C. for 150 years of The Practical Angler and most of all for the Stewarts Spider, a fly that I and many of my colleagues and friends appreciate fishing with so much both in rivers and stillwaters. Hope you are having a good holiday Roger - and friends.

The Stewarts Spider

Narrative and Fly dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.

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September 2007

Balloon Caddis

In the north-west corner of the British Isles there is a very beautiful water. I shall not disclose its name or location, and I have my reasons. First, I cannot spell its name, second you would not be able to pronounce it even if I could. Finally, and most importantly, I want to keep it a secret. I will give you two clues; a breed of indigenous sheep graze along its southern shore and it is not on the mainland. There now, I’ve given enough clues for the present. I’ll throw in a few more as we proceed, just to tantalise you.

When the sun sets, the scattered granite buildings on the eastern flanks of my special place radiate an ethereal golden glow that transcends the imagination. Nowhere else have I ever beheld that colour; I came to believe that it only exists in my mind. Yet it is always there whenever I return.

I have shared the water with a friend, a hen harrier, red throated divers and an otter. The latter chose to join me whilst I waded quietly along the southern margins of the loch, casting a fly in the hope of capturing one of the glorious wild brown trout that inhabit this little portion of paradise. I would like to think that this huge dog otter popped along to give me a helping hand, feeling sorry for my pathetic fish catching capabilities, compared with his own. In fact, he was simply not aware of me and was going about his own business. Whatever the truth, I stood, like a statue, transfixed by the sight of such a shy creature, no more than thirty feet from me. He swam by me leisurely, then silently slipped beneath the barely ruffled surface of the water leaving a fleeting shallow indentation to mark his passing. The hollow back-filled and he was gone. I felt privileged to have shared his domain with him for those few fleeting minutes.  Make no mistake, this is his domain; I am an intruder and must ensure that my trespass leaves nothing to threaten his existence.

Unlike many of the surrounding waters, this place has no midges so it is comfortable to fish there at last light. This is good, because as daylight fades, a whole army of caddis flies suddenly appears and the fish become preoccupied in an attempt to eat as many of them as possible. They vary in size and colour from tiny little black ones to huge brown things that closely resemble helicopters. The trout do not give a jot; they just scoff every one that comes in range. To imitate them, my choice is the balloon caddis. It floats like a cork, presents exactly the right profile and it creates a splendid enticing wake when drawn over the surface of the water, exactly like the real thing does as it deposits its eggs.

So, as the sun sets, I wade, knee deep, in the crystal clear loch, carefully casting a balloon caddis into the gaps in the weed beds, for this where the bigger trout lie in wait for supper, perfectly camouflaged against the vegetation. Suddenly, almost as my fly touches the water, seventeen inches of yellow-bellied trout performs a porpoise movement over my fly and engulfs it. A lift of the rod tip and the fish is hooked. It immediately lunges for the sanctuary of the weeds, but I am ready for that manoeuvre, turning the rod at an angle, I apply side strain to the trout in order to persuade it into open water. After a few more heroic but failed attempts at escape, my prize slips over the rim of my waiting net. Within the hour it is sharing a pan with a knob of butter and a wedge of lemon. On this occasion, I do not have to bore my wife with stories of the one that evaded my daddy long legs in the adjacent loch the night before.

Balloon Caddis

Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.

Narrative by Roger Beck                        01439 788483.

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October 2007

The F Fly 

No, it's not what you think: as if we would!!!

I'd promised Sarah a day fishing the upper Wharfe, hoping for one of the superb brownies that can be found there – if you know where to look. The original plan was to go in June when conditions would be perfect. The water level would not have shrunk to summer low and the fly hatches would be at their best. The day dawned, but only just. As I set off for Wharfedale the rain lashed down from a threatening slate coloured sky. A (hands free) 'phone call to Rob, who lives by the river, confirmed my worst fears. The Wharfe was the colour of cocoa and too high to be worth fishing. Minutes later, another call had me persuading a very disappointed young lady that she should not even leave home. The next day, we agreed upon another date in September. At least some summer warmth would remain and the river would be replenished after the summer low.

I think that learned folk call it déjà vu, but as I looked over the bridge on that September morning, the water was so low and clear that I could see every tiny stone on the riverbed. The wind was blowing straight from the north, just as it did in May when we fished the parachute Adams.

I met Sarah at the pub, and we set off down the river. I knew that this was not going to be easy, she is a fine angler and an accomplished fly caster but low water and a windy day are a challenge to anyone. Trees were what we needed; they offer shelter for the fish and protection from the wind for the fly caster. At the end of the bottom beat, there is a row of them that provide the trout with the shade that they seek when water is low and the sun is high. Quietly and slowly, we waded across the river, towards the trees. I tied a small nymph on Sarah's leader and she set about casting it into the shadows beneath the branches. At the third tree, "bingo!" I saw a golden flash in the water as the line tightened. Sarah lifted the rod into what was obviously a very good fish. To cut a long story short, the fish threw the hook. No one's fault, it just sometimes happens. I was disappointed and Sarah muttered a very un-ladylike word, which made me blush.

We made our way upstream, in our thigh waders, picking up two half-decent trout, but they were not what we were here for. I knew that there were fish tucked under the low branches of overhanging trees on the east bank, just above where the beck meets the river. I'd seen them the previous evening. As we approached via the opposite bank, I could see the pinpricks of water disturbance, inches from the shore-side stones, as the trout fed upon the tiny aphids falling from the trees. I made the end of Sarah's leader as thin as I dared and tied a size 22 F fly to it – imagine something a bit smaller than a match head. Despite the fact that she was convinced that only minnows could make such insignificant rings on the water, she humoured me and began to cast this tiny fly through the three-foot space between water and branches, not easy – believe me. With skill and perseverance, Sarah finally tucked that F fly far back into the shadows beneath the trees, almost touching the waterside rocks. The current carried it less than a foot when it disappeared in the centre of a tiny disturbance. I saw the rod tip lift and encounter very determined resistance. It was not a minnow that created the spray and commotion beneath that tree. When I eventually saw what was responsible, I knew that we had found what we sought. To cut a long story short, two pounds of wild Wharfe brownie were eventually safely enfolded in the net. I was relieved. Sarah was delighted, grinned like a Cheshire cat and said some very kind words, which made me blush.

The F Fly

Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.

Narrative by Roger Beck                   01439 788483.

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November 2007


I don't know if it's just the mischief in me, but when a particular fly is banned in the fishing arena, it immediately grabs my interest.

It is all very cosy and acceptable to imagine that fish feed upon delicate little morsels of food that float by them. It is satisfying to describe the various insects that make up the piscatorial diet; even more gratifying is the act of re-creating these creatures from fur and feather. As we watch, hidden from view by the bank-side bushes, we can imagine that we enjoy a symbiotic relationship with a pastoral idyll. Within our perfect scheme, trout and grayling rhythmically waft fin and tail, lazily coasting back and forth across the current, intercepting nature's harvest. It is only when we watch for long enough that the brutal reality is revealed. As winter approaches, fish require a more substantial diet than that afforded by skinny little nymphs and flies. They need to tuck into some hearty meals, and store up reserves if they are to survive the days of torpor when the water is so cold that they have not the energy to hunt. So, for the last few weeks, I have watched whilst the scaly scoundrels set about eating their own children. Well, why not? After all are they are easy to catch and full of protein. To make things easier, little fish tend to hang about in big groups, almost lined up like tinned sardines in the supermarket. By the way, next time someone suggests that fishing is cruel, you can point out to them that our quarry's day to day habits include cannibalism and infanticide. So, in this politically correct world of ours, they deserve all they get. Sorry about that but it's the first rant that I've had in this column for quite a while. However, I digress. As anglers, like it or not, we need in our armoury, a fly that will represent a little fish. There are lots of them about, but I've chosen the Alexandra. It's been around since about 1860 though, at its inception, it bore the name "Lady of the Lake." Later, she was re-named in honour of Princess Alexandra. I really have no idea why that happened. Had my old friend Norman Greenwood still been with us, he would have told me in an instant.

Sufficient to say that the Alexandra, when pulled through the water, gives a very good impression of a small fish. The flash of silver, topped by the iridescent hues of the mobile peacock sword feathers really creates an illusion of life and movement. The effect is good enough to fool trout into thinking that it is a small child and so therefore should be eaten. So good, in fact, that the fly was banned on some waters because it was so effective. Now, how on earth does that work?  I thought that the idea of going fishing was to catch fish, but apparently not. I know for a fact that if I took my Alexandra to some of the hallowed waters in the south, I'd be shot, or worse. The rules of some fisheries down there ban any fly that does not float upon the water. I find that very strange. It is fine for me to imitate a hapless mayfly, innocently passing its fleeting existence bobbing along on the current, only to be murdered by some wretched rainbow trout. However, the instant that I start to fish with a copy of another natural source of food, baby fish, I'm labelled unsporting and a cheat. Perhaps these southerners are just a bunch of softies, or maybe it's all to do with common sense. For whatever reason, the Alexandra seldom seems to appear in modern fly boxes. I use it though, especially from August onwards and particularly when I suspect that some big old brownies are on the look out for something tasty and tender.

One of these fine days, if reality ever dawns south of the Wash, I'll take some Alexandras down to the Test or the Itchen and give them a go. If I do, you will be the first to know. Just don't hold your breath.


Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.

Narrative by Roger Beck                   01439 788483.

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December 2007

Mrs Simpson

I really don't mind the winter. I tend not to go fishing very often when it's cold, but I can think about it and make plans.

It's quite convenient to have a period of time when fishing is not a big priority, as long as it doesn't last too long. Winter has all sorts of other things going for it too; not least important of which is Christmas. There are all sorts of vital decisions to be made concerning the festive season and I am sure that you all have your own priorities. Whatever is important to you, do not delay in addressing the issue of Christmas dinner. As usual, we are persuaded to proffer some advice as to the menu. You have helped us out in the past by eating your way through enough turkey to keep us in marabou feathers. We are a bit reluctant to recommend turkey this year; bird flu seems to be creating a bit of a shortage. Chinese pork was our request for last year; we needed the pig bristles for a fancy salmon fly.  How about a complete change for this year? One of the finest foods that anyone can enjoy is game. Pheasant, partridge, hare or mallard, whatever takes your fancy, all of these are in season over the winter. So, as a break with tradition, we suggest that you enjoy fresh game for Christmas dinner this year. It is, of course, a complete coincidence that all those potential festive feasts will furnish us with the feathers that will form the basis of a few hundred flies for the following fishing season. As an example, Steve's fly, originating in New Zealand of all places, is made almost entirely from pheasant plumage. Actually, with a little chestnut forcemeat, it would not look out of place on a plate. It's called Mrs. Simpson and was developed around the time a certain king abdicated for the love of a woman.

This is only one example though; there are lots of flies that rely upon pheasant, partridge or duck feathers for their subtle natural hues. It was back in 2005 that we drew your attention to traditional Yorkshire fly patterns called spiders. All these depend upon soft feathers from game birds to give them a seductive fluttering movement in the water.

If you do not fish yourself, and I suppose that there might yet be one or two of you left out there, I have the top tip for 2007.  You have the potential to ensure a frequent supply of fresh trout to your table come the spring. All you need to do is to allow a game bird, or two, to adorn your Christmas table. Then, pass on the plumage to an angler of your acquaintance. He or she will be delighted and will insist upon beating a regular trail to your kitchen door bearing the fruits of their angling efforts. You will miss out of course if you are one of those strange people who buy their game already plucked and prepared. If that is your intention, change your strategy; make sure that you order your lunch with its coat still intact. Be brave; allow yourself the satisfaction of preparing fresh ingredients from scratch. It is no accident that many of these spider patterns originate in Yorkshire. I cannot imagine a set of southern softies risking muckying their mits by plucking partridges.

Persuaded? Good, now, just a few words of friendly advice perchance that you are not experienced in the game-plucking department. Remember, too that the Festive Season sees a proliferation in divorce proceedings. So much so that I recently met a West Yorkshire lawyer who assured me that he was open for business on Boxing Day, just in case. So, Even if it's freezing cold outside with snow up the armpits, and despite the fact that a partridge looks small, don't even think about plucking it in the living room or the kitchen. The biggest dustsheet in the world will not collect those tiny, fluffy bits of downy feathers. Do not be tempted to think that the extractor hood over the cooker will suck them away and solve the problem. Sure, the finest fibres will stick on the filter whilst the thing is turned on. When you switch it off though, the whole lot descends like little grey snowflakes onto the hob. There is nothing quite like the smell of burning feathers. The other scenario, which hardly bears thinking about, is the pan of cooling Christmas custard awaiting transformation into brandy sauce. You will have to decide whether to try and scrape the scattering from the surface, or just stir them in and hope for deliverance. Take heed; believe me, I know about these things. Another little bit of advice whilst it occurs to me. Feathers and fur are not the best things to leave for a week or two in a plastic bag. When the bag is opened, the emerging aroma can cause a bit of domestic disharmony. Imagine assaulting the nostrils with a combination of wet dog and rancid socks. Worse still, if you pass the parcel on to a friend, you might be mentioned in those divorce proceedings. Oh. And for pity's sake don't send them through the post and don't leave them forgotten at the back of the fridge until February. A friend once returned from a winter break in Barbados to find a parcel of assorted skins and squirrel tails that was posted though the letterbox some weeks previously. He had taken the precaution of leaving the central heating on to avoid a freeze up. There were no burst pipes upon his return, but it took a week for the stench to finally dissipate, during which time his good lady de-camped to her mother's. Then, there was a hefty bill for steam cleaning the carpet. He never did discover the identity of his benefactor and now he buys his flies, he says it's cheaper in the long run.

I cannot harvest all my own feathers some of my shooting friends are only too pleased to help me out. The plan can go wrong though; species identification can be a bit of a problem. Last winter, I clearly asked Jim for French partridge feathers and received hen pheasant plumage instead. He now has a photo' of a partridge taped to his gunstock to avoid future confusion. We also insist upon his using cartridges from a box with a picture of a pheasant on the side. That way, he can check the details frequently. With Mark, it's a bit different, being a much younger chap than I, he takes it upon himself to make sure that we old fellows are kept awake and alert whilst out shooting. He is usually so busy making sure that I am concentrating that he inevitably misses what he shoots at and I have to do it all myself. He then blames me for acting as if I am asleep.

So, there we are then, our guide to Christmas gastronomy with just a little bit of friendly advice thrown in.

Enjoy your game this Christmas and your trout in the New Year. Best wishes from both of us to all of you and yours.

Mrs Simpson

 Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.

Narrative by Roger Beck                   01439 788483.

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