Fishing with Style

 

 

Yorkshire Post - Country Week

2008 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.

Go back to the 2005 articles      Go Back to the 2006 articles    Go back to the 2007 articles  Go to the 2009 articles

    Go to 2010 articles    Go to 2011 articles  Go to 2012 articles   Go to 2013 articles    Go to 2014 articles 

Go to 2015 articles   Go to 2016 articles   Go to 2017 articles

Here are the monthly articles, published in 2008, which we trust you will enjoy reading:

Griffiths Gnat     James Chetham Black Gnat     Sweet William     Woolly Bugger     Egg Fly

Clauser Minnow      Bloodworm    Small Spur Wing      Bibio       Adams     Kicking Klink     Christmas Humbug

 

January 2008

Griffiths Gnat

If you ignored the advice proffered in the November column, you've been holding your breath for the last couple of months. By now, you must be rather red in the face. If it's any consolation to you, I am similarly afflicted; not for the same reason though. My florid features are entirely as a consequence of acute embarrassment.

Back in November, having extracted the Michael from the southerners, I sort of suggested that I would never fish the hallowed chalkstreams of Hampshire. Well, the southerners have called my bluff, or to be precise, one of them has. I'm not sure how this came about, maybe a copy of the Yorkshire Post found its way to Shropshire. Whatever the explanation, shortly after publication of the November column, I received a call from my old friend Charles Jardine, though he prefers the term "long standing".  Mercifully, I was sitting down when he said "how would you like to spend a day on the river Test with me?"  "You're having me on" was my first response. "Not at all, I believe that it is time to complete your education" was the immediate reply.

So, it came to pass that in early December, passport in hand, I went forth and travelled many a long mile to Hampshire. In case you don't realise, that's south of the Trent. I was not allowed to drive the last part of the journey, Charles decided that I was far too agitated to be safe. We left a minor road through a gate and followed a flint-strewn track to a stand of trees. I clambered from the car and walked the last few steps to the river. The weather was appalling, it was raining stair rods and the wind gusted and swirled around me. Despite that, the sight before me was truly awesome. I have seen some splendid stretches of river, both here and abroad, in both hemispheres. Hand on heart, I have never seen such a magnificent sight as that which unfolded before me. Here stood I, on the banks of the famous, revered river Test. The water was like a meandering ribbon of liquid crystal, fronds of bright green weed writhing rhythmically in the flow. Even as I watched, eyes widening by the moment, a shaft of winter sun materialised from the heavens, pierced the grey clouds and, for a brief moment, bathed the whole scene in liquid gold. The bare stems of the willows shone against the lichen encrusted thatch on the roof of the white hexagonal fishing hut. Here, each beat on the river boasts it's own little piece of rural architecture, misleadingly named a hut.

Large dark olives, those harbingers of red-letter winter fishing days, scurried over the ruffled river, tumbled along by the squally breeze. Then I noticed the fish, what monsters they were, materialising from shadows as they ate those olives as if their very lives depended upon them, as indeed they do. I kid you not; I was gob smacked.

I pulled on my waterproofs, fingers all thumbs, and slowly assembled rod and line. Even at this stage, had Charles informed me that it was a scam and that all I could do was to sit and watch him fish, I honestly would not have cared. Of course, he did no such thing. I generally take my fishing very seriously, but today my heart and my soul were imbued with the splendour and angling tradition that surrounded me. I enjoyed my fishing and the most perfect grayling of the day fell to my Griffith's gnat, but I was distracted. With concentration I could have doubled my catch. I simply did not care. This wonderful place deserved my distraction from the process of fishing.

So, thanks to Charles, I now need a long lie down to recover from my new-found admiration for the south and southerners. It will take several months and I plan to do it in New Zealand. So, I shall leave you in Steve's safe hands whilst I try to recover from this strange affliction.

Happy New Year, I'll update you in April.

 Griffiths Gnat

Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.  www.fishingwithstyle.co.uk

Narrative by Roger Beck                   01439 788483.  www.beckfisher.co.uk

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February 2008

James Chetham Black Gnat

Last year I turned that corner in my life where 60 years seems to have flown and like some of you, maybe, I often wonder about my ancestors. I come from an old Yorkshire family who had Goodalls Saddlery and fishing tackle shop in Shipley which was established in the 1800’s. I can still remember, as a young lad, standing gawping for many hours at the array of hooks, lines, flies and rods. I still recall the fascination of putting my hands into a gallon bucket of maggots, the feel of them wriggling between my fingers, and the smell of leather, hen and dog food - ah happy days.

My mother, who is 92 now, still suddenly throws names at me – Greenwells Glory, Allcocks, Millwards, Partridge, Hardy Brothers. Close interrogation of my Mum reveals that I am related to Oliver Cromwell and Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy fame. Pocahontas has also been mentioned but I choose to ignore that, sorry Mum.

You can imagine my surprise some time ago when I came across the name of James Chetham who wrote a book about fly fishing in 1681. Could this be an ancestor? I doubted if there was a book available, but investigation on the Internet showed that a facsimile edition was available from the Chetham Library.

James Chetham was born in Lancashire, of all places.  His book The Angler's Vade Mecum according to the Chetham Library Is universally agreed to be one of the most significant works on the subject, his descriptive account of the art and science of fly-fishing is written with experience, clarity, and an acerbic wit”. First published anonymously in 1681, the volume deals with every aspect of the sport, containing his observations on the most commonly encountered fish, descriptions of the flies to be used each month, and an appreciative chapter on roasting, broiling, or stewing one's catch, which even includes an 'excellent French bread to eat fish with'.

The book I managed to obtain is a facsimile, (reprinted in 2005 by the Chetham library), of the third edition printed for William Battersby in 1700. As the extended title of the book tells me, his work discusses “the aptest methods and ways, exactest rules, properest baits, and choicest experiments for the catching all manner of fresh water fish, together with a brief discourse of fish-ponds, and not only the easiest, but most palatable ways of dressing all sorts of fish whether belonging to rivers or ponds; and the laws concerning angling, and the preservation of such fish”.

He goes into great detail about hazel rods and horse hair lines, the tying of the fly (which confused me first time I read it and still does to be honest) not forgetting the flies were tied without a vice or eye to the hook. He stresses the importance of the size of hook and the colour of materials some of which we will have problems obtaining today.

The book draws to a close with chapters about the angling laws and the preservation of fish, and then to cap it all he gives recipes on how best to cook all types of fish which Nigella Lawson would be proud of.

Well done great, great, great…. Uncle James. A very interesting and meaningful reference book, even if, for coarse fishing to keep my worms in tip top condition I have to “take the bones or skull of a dead man, at the opening of the grave, and beat the same into powder, and put this powder into moss wherein you keep your worms, but others like grave earth as well” I will stick to fly fishing thank you.

I decided to have a go at the James Chetham Black Gnat and followed the tying instructions as well as I could with the materials he used. Surprisingly a very drab but neat fly was the result, an absolute killer according to James, so I shall certainly be giving it a try this spring. 

James Chetham Black Gnat

Fly and narrative by Stephen Cheetham 0113257244 www.fishingwithstyle.co.uk

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 March 2008

Sweet William fly - Norman Greenwood

As you are reading this, Roger Beck our Lord of the Flies is down under in Lord of the Rings territory in New Zealand enjoying a well earned holiday and also celebrating his 60th birthday. Happy Birthday Roger, and many more of them.

You will have gathered from reading our fly of the month column that we anglers are some of the nicest, most helpful and cheeriest people you could ever wish to meet by the waterside. Well most of us anyway!

Once in a while one person stands head and shoulders above us all. Sadly, last year we lost one of those characters.

Norman Greenwood was a gentleman in every sense of the word, a fanatical fly fisher, an innovative and knowledgeable fly tyer and a man who had time for everyone. Many was the time I bumped into Norman at Steve Bielby’s shop in Otley to be greeted with a smile followed by a lengthy discussion on the attributes and tying of certain flies. He also always made a point of visiting me and my wife at our stand at Pateley Bridge Show, although I am sure he was also very busy demonstrating his tying methods in the next tent on the Nidderdale Angling Club stand.

Norman, as I have said, was a fanatical fly fisherman, with a caravan near his beloved river Nidd. He was a stalwart member of the Nidderdale Angling Club and appeared on Yorkshire Television’s Dales Diary demonstrating his art on the banks of the river. He will also be sadly missed at the Leeds branch of the Fly Dressers Guild where for many years he was a committed and dedicated secretary. I am sure his infectious laughter and sense of humour enhanced many meetings.

One fly that Norman will always be remembered for is the Sweet William, a firm favourite of those that fish the Nidd. He first tied The Sweet William in 1979, as a development of the John Storey, that famous North Yorkshire Fly which Roger and I discussed in this column back in July 2005; gosh that seems a long time ago!

Norman named it “Sweet” to represent the honey hackle used in the tying, and “William”, after his late father, John William Greenwood, who he was sure would have loved to have fished it. Apparently Norman found that it out-fished the John Storey regularly, although on the occasional day, the John Storey would still overrule.

The peacock herl body, as in the John Storey, remained the same, as did the “sail” style wing over the eye. The enhancements that Norman made were to add golden pheasant crests together with a few strands of red floss for a tail. He then varied the hackle colour, honey through to red game cock, to suit the hatching insects. He would vary the fly size according to the time of year and the fly hatch, size 10 to 12 for mayflies or size 14 for the other up-winged flies.
From personal experience I do know that this fly is a superb performer on the river Nidd and on many of our other northern rivers. I took guidance from Norman about the best way to fish the fly and have always followed his advice that it should be cast up and across, at some angle to the river flow. Norman advocated that this ensures that the first thing the fish sees is the fly and not the leader! 

I am sure that all of you who are reading this and who knew Norman will join me in saying a huge thank you to him for just being Norman and to send our belated condolences to his wife and family.

Sweet William 

Narrative and fly by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.  www.fishingwithstyle.co.uk

 

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April 2008

Woolly Bugger

It's just called the Tongariro river on the map. Everyone who fishes it knows it as the mighty Tongariro, because it just is. Said river flows more or less due north and enters Lake Taupo near Turangi on the North Island of New Zealand. Imagine a river 100 yards wide, as clear as the Wharfe in high summer. Up to the knees and you can really feel the push of water; waist deep and it's difficult to keep your feet, even if you have a low centre of gravity. Deeper than that does not bear thinking about. Get the picture?

Ian Jenkins is a professional guide on the Tongariro; his offer to fish with me on the river was too good to refuse, well nearly. With a completely serious face, Ian told me to be at his house, next to the river by 5.00 am. Now, I don't do 5.00 am. as quite a number of people will tell you. "We need a fish on the bank by breakfast" declared Ian. So I just nodded. When in Rome… I have no idea what happened between getting up and getting there, but I arrived at Tui Lodge, Ian's place, at the appointed time. By 5.30 we were by the Major Jones pool and it was nearly light.

It was early March and the rainbow trout of Lake Taupo were running the river to the spawning grounds. They were highly aggressive, Ian informed me. So, all I needed to do was to arrange for my fly to pass within sight of a fish, the fish would attack the fly and I would be in business. The best fly for the job, apparently, was a black woolly bugger; good news because Steve sent one out to New Zealand in my birthday card; bless him. The only slight problem was that the trout were lying in tiny depressions in the river bed over six feet down in the Mighty Tongariro. So, there I was, 5.45 am., up to the waist in raging water, aiming at a scrape in the bottom of the river that was about twenty yards down stream. It certainly concentrates the mind. The good news was that Ian knew the location of every single lie and was giving me directions from over my left shoulder. By the way, those folk who are conversant with fly casting might wish to know that it was decreed that the leader needed to be 20 feet long so that the fly could sink. Personally, I thought that Ian was having a laugh, but I dare not argue. The length and angle of the cast must be judged to perfection so that, just as the fly reaches the correct depth, the current swings it in front of the fish. Just try it, that's all I can say!! After a few attempts, accompanied by a couple of expressions that do not translate into Kiwi, something grabbed my fly and set off with the flow. Now, I know full well that there are no crocodiles in New Zealand, but at 6.00 am that morning I was prepared to believe that I'd hooked one. I could just hear my mentor's voice over the screaming of the reel. "Get to the bank before it pulls you over. If it does, just lie back in the water and go with the flow. You'll wash up on the next gravel bar." I'm not going to repeat my brief reply. I floundered to the shore, rod held above my head to keep the water pressure off the singing line. That fish was very, very angry and only slowly did I bring it to Ian's waiting net. A huge grin broke across his weather beaten face as 5lbs. of sparkling, wild rainbow trout slid over the rim. "There we go", he chuckled, "one in the net by breakfast time". I am ashamed to say that I forgot myself and muttered something about strange Kiwi habits and eating breakfast in the middle of the night. However, I quickly regained my composure, mimicked my guide's huge grin, pumped his hand in gratitude and set off in search of another fish. We found some, but that's another story.

Woolly Bugger 

Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.  www.fishingwithstyle.co.uk

Narrative by Roger Beck                    01439 788483.  www.beckfisher.co.uk 

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May 2008

Egg Fly

When fly-casting, it is really important to draw the line from the water gently and gradually with no jerky movements, otherwise the rod is not loaded smoothly, resulting in a failure of the line and leader to extend properly.

If I come out with this statement during one of my casting classes, you have my permission to scoff.

In the company of Ian Jenkins, I caught my first rainbow trout, on a woolly bugger from the Tongerero River on the North Island of New Zealand.  It was just light as we made our way down stream. I could see ridges of shingle and pebbles, last winter's flood debris that squeezed the river into a channel, increasing the flow and deepening the water. Here, Ian proclaimed, we would fish the egg fly. It represents a fish egg, which rainbows eat enthusiastically. Ian cut off the leader and replaced it with another one, about twenty feet long. Now, twenty feet of leader is not easy to cast, but I had a plan, see above. Ian fumbled in his fly box; he produced a funny hairy thing, about an inch long, with a tungsten dumbbell lashed across the front of it, mounted on the kind of hook that my granddad used for curing hams. The whole contraption weighed about a quarter of an ounce. He then spirited a little egg fly from somewhere and tied this with a length of nylon to the bend of the meat hook. Hey Presto! The so-called New Zealand dropper. From another pocket materialised a tuft of bright green polypropylene, which would give good service as a shaving brush. This, he tied to the end of the fly line, some seven yards away from the egg fly.  It was a sound idea. The water is so deep and fast flowing that the weight of the bug-eyed monster is required to take the little egg fly to the bottom of the river. A lengthy leader ensures that it reaches the correct depth. Finally, when a trout bolts off with the egg fly, the buoyant polypropylene shuttlecock disappears and the angler can lift into the fish.  It occurred to me, however, that this business about: "It is really important to draw the line from the water gently and gradually with no jerky movements" was looking a bit questionable due to a small intercontinental missile fixed to the other end. By the way, the lump of yarn behaves a bit like a sail when it is launched through the air, making the whole lot stall in mid flight and causing it to land roughly where it set off from. Bottom line? Casting this fiendish fly on a long leader aint easy.

I then noticed the grin on Mr. Jenkins' face and realised that something was afoot. I followed the direction of his grin to see five of his mates materialise atop one of the shingle banks, all professional Kiwi fishing guides. Someone had tipped them the wink that there might be the chance of a bit of fun. They had all turned out to watch the professional Pommie guide whilst he sacrificed his dignity and reputation, flailing about like a demented windmill, attempting to hurl this evil assembly across the water with a fly rod. Totally forsaking all that "delicately sliding the line from the water" bunkum, I gathered myself and remembered the advice from one of my mentors concerning casting with weighty flies. "Yank it up to the surface and chuck it as high in the air as you can. Then, whack the rod tip forwards and hope that it doesn't smack you on the head" So, I did just that.   On the fourth attempt, the whole lot sailed across the river and plopped into the water in a most satisfactory manner. Six Kiwi guides clapped and cheered, slapped me on the back and then dug up the bottles of beer that were hidden, cooling, amongst the pebbles. By now, it was nearly 7 am. so it seemed rude to refuse a little light refreshment.

I've no idea if the egg fly worked. 

Egg Fly

Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.  www.fishingwithstyle.co.uk

Narrative by Roger Beck                        01439 788483.  www.beckfisher.co.uk

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June 2008

Clauser Minnow 

"So, you're a fly fishing guide" remarked Steve Butler as I boarded his boat, Earl Grey 11. "Yes" I agreed "but how do you know that?" "Found it from your email address when you made the booking. I expect that I'll have to teach you how to fish properly."

My birthday treat was a day charter, on my own off the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. I'd done my research carefully and chosen Steve. The moment that I met him and embarked upon his boat, I knew that I had made the right decision. The boat was immaculate, shining like a new pin in the early morning sun, high quality rods and reels sprouted from the racks above the cabin. The skipper himself looked as if he meant business, and here he was, extracting the Michael from me, with a wicked twinkle in his eye. With a roar from the powerful engine, we headed across the bay.

"First, we need to catch bait" announced Steve, his eyes glued to the screen of the fish-finder in front of him. Suddenly, he cut the engine, and shoved a jigging rod into my hands. "OK, we need about forty mackerel for bait, the quicker you catch them, the sooner we can go fishing." I just knew by the grin that all would not be simple. "So, here comes fishing lesson number one, when you feel the mackerel hit the jigs, you do not lift the rod, you just tighten the line and reel them in. Otherwise, you'll shake 'em off the hook." Now, all my fishing life, whenever I've felt a fish nibbling, I've lifted the rod tip and old habits die hard. "I told you I'd have to teach to fish" laughed my host as I managed to lose the first half dozen baits. Eventually, I managed to do as I was told and we quickly caught our quota and put them in the bait tank.

Initiation ceremony complete, Steve Butler began to mellow and prove just what a professional he is. He explained that he was looking for specific ocean currents that carried along the smaller fish upon which the predators fed. The predators that we sought were Yellow tail kingfish and kahawai. The mackerel baits were for the "kingies" and I would tackle the kahawai with a fly rod. Soon, Earl Grey began to slow and we dropped anchor behind a small rocky island. "Time for lesson number two" came the cheerful announcement as I lowered my bait to the seabed. "When you hook a kingy and it sets off, do not try to stop him because if you do, he'll pull you overboard." I can promise you that he was absolutely right. I caught four of these athletes of the South Pacific, the biggest around 37 lbs. They pull like nothing else that I have encountered.

From time to time during the day, I picked up the fly rod that Steve had provided. A Clauser minnow tied to a short leader allowed me to cast to the kahawai that were following the stream of chopped pilchard that my companion threw over the stern. The water was so clear that I could target individual fish and gently twitch the fly past their noses. When the first kahawai hit the Clauser, I understood why their name translates from the Maouri as "strong in the sea". I could only land three or four before I had to put aside the fly rod and rest my aching forearm.  At one time, we saw a particularly good specimen prowling around the trail of bait. "Can you get that one?" Mr. Butler enquired. I estimated the distance, flipped up the back-cast and dropped the minnow inches in front of the fish. Ten seconds later he was hooked and cartwheeling across the water. Steve reached for the landing net and, clapping me on the back asked, "can you show me how to do that?" "Certainly", I replied "but don't pull the fly out of their mouths before they've taken it properly." Now it was my turn to sit and smirk as he did so, three times in a row.

Clauser Minnow

Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.  www.fishingwithstyle.co.uk

Narrative by Roger Beck                   01439 788483.  www.beckfisher.co.uk

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July 2008

Bloodworm

I am very much a traditional fisherman, preferring to stick to dry flies and nymphs; however on some occasions, more out of desperation not having caught anything, I will revert to chucking out a lure or two. Most lures do not represent anything in particular but can suggest anything at all.

On one occasion I was chatting away to Roger who had just caught a nice rainbow and I happened to look at what he was using. “What the heck is that?” I exclaimed. “Blood worm” was the reply. Well! I have fished with worms when I was a nipper, I have fished with blood worm imitations that I have tied myself, but never have I seen or tied the concoction Roger was using. It seemed to be a mass of red rubber bands sticking out from a blood red body.  Upon further investigation I found that that the materials required I already had at home in my fly tying room. So rather sneakily, when my wife was not looking I tied up a few of these patterns, rather large on size 10 or 12 hooks and popped them into my lure fly box ready for my next outing to a stillwater.

I always like a wee bit of entomology and to study the life cycle of the insects that we fly fishermen try to imitate. Now for your lesson. The midge is always with us and flies about 365 days a year, it does not have a season like the Mayfly. The female midge lays the eggs on the water’s surface which then sink down onto the bed of the lake or river. The eggs are not relevant to the angler; you need a microscope to view them. Eventually the eggs hatch out into red larvae which are classed as blood worms. Are you with me so far? These blood worms are relatively small, a lot smaller than Roger’s fly. After a period of time these blood worms pupate into what we anglers call buzzers which then struggle up to the water’s surface and hatch out into a midge and the life cycle begins again.

Now on my next outing I was accompanied by my wife Christine who fortunately for me is an avid angler so completely understands me and my daydreams.  Christine has an adventurous streak and is always willing to try something new. “Right! What’s in the box, what shall I use?” is usually the first question. “How about this?”  I answered with a smile on my face and a blood worm in my palm. Well! A gurning champion would have been proud of the face she pulled. “What the heck is that? That will not catch”  “Go on give it a go” I prompted.

So out the blood worm goes, not very far, nice and steady, slowly retrieved and BANG, first fish on. Second cast no fish, third cast BANG and another one.

And so it progressed for the next hour or so until with a grin she asked me for a replacement as hers had lost all its legs and was almost down to a bare shank.

Now what is it about fish? Are they stupid? In nature it would be very rare to get a cluster of blood worms which when spread out are nearly as big as a man’s hand. Could it be the colour? Could it be the long straggly bits that wave about? Could it be a combination of both? One straggly bit looks like a blood worm but 6 or 8 clustered together? Whatever it is the blood worm rules OK as far as my wife is concerned; it has gone into her favourites list alongside a Shipman’s buzzer. But that’s another story.

Bloodworm

Narrative and Fly by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.  www.fishingwithstyle.co.uk

 

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August 2008

Small Spur Wing

Big trout attain their size because they eat lots and don’t do much else; a bit like you and me really. A really big trout will find a place in the river where the feeding is good and will stay there as long as nothing disturbs him. My friend Richard prowls his beloved river Wharfe in search of such exceptional fish. Having found one, he does not rest until he catches it. Sometimes this can take him weeks.

Early this season, Richard found a very substantial brown trout. It had taken up residence in a little slack, tucked amidst willow branches, just off the main flow of the water. Here, it could lie in comfort, hidden from the view of all but the most observant, expending little effort in maintaining position in the eddy. At the same time, our leviathan could choose his delicacy as the current delivered tasty morsels to his doorstep. 

Richard sat on the bank and watched whilst the mighty fish lazily moved to intercept the early large dark olives as they floated past his nose, prepared to move no more than six inches from his lair. Flies beyond that distance were ignored; they required too much effort to reach and risked revealing the diner to prying eyes.

Richard favours the Grey Duster as an olive imitation; he tied one carefully onto his leader and slid quietly into the river some twenty yards downstream of his target. Crouching low, below the skyline, he waded slowly up the river until he was within casting distance. Richard knew that he had but one chance to deliver his fly on target. It flew straight and true until a tiny, breath of a cruel breeze deposited the grey duster in the willow leaves above his target. The tiny movement that was required to dislodge the fly was enough to alarm the fish; it melted away into the shadows. For an hour, Richard watched from the bank, the fish never showed again. The following day found Richard lurking amongst the vegetation watching the same fish going through the same routine in exactly the same place. The first three casts fell short of the mark, the fourth caused the fly to skate, unnaturally over the head of the fish as the complex current put an unavoidable bow in the line. Once again, the fish retreated. The next attempt produced the same outcome. There was no more than a square foot into which the fly must fall and then drift entirely naturally over the dining room. With this requirement for extreme accuracy, there is a tendency to deliver the fly speedily. Our hero misjudged the speed by a fraction and the fly alighted right on target but with more disturbance than would a natural insect. Survival instincts stimulated, the big old brownie delayed his lunch and withdrew once more into the depths.

By now, the fly hatches on the river had changed; olive uprights and small spur wings were new items on the menu. Richard noted this and returned to the river once more, armed with a small spur wing imitation. This time everything worked; fly delivered in exactly the right place, a huge open mouth appears below it, Richard’s heart is in his mouth. At that moment a rambler climbing the stile on the opposite bank, moved across the trout’s line of vision. At this sign of an intruder, with one swirl of his tail, the trout dissolved into the watery shadows once more.

It was almost a week later that Richard returned to the river with renewed determination. As he approached the now familiar line of willows, Lionel materialised from behind a tree, carrying a huge brown trout. “Got him from under the willows on a small spur wing imitation” he beamed. “Just short of four pounds.”

I know what the record book says, but to my mind that was definitely Richard’s fish.

 Small Spur Wing  - Pale Watery

Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.  www.fishingwithstyle.co.uk

Narrative by Roger Beck                        01439 788483.  www.beckfisher.co.uk

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September 2008

Bibio

Before I embark upon the fishing part of this month's column, I need to mention sheep ticks. This is a creature of pasture and moorland, known to scientists as Ixodes ricinus. It feeds on blood and is not fussy whose it is. It crawls onto the body, looks for the warmest nook or cranny that it can find and then sticks a serrated dagger-like tube through the skin. It squirts some of its stomach contents through the tube and then starts sucking blood. After a few days, when it is full, it falls off. The stomach contents can contain a bacterium that causes Lyme disease, which is very nasty. The hole that the tick pokes through the skin can become infected causing an abscess. One way of removing ticks involves methylated spirits and a glowing fag end. Another method involves tweezers.

One evening in mid July I experienced a very rare occurrence, a flat calm on a Hebridean loch. Usually the wind is a constant feature of these Islands and it blows all sorts of insects onto the water; the trout take advantage of this bounty. On this particular evening, small dark sedge flies were swirling around the heather margins of the loch, confined by the lack of breeze. Occasionally, one would alight upon a stone in the margins and then briefly touch down on the water to deposit eggs. The trout had moved right to the shore and were munching the hapless insects inches from the stones. I watched them for ages, wondering how I could cast a fly to them. The water was crystal clear and I could not approach closer than about fifteen yards before the trout saw me and retreated into the depths. I formulated a plan; first, I looked in my fly box for the nearest representation of small dark sedges. My eyes alighted upon a bibio, which I tied onto the leader. I slid carefully into the water and began casting parallel to the shore towards a group of eagerly rising trout about twenty yards away. I needed to place the fly within inches of the water's edge without hooking the bank-side vegetation. The fish ignored any fly more than a fin's flutter from the feeding ground. I have to admit two things. First, I soon lost my fly in the heather. Secondly I said some words that the Yorkshire Post don't print. I sat upon a boulder, feet still in the water, tied on another bibio and worked on another plan. Scheme two involved making a mental note of the position of the next pod of feeding fish and then retreating away from the edge of the loch. I would then approach my mark flat on my belly, peer over the foliage and gently flick the fly onto the water, avoiding spooking the fish by not outlining myself against the sky.

I know what you are thinking; you are thinking Culicoides impuctatus, midges! Fear not gentle reader, this was the West coast on North Uist, thankfully relatively free of the little blighters. Up to a point, the plan worked, I managed to catch eight plump brown trout. I also conspired to wrap the fly line and leader round some bracken stalks, giving rise to another outburst that would not have made it past the editor.

As I walked back to the road at dusk, I felt a bit smug and self-satisfied. I had encountered an angling problem, devised a solution and executed the plan successfully, well second plan anyway.

The smug expression finally vanished from my visage when I discovered the tick the following morning. Modesty prevents me from going into details of precisely where it stuck its serrated dagger. Sufficient to say that I definitely did not want that particular location to turn septic and swell up. My wife found some meths and muttered something about a glowing piece of kindling making a good substitute for a lighted fag. I went a bit pale and began frantically searching my luggage for tweezers.

Just for the record, I found tweezers before she opened the meths bottle.

 Bibio

Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.  www.fishingwithstyle.co.uk

Narrative by Roger Beck                        01439 788483.  www.beckfisher.co.uk

 

 

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October 2008

Adams

When the river Wharfe is the colour of Timothy Taylor’s Best Bitter, it is in perfect condition for fishing.  Purely in the interests of professionalism, I looked over the river bridge, made a mental note of the colour of the water and then made my way up to the Falcon for a comparison test. There, Robin dispensed a glass of amber nectar with his usual aplomb. I studied the contents carefully. Colours are notoriously difficult to recall; another glass was required to ensure accuracy. Yes, the colour of that flowing ‘neath the bridge was a little darker than that flowing into the glass; tomorrow, they would be the same. Naturally, being a conscientious chap, I would check again a little later in the day.

When Suzanne last visited the river, it was swollen and unfishable. I was keen that she should enjoy better conditions this time, hence the careful research.

I visited the riverbank before we met in the hotel next morning; Pure Timothy Taylor’s flowed serenely down the dale. I was quietly confident. Knowing that she was flooded off the river last season, Kilnsey Angling Club insisted that Suzanne should enjoy a complimentary ticket on this occasion, typical of their friendly disposition.

I suspected that the significant fly hatches might not appear until the afternoon. With this in mind, we spent the morning fishing the slower stretch below the bridge. After lunch, we would make our way upstream to try our luck in the pacier water where I hoped the hatching olives might tempt the fish to feed at the surface.

At noon, with three good fish accounted for, Suzanne wanted to do the colour comparison thing again; I managed to dissuade her, with a convincing argument about the rigor of my original research.

As we walked upstream, I noticed the beginnings of a hatch of olive uprights, a late spring fly that anglers ignore at their peril.  By the time we arrived at my chosen area, the flies were hatching regularly and the trout were tucking in. Fish were rising systematically between the tail of the run and the glide into the shade of the trees. This had “red letter day” written all over it. There was, however, one problem. It was not possible to employ my preferred tactic and to work our way upstream. The water downstream was too deep for thigh waders, which, you may recall, I hate with a passion. We would have to fish downstream with a dry fly. This is demanding of the angler, the fish are looking in your direction; spooking them is all too easy. For the technically inclined, a slack line cast is required in order to prevent the fly behaving in an unnatural way by causing drag at the surface. Suzanne must fish skilfully and cast carefully, just as I knew she could. This would not be easy; if anyone could pull it off, then this young lady could.

We quietly waded into the river a few yards upstream of the distracted fish. I decided to deploy the Adams to represent the natural fly on the water. Suzanne carefully checked the location of any bushes that might impede her back cast, tilted her hat at a jaunty angle and set about catching trout. A short line, a careful lift from the water and a gentle tap forward was followed by a gentle lift of the rod tip. The fly alighted like thistle down about a yard upstream of the first fish on the list, perfect. It just ate the fly with alacrity, the rod bent, we were in business.

As I slipped the ninth fish back into the water, I announced that there was no pressure, but that she was one short of double figures. Suzanne, as expected, rose to the challenge. In the late afternoon, we called a halt as I returned a fish that brought her tally to a baker’s dozen.

I’m not sure who was the most pleased but by way of a celebration, we felt obliged to do a bit more colour comparing, purely for research you understand.

 

Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.  www.fishingwithstyle.co.uk

Narrative by Roger Beck                    01439 788483.  www.beckfisher.co.uk

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 November 2008

Kicking Klink 

Fishing is not just a game, it’s far more important than that. I’ve argued before that it is therapeutic. The danger arises when the therapy is withdrawn. Summer 2008 was tantamount to medication denial for many anglers. For weeks, the rivers were flooded and on many days vicious easterly winds reduced still water fisheries to combat zones. Many of my fellow fishers began to develop withdrawal symptoms akin to piscatorial cabin fever. Untreated, this condition will lead to twitching, mumbling and a kind of starey-eyed distraction. Some have suggested that bad temper is also prevalent; I would dispute that vigorously. I might just concede that a little domestic disharmony is occasionally evident.

The Dales rivers were flooded, not a single fly had touched the water for days; I began to hear disturbing stories that some of my friends were afflicted, “other halves” began to introduce the term “tetchy” when talking of their loved ones. Even Richard was beginning suffer and decided that self-medication was the only answer.

When the bigger rivers are out of sorts, some of the tiny streams, running off our northern hills can offer a refuge for the angler. Many of them are home to modest little brown trout, others, especially those running over limestone, provide refuge for surprisingly fat fish. Richard assembled some basic essentials, a fishing rod and a tent, popped them in the panniers of his motor bike and headed for the hills. High up in a remote valley, he found a sheltered wall corner in peaceful meadow, a perfect place to pitch the tent. Ownership of the meadow was soon established and permission willingly granted for a couple of nights camping. Now, I have a sneaking feeling that the location was chosen after very careful scrutiny of the map.  I am not convinced that it was a complete accident that Hay Ghyll chuntered and chattered its way along the edge of the meadow. However, tent pitched, our fishing junkie went for a stroll and, amazingly, came across the burbling brook with considerable piscatorial potential. “Is it OK for me to cast a fly in the stream?” Asked a slightly out of breath camper, once more at the farmhouse door, having legged it up the track. “Help yourself” replied the lady of the house, “but there’s nowt in it”

Now, I hesitate to use the word feverish, but in no time, our man was sitting on a rock rapidly assembling his new seven-foot fly rod, shall we say, somewhat hastily. All the time his experienced eyes were scanning the surface of the aqueous antidote to his affliction. He saw precisely nothing. The next plan was to look for a place that a wild brown trout might like to call home. Close by, the stream was squeezed between two large boulders and then widened into a slower moving pool of deeper water, all of five yards long. The inflow of fast water cut a definite “V” shape down the pool, the edges of which, we anglers call the seam. Any food carried by the water is forced between the boulders at some speed. The pool becomes a pantry. The trout lurk in the slack water and pick off the food as it trundles down the seam. Richard chose a kicking Klink, greased it to float, removed the barb, and cast the fly carefully into the seam. It travelled no more than a foot when a brassy mini torpedo materialised from the depths, executed a perfect porpoise roll and engulfed the fly on the way down. With a gentle lift of the rod tip eight inches of very surprised brown trout was led quietly to the net and gently released. It is amazing how small a dose of a palliative drug will alleviate the most severe conditions. Calmed, Richard returned to his tent and slept soundly.

A couple of days later, having caught a number of feisty little fish, Richard arrived at the farmhouse to offer his thanks. “You’re welcome, did you catch owt?” He pondered upon this for an instant and shrugged his shoulders. “You were right, there’s nowt in there”. 

Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.  www.fishingwithstyle.co.uk

Narrative by Roger Beck                    01439 788483.  www.beckfisher.co.uk 

 

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December 2008

Christmas Humbug. 

So, the festive season is here. I sometimes wonder just how much mental energy is consumed in trying to solve the perennial problem of "what shall I buy him/her for Christmas?"

If all your friends and relatives were anglers, you would never again be stuck for a gift idea. There would be no more annual agonising. Anglers always need gadgets and gear. The manufacturers will tell you that this year's rod is far better than last year's model. Your angling loved one will swallow that, dare I say hook, line and sinker? At least your problem is solved.

No angler can ever have too many reels. This year buy one for fishing still water, next year look for a river reel. "How are they different"? I hear you say. Well, they just are. When he or she has one for every single practical angling application, it's time to start presenting reels that just look nice. The next logical step is to encourage your fisher to become a collector. Perfectly legitimate, and it allows you to continue to give meaningful presents at Christmas. Not only that, it's a good excuse to spend the winter months scouring auction rooms or ebay. It's just a perfect plan. Your beloved angler will be occupied for hours searching for that "must have". Once bought, they can fiddle about and admire it for hours on end. Be a bit careful though, some of the classic reels of last century go for hundreds of pounds. In fact, they can cost much more than a new one. That, however, is not the point!

So, what about gadgets?  The possibilities are almost endless and the frequent fisher will need most of them. Just for cutting nylon line, there are scissors, snips, snippers or clippers to choose from. You can have steel, ceramic or tungsten carbide. One nipper is ergonomic and another has a light in the end. Once we've cut the stuff, it doesn't stop there. We will need a few potions to make it work properly. There is stuff to make it sink, stuff to make it float and stuff to straighten it out when it kinks. There is available a special container for the spare bits of nylon so we don't leave them lying on the bank. No angler should be without one of these. The brew that makes nylon float is no good for flies, so some different unction will be needed for that job. Here, there is choice between powder, liquid or gels, which you can spray on, rub on or dip into. Then when the fly becomes too wet, we need powder, cloth or amadou fungus to dry it out again. We could just blow on it, but that's no fun at all. Then we need to keep the fly line afloat so, yet another mixture is needed. All this lot might be required, to hand at a moment's notice. Luckily, you can help to solve that problem by buying special things to hold the gadgets. These could be called zingers, retractors or lanyards, with which our fisher can become festooned. Choose a range of colours and the result looks a bit like a well-trimmed Christmas tree.  

Fly fishers need at least a thousand flies to be on the safe side. We need slim ones and plump ones, some with hackles, some with wings and some without. Flies that float and flies that sink are both essential. Having bought the flies, you can purchase special fly boxes to put them in. Some fly boxes have foam linings, some have spring clips, and others have separate compartments. There are even really posh ones with a combination of all three. They vary in size from matchbox to suitcase. Just when you begin to run out of ideas, proffer a jacket with at least a hundred pockets to lug the whole lot around.

The best present would be a place on one of our courses next season. That way, we create the angler for you to indulge.  For details of our courses go to www.fishingwithstyle.co.uk 

Whatever Christmas brings for you, it comes with our best wishes and the hope that it is not just Humbug. 

Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.  www.fishingwithstyle.co.uk

Narrative by Roger Beck                        01439 788483.  www.beckfisher.co.uk

 

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