Fishing with Style

 

 

Yorkshire Post - Country Week

2015 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 back to 2008 articles

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Go Back to 2013 Articles     Go Back to 2014 Articles   Go on to 2016 articles   Go to 2017 articles

Here are the monthly articles, published in 2015, which we trust you will enjoy reading:

Riverfly Partnership Sampling       Bass Fly       Woodcock and Yellow   Green Hotspot Spider

Pearly Pheasant Tail Nymph   John Storey Revisited  The Mucky Mayfly

Fishing with Children     The G & H Sedge       Uist Red Dabbler

Peat Chemistry        The Blue Lion at East Witton Salmon Fishing

 

January 2015

Conserving our rivers

This month, by way of a change, Roger has kindly allowed me to take the reins to talk about the conservation work which is carried out on our rivers.  Each river in Yorkshire is under the scrutiny of a Rivers Trust specifically set up to take care of their local river. Not many people are aware of the work done simply to keep our rivers clean, healthy and safe from pollution and invasive species.

Whatever the weather, I can be seen, up to  my waist in the River Wharfe every month at Addingham High Mill –brandishing a large net. But before anyone reports me to the river bailiff, I would like to point out that I am not using it to try to catch any fish!

Instead I am one of an army of over 400 volunteers who regularly look after our rivers and streams in the UK, checking on the levels of invertebrate life to help to monitor water quality.  The nets used are specifically designed to collect a sample from the gravel on the riverbed so that they can be checked for a range of insect life.

The initiative is the responsibility of the  Riverfly Partnership, a national group that organises and trains teams of volunteer samplers who look for the bugs and mini-beasts living in the riverbed and report back on the numbers they find. Most of the tiny creatures we are looking for are the water-living stage of winged insects such as mayflies and sedges. They are sensitive to changes in water quality and if they are not present in sufficient numbers, I and my fellow samplers alert the Environment Agency. Their job is to  investigate and take action if they find that an incident of pollution has caused the drop in numbers.

Last year Addingham Beavers joined me for a sampling session and were fascinated by what they found. The group of over 20 children and their leaders, along with parents and volunteers, spent a happy if frenetic hour identifying the bugs in their sample trays before returning them to the river (leaving me and my fellow samplers helping me out exhausted!)

Anglers and environmentalists know about the bugs that live in the river but most people are unaware of them.  Anglers are often the first to be aware of changes in water quality because they know their rivers so well. And they’re in a good position to act as samplers as they don’t need much persuading to get into the water!

Most of the nationwide teams of samplers are made up of anglers, a fact which surprises many who think that fishermen are only interested in catching fish and eating them.  But fishing is now mainly about conservation and most fish caught are returned to the river unharmed.

Currently, on the River Wharfe, we have just a small team of samplers but much more needs to be done to ensure better coverage.  We would like to train more sampling teams to sample other stretches of the Wharfe and also other local rivers, but we need funding to do this.  Thankfully, with funding from the Salmon & Trout Association, West Yorkshire Branch, and the Aire Rivers Trust, we are now able to begin training 12 new volunteers to sample 12 points on the River Aire, starting March 2015.

Anyone interested in volunteering as a sampler, or in sponsoring the training of sampling teams or advising on funding for these can contact me on sales@fishingwithstyle.co.uk . You do not have to be an angler to volunteer, you just have to be interested in conserving our rivers and, as a result, our environment.  All we ask is for two hours of your time per month.

The Riverfly Partnership website is at http://www.riverflies.org/

Riverfly Partnership sampling

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

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February 2015

Bass Fly

I’ve decided that it’s time to cleanse my soul and come clean. I cannot stand the sleepless nights and days of anxiety, guilt and remorse. I am going to confess my sins and hope for the forgiveness of our readers. I suspect that there will be murmurings and exclamations of mirth from around the County. I don’t care anymore, I have lived with the guilt for three months; I need to get this off my chest once and for all. 

Within a week of my return from the fabulous rivers of Montana, I found myself heading south with Mark. I suppose that I could make the excuse that the whole unseemly episode arose because I had, uncharacteristically strayed south of the Trent. That would, however, be the coward’s way out and I’m not willing to sink so low. We were on our way to Cornwall, and that’s even south of London. I am told that there are some fine trout rivers in Cornwall, and perhaps I should have visited some of those; stuck to what I know, as it were. That was not to be, the plan was far more grandiose; we were travelling to the Deep South in order to fish for bass. 

Of course any sane angler fishes for this species with lugworms dug from the estuary, with spinners or, even more sensibly, with nets. Not us, our plan was to catch these critters with a fly rod; absolutely barmy. By the way, did I mention the fact that bass live in the sea? No babbling brook or gently flowing stream for this expedition. We had to pursue our quarry upon the briny ocean with a boat. Now, my last experience of fly fishing in salt water involved floating about in placid lagoons by the inshore reefs of the Caribbean Sea. That’s not quite the same as the rock and roll roller-coaster of the North Atlantic.  

Casting a Crazy Charlie from the foredeck of a steady little craft in the Caribbean is just a bit different from attempting to hurl a handful of feathers into the teeth a force four from the dancing deck of a broad beamed boat.

I am most familiar with floating fly lines that are easy to cast; now I needed to launch a line as heavy as lead. I’ll cut to the chase, I struggled. Hand on heart, I can usually launch fly lines pretty much anywhere and under any conditions. Not this time.  

The first debacle arose when I attempted to chuck a thing called a gurgler. It’s not dissimilar to the hopper that I encountered in America. As with the latter, its aerodynamics leave something to be desired, it is constructed mainly of closed cell foam and is about as streamlined as a coal scuttle. As a consequence, back casts take roughly twenty minutes to straighten out and if one begins the forward stroke too early, there is a good possibility of embedding a size two in the scalp. No protection from the requisite hat, that’s already blown into the sea. 

Discretion being the better part of valour, I quickly abandoned the gurgler and replaced it with a slim silver contraption that might look like a sand eel. Another fiasco ensued every time I hoisted it behind me.  Gravity is a funny phenomenon, the harder I tried to keep that fly above my head, the lower it fell. As I executed the forward cast I began to perform a kind of dance, reminiscent of that wretched nodding dog in the rear window of a rover. It was the only way to prevent the flashy fly from metamorphosing into ear rings.

I did catch a couple of bass and ate them out of spite.

Bass Fly

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

Narrative by Roger Beck                    01439 788483

 

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 March 2015

Woodcock and Yellow

My wife calls it the playroom. It’s actually the place in the house where I keep my fishing stuff. Well, actually there is some in the shed and a bit more in the loft as well. Oh, alright then, there are a few bits and pieces in the porch and on the shelves on the landing where I sat in the playroom the other day, just thinking.

It’s time to knock up some flies for the spring opening of the trout season. Perhaps I should clarify; Steve dresses flies, I knock them up. There is a difference! So, I was thinking about which flies should stock my box for 2015. After faffing about for an hour, a thought struck me. I didn’t need to bother my brain. The thinking was done for me during the years when Adam was a lad. Better still, it was mainly northern thinking, uncluttered by any southern nonsense.  

In the nineteenth century, such folk as Swarbrick and Pritt had produced simple flies made from bits of fur, feather and fluff. If you look out your Yorkshire Post for Saturday April 2nd. 2005, you will find some useful information about these so called spider flies. What do you mean, “You lit the fire with it?” Shame on you but in that case you need to consult Steve’s website. North Country spiders have proved to be devastatingly effective for over 200 years. Job done, I just need a few of these flimsy hackled fellows and off I go. 

Just as I sat in my playroom the other day, one bright, warm afternoon in September I sat on the bank by a riffle on the Firehole river in Yellowstone National Park, USA. It looked to be perfect trout habitat; two to three feet deep, gurgling over small stones and gravel with randomly scattered bigger rock. The occasional hapless insect would run the gauntlet of the riffle and disappear in the midst of a splash or a swirl. This was a tricky situation because my intuition monitor could detect my wife’s feeling of inevitability.  

To cut a long story short, the following day found me once more ensconced by the Firehole but this time with rod in hand, thinking how I might best fish this beautiful river four thousand miles away from home. Slowly, a tingle of Déjà vu crept up my spine. Why on earth was this riffle any different from similar ones on the Swale, Ure, Wharfe or Nidd? Even the fish were the same; trout. I tied three North Country spiders to my leader. Right on the very end was an Endrick spider (see December 2012), in the middle sat a hare’s ear and golden plover (May 3 2014) and for the top dropper I chose a woodcock and yellow just because the Montana sun reflected so prettily from it as it rested in my fly box.  

I slipped into the river and cast my flies all of five yards, upstream of a rock just big enough to divert the current. As my flies fluttered by the rock, I saw the brassy flash of a brown trout flank beneath the clear water, lifted the rod tip and was rewarded by the sight of a brown trout airborne and attached to the woodcock and yellow. I worked very slowly downstream, carefully picking my targets. I travelled no more than thirty yards that day and made the acquaintance of nineteen brown and rainbow trout. Not one of them over eight inches in length, but every one of them bright and beautiful.

I checked my emails later in the day. One from my pal Charlie back in England simply read “if you fish the Firehole, use spiders.”

Woodcock and Yellow

 

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

Narrative by Roger Beck                    01439 788483

 

 

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April 2015

Green Hotspot Spider

By the time that you read this, I will have been out to celebrate the beginning of a new trout fishing season; I’ll let you know whether I caught anything next month. It nearly did not happen because I almost became involved in an issue that is potentially of profound interest to the whole of Yorkshire.

You must forgive me if I digress from fishing for a few moments, but I really do feel that this is far too important an issue not to share with you. To be fair, the matter in question did arise, perhaps indirectly, through fishing. This is the time of year when many angling clubs hold their Annual General Meetings; I’ve attended three in that last couple of weeks and riveting they were too. Actually, I was thrown out of one club for arguing with the Chairman, I’ll tell you the full story sometime. Sorry, I deviate from my digression. As a general rule, fishing clubs hold their AGM in a pub. So, we have a collection of likeminded men who will not have congregated together for a year and here they are in the mid evening gathered in licenced premises. It’s inevitable really that the later the evening progresses, the more important becomes the debate.

So, after just such a very recent AGM, I was party to piscatorial philosophising.

The problem originated during a discussion about who had bought their Environment Agency licence for the coming season; every angler has to have one before going fishing. I confess to feeling pretty self-satisfied, safe in the knowledge that mine was already loaded into my fishing jacket. Some of my fellow club members were in the process of promising to do the necessary the following day, when the bolt came out of the blue. Pete is a very well respected member of our community and not known to be mischievous. “‘Ang on” he declared “haven’t you heard? The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has announced a new manifesto item for the election. I heard it on the news before I came out.” What are you on about” demanded Derek, one of our more alert members; Pete put on his serious face. “He’s announced that there’s going to be more regional devolution if they win the election, and Yorkshire will be the first English County where the plan will be trialled. It stands to reason, we are the biggest County. ”You are taking the Mickey” responded Derek.”  “No I’m not” replied Pete with very convincing sincerity. “You’ll see; when you go to the post office for your licence, you’ll find that the national permit has been replaced by a new Yorkshire River Board ticket, like we used to have. The Environment Agency has rushed it through so that it can start on the first day of the season, next Wednesday.”  Then Pete went just a step too far. “I’m telling you, It’s right; In July they plan to introduce our own currency called the “pund”, it will only be legal tender in Yorkshire and it’s value is negotiable. It will not be handled by banks, because Yorkshire Folk don’t trust any of ‘em. Newly appointed Aldermen called Pundpunters will handle them.” 

I partly blame the new brewery in Helmsley; the Yorkshire Legend was going down so well that we had all become, shall we say, rather gullible. So, I think that it was the designated driver, awash with lemonade, who quietly pointed out that the first day on the season, Wednesday, was April 1st.

By the way, this little black thing will definitely be on my leader on Wednesday.

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

Narrative by Roger Beck                    01439 788483

 

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May 2015

Pearly Pheasant Tail Nymph

Despite my best intentions, it all went horribly wrong. As has been my practice for many years,

 I planned to go fishing on the opening day of the trout season, April first, but I was confounded due to circumstances entirely beyond my control. In fact, it was the fourth by the time that I made my way to the river.

The spring sunshine lit up the tapestry of fields and woodlands that we are blessed with in this bit of North Yorkshire. As I made my way to the head of the dale, the nonsense of the assertion that “trees are green” crossed my mind. Before me was every shade of green that I can imagine; from the pastel shades of the larches to the vibrant new bright shiny hues of the sycamore and elm. The wild daffodils of Farndale are spectacular and prolific, but it’s by no means the only place that they grow. As I began to descend the steep valley sides, some of the sunny glades revealed their yellow jewels; small clumps of Narcissus pseudonarcissus announced the arrival of spring. I stopped and walked into one of the dells to reacquaint myself with the beauty of these brilliant little gems.

I arrived at the river and took up my usual vantage point on the little bridge. The river cackled and burbled its way beneath my feet but the water level caused me immediate concern. I cannot remember previously seeing such low flows in the spring; this does not bode well for the rest of the year. I slowly pulled on my waders, I don’t do rushing these days, gathered up the rod and net then quietly slipped into the water. I was determined to catch the first fish of the season on that little green and black concoction that I showed you last month. All my instincts told me that I should be trundling a nymph along the stones on the river bed, but a promise is a promise. For half an hour, I methodically worked my way through the riffles and pool necks without so much as a sniff of a fish. Well, there were a couple of stops along the way whilst I untangled the fly from stupidly placed bushes; they are difficult to see at this time of year when not in full leaf, honest!

By now I’d arrived at the wooden foot bridge, so I sat on the buttress for a while to take stock. I nearly cut the green hotspot spider from my leader and changed it for a bead headed nymph, but determination prevailed; or was I merely being pig headed? Whatever the reason the little green and black fly stayed put. Back in the river, I had travelled no more than ten yards when a slight movement caught my eye. Right in the centre a little sun dappled riffle, tucked hard against the left bank, a brown trout went purposefully about its business. I dropped the fly like thistledown about three feet upstream of him. As it floated past his nose, with no drama or hesitation, he simply ate it. A few minutes later another piece of nature’s perfection lay across my wetted hand before swimming off into the depths. Honour being satisfied, I popped the somewhat bedraggled fly back in my box and swapped it for a tiny pearly pheasant tail nymph, confident that this would bring me instant success. It didn’t.

Back at the motor, I began to change back into my civies. As I peeled off the waders, I noticed a little damp patch round about middle earth. I hope that’s a small leak and not something more concerning.

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

Narrative by Roger Beck                    01439 788483. 

 

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June 2015

John Storey Revisited

Not many people know this but a Yorkshire gardener has rediscovered a long lost fruit known as the “humble”. Victorian recipe books mention humble crumble as a favourite desert among common Yorkshire folk. In my (humble?) opinion it is best baked in a pie; I have a large slice sitting next to me as I write. Let me explain.

Mark and I were fishing the Rye below one of its lovely stone bridges. The chilling north-east winds had blown for days keeping the air cool minimising insect hatches. Consequently, the fish’s pantry was located deep in the water; we sought and found the trout and grayling with deeply sunk nymph imitations.

Late in the morning, the breeze made a noticeable right turn and introduced a little westerly air into the day. The temperature rise was just discernible to humans, but the insect world is much more tuned in to these environmental manoeuvres.

Upstream of us, the river tinkled over a small natural weir and we began to see the occasional upwing fly emerge in the riffle. They were pushed by the current into a smooth glide of water against the far bank. Three or four flies drifted by and eventually managed to break free of the surface tension, dry their wings and take flight. By now, the fish had spotted the fact that lunch had re-located and the tell -tale splashes of surface feeding trout was music to our ears. Once more, the instinctive behaviour of wild creatures drew comment from both of us. The fish had adapted rapidly to the change in food source, but they had not chosen to venture into the fast running water from whence the nymphs metamorphosed; instead they lay in deadly leisurely ambush in the gentler flowing water.

The number of flies increased, as did the fish’s determination to capture them. The nymph was quickly removed from our leader and I fumbled in the fly box, deciding how best to imitate the dish of the day. My eyes were drawn to a little clutch of winter creations from my fly tying vice. They were made in such a way that they mimicked the habit of the real thing; abdomens sitting in the surface film suspended by a parachute hackle. I’d even made the thorax slightly darker, a feature of the real thing. They were, in my book, the bee’s knees; I was very impressed with my efforts. Which is more than can be said for the trout. Disdain, contempt feel free to choose a word. One cheeky blighter even swam alongside my offering for a couple of feet before slowly sinking back to his lie. Eventually, the smallest, and probably daftest fish in the shoal did eat my fly: I swear blind that it winked as I released it.

All the while, Mark was poking around in the dusty corners of his own fly box. “Shall we try this one” he suggested. “What is it”, I enquired. “It’s the John Storey that you showed me how to tie eight years ago, the very one”.  There will now be a moment’s pause whilst I take a bite of the snack by my side. “No” I replied “I know it’s the traditional fly for this river, but I find it not to be very effective. Let’s try one with a CDC (duck’s bum fluff to some) wing.” “I’d like to give it a swim” he opined. So, I handed Mark the rod with what might have been a smug expression.

You know the rest of the tale. By the time we returned to the bridge, John Storey had caught seventeen beautiful wild, discerning trout.

I’m off up the garden to pick some more fruit.

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

Narrative by Roger Beck                    01439 788483. 

 

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July 2015

The Mucky Mayfly

I’m not about to claim that this month’s fly is all my idea; it’s not but it did do a good job for me during the Yorkshire mayfly season.

Last February, Mike Smith introduced me to a fly called the Dirty Duster, itself an American adaptation of a fly called the Grey Duster, which originated in the UK and has been around since Adam was a lad. Actually, it may well have received its first published appearance in Lancashire, but we must not be prejudiced. I’m going to be a bit technical for a minute or two, but I’ll try to be gentle. The Dirty Duster is tied on a curved hook in such a way that the body hangs below the surface of the river. Thus, it imitates a fly that is in the process of   transforming from nymph to adult; in angling parlance, it is an emerger.  I would urge any anglers who might be reading this (well, there might be the odd one) to try this pattern, I’m sure that Steve will tie you some. Oh, just a word of warning, don’t use them on the Haddon Estate water in Derbyshire, you’ll have Warren, the keeper, after you; emergers are not allowed here.

I used the Dirty Duster early in the season and enjoyed a good deal of success with it, then the mayfly arrived. Interesting things, mayfly, we have spoken of them many times over the years. They are the biggest of our up-wing flies and usually provoke rather more excitement among fishers than fish. I recently fished one of the beautiful rivers of the Peak District. It seems that a mayfly had been spotted the previous day and consequently the river bank was lined with anglers.

This year, the mayfly arrived in great profusion on my local rivers; over several days, there was a constant trickle of these spectacular ephemerids drifting along on the breeze. Many of them, especially the ones in the process of emerging, were waylaid by the trout. I saw one enthusiastic little chap leap a foot out of the water in order to ensnare a passing mayfly; he wasn’t a lot bigger than his prey.

Most of the traditional mayfly patterns have big floppy wings, just like the real thing. This can cause the angler a real problem because trying to cast one of these concoctions is a bit like trying to chuck a kite against a stiff breeze, they spin, twist the leader into an indescribable knot and provoke very bad language. The answer, by the way, is a short thick leader; the fish don’t give a jot. After a day of catching fine trout on a thing called a shadow mayfly, suffering the occasional tangled leader and offering the odd word of wisdom, I began to think. No, do not be alarmed, I’m not going to make a habit of thinking; it makes my head ache. My thoughts drifted to the Dirty Duster. It struck be that if I tied it on a big hook and made the body a bit thicker, ribbed in black, that it might bear a very close resemblance to an emerging mayfly. Most importantly, it was too wind resistant.

A few days later, I was back on the river accompanied by a delightful young lady called Olwyn who was keen to try her hand at fly fishing. During the afternoon, we noticed that fish were beginning to do battle with mayfly. I tied one of my creations on Olwyn’s leader and she propelled it towards a trout that was very busy beneath the branches of a bush. The fly had floated less than a foot when it was engulfed with huge enthusiasm. So, the Mucky Mayfly was born.

 

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

Narrative by Roger Beck                    01439 788483. 

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August 2015

Fishing with children

In a recent article in one of the monthly fly fishing magazines it was stated that the best age to start fly fishing is 10 years old.  Children younger than 10, they said, ought to stick to coarse fishing with maggot and worm.  In some part I would agree with this statement but try telling that to the Mums and Dads out there who want to encourage their children to use the great outdoors.  Children under 10 may not have the strength and ability to concentrate but for some youngsters below that age their enthusiasm and willingness to learn can overcome  this.

During July I seemed to be surrounded by children, like buses once one comes along a whole host appears. It  started with Alistair,  who I have been instructing since he was only 7 -  he is 14 now and still enjoying it to the full.  The attached picture is of Alistair on his first lesson, aged 7.

For one morning each year during  the summer I have been steadily building up his casting, showing him the different methods of fishing wet and dry flies, landing fish and encouraging his Dad to build up his range of fishing tackle. He is nearly ready now to go it alone, we just have to take the next tentative steps into river fishing.

The week after I had been with Alistair I had a phone call from a Dad, so eager to get his children into fishing  I could hardly refuse. Enquiring about the ages I was told there were 3 of them aged 6, 8 and 10. Hmmm! The youngest at 6 was going to be a challenge, I thought, but what the heck, let’s give it a go. It's disheartening  for a child to be left out when the others are all learning to fish so  I encouraged Mum and Dad to get involved too and, lo and behold, they and all the children caught fish.

I don't  promote the big boys' method of fly fishing for the youngsters  but stick to some easy roll casts and fish with the wet fly under an indicator, very much like float fishing. It’s easy and comfortable and if the attention span wanes, so be it -   we end up poking about in the water to see what bugs we can find.

Mid July saw the big annual event, the Great Yorkshire Show. The Salmon and Trout Association always have a very large marquee at the show in the Country Pursuits section where we promote fishing for all ages. This year was the best yet. We had over 140 children and 45 adults taking part in casting lessons on the pond and watching some of the youngsters cast put a lot of old hands to shame. With only 15 minutes allotted to each person the instructors gave it their all and the smiles on the faces of the instructors, never mind the smiles on the faces of the Mums and Dads, were worth every ounce of effort that we put in during the 3 days. I think the youngest entry was 4 years old, OK I will hold up my hands and say that his attention span was extremely short, but his enthusiasm was so great I could not let him leave the area without a second hand rod and reel that he could play with. You never know, in 10 years he might be fishing for the England youth team.

The end of July saw me at the Nidderdale Angling Club Junior Day. This annual event draws in boys and girls of all ages to experience coarse fishing, fly fishing, fly tying and entomology (that’s the identification of the bugs we fishermen try to copy). What a day! And what a great crowd of people in Nidderdale. Flies were tied, fish were caught, maggots were handled and big smiling faces proved we had once again, maybe, convinced a few kids that this fishing lark isn't bad after all!

Narrative by Stephen Cheetham.

 

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September 2015

The G & H Sedge

This month’s fly was invented by John Goddard and Cliff Henry, hence its name, and is intended to represent sedge flies. It is made by tying bunches of deer hair onto a hook and then cutting to shape; it floats like a cork. In anything other than a gentle breeze, this fly is an absolute swine to cast; it is bulky, very light in weight and has the wind resistance of a haystack. For these reasons, I never use the G & H sedge, preferring the elk hair model.

Early July found me making my way north to the Hebrides via Sutherland. It rained. I don’t mean occasionally or showers; it rained solidly for a week.

Eventually I took the ferry from Uig to Lochmaddy on the Isle of North Uist. My first port of call after disembarking was the house of my friend Philip. Our usual enthusiastic meeting on his drive was cancelled this year because it was raining. Again. For the first time in a dozen years, no plans were made for fishing, on account of the rain. This was biblical rain encouraged on its way by a vicious north-east wind. Inclement is one word that I could have used but there are several others.  I chose the others!

The following day was Sunday and there’s no fishing in the Hebrides on Sundays. Just as well really because the wind blew and it rained. On Monday the sky had turned from slate grey to pale grey and the rain had eased off to a downpour; there was a hint of brightness to the South so I assembled a fishing rod. Mid-morning, my phone announced the arrival of a text message from Philip. “Shall we risk it this afternoon”? “Yes” I replied.

As we launched the boat, the rain actually stopped and the temperature rose to an almost tropical 12 degrees.  The Loch is an unassuming patch of water amidst the machair land, it is almost choked with weed and is home to some truly enormous brown trout. These leviathans are rarely seen and very occasionally, one is caught. If I told you the name of the Loch I’d have to kill you.

The wind died away and we drifted slowly across the scarcely disturbed water’s surface. From the reeds there materialised a whole host of insects, the most obvious being some truly huge sedge flies roughly the size of corpulent sparrows. Most unusually swirls and splashes began to attract our attention as the fish made short work of any fly that alighted on the water.

You know where this is going don’t you.

I snipped the imitation stickleback from my line and began to ratch about in my fly box for a helicopter sized elk hair sedge, knowing all the time that there wasn’t one. Eventually, in a dusty corner I came across a battered G & H sedge which must have been at least twenty years old. I cast it well away from the boat and proceeded to tweak the line in such a way that the fly appeared to be sprottling about on the surface.

Quite suddenly, a torpedo-like wake headed in the direction of the G & H, a pair of jaws materialised and simply engulfed the fly. Then, all hell broke loose and something the size of a Labrador pup hurled itself out of the Loch. More by luck than by judgement, I steered the fish away from the weed beds and Philip slid the net under a truly magnificent brown trout. It weighed five pounds exactly, the biggest wild trout that I have ever caught.

As we tied up the boat, it started to rain.

The G & H Sedge

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

Narrative by Roger Beck                    01439 788483. 

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October 2015

Uist Red Dabbler

 Recently, someone asked me how far in advance of publication do I decide what to write about. It varies between several months and a few days.

I decided upon the subject of this month’s column back in July. I discovered that there is a trout fly called the Uist Red Dabbler (URD) so it seemed like a really good idea for me to take some over to North Uist. I would use this tempting looking creation to catch trout with and report my adventures to my dear readers.

The old hands need to excuse me a moment whilst I explain some fishing stuff to the non-anglers.  As you can see from Steve’s picture the Dabbler is a fluffy, hairy thing with lots of feathers and flashy bits so it lends itself to fishing near the surface of the water in the ripple, or more likely waves, if in North Uist. I usually tie a slim fly on the very end of my line and then a fuzzy one about five feet away. The slim fly sinks easily due to its profile, whilst the fat one traps air amongst the feathers and fibres, remains near the surface where it flaps about and causes a disturbance when retrieved; in the trade, it’s called dibbling. The fish see the disturbance, assume that it’s caused by food and grab it. It’s a very cunning plan.

So, late one evening in the first week of my stay on the Western Isles, despite the rain, I arrived at the loch side and sat down upon one of my favourite pondering boulders. The Alexandra (November, 2007) was my choice for the end fly and of course the URD took up station above it. I needed to catch an early fish on the Dabbler so that I had the story “in the bag”. I waded along the shore, slowly casting my flies down the wind so that I could make the Dabber dibble. Six times that evening, the line tightened and a handsome brown trout graced my net. Every single one caught on the Alexandra.

A few days later, I tramped across the moor for about half an hour to one of my favourite lochs. The same team of flies remained in place as I began to explore the shallow water amongst the rocks on the downwind shore. Once again, the Alexandra accounted for about half a dozen trout in fairly quick order. Not a sniff to the UDR. I sat upon a rock, snipped off the Dabbler and replaced it with a Clan Chief (May, 2007). Second cast, wallop! The Clan Chief disappeared amidst a significant swirl. The same thing happened several more times. Off came the Clan Chief, back went the Dabbler and after three more trout on the Alexandra I went home in a dudgeon.

There is a loch, close to Lochmaddy, which is so full of modest little trout that it is virtually impossible not to catch them. Moreover, they are so eager that they will swirl at anything that passes by their noses. This time, the Dabbler went on the end of the line with a Soldier Palmer (October 2011) bringing up the rear. The Soldier Palmer worked really well! Desperate measures were needed. I had still caught nothing on the UDR, so I had no story to tell. I attached two UDR’s to my line and busied myself. Nothing, not a single fish for half an hour. The dabblers were sent off and substituted with two Clan Chiefs. First cast, two fish at once, one on each fly.

At that point, I gave up so I’m afraid that I cannot write about the Uist Red Dabbler after all.    

Uist Red Dabbler

 

Flies dressed by Stephen Cheetham.  0113 2507244.   sales@fishingwithstyle.co.uk

Narrative by Roger Beck 01439 788483

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 November 2015

Even though it was before Adam was a lad, I can still remember as if it were yesterday.

As I drove towards Talmine, despite the cool breeze and spit of rain, I still had the car windows wide open, I was barmy even in those far off days. There was method in my madness though; in through the widow wafted the smell of peat fires.

As in so many of the villages in the North West Highlands of Scotland, the folk of Talmine relied to a great extent on peat fires to warm them. That evocative smell has haunted me down the years and I still associate it with the quiet tranquillity that always enfolds me when I make my pilgrimages to the far North and West.

You may think me even barmier, but peat has wielded a significant influence upon my life. I have learned that the peat stained inky black lochs are home to stunted dark flanked fish, the imparted acidity severely limiting the amount of food available to the trout. So, I learned to pass them by in search of more sustaining surroundings that might support enough insect life to fill a fish’s belly. Water lilies are the silent signal which indicated the presence of nutrients that support diverse ecosystem with trout as the major predator. So, I will cast my fly over the lily pads with bated breath and heightened anticipation.

On many occasions I have described how the calcium carbonate in storm shattered sea shells has transformed once acidic pits into the glory that is now a machair loch. When I see a shimmering sheet of water surrounded by plants of every shade of white, blue, red, yellow and green, then I know that I am on the bonny banks of a veritable piscatorial pantry. Now is the time to strengthen my line in the expectation of leviathans.

I would not give you tuppence for fresh salmon especially that flabby farmed poisonous rubbish which masquerades as decent food. Give me haddock any day. By the way, please stop buying farmed salmon; there is accumulating evidence that this particular form of intensive farming is polluting the seas and destroying our wild stock. (First rant I’ve had for ages!) Firm fleshed proper salmon, lightly smoked over smouldering oak shavings, now, that’s another thing altogether. Turn up the heat towards the end of the smoking process and you now have oak roasted salmon. Not many people know this, but if you add a little bit of peat to the oak shavings the result is an outstanding dish. Easy on the peat though, too much and the flavour becomes overpowering. Seek some out now, you will not regret it. If you know someone who richly deserves a gastronomic extravaganza, find them, if you can, some lightly peat smoked mussels or scallops.

Then there is that other blessed export from north of the border; whisky. I am not one of those pretentious bores who drones on for ever about what is actually just a simple pleasure. I do like whisky though, especially the ones well infused with the fulsome flavour of phenols. This permeation is brought about by passing peat smoke over the malting barley. I have visions of some crusty ancient Celt doing this by accident; a most fortunate mistake.

One July night, as I travelled the road between the townships of Clachan, Bayhead, Paible and Balranald the car window was down once again, the rain battered my right ear and my cheek became number by the moment. I didn’t care one jot, from the chimneys of the white cottages issued wisps of grey smoke and the aroma of peat smoke assailed my nostrils once                  

Narrative by Roger Beck 

 

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December 2015

Something a bit different this month; I come in the guise of the Christmas Fairy, or Santa Claus if that mental image is too much for you. I shall soothe your fevered brow and solve your Christmas present panic at a stroke.

The Blue Lion at East Witton has two house rods for salmon fishing on a nearby beat of the Ure, upstream of Jervaulx Abbey. One Friday in Late October I found myself assembling my salmon rod on the South bank of the river. The water was the colour of Theakston’s best bitter, which is just about perfect in my experience. It had been some time since I’d wielded a double handed fly rod but it was very satisfying to find that the muscle memory of the single Spey, the double Spey and the snake roll cast were still there. I made my way downstream, perhaps slowed a little by the mighty Blue Lion breakfast, carefully placing my fly close to the far bank. I’d somehow forgotten how relaxing the slow rhythmic repetitive movements of the long rod can be.

This is a lovely stretch of the river, and the outlook from its banks reveals the splendour of Wensleydale. I wondered once again why I sometimes wander far afield when such glorious countryside is so near at hand.

A true angler is always full of anticipation; every cast may well result in that tweak at the end of the line. Around mid-morning, it happened, the fourteen foot rod leaned over as I eased my catch towards the bank. A sunken twig festooned with autumn leaves, but it did increase my heart rate for a few minutes. The rest of the morning was uneventful, but only in angling terms. I just love being beside running water and I spent a little time just sitting on the bank absorbing the sights and smells of an autumn day and perhaps still digesting that breakfast.

In the afternoon, I crossed the river at Cover Bridge and began my exploration of the north bank of the beat. Here was more very promising looking water and my hopes and expectations rose again. As the fly was swinging to the edge of a run of water, there came that adrenalin firing pull on the line that anglers know so well. Not vegetation this time but a beautiful brown trout that was slightly bigger than the Cascade that it had eaten.

We fisher folk accept that salmon fishing is a waiting game, these mighty fish are visitors to our rivers and we need to be lucky enough for our visit to coincide with theirs. Yorkshire Rivers, especially the Ure, are experiencing increasing runs of salmon and opportunities to fish for them, and this is where I fulfil the promise of the first paragraph.

I know that there are many aspiring salmon fishers out there, I meet you frequently. I really do want you to derive the maximum benefit from the experience. I promise you that the only way to do that is to learn the skills of casting under the guidance of a qualified coach. Paul Klein, manager of the Blue Lion, will arrange for such a coach to teach you the essential skills on the river. You really do not need to travel north of the border, spend ridiculous sums of money and run the risk of encountering some grumpy old gillie who may well be unable, or even unwilling to teach you. I cannot think of a better present than a night or two at the Blue Lion combined with the opportunity to properly learn the art and craft of salmon fishing. Best of all, you can share the present with your significant other; you can both enjoy a candle lit dinner and a fabulous breakfast in relaxing surroundings. You might even catch a salmon; my money would be on the lady.

There you go then, present problem solved.

Happy Christmas from Santa Claus.

Narrative by Roger Beck                    01439 788483. 

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