Friday, 2 June 2017

My top 10 flies

Lenin once wrote "there are decades when nothing happens and weeks when decades happen". I don't ever recall history denoting the Russian leader as a fly fisher, but in his quote there is a grain of truth for us fly fishers.

Once the frenetic excitement of the Mayfly is over it does sometimes seem that there are days when nothing happens. Commonly you will hear it said that the trout stop feeding, lapsing into a post-Mayfly torpor. But this is something of a myth. Like us they can't go more than a few days without food. The difference is that they revert to type: selective, picky and suspicious.

For a while this can be frustrating, but working on the adage that hell is a fish every cast June is the month to roll up our sleeves, double down on basic entomology and take the challenge. I can't promise I have all the answers but over the years I have tried to hone my fly box down to fewer rather than more patterns. I have to confess that I like to have a wide range of sizes of these favoured few, from the standard 14s to some tiny 24s. Of course the latter spawns all kinds tippet issues, not to mention tying on in dim light, but it is all part of the aforementioned challenge.

So, here are my top 10 flies for the chalkstreams. I am grateful to The Field magazine for allowing me to reproduce the text from the original article that I wrote for the recently published May issue:
"Estimates vary, but there are something in the region of 6,000 fly patterns tied just to catch trout. Your job as a fly fisher is simple: to assess the conditions in order to bring that boggling array down to just a single pattern for a given fish at a given moment. Since few of us carry a suitable Google algorithm around in our heads, this process is at best imperfect. But there is hope.

If you are looking for guidance probably the worst ploy is to stop en route to the river at the local fly store. Not that this isn't fantastic fun; it is part of the ritual of any fishing trip. But as they like to say in the tackle trade, 'flies are tied to catch fishermen, not fish'. You have been warned. The truth is you probably already have the perfect fly for the day in your box; it is just a question of knowing which it is.

Trout, especially chalkstream brown trout, are creatures of habit. Unless something momentous invades their space they will live out their three to five years of adult life within a few yards of the spot they were spawned. In that time they will progress from eating almost microscopic invertebrates to a positive smorgasbord of aquatic delicacies. When we consider what trout eat 'flies' are part of a wider story: snails, shrimps, ova, infant crayfish, caterpillars, grubs and moths are just a few of the other items on the menu.

At this point perhaps I haven't helped you much. I've widened rather than reduced the array of possibilities, introducing whole new vistas of food groups to which you hadn't given much consideration in the past, but don't despair. The process of elimination is easier than you think.

Firstly you need to consider the life of a trout, which is in truth, a pretty simple one. When not thinking about sex or survival trout's only real concern is food and this dominates just about every moment of every daylight hour. A trout has to consume vast quantities of food each day, but, and this is both its strength and weakness. For every item it eats, it will reject or ignore dozens of others.

As the angler, this is the biggest problem you face: your offering will be up for close scrutiny, compared and contrasted against the more numerous naturals. The quality of the cast, the drift, the thickness of the tippet and much more all come into play but ultimately it is your fly that will be the deciding factor. Of course we have all seen the trout that has a rush of blood to the head, grabbing without discrimination as something passes, but that is the exception rather than the rule. For the most part trout are methodical and measured. That is where you will win.

If you watch the evolution of a hatch on a river it is always a progressive affair. If the insects are ones you recognise it is a mistake to instantly start casting at every trout in the vicinity with your imitation. You are right to match the hatch, but you are wrong to think you might goad the trout into action. They like to take things steady, eyeing up the stream of insects before finally sampling one. The second rise will come more easily, as will the third and so on. Once the fish has the taste of the naturals and has become emboldened by them, your imitation is more likely to be taken. That is how you win.

As an aside I have often wondered why, when a river surface teems with the real thing, a trout would ever deign to consider a man-made fly, however perfectly tied. After all, you can easily spot the difference from 10 metres away as your fly drifts downriver, so at much closer range, surely it's a pretty simple analysis for the trout? I can only assume that they react a bit like us humans when presented with a bowl of chips - you just can't resist the one that looks a bit different.

If I were of a mathematical bent and were creating an equation for fly selection, the biggest factor has to be the season. The food in and on the river varies with the time of the year so you need to carry that basic bit of knowledge around in your head as to what hatches and when, if only for purposes of elimination. You can make it easy on yourself - I organise my flies in separate boxes for April, May, June and so on, then I have a generic box for those that work across the season. That is how I arrive at my top 10.

It is hard to overstate how attuned trout are to the changing of the seasons; the famous mayfly, Ephemera danica, is a good case in point. You would think that after three or four weeks of gorging on these huge morsels, the mayfly would be firmly lodged in the memory of a trout. But cast one to a trout any time outside the mayfly period and it will be plainly ignored. Trout might not have a mighty brain but they are not daft; they need the comfort of familiarity.

So, after matching the hatch to the season, what else do you need to consider? The great delight of chalkstreams is that you are able to observe trout feeding, so adjust your tactics accordingly. Some people maintain that seeing a rising fish is the best thing you'll ever see on a chalkstream. I disagree. It is spotting a fish that is about to rise. You can see that they are quivering with latent energy. Books describe it as 'on the fin'; a fish just beneath the surface, with its body angled slightly upwards, fins flexing and ready to rise when the moment demands it. This is the time for a dry.

But fish don't feed on the surface all the time. In fact they probably obtain 9/10ths of their food elsewhere. Watch for the other signs. I know it sounds blindingly obvious but if the fish is moving left and right in the stream, mouth opening and closing, it must be nymphing so use a nymph. Similarly if it is kicking up the gravel with tail, head or body it is dislodging shrimps so the answer should be obvious.

Observe and you will quickly eliminate everything but the possible. That is the moment to delve into your fly box to tie on the pattern of choice.

Here is the content of my fly boxes. You can't possibly cover every contingency, so keep it simple, stick to these reliables and you'll rarely get skunked."
Black Gnat
This is your all-purpose midge or gnat imitator. Along with some of the others in my top 10, have this in the smaller sizes as well. Sizes 12-18; April-September. A size 12 will double for the Hawthorn in late April and early May.
Blue Winged Olive
This is the classic chalkstream fly that is the most widespread of the summer olives. Handily the Pheasant Tail is a good imitation of the nymphal stage and the Parachute Adams the emerger. Sizes 14-18; June-September.
Cinnamon Sedge
There are over 30 different British caddis species but the ones trout are interested in are all fairly similar so this one pattern will suffice. The smaller size will do when the April grannom hatch is on and the Klinkhammer imitates the emerger. Sizes 10-14; May-September.
Daddy Long Legs
Not a river fly at all, but these terrestrials (also called Crane Flies) are so commonly blown on to the water that trout go mad for this big mouthful. Best fished in the surface film, so not too much floatant. Size 8-12; July-September.
Iron Blue
When the conditions are cold, wet and blustery in May, September and October this deceptively delicate fly is the one to turn to. Iron Blues just love to hatch in these conditions. Sizes 14-18; May, September and October.
This is the most modern fly of the 10, created by Dutchman Hans van Klinken in the 1980s. Very versatile, easy to see and will work all season. Imitates an emerging caddis or sedge, so classified as one of the two emergers in my selection. Choose the colour you wish, though grayling like red. Sizes 12-14; all year.
Parachute Adams
The original Adams was invented by Leonard Hallady from Michigan, USA in 1922 who named it after the first person to catch a fish with it, Judge Charles E. Adams. I have to confess that the Parachute version is my 'go to' pattern every time. It floats like a dream, will take lots of punishment and is easy to see. Sizes 12-20; all year.
Pheasant Tail Nymph
Without a doubt the most widely used fly in the world; you will find a variant in the fly box of just about every freshwater guide around the globe. It was created by Frank Sawyer during his time as river keeper for the army on the River Avon in Hampshire from 1928 to 1980. It is simple and effective, imitating all manner of chalkstream invertebrates. If you are not sure what to use sub-surface, this is your default. Have weighted and unweighted versions, sizes 10-18; all year.
At certain times of the year shrimp, or gammarus to be Latin about them, account for 80 per cent of a trout's diet. Ignore them at your peril. Pink or green. Weighted and unweighted versions. Sizes 12-14; all year.
Thomas Mayfly
A monster of a fly but the most effective Emphemera danica imitator of them all. Sizes 8-10; May and June.
Fly box


Does God like to taunt us fly fishers? In April the southern chalkstream region was dry, the rain total just 19% of LTA (long term average). Come the third week of May, when every inch of every river was occupied, we were trending at 110% LTA, with most of that in that third week with some colossal thunderstorms. Plenty of us were drenched.

Strangely the Mayfly seem immune to heavy rain; one of the best days the guides reported for fishing was one of the worst for weather As for the hatch itself? It could well turn out to be one for the record books with plenty of shrewd observers saying this was the best in living memory.

I am pleased to say the winner of the Fishing Breaks snood for May is Mrs. Davies who fished here at Nether Wallop Mill. It is in the post today. Everyone goes back in the draw at the end of October for the tactile Abel TR1 reel. Hard to not want to win that one!


Alec Douglas-Hume. Left himself plenty of time for fishing .....
Within a week of reading this we should have some idea of the make-up of our new government. 

So, a few parliamentary questions to keep us ahead of events It is, as ever, just for fun with answers at the bottom of the page.

1)  How many Members of Parliament are there?

2) How many Prime Minsters have there been since the end of World War II?

3)   Who had the longest and shortest tenure?

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director  

Quiz answers:
1)      Currently none (they all lose their seats on the dissolution of Parliament) until the new Parliament is formed with 650.
2)      Fourteen. Winston Churchill and Harold Wilson each served twice.
3)      Margaret Thatcher (1979-90) and Alec Douglas-Hume (1963-64)

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