Archive Posts

Spring Olive

For many trout fishermen, the emergence of the large dark olive– traditionally known as the Spring Olive – signals the arrival of a new season. Though sparse hatches of duns do emerge throughout the winter, it is the significant ones in March and April that bring up the trout. Indeed, so important is the large dark olive to my early fishing that I start to dress my imitations over Christmas, coincidentally the same time as the nymphs start to put on a growth spurt ready for their peak emergence. During January and February, as my stockpile of patterns grows, so does the gradual emergence of naturals from the Dales rivers increase. And by March 15 I’m beside my favourite river, hoping for at least a few shafts of afternoon sun to bring on the first hatch of the season. I reach the river just before lunch, and, sipping a cup of tea, survey my likely starting point from the warmth of the car. Thankfully the raw north-easterly that usually accompanies opening day has disappeared. The river looks cold and drab; the morning frost that covered the surrounding pastures has now given way to a dreary dampness, the silhouettes of leaf less trees adding to the starkness of the scene. And yet this is not a scene of decay but of renewed hope, for I know there is a rich bounty contained within, and that the first hatches of spring olives will reveal it to me.

Like many other Yorkshire anglers, I would usually put up the obligatory three-fly cast of Spiders, but to fish them today would be pointless, as the trout have yet to look up towards the surface of the river. For now, my cast of Spiders will be kept firmly wrapped around an old beer mat and tucked into a pocket. It is a team of two nymphs that I shall begin with. I have for the past few seasons been playing with their design, trying to keep a slim body profile while also adding the required weight. At first, I played with, and tweaked, my fellow Yorkshireman Oliver Edwards’s Baetis nymph pattern but still didn’t acquire the right balance of profile and weight. Finally, I decided to abandon Ollie’s foundation and design my own. For the runs and streamy pocket-water I use a simple nymph pattern dressed with soft goose herl. It is unweighted, relying only on the heavy hook to sink it. My second nymph is a more robust creation formed with an underbody of tungsten thread, thus allowing me to maintain a slim body profile while obtaining the necessary weight. I like this weighted pattern as a dropper, allowing the unweighted nymph a kind of checked drift, which gives me greater control over the flies.

Baetis Nymph 1
Hook Size 14-18 Thread Spiderweb coloured with a
suitable marker pen Body Soft olive goose herl Rib Fine gold
wire Tail Three Coq de Leon fibres Wing-case Olive flexi-body
darkened on the underside with a black marker pen
Thorax Dark olive-brown seal’s fur with fibres
picked out to resemble legs

Baetis Nymph 2
Hook Size 14-18 Thread Spiderweb coloured with a marker pen
Underbody Tungsten thread (from Flytying Boutique,
tel: 01535 630 113) sometimes doubled and trebled under the
thorax Body Hends body quill Tail Olive micro fibbets
Wing-case Olive flexi-body darkened on the underside with a
black marker pen Thorax Dark olive-brown seal’s fur
with fibres picked out to resemble legs

My first few casts are often rusty, but nevertheless they are placed a short distance upstream of my position as I methodically fish my way up through the first run. Each cast is studiously followed for any sign of a gentle take. The welded loop and last six inches of my fly-line have been indelibly marked with the brightest red marker I could find, to give any indication of a take. And yet cast after cast is nothing more than a barren drift. Finally, after an hour’s toil, the point of my fly-line jabs underwater. As I raise my rod-tip, I tighten into the first trout of the season.

Within half an hour I have progressed steadily up the first run. One further trout has been netted among a series of plucks and pulls that signal my rustiness in detecting the subtle takes. The warming sun signifies the approach of the first substantial spring olive hatch of the season. Slowly but surely trout begin to reveal their presence just below the fast, broken water. Perfect Spider water! I always roll my eyes somewhat when the merits of the upstream Spider are discussed. Though some anglers slavishly adopt this method of fishing Spiders, my experience is that upstream Spider fishing is only really an advantage when the trout are looking up and actively feeding on emergers and adult duns. Now as a steady emergence of spring olives tumbles down the broken water of the pool’s tail I snip off the two nymphs and change to my Spider cast. I leave my small unweighted Baetis nymph on the point and put two old stalwarts – Waterhen Bloa and Greenwell’s Glory – on the droppers. My Greenwell’s are always tied with upright wings of starling slips, as in fast, broken water, where trout have to make up their minds quickly, the upright wings of the Greenwell add the necessary impetus. I favour the Greenwell on the top dropper, but in reality, its position is interchangeable with that of the Waterhen Bloa.

Waterhen Bloa
Hook: Size 14
Body: Yellow silk very sparsely dubbed with mole furHackle: Waterhen under-covert

Greenwll’s Glory
Hook: Size 14
Body:Yellow silk waxed to a suitable shade of olive and ribbed with fine gold wire
Wings: Starling wing quill eaither rolled and split or tied in as two slips.
Hackle: Furnace hen

It always amazes me how quickly an early-season trickle of large dark olives can turn a torpid section of river into a frenzy of feeding activity. With the warmth of the spring sunshine on my back, I fan a series of short casts to actively feeding trout. It becomes almost hypnotic, as both the feeding trout and I become fixated on the uniformly drifting Spiders. My 10 ft rod is held high as every short cast is almost led through each drift. The 12 ft leader ensures that trout aren’t spooked by a drifting fly-line – indeed there is less than 4 ft of f ly-line through the top ring. Today it is the Greenwell that is getting all the plaudits, as trout after trout seem transfixed by its allure. Five trout are brought to the net in quick succession, all to the Greenwell. The nymph that played its part earlier in the day has gone untouched and the Waterhen Bloa is hooking only the odd trout.

As I wade out of the tail, I half wonder whether I should double back on myself and fish through this section again. However, my shoulder aches from the constant high angle of the rod and my continuously outstretched arm. When fishing Spiders the rod should always be held high so as to keep in touch with the flies, almost to the point where you are leading them through the drag-free drift. And my often-aching right arm and shoulder show the zeal with which I follow this maxim.

I glance at the pool ahead, hoping to see a fish rise. I know that the spring olive hatches are always centred on the fast necks of pools, pocket water and riff les. But experience has taught me that a few stragglers occasionally float down the middle of a pool. I can see the odd silhouette of a handsome dun floating on its calm surface. A single Waterhen Bloa fished up a pool is often a very rewarding exercise, as it picks up trout sipping on trapped emergers and drowned duns. Often during the warm evenings of summer when my fishing pals are struggling with the perceived wisdom of the dry-fly, I fish a single Waterhen Bloa to rising trout, often with remarkable success.

But the opening day of a season is for me a chance to experiment with the wild fancies I tied over the winter. An old friend who fishes the upper Clyde sent me a few Olive Jinglers; he had been raving about them for years and thought I would like to give them a try. This pattern is, of course, not new: it resembles the Howe’s Special, an old pattern used by anglers on the River Eden in the 1920s. First tied by the famous Eden fly-dresser Tommy Howe, it was successfully used on the River Wharfe by the late Norman Roose. Sadly, a rather sporadic winter grayling season had put paid to all the Jinglers my friend had sent me, so I dressed a couple of new ones alongside a few Howe’s Specials to try out on opening day.

Olive Jingler
Hook: Size 14
Body: Olibe silk ribbed with fine gold wire
Main Hackle: Dark dun cock
Front Hackle: Grey neck feather from a partridge, tied sparse.

Howe’s Special
Hook: Size 14
Tail: Ginger cockle hackle fibres
Thorax: A turn or two of hare’s dubbing directly behind the hackle.
Main Hackle: Ginger cock
Front Hackle: A feather from a woodcock’s underwing, tied sparse.

As I watched the pool, a trout rose right in the tail. I knew any cast to him would have to be bang on the nose, and even then, the intervening currents would add invisible drag to destroy any reasonable chance I had. Another rising trout in a more favourable position gave me just the “sighter” I needed. Replacing my three-fly cast with a 12ft leader tapered to 8x, I put on the Olive Jingler and prepared to cast it up and across to the rising trout. My first cast landed a couple of feet short, but as it drifted down below its intended target an unseen trout took it firmly. So decisive was the take that there was no need to raise the rod. After a couple of tense minutes, I netted my first trout of the season on a dry-fly. What happened during the next three quarters of an hour was nothing short of astonishing. It appeared, as though every cast was met by the rise of a trout – and not gentle, sipping rises, but proper, solid takes. The hectic sport continued until a long period of cloud cover followed by a marked drop in the temperature put down the fish. I replaced the Olive Jingler with old Tommy Howe’s Special, but the sun was now behind the clouds and the early season north-easterly was beginning to pick up.

With the prospect of a pint and a hot meal in the local pub, I made my way back to the car. As I pulled off my waders I thought about the experiences of the day and the range of patterns and techniques I had used. For many anglers in the North, the start of a new season, coupled with the arrival of the first hatches of large dark olives, is the signal to reach for a cast of three Spiders. Yet our sport is often a matter of adaptability, and never more so than at the start of the season. Success comes from anticipating a hatch of fly and being prepared to change from nymph to emerger and then to dun.

First published in Trout & Salmon Magazine 16 March 2015
©The Sliding Stream 

The Lost Flies Of The Yorkshire Dales Part Two

In last post I began a journey through the northern Dales of Yorkshire in search of fly patterns and fly fishers who have now largely been forgotten by today’s modern angler. In spite of being largely overlooked many, these lost patterns can still be relevant to fish catchers on today’s northern rivers and streams and should, not only be preserved, but more importantly fished!

When Thomas Evan Pritt perused the large collection of angling books belonging to Leeds Library he must surely have unearthed some treasures. Many people have been under the assumption that Pritt was given many of his dressing by William Brumfitt, a then leading angler on the river Wharfe. This may be correct, as Brumfitt did dress some of the flies that Pritt illustrated in Yorkshire Trout Flies and North Country Flies published in 1885 and 1886 respectively. However, an earlier list of Wharfedale Flies was published in 1842 by Joseph Wells. As well as these Wharfedale Flies, Wells also lists Artificial Flies for Trout and Grayling and Flies for Chub. Of the sixty two flies listed in Pritt’s book, twenty seven appear in Wells earlier publication. So it is interesting to suppose that Pritt may have gotten a large part of his fly list from the Wells’ book.

The Small Black Hackle (Joseph Wells)
Hook – Size 16
Body – Purple Silk
Hackle – Feather from a Starling (Obviously starling neck)
Head – Magpie herl.
This little fly is fast becoming my go to fly when small midges and gnats are found on the water’s surface. I often fish this pattern singularly to trout rising in the shadows of over-hanging trees and bushes.

The name of William Lister will be unknown to almost all readers of this magazine; however several years ago a manuscript in the form of a fishing diary was sold at auction. This was the diary of William Lister and dates back to the early 1700’s. It features a detailed list of flies that predate the pattern lists of Pilling and Swarbrick, and so is thought at present to be the earliest list of Yorkshire trout flies.

Yellow Watchit (William Lister)
Hook – Size 14
Body – Green yellow silk, dubbed with Water rat or lighter black of a hare’s scut (tail)
Legs/wings – Green yellow for feet light Fellfors (fieldfare)
Although this fly is patently not a “North Country Spider” in the modern sense, it and others from the Lister manuscript do point to the genesis of the spider patterns of the north.

As a homage to the memory of William Lister I have on a couple of occasions cast this pattern on its spiritual home beats, and am delighted to say that three hundred odd years later it can still deceive the odd trout.
To catch a trout on a fly you have dressed yourself is something special. But to dress a fly that you know is so old and important, and then fish with it on its home waters with the added bonus of a trout is a thrill beyond words. Clearly this early watchet pattern is an attempt at an imitation of a Baetis of some kind. If anyone has more information on William Lister and his fly patterns I would be interested to find out more.

From the ancient we come to the relatively modern Lupton’s Fancy. This was the creation of Philip Lupton with the collaboration of the famed Derbyshire fly-dresser Roger Woolley. Lupton was born in 1894 and grew up in Middlesbrough before moving to Harrogate where he joined the Harrogate Fly-Fishers Club and becoming secretary in 1932. Lupton’s Fancy was for many years a popular pattern for the river Nidd where Lupton enjoyed his sport on the Harrogate Fly-Fishers beats.

Lupton’s Fancy (Philip Lupton)
Hook – Size 16
Body – Yellow silk, dubbed with grey wool and ribbed over yellow silk. I like to sparsely dub this with mole fur, similar to the dressing of a Waterhen Bloa so the yellow silk clearly shines through the dubbing.
Hackle – Blue dun cock,
Head – Peacock herl,
Tail – Three whisks of blue dun hackle fibres.

Although I don’t fish the river Nidd where this fly was born it has nevertheless helped me deceive trout and grayling on the beats of Kilnsey and Burnsall when the olive uprights are coming off the surface. Quite what the trout and grayling see in the herl head on a dry fly I don’t know, however it works!

A familiar landmark to anybody who fishes in Wharfedale, the Red Lion Hotel occupies a prominent position beside the River Wharfe in the village of Burnsall. Apart from being the long-time spiritual home of the Appletreewick, Barden and Burnsall Angling Club, the Red Lion was also home to one of supreme anglers north country anglers of the day, John Willie Binns. Born and bred in Burnsall, Binns became the proprietor of the Red Lion in the late 1800s before moving on to own the New Inn at Appletreewick. Although not a member of the Burnsall angling club himself, Binns was well acquainted with several of the club’s famous members, and is known to have fished with the likes of Whittaker, Hart, Lister and Walbran. One fly that Binns was known to hold in high esteem was the Smoke Fly, although this pattern has been attributed to J.W. Sagar due to it being included in the Beanlands List of Wharfedale Flies in may in fact have a different origin as it was also known to be a favourite fly of Sylvester Lister one of the founders of the Appletreewick, Barden and Burnsall Angling Club. I personally prefer the Lister’s dressing as it often gets me a few trout when the our northern rivers are at low summer levels.

Smoke Fly (Sylvester Lister/ John Willie Binns)
Hook – Size 16
Body – Peacock herl ribbed with purple silk.
Hackle – A feather from a Scandinavian Crow (Hooded Crow) or Poult’s under-wing. Any small white hen hackle with a suitable grey cast will be a good substitute.
Head – Magpie herl,

Anyone who is familiar with Richard Clapham’s excellent little book Trout Fishing on Hill Streams published in 1947 will be familiar with a pattern called Lee’s Favourite, and how over a period of time Clapham forsake all other patterns in favour of the Lee’s Favourite.
The pattern was originated by John Lee of Bishop Auckland, County Durham. Lee brought the pattern to the attention of William Cummins founder of the famous tackle firm who included it in his firms fly catalogues for a number of years. In all probability this was where Clapham first came to know the pattern. In his book, Clapham testifies to the patterns effectiveness on Beck, River, Tarn or lake, and having fished this pattern for many years I can confirm Clapham’s statements. It is without doubt one of the best trout flies ever devised for northern rivers and streams.

Lee’s Favourite (John Lee)
Hook – Size 16/18
Body – Black silk ribbed with silver wire
Tail (optional) – Two fibres from a black cock hackle
Wing – Waterhen Primary Slips
Hackle – Black Hen.

I hope you have enjoyed discovering or at least being reacquainted with these lost flies of the Yorkshire Dales. Their story is not just about the catching of trout and grayling, but more importantly it is about a hidden seam of fly fishing history that runs through the Dales landscape. These flies and their creators deserve to be much more than simple curios, the flies are just as effective in deceiving today’s trout and grayling as they were when they were first invented, and their originators just as relevant today as then. Anglers and fly-dressers like Jimmy Blades and John Willie Binns were amongst the leading anglers of their day, and they formed and shaped the notions of what we now recognise as North Country School of fly-dressing and fly fishing. The works of Pritt, Walbran and Edmonds & Lee are harvested from the mouths of people like Blades, Emmott, Sagar, Binns and Sylvester Lister. We owe a debt of duty to the anglers of the past not to forget their traditions and creations. After all today’s Klinkhammer may become tomorrow’s Lupton’s Fancy!

The Lost Flies of the Yorkshire Dales Part One

The mere mention of a North Country spider brings to mind images of drystone walls, limestone escarpments, lush green meadows and turbulent beer coloured rivers. Iconic dales scenery and legendary North Country flies, flies such as the ubiquitous Orange Partridge, Waterhen Bloa and Snipe and Purple. Patterns that are known to all who follow the North Country school of fly fishing. Sadly, though, despite their interest, many of today’s anglers and fly dressers are oblivious to the rich seam of North Country history which can be told through the lost patterns of the Yorkshire dales.

For the past couple of seasons I have been hard at work writing a book on North Country fly fishing and have in the course of my research come across many of these lost patterns from anglers sadly now long forgotten. A couple of seasons ago I set out to dress and fish some of these old patterns to see if they still held the same appeal. Their story is just as intriguing, as is the way of the trout I intended to deceive with them.

When Edward Ellis Beanlands amalgamated John Swarbrick’s 1817 manuscript with John William Sagar’s 1890 later list of flies and published them in one volume under the title List of Wharfedale Flies in 1907, little did he know that Sagar, his second cousin, would have his list of flies totally overshadowed by Swarbrick’s manuscript flies. Following angling historians and fly dressers have sadly paid scant regards to the flies of Sagar.

Born in Bradford in 1841, John William Sagar was a noted fly fisherman of his day who supplemented his meagre wages as a mill worker by selling items of fishing tackle on the side to his friends and fishing associates. Although many of the patterns in his list are to be found elsewhere in other manuscripts and books, it is his three fancy flies that capture the imagination, particularly Sagar’s first grayling fancy with its use of gold wire for a body.
Although Sagar didn’t mention hook sizes I prefer to dress his patterns on a size 16 straight eyed light wire hooks.

Sagar’s Fancy.
Hook – Size 16
Hackle – A hackle from the back of a golden pheasant hen, or the dark feathers from a partridge’s shoulder:
Body – Bronze peacock herl, ribbed up and tied off with blue silk.
Sagar “This I consider to be the best evening trout fly, and will kill well from the middle of May until the middle of July. It should be fished at the point and after the manner of the dry fly”
Take Sagar’s advice and fish this fly singularly upstream akin to a dry fly, and cast under the bushes and trees that shade the waterside. It is especially useful as an imitation of small black terrestrials.

Sagar’s Grayling Fancy Fly No1.
Hook – Size 16
Hackle – A feather from a Scandinavian Crow (Hooded Crow). Jackdaw throat hackles being a suitable alternative.
Body – Gold wire wrapped as closely as possible.
Even though this fly is listed as a grayling pattern it will serve well throughout the season as a trout fly. The added weight achieved through the body of gold wire assists in sinking the fly that bit further. This fly is perfect as a point fly on a three fly leader when fishing in the upstream manner through shallow rocky pocket water.

Sagar’s Grayling Fancy Fly No2.
Hook – Size 16
Wing: A feather from the wing of a phelper (Fieldfare) Starling quill can be used as a substitute.
Legs: Jack Snipe feather, (Snipe undercovert)
Body: Yellow silk and gold wire.
A terrific late season fly for both trout and grayling. It is best fished on the top dropper, possibly an imitation for the late hatches of the Large Dark Olives.

Nowadays the Dales village of Hawes has become more associated with a famous variety of cheese that is made at its creamery. However, in past times Hawes was home to a thriving angling scene and was visited by some of the sport’s most celebrated names of the day, names that included Walbran, Halford and Skues but to name but a few. Added to these famous names should be the name of James Blades or Jimmy Sproats as he was popularly known to friends. Blades may now only be familiar to a few modern Wensleydale anglers. Nevertheless, Jimmy Sproats was one of the most noted anglers of his day and the founder of a fishing keeping dynasty that still lasts to this day. Befitting his reputation, Blades was mentioned in several important North Country fishing books, most notably Walbran’s Grayling and How to Catch Them, and the 4th addendum edition of Jackson’s Practical Flyfisher more particularly for Grayling or Umber.

James Blades was born in Sedbergh in 1848 and from there moved to Hawes at an early age. He worked for several years in the iron foundries of West Hartlepool before returning to Hawes in 1883. According to many of his contemporises Blades was simply the best North Country fisherman of his day. He was both a professional fly-dresser and fly fishing guide, indeed, several noted anglers of the time, including Skues, searched out Blades for his knowledge on fly fishing. Although Blades and many of his patterns are now sadly largely forgotten, he is, to my mind, one of the most important members of the North Country school.

Sand or Brink Fly (Blades)
Hook – Size 14
Body – Orange silk dubbed with dark brown silk,
Wings – Feather from the outside of a landrail’s wing. Dyed Starling or Jay would be a good substitute.

Although the Blades manuscript states this fly as dubbed, like other similar listed dressings he is clearly meaning ribbed. And as a throwback to more ancient north country dressing,s I like to dress this fly using one strand of each silk wrapped together to give a fine segmented look to the fly. Blades no doubt meant this pattern as a sedge imitation and stated this fly was good on showery days from mid-May until mid-June; however, I have fished my variation throughout the season and taken both trout and grayling with it.

Blades Purple Dun (Blades)
Hook – Size 14
Body – Purple silk dubbed with fine peacock herl and over ribbed with purple silk,
Wings – Hackled with an andelusian cock or hen. A suitable alternative is soft fibred hackle of a steely blue shade.

Regarded as Jimmy Blades signature fly pattern and one with which he made prodigious catches on the upper river Yore. Blades dressed and fished this pattern as both a wet and a dry fly and on one noted occasion out fished both Walbran and Halford when they fished the upper Yore with him in 1890s. Blades used this pattern from the end of July through to the end of the season.Having fished this pattern for a couple of seasons I can appreciate why Blades held it in such high regard. As a dry fly it brings up both trout and grayling throughout the hot summer evenings where most patterns fail and, with its highly visible hackle it is a splendid fast water dry fly. Dressed as a wet fly it is one of the most reliable point flies I know, and has for the past few years has relegated my store of Dark Snipes to a rusty corner of my fly box.

Another inhabitant of Hawes and at one time well renowned throughout Wensleydale was Beckwith Thompson. Born in 1834, Thompson was one of village’s most notable characters and one-time secretary of the Hawes and High Abbotside Angling Association. Beckwith was also landlord of the Crown Hotel in Hawes from where he sold day tickets for the Association’s waters and was, more importantly, a friend of James Blades. His pattern, the Thompson’s Choice was at one time one of the most recognisable patterns on the river Yore. Even though this pattern bears Thompson’s name, it was in fact given to him by one of his guests at the Crown Hotel. After successfully trying out the pattern on the nearby river Yore, Thompson was so impressed that he immediately asked Jimmy Blades to dress up a batch of these flies for him. Blades believed the Thompson’s Fancy to be one of the best early season flies, especially when the rivers are fining down after a spate. Indeed Walbran writing in the June 1888 edition of the Fishing Gazette speaks of a lot of fish are being caught with a new fly-Thompson’s Fancy.

Thompson’s Fancy (Beckwith Thompson)
Hook – Size 14,
Body – Slated coloured silk with two twists of black ostrich herl at tail and under shoulder.
Wings – Grey feather from Jackdaws neck.
Having fished this pattern through the fast rocky reaches of both the Yore and Wharfe I can testify to its effectiveness in both early season and late autumn.

So far I have only scratched the surface of the lost flies of the Yorkshire Dales. In the next blog post I will further rummage through the history of Dales fly fishing and open an old fishing manuscript that predates all, and enticingly holds the key to the origins of later works. I will also be placing under the microscope the Flies of Pritt, and shed some light on just where some of the old masters may have acquired their flies…

First published in Fly Fishing & Flytying Magazine
©The Sliding Stream

October Grayling Fishing

When trouting is over, and autumn is here,
The days growing shorter and shorter,
The grayling will steer
For my fly with a mere
Little hint of a wink under water.
G. E. M. Skues (The Way of a Trout with a Fly)

For many trout fishermen October 1st is day of withdrawal and emptiness. It is the dark day that signals the start of the closed season and a fallow period of isolation and longing. The inevitability of next season’s opening is too far in the distance to offer some any real consolation. And so as the first day of October dawns, rods, reels and lines are found condemned to idleness. Past absorptions restrained in tubes, cases and bags, then confined to the dark recesses of sheds and garages. Prime beats that were once eagerly sought and handed out like royal patronage, are now denuded of trout fishers. The waters broadleaf margins a mosaic of autumnal hues as the season of mists start to unfurl over rivers and streams.

However, I don’t lament the passing of the trout season. I view the 1st October as an emancipation, a time to rejoice. I am you see, a grayling angler. One of those happy souls who reveals in the ending of the trout season, and feels a warming of the heart as the increasing autumn leaves float downstream.

Last October was for me, a copious month of grayling and the first day – somewhat of a red letter day. The cessation of the trout season had left the famous old beat devoid of its usual members and guests, and the winding river called with a freedom to roam. Ambling down the slope from the farmhouse, the afternoon’s light drizzle lifted allowing the watery sun’s rays to splash across the mowed pastures. The Wharfe meandered before me, reflecting autumn’s splendour of colours as I started to contemplate the likely looking spots. To the trout angler locked away from his home rivers this first day of October must be a burden, devoid of stimulation and colour. However, the grayling angler reveals in this day of new colours and moods. The swift change of thought from trout to grayling enables us view our home waters differently. We walk, talk and think differently, the mental switch has been flicked somewhere deep within the brain. Perceptive to this change of mind-set, I strolled upstream looking for the signs of a few rising fish. Regular haunts were by-passed, a pool tail that days earlier had offered a superb couple of hour’s trouting was skirted in favour of deeper glide shaded by a canopy of trees. Here the low hanging branches brushed the rivers surface as it slid on its way. And a line of small dimples exposed the presence of a cluster of grayling.

Tradition dictates that my first autumnal grayling day is made up wholly of a single pattern, the Hare’s Lug & Plover. An irrational tradition and homage, born out of my late father’s fondness for this pattern and grayling. Junior days often spent looking upstream to see the old man’s rod bent double, followed by the inevitable and knowledgeable shout of “Hare’s Lug!” are what drives my day of tradition. A self-imposition that on occasion exasperates, especially when the days are cold and grayling forsake the top layers. Standing thigh deep uncoiling a short length of tippet from its slim spool, I thought of my father’s fondness for grayling and the shortening of days. Images of clerical collar and jumper encased behind a layer of waxed cotton, are always entwined in my formative angling memories. Tightly drawing the leader and tippet into a snug knot, I snipped off the tag end and positioned the traditional Hare’s Lug on the point.

Within easy casting distance, I marked each individual rise and counted the timings of each. Sparsely dubbed and hackled around a light-wire hook, the fly would offer a good few shots before slipping too deep into the depths. You need confidence to fish a solitary spider when all rational dictates the use of a diminutive dry fly. However, a single spider can be a devastating adjunct when grayling are sipping at the surface. Flicking my first short cast into the finger of trailing branches I waited for an undulation on the surface to reveal the take of a fish. Within seconds the upward snap of wrist and elbow had me steering a large grayling away from the dangers of trailing roots and branches. Its jarring fight reminding me of a dog tugging at a stick. Tempering slightly, before resuming again with full force, the grayling twisted and rolled deep under the river’s surface. Sudden jolts and bangs had my rod at times surging forwards as the grayling dropped down into deeper water and finally hung there as a solemn weight. Slowly I coaxed and influenced the grayling upstream and arched backwards to haul the inflexible fish over the face of my submerged net. The first grayling of the autumn season and a reminder of the coming months promise. After several more grayling were both netted and missed, I finally slipped from the river’s margins as the waning sun started to disappear behind the western hills. Thoughtful of the delights of the coming months, I ambled back along the riverbank’s narrow path, slanting shadows of bankside willows lengthened and imperceptibly grew into the approaching gloaming and the lights of the farmhouse twinkled their warm hospitality from the hillside.

Hare’s Lug & Plover
Hook – Light wire, Size 14,16 & 18
Silk – Yellow
Body – The poll fur taken from between a hares ear
Tag & Rib- Fine gold tinsel or wire
Hackle – Golden plover overcovert

First Published in Trout & Salmon Magazine
©The Sliding Stream

Four High Summer Dries

Four High Summer Dries

High summer in the northern dales can often be a magical time of year. The wildflowers bloom in the hay meadows and surrounding pastures become a riot of colour, the angler often accompanied on his pursuit of sparkling trout, by watchful companions such as Ragged Robin and Yellow Rattle who bob appreciably with the slight summer breeze. The swollen rivers of early spring are now skeletal and tenanted with bleached white cobbles, almost mocking the richness of summer. Bankside margins and paths share the hardness of their limestone underbelly, baked under the high shimmering sun.

Uncompromising conditions, that would have many anglers waiting until the suns glare drops behind the high fells, and the shadows and coolness of evening drifts down through the high dale. Nevertheless, daytime sport is still possible even in these parched conditions. The rivers and streams of these high dales are full of wild and hungry trout, each with opportunistic eyes for wind-blown insects, all of which provide sporadic sport for the angler armed with the appropriate patterns.

Any angler experienced in dales angling folklore and familiar with these arid upland conditions, knows it is important to travel light. Familiarity forces him to accept that sporting rewards are not measured by the weight of a heavy bag at the close of the day. A spritely 7oz trout taken from the bare bones of a dales rives on a hot summer day, can be the most treasured of the season’s prizes. And though the sport, irregular compared to the bounty and freshness of early season, is no less exciting and at times far more rewarding.

The dependable insect hatches of the lowland beats have little meaning in these parched high reaches. Irregular flush hatches or the singular landings of windblown terrestrials become important triggers for both angler and trout alike in these frugal conditions. The patterns and tactics needed for the high summer upland rivers and streams show a marked change from the early season prospecting of the wet fly. The waist deep wading of early spring has now been replaced by constant stooping and kneeling, in an effort to maintain an impression of concealment – now in earnest begins the solitary work of the dry fly. Wading if it could be called so, is kept to a minimum, essentially involving the circumnavigation of the odd overhanging alder or paddling in a current of shin deep cold water. The large stones that once provided shelter to early season trout as the currents swept over them, now stand proudly with crowns of dried moss. These parched days of high summer prompt the resident trout become hypersensitive, and ultra-wary of any falling shadow or a bungled cast. Conditions where fish are stalked and casts are minimal, tapered leaders are shortened, and gossamer tippets made even finer. The regular burden of the fishing vest is jettisoned in favour of traveling light, the ordered fly-boxes of early season exchanged for a diminutive box of loyal patterns. Patterns that are equally adept at covering every eventuality, and a couple that are as opportunistic as the resident trout.

The first among these equals is the Parachute Adams, without doubt one of the most popular modern American dry flies. Whether it is the simplicity of its name or even the simplicity of its dressing, this pattern always draws me to spring open that singular compartment of my fly box. Logic tells me that the Para Adams with its body of grey muskrat dubbing and mixed brown and grizzle hackles matches nothing found in my northern rivers, and yet it seems to match everything! I keep the hackle wraps to just a couple of turns when dressing this pattern, believing these sparse wraps of hackle offers the fly a more realistic footprint on the water’s surface.

A couple of years ago a size 20 Para Adams saved me from what would have been fruitless day on the upper reaches of River Wharfe. With the sun beating down from a cloudless sky, and the infant river no more than a trickle. A small bend in the river overhung by a group of gnarled and stunted alders held just enough cover for the few resident trout. My size 20 Para Adams flicked under this low canopy brought a couple of feisty trout to the net before the unfolding disturbance rendered the other residents too skittish to contemplate a rise a fly. Although a wet fly man at heart and utterly absorbed by the half-glimpsed or unseen take of a fish, I still nevertheless smile at the positive turn of the wrist following the take of a dry.

Para Adams
Sizes: 16, 18 & 20
Thread: Black Uni 8/0
Body: Grey muskrat underfur
Wing Post: White Tiemco Aero Dry Wing
Tail: Mixed brown and grizzle hackle fibres
Hackle: Brown and grizzle cock

Another American pattern that serves me well in the summer is Ed Hewitt’s Brown Bi-visible. For me it is an indispensable pattern on any section on riffled water, especially so in the bright summer conditions. Fishing any turbulent section of the river with a dry fly is often tiring work, and even more of a trial during the oppressive heat of a summer’s day. To have any real success a pattern is needed that can be seen clearly by both trout and angler alike. Originally devised for the Neversink River in south-eastern New York State, the various Bi-visible patterns follow Hewitt’s theory that darker colours are more easily seen from the trout’s underwater perspective, and yet conversely become harder to be seen by the angler as they drift down the turbulent currents of the stream. To compensate for this Hewitt included the addition of a white anterior hackle which gave the patterns a greater degree of visibility to the angler. And so the Bi-visible was born through its ability to be seen by both trout and angler in turbulent riffled water.

With the upper Dales rivers down to their bones and coruscating in the shimmering heat of summer, a Brown Bi-visible flicked into the concentrations of oxygenated water found in small riffles and below the exposed limestone sills and shelves always works it magic. Here in these pockets of cool turbulent water there is always an odd trout waiting for a tasty morsel, and the nondescript silhouette of the Bi-visible often sparks the inquisitiveness of these trout.


Brown Bi-Visible
Hook – Sizes 14 16 & 18
Thread – Brown
Tail – Brown hackle fibres
Body – Palmered brown cock hackle
Front Hackle – White cock hackle wound in from of the brown

There is a familiar sound recognisable to every angler fishing the high dales rivers in summer. Not quite Tennyson’s “Innumerable murmur of summer bees” but moreover a constant buzz and drone of midges and black-fly which often cloud around the faces of Dalesbred sheep as they pick half-heartedly at the dried grass, or seek the shade of a crumbling dry-stone wall. These irritating tiny flies are often the key to a day successful fishing up in these high reaches. They land and fall on the rivers surface in huge numbers and are readily picked up by any waiting trout. Creeping up into the smooth glides between riffles and pools you frequently witness small pods of trout head and tailing as they gorge themselves on tiny black gnats. It is here too trout can be seen to preying upon the odd blackfly blown down on to the river’s surface by an errant gust of wind. A few years ago whilst out fishing with my good friend Peter Helliwell on the Wharfe, we were met with such conditions. In the heat of a summer’s afternoon the slow glides of the river were full of rising trout gorging themselves on tiny black gnats. I had covered them several times with a tiny size 24 Black Magic Klink, but to no avail. It was then that I decided try what I call the CDC Blackfly, a tiny wisp of a pattern that I had been messing about with on and off for a couple of years. After replacing my tippet with a finer 8x, I put on the CDC Blackfly and cast it into the frenzy of feeding trout, almost instantaneously it was sipped down and the rod tip portrayed the tell-tale sign of a hooked fish. After a couple runs and a few tense minutes, the spray and flaying of the net portrayed the landing of a sizable trout. My CDC Blackfly had worked and how, over the course of the next hour this simple diminutive fly brought trout to the net with regular assurance. So much so that in the intervening years the CDC Blackfly has become my most important dry fly of the summer.


CDC Blackfly
Size 18, 20, 22 & 24
Thread – Black UNI Caenis Thread
Body – Peacock herl
Tag – Fine blue tinsel
Wing – Two CDC feathers
(Dress the fly by tying in the two CDC feathers first slopping over the eye of the hook. After the body of the fly is formed, draw the CDC feathers back over the body of the fly and tie down.)

Another familiar sight around the dales in summer is the Heather Fly. A close relation to the Hawthorn, it is often seen being blown on to the water during the months of July and August. At a time when food is often scarce in the parched upland rivers, and the resident trout enthusiastically seize upon any naturals blown onto the water. In a hitherto lifeless pool, the explosive splash at the surface can often betray a trout’s opportunist take of an errant Heather Fly. There large profile and distinctive gangly bright red legs an obvious trigger for any waiting trout. During the heat of last August as the upland meadows and pastures shimmered under a constant sun, I started to search for a more suitable imitation of the Heather Fly and came up with a pattern which I call Gayle’s Heather Fly. It is named in tribute to Gayle Beck which rises high up on Dodd Fell and rushes down to meet the Rive Ure above the small tourist trap of Hawes. I first used this pattern in earnest a couple of years ago whilst staying with relations whose farm overlooks this diminutive stream. There shaded by a series of small alders I sat beside the coruscating tail of a pool, the other bank was drenched in harsh sunlight as I sat tucking into my Wensleydale sandwich and listened to the sound of the stream cutting through quite dale. Sitting there over the course of ten minutes, I became aware of the awkward hover of Heather Flies in the bankside margins of the small pool. As I watched, an explosion tight into the far bank and under a coarse overhang of tussock-sedge revealed the rise to something substantial. Instinctively I knew this was a chance to try out my new creation, and that any cast would have to be bang on the nose. Trimming my 12ft leader to a more manageable 7ft I put on the Heather Fly and aimed my initial cast a couple of inches upstream of the over-hanging sedge. There followed an eruption of spray as the trout engulfed the fly even before it landed on the rivers surface. For several moments I forgot to raise the rod and we were co-joined in a game of tug-of-war, gradually I regained my senses and the upward absorption of the rod began to dampen the fighting impulses of this feisty trout. A few moments later a plump trout was slipped unharmed from the net back into the water, and I was venturing still yet further upstream as the dwindling stream cut through the shimmering heat of an August afternoon.


Gayle’s Heather Fly
Hook: Size 14
Thread: Black Uni 8/0
Detached Body: Black Easy Dub Micro Chenille
Thorax Dubbing: UV Black Ice Dub tied sparse
Thorax Back: 2mm Black Foam
Legs: Dyed red deer hair
Wing: White Tiemco Aero Dry Wing

Four High Summer Dry Flies – First published in Trout & Salmon Magazine

Fly Tying In Winter

In the Manchester Guardian of the 1920s, and later within his collected fishing essays entitled ‘Rod and Line’. Arthur Ransome demonstrated the perfect temperament needed for a winter evening of fly tying, and in turn gave us ample food for thought whilst we ourselves are sat before the vice during those long dark nights of wintertime.
Ransome skilfully points out that the angler dispirited by thoughts of a few further inactive months, finds winter fly tying a substitute to fishing itself, in Ransome’s words “It is the sort of licking of the lips that eases a thirsty man in a desert”. And of course, he is right. Winter evenings spent in front of the vice will indeed bring us nearer to the impression of fishing. As we thumb through capes and scraps of fur, our minds are intuitively drawn to the possibilities of a new season, or are rolling back the mists of the previous one. Illuminated by the lamp’s circle of light, winter creations are already captivating minds. Fishing days are taking shape as our fingers industriously wind silks and hackle. The fly-tyer has moved through time to again become the flyfisher. The stream’s restful ease once again fills the mind, and the weight of the rushing water presses against your knees. Bathed in warm sunshine, mayflies are once more hatching, and in the upstream shallows you see the rise of a good trout. These happy memories or imaginings are indeed, in the mind’s eye, made real through the wrapping of threads and the settings of wings.

Like Ransome, I believe it is foolish to experiment with flies in the winter. For in the upcoming season’s battle, winter’s impertinent experiments are inevitably rejected in favour of familiar and dependable comrades that share the glories of the past. Instead, I prefer and like to perfect, the flies that I know and trust. I have come to think of my winter evenings fly tying as a time for reflection and thought, and believe the patterns dressed during those dark evenings of December and January should carry a hallmark of patience and quality. Bead-head nymphs and other simple creations are expelled, delayed in part to short “in season” sessions, where plain patterns can be efficiently whipped-up in haste. Like Ransome before me, winter evenings are a time to dress old classics. I know for instance that a season of olives will happily be covered with a dozen or so Greenwell’s Glory in various sizes. And so, in spare moments after dark I dress a selection of this most iconic of patterns. The aesthetic delight of this winged pattern is perfect for an evening’s fly tying, and as Ransome notes “a dozen Greenwell’s Glory, and this with its starling wing, dull-waxed yellow silk, gold thread, and coch-y-bondhu hackle, is a fly about which we are not likely to make mistakes, even by the light of a candle.” Whether dressed and fished as a wet fly or winged upright, Greenwell’s age old pattern constantly beguiles both myself and the river’s trout. As Ransome did, I also discard the canon’s prescribed wing of Blackbird slips. And instead favour the primary slips of starling wings, these like blackbird have a degree of transparency and portray nature’s delicacy better than today’s often used mallard primaries. As a dry fly the Greenwell sits as daintily and as proud on the water’s surface, as it does having just fallen from my vice onto the desk’s smooth surface. As a wet, its sleek and slender profile gives imagination to the dressing, and it swims and drifts through the river’s currents enticing trout as it goes.

Greenwell’s Glory
Hook – Size 14, 16 & 18
Thread: Yellow
Body: Silk waxed to the preferred shade
Rib: Fine Gold Wire
Hackle: Coch-y-Bonddhu Cock
Wing: Paired starling slips
Tail: Coch-y-Bonddhu Hackle fibres

In his article Ransome also informs us of the usefulness of the Black Spider, and notes “there is always sense in filling up our stock of them, with red, black, orange, or orange and gold bodies, hackled with plain black cock’s hackle or, better, the soft metallic blue-black hackles from the head and neck of a cock pheasant.” Again, Ransome is inescapably correct with his assertion, for there is no more useful a fly than a Black Spider. I have in all honesty, lost count of the number of winter evenings spent tying spiders, and probably like Arthur Ransom a large proportion of them have been variations on the Black Spider theme. However, it wasn’t until re-reading Ransome’s classic work a number of years ago, that I followed Ransome in his use of cock pheasant head and neck feathers on my favourite Black Spider dressing, the Spring Black. I know of no other finer dressing when something small and black is needed to entice wild browns that are selectively feeding on or just below the surface. It is a pattern that has relegated the Snipe & Purple along with Stewart’s Black Spider to the roles of innocent bystanders within my catalogue of patterns. And during the long evenings of December, when next season’s subscription is signed and posted, dozens of this prized little pattern will be falling from the vice at regular intervals.

Spring Black
Size: 16
Thread: Purple silk
Body: Purple silk ribbed with magpie herl
Hackle: Cock pheasant neck feather

Another pattern that absorbs me during these winter evening fly tying sessions, is William Lunn’s Houghton Ruby. It has the uncanny ability to bring to the fore memories of the exalted River Test. Seated before the vice, recollections of summer’s distant hours flood back, and I am once again kneeling before a chalk-stream trout. The departing glories of the dying sun cast a rosy patina on the sliding river’s surface, as the Houghton Ruby was cast over my last trout of early evening. Tight to the near bank and shaded with the margins growth, the trout lazily indulged in a fall of returning spinners, blissfully unaware of my residence behind the veil of unmown grass. With imperceptible ease my fly drifted down to intercept the trout’s lustful stare and was gone. The thoughtful lift of the rod gave purchase to my sinful deceit, and the trout was ensnared by the sharpness of the fly’s smooth point. My rod kicked and bucked as the trout vainly tied to find the sanctuary of the swaying weed. Within moments the plump trout was engulfed by the net and I was once again in the circle of lamplight, balancing tails and aligning wings on this most accomplished dry fly.

Houghton Ruby
Hook: 14 or 16
Thread: UNI 8/0 Claret
Body: Rhode Island Hackle-stalk dyed with red and crimson
Hackle: Bright Rhode Island red hackle
Wings: Two light blue dun hen tips from the breast or back, set on flat
Tail: Three fibres from white cock’s hackle

Every angler has an affection for certain patterns. I do not merely mean “local” patterns, but standard patterns which he will endorse on any water. Thankfully the dark vigil of winter gives us ample opportunity to stock up on these advocated patterns. I myself, identify this endorsement within the Quill Gordon. It is a pattern that unflinchingly takes trout where ever it lands, and during winters ease reminds me of distant days within the charmed circle of the Catskills. The use of quill bodies on dry flies is nothing new, and dates back to centuries of British fly tying tradition. However, it was not until this body material got the “Catskill” treatment that quill-bodied flies took on such proportions of beauty. This bewitching pattern has become the symbol of American dry-fly fishing thanks to its association with Theodore Gordon. In his small shack on the Neversink River, Gordon severed America’s dependence on British fly pattern design and laid down the foundations for the famous Catskill school of fly tying, and in so doing became the ‘Father of American Dry Fly Fishing’. Gordon’s famous pattern has an elegance and quiet modesty about it, and appeals to my inner sixth sense, even when encased within the restrictive compartments of the fly box. The beauty and uniformity of its slim segmented body and speckled wood duck wings brings out a devotion in the fly tyer. It is a fly that has the power to beguile anglers and trout in equal measure and is the perfect pattern to dress during the sombre evenings of winter, when out of reach the ink blue river slides nonchalant below winter’s nebulous sky. The correct and proportionate formation of its stripped quill body, requires a measured deliberation that enlightens a winters night. The short period of soaking the quills allows the fly tyer to rejoice in the art of fly tying as he busily picks and prepares wood duck feathers for wings. Each stage of the dressing requires a delicacy of thought and touch, and in so doing, becomes the perfect distraction for the fly-tyer on winter evenings.

Quill Gordon
Hook: 12,14 & 16
Thread: Uni 8/0 White
Tail: Medium Blue Dun fibres
Body: Stripped Peacock Eye Quill
Wing: Wood Duck Feather
Hackle: Medium Blue Dun

So what of Ransome’s winter fly tying endeavours? Well, besides the early article of the 1920s, Ransome left scant information about his own personal fly tying habits until 1959, with the last publication of his lifetime ‘Mainly About Fishing‘. Here in its opening chapter entitled ‘Why Dress Flies‘ Ransome again touches on the joys of fly tying and remarks “unless an angler makes his own flies, half the pleasure of fishing has not been tasted”. Again Ransome is uncannily right, for generations of fly tyers will bear witness to the fact that there is no greater feeling that catching a fish on a fly that you have personally created. But as legions of fly tyers will testify to, there is much, much more to fly tying than that simple fulfilment of a skilful conclusion.

Arthur Ransome only left us with one signature fly from his nights of fly tying, the Elver Fly. It is a pattern from the remarkably titled chapter “Salmon Chew Gum”. Though now fallen foul of the modern hair-wing trend for salmon and sea-trout flies, Ransome’s Elver Fly is nevertheless a great pattern for migratory fish. I am no salmon angler myself, and share Ransome’s thoughts on the futility of designing and tying salmon flies.

“There is just no sense about it. Fishing for salmon is like talking with a lunatic. And, as for the designing of salmon-flies — it may well be thought that the salmon is not the only lunatic concerned. We have a very good word in the north for affairs that depend on pure luck. We say that they are very ‘hitty-missy’. Well, for sheer, unadulterated hitty-missiness, the designing of salmon flies must take a lot of beating.”

However, I do tie-up a small number of Ransome’s classic pattern during the sessions of winter. This pattern is equally adaptable as a streamer, and often has allowed me to tempt those big old trout that lay low and deep in the dark dubs of my native dale’s rivers. An outcome that Ransome himself would no doubt have wholeheartedly approved of. But in the bleakness of winter as I smooth and wrap the flat body floss of this pattern, the Elver Fly conjurers up images of the Cornish coast, and speaks to me of family holidays in the far south-west. The evening high tide swells and breaks its white-water over the windswept jagged rocks, as my fly is cast into the maelstrom of the tides’ confused currents, and intermittently stripped back. The savage jag of the rod tip reveals the take and ensuing fight of a sea bass. These are images that fly tying brings readily to the mind, fly tying has the power to evoke many memories and thoughts, inclinations that are often lacking during the concentration of our actual fishing time. In the dark evenings of winter, fly tying is in many ways like a photograph. It has the power to remind us of our past achievements, and at the same time revitalize our hopes a favourable future. There is no closed season for the fly tyer during a winter’s twilight, his mind is alive with thoughts of fishing, probably more so than during the actual season itself. As Ransome states whilst sat before the vice “he can be far away, seeing smooth water dimpled by a rising fish”

Ransome’s Elver Fly
Hook: Size 6 Longshank Streamer Hook
Thread: UNI 6/0 Red
Body: Black floss ribbed with flat silver tinsel
Cheeks: Vulturine Guinea Fowl
Hackle: Cobalt Blue Vulturine Guinea Fowl Breast feather

Edmonds & Lee Centenary

For generations of Yorkshire anglers, the tying and fishing of the region’s famous wet fly patterns has, in many ways, become an act of faith. An affirmation and communion built around two exalted testaments which still illuminate our angling thoughts and endeavours to this day. This year April 4th marks the centenary of the publication of Edmonds & Lee’s classic work Brook and River Trouting. A publication that in many respects, represents the New Testament of the North Country School, and rightfully sits alongside Pritt’s earlier publication of 1885 as one of the definitive handbooks for North Country anglers. As both authors went on to state in their preface, their initial aim was simply was to set down an explanation of the correct feathers used in the dressing of the various North Country patterns, along with photographic illustrations of the required feathers, materials and flies. However, as the two authors progressed in their writing endeavours, both men became increasingly aware of the bewildering number of patterns in earlier North Country books and fly lists, and recognised the need for a rationalisation in the actual number of patterns needed for a season. Quite how they separated the wheat from the chaff is unknown. However, with the publication of Brook and River Trouting, Edmonds & Lee certainly oversaw an extensive cull of long-standing traditional patterns, and paved the way for a more systematic and thoughtful approach to the dressing and fishing of the North Country flies. Later, in the second part of their book, the two authors would bring all their years of angling experience to bear. They expounded upon the various methods of fishing the flies on the northern rivers, with their exertions resulting in Brook and River Trouting becoming a tour de force and a stand out text on the subject.
Both authors were born into prosperous Bradford families in the late 1800’s, and spent their formative years in the then affluent Heaton borough of Bradford before moving farther afield in later years. Harfield Henry Edmonds was mainly brought up by his grandparents at the imposing home of his grandfather Thomas Edmonds, the founder of Edmonds & Sons Textiles Ltd. And Norman Nellist Lee lived nearby at Briarwood Villa, the grandiose home of his father John Lee, company secretary and director of Samuel Cunliffe Lister’s Manningham Silk Mills. After being educated at Shipley Central Boys School, Saltaire, both men would enter the local Bradford business fraternity with Harfield Edmonds and his brother Louis Albert Edmonds taking over their grandfather’s business and Norman Lee becoming the senior partner in the solicitors chambers of Lee, Armistead and Roberts.

Both men fished from an early age and in a newspaper interview of the 1950’s, Harfield Edmonds states “I have fished since I was a little boy and have always been fascinated by water and what it contains, whether I have a rod or not.” Later, in the same article he also recalled that as a boy he “set out with the object of making a collection of natural flies on our north country rivers and preserving their natural colours”. Having done so he then started to match various feathers to the colour of the wing insects. And from this simple childhood collection would evolve ‘Brook and River Trouting’. In a collection of Lee family letters dated 1939, Norman Lee also recounts aspects of the writing of ‘Brook and River Trouting’ along with his youthful visits to the River Wharfe at Bolton Abbey and Burnsall in the 1890’s. “My father and I used take make frequent trips to the river Wharfe, particularly Burnsall where my father’s business associates had built a gentlemen’s club overlooking the river. It was principally here and lower down the valley at Bolton Abbey where my formative angling days were spent.”

With the publication of Brook and River Trouting these two childhood friends emphatically brought the method of dressing and fishing the old North Country flies under the microscope of modernity. The book successfully counters the charge laid at the foot of wet fly fishing that it is a “chuck and chance” style of fishing, with a thorough description of the thoughtful methods employed when fishing the North Country wet fly.

Unlike Pritt’s earlier classic “Yorkshire Trout Flies” later republished as “North Country Flies”. It becomes clear when reading Brook and River Trouting that Edmonds and Lee firmly believed in the entomological reasoning of the patterns contained within their work. A point emphasised, in the 1950’s by Harfield Edmonds who stated “my aim is to try and dress the fly as near to nature as possible so that it cannot be refused.” This entomological reasoning is also in evident when one looks at the skilfully placed name of the order or family of insect under each fly pattern as well as the period of the season in which the artificial should be fished. The book is also complimented with two further separate tables detailing the precise months of the season when the artificial should be fished, allowing the reader to build up a suitable cast of flies for each specific month. A silk shade card is also included to facilitate an accurate representation of the silk colours needed to dress the patterns as purposeful representations on the natural insect found on the water.

The text is also interspersed within several photographs of the river Wharfe at Appletreewick, Bolton Abbey and Burnsall, as well as photographs of the River Aire at Hanlith and Cowside Beck in Littondale. Photographs which were taken by, amongst others, Harfield Edmonds’ brother Louis, who was himself was making strides in the early stages of the British film industry.

Though briefly forgotten in the intervening years since its publication, this scarce publication steadily increased its reputation as one of our sport’s definitive handbooks. The standard edition being reproduced in a series of facsimiles, the first dating back to 1980, and printed by the Orange Partridge Press of Ilkley with an introduction penned by Oliver Edwards. However, it is with the rarer de-luxe edition that the true beauty of this private publication becomes apparent. This edition was specially designed and produced by the Bradford printing company Percy Lund, Humphries & Co, who had steadily gained a reputation as a publisher of illustrated art books. A reputation which would be further enhanced with the publication of the first illustrated monographs on the Britain’s leading artists of the time, such as Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson and Paul Nash.

Limited to only fifty copies this rare de-luxe edition contains specimens of the actual flies, each tied by Hardy’s of Alnwick to the two authors specifications, and materials mounted within sunken oval plates, and complimented with one leaf of specimen tying silks. This rare deluxe edition was principally distributed amongst the authors’ families, wealthy friends and associates, and has now become highly prized by angling collectors and often fetching considerable sums of money at auction.

Though many of the artificial fly patterns contained within Brook and River Trouting are familiar to those who regularly fish the northern rivers. The two authors nevertheless included a healthy selection of obscure patterns, including some of their own dressings and personal interpretations of well-known favourites. Examples of which are superbly illustrated in the following three patterns which could quite easily, still form the backbone on any North Country angler’s selection.

No. 8b March Brown
Hook 2 or 3 (12 or 13)
Wings: Hackled with a mottled brown feather from a snipe’s rump.
Body: Orange silk, No.6, dubbed with fur from the nape of a Rabbit’s neck which has been lightly tinged red with Crawshaw’s Red Spinner dye. And ribbed with gold wire or tinsel.
Tail: Two strands from a feather from a Snipe’s rump, same feather as used for the wings.
Head: Orange silk.
April and often in May

This March Brown pattern originates with the famous Wharfedale angler John William Reffit, co-founder of the Yorkshire Fly-Fishers club and member of the Kilnsey Angling Club. In the personal letters of G.E.M. Skues to C.A.N. Wauton, Skues goes on to remark “I tied a couple of that snipe rump March Brown I described in my last letter, and enclose them. Just take the hook in hand and blow on the hackle, and see how mobile it is. According to my recollection the snipe rump March Browns I tied for Edmonds were ruddier in the body than these, but the dubbing of these exactly matches the materials supplies to me by Reffitt years ago, and no doubt when it is wet the hot orange silk will show through the dubbing”

While the true March Brown (Rithrogena germanica) is somewhat of a rare sight on our dales rivers. This March Brown dressing is thankfully more adaptable than its name suggests, and provides us with a reliably suggestive imitation of any of the large brown-winged duns of the genus Ecdyonurus, such as the False March Brown and the Large Brook Dun, and it dressing has been championed widely by some of flyfishing’s most notable authors and flytyers, including Oliver Edwards and the late Preben Torp Jacobsen of Denmark. Indeed, the latter included the dressing in his 1995 publication ‘Flies from the Flyleaves of my Diaries’.

No.30 Light Silverhorn
Hook 1 (14)
Wings: From a Thrush’s secondary quill feather, the outer side of the feather as the outside of the wing, or from a Landrail’s primary quill feather, the outer side of the feather as the outside of the wing. Wings put on “penthouse” fashion.
Body: Ash-coloured silk, No. 10, sparingly dubbed with reddish grey fur from thigh of a Squirrel.
Legs: Feather from a young Starling’s thigh or flank.
Head: Ash-coloured silk.
Antennae: Two strands from a black and white feather from a Mallard’s breast.
Middle of July to end of August

Although nowadays rarely dressed and fished by modern North Country anglers, the two Silverhorn patterns mention by Edmonds & Lee are nevertheless two fine examples of North Country wet fly patterns unequivocally dressed as sedge imitations. Both these patterns specific have the use of “penthouse” wings and long front antennae, giving them a unmistakable sedge like appearance. The Light Silverhorn pattern is probably dressed to represent the Brown Silverhorn, (Athriposodes spp,) a highly conspicuous day-active sedge, the males of which can often be seen swarming and zig-zagging across the river’s surface. A species of sedge that is still as prevalent on the beats of the Burnsall club waters as it was in the time of Edmonds & Lee’s membership.

No.20 Stone Midge
Diptera (Gnat)
Hook 0 or 00 (16 or 18)
Wings: Hackled with a olive green feather from a Green Plover’s neck.
Body – Grey silk, No 9a, well waxed, or ash-coloured silk, No.10, but in both cases dubbed sparingly with bluer-grey Heron herl.
Head: Magpie herl.
Middle of May to end of June.

This small little midge imitation has a long heritage and can be found in various guises in many early North Country publications, with this particular dressing almost identical to Pritt’s earlier listing of 1885. Though largely overlooked by many of today’s North Country anglers, this unassuming Stone Midge dressing is perfect for imitating the various small midges found around the river’s slower reaches as well as small Horseflies, which lay their eggs in the river margins.

To this day, the publication of Brook and River Trouting remains to a certain degree an enigma, coming unheralded as it did during the dark days of the First World War. The standard edition’s high price tag of 30/- meant it was beyond the reach of all but the wealthiest of anglers, and with hindsight gives this provincial publication the whiff of a vanity project for the indulgence of two wealthy Bradfordians. An impression further reinforced, with the knowledge that book’s rare and valuable deluxe edition was largely given away to wealthy friends and clients.
However, the private publication of Brook and River Trouting points to something much more thoughtful than that. It is a tangible affirmation of the north’s, and particularly the city of Bradford’s, sporting and financial prosperity in a time of profound deep uncertainty. Coming as it does, before the full ravages of the conflict on the western front had extracted its pernicious toll on the social and economic landscape of a city, and indeed upon the world as a whole. Its publication brings the science and language of modernity to a school of angling that is as old as the hills and ensures that the old North Country wet fly still remains gloriously relevant even to this day. With its publication the two authors successfully built a modern manual of North Country angling and unintentionally kept for us a glimpse of the half concealed world of an angling past. A past that was quickly disappearing from view, along with a generation of their contemporary Bradfordians who lined the trenches of northern France, mustering for the future hell and slaughter of the Somme offensive.

As Oliver Edwards succinctly states in his introduction to the 1980 reprint, Brook and River Trouting is unquestionably a “working” book, and to that effect its legacy to all those who relish the dressing and fishing of the patterns contained, has diminished little in the intervening century. Like Pritt’s earlier 19th century volume, Edmonds & Lee’s Brook and River Trouting has become a mainstay for all those seeking to uphold the North Country’s fly-fishing tradition. And as such, will continued to be read and celebrated by a continuing generation of North Country anglers through the next century and beyond.

Preben Torp Jacobsen

Preben Torp Jacobsen

A few months ago, whilst clearing out some junk from the bottom draw of my flytying desk, I came across a bundle of faded and stained papers. They were a series of emails that I had printed off over twenty years ago, and had laid forgotten under a pile of old fishing magazines. Despite the intervening years, I knew instinctively what these papers were as I pulled them from the recesses of the bottom draw.

They were a product of the early days of the internet, when I struck up an unlikely and sporadic correspondence with one of Denmark’s most famous flyfishers. I had the pleasure of meeting him many years earlier when he visited the UK to take part in one of the “Partridge Flytying Days”, organised by the famous hook manufacturer. These were the days before the endless profusion of nondescript Pro-Teams. Days when flytyers, didn’t need to hide their self-consciousness behind the logo on a shirt.

As I ambled into the room in my Army & Navy duffle coat, Jethro Tull sweatshirt and unkempt long hair. I gazed around and took a spot nestled in a small gathering ahead of the nearest flytyer. Memory fades and I can’t remember his name, other than to say that he was a Stillwater angler from “down-south”. Bored at the thought of endless marabou and lures, I shuffled sideways on to the next table. And was met by a rather rotund gentleman in what can only be described as the worse fitting clothes I have ever seen.

His striking bushy eyebrows raised, as he looked me over a couple of times and we started to exchange pleasantries as he dressed a small dry fly. His name was Preben Torp Jacobsen, Denmark’s pre-eminent flyfisher and fly-tyer of the day. Through the course of the day’s event I kept coming back to Preben’s table and listened intently to his ruminations on flyfishing and flytying. He seemed both a jolly, and somewhat of an irascible sort of chap when compared to the other flytyers in the room. But nevertheless, there was something about him that you couldn’t help but warm to. He dressed a range of small dry flies, whilst talking about classic flyfishing literature. The names of Skues, Grey and Halford dropped off his tongue as his fingers weaved their magic.

On that day, he was simply different to every flytyer in the room. There was a kind of gravitas to him that the other more famous flytyers lacked. In an age when manmade materials were starting to make serious inroads into the world of flytying, Preben Torp Jacobsen as befitting a veterinarian, was very much a connoisseur of natural materials. So much so, that conversation turned to the benefits of raising one’s own poultry to get the correct hackle shades. Something, I had no interest in, but nevertheless, I listened intently as this most knowledgeable of anglers and flytyers held court. We chatted about such luminaries as Dr William Baigent and his pioneering work on genetic hackles, and the great Oliver Kite, who Preben new well and dedicated a fly after. In a great gesture of kindness as I left his table for the last time that afternoon, he gave me a couple of the dry flies he had tied, and a Blue Dun cock cape from one of his own chickens. They were immediately put to good use!

The “Old Dane” left a lasting impression, and a couple of years later when an old friend of my father’s came over to visit us from Denmark. I arranged for a copy of Preben’s book Fluebinding to be brought over. Needless to say, it was all in Danish and I couldn’t understand a word. But there was an enchantment within it pages and its superb elongated format, allowed the book to be open whilst flytying. Later, I bought a copy of his Flies from the Flyleaves of my Diaries, thankfully translated into English! It is a delightful book of reminiscences and fly patterns garnered from the many flytyers and anglers he had come into contact with over his lifetime. In the book he delightfully pays respect to the originators of the patterns, whilst still maintaining a healthy and honest view on its merits and possible improvements. And it is with this slim, mixed volume of patterns and recollections, that my enthusiasm for Jacobsen and his Ålestrup trout streams really started to grow.

Years later, with the burgeoning of the early internet, I came across Preben once again. He had set up his own personal website, and was in many ways pioneering the way flyfishing and flytying would be represented on the early stages of the internet.
Though Preben has long since left us, his vast knowledge is still joyously alive in the not so ephemeral reaches of cyberspace. And thankfully, the remnants of his old website is still active and can be found at His website was in many ways, an unintentional and undeveloped pre-cursor to today’s multitude of flyfishing flytying blogs. Ironic!

Thankfully, Preben, also contributed a series of fine articles to Martin Joergensen’s excellent website globalflyfisher and I would urge any interested reader to search out these Jacobsen articles. Preben’s article on North Country flies on blind hooks, is the reason why today I use straight-eyed hooks for all my spider dressings. And his detailed description of the traditional way of dressing a north country spider has in many ways become the cornerstone of my own tying technique.

After reading this piece on North Country Flies, I plucked up courage and emailed him and reminisced about the day spent in his company at the flytying event many years earlier. Over the course of a couple of years a rather fragmentary correspondence developed as we both debated long and hard about classic fly fishing literature and flytying. Packets of game and poultry hackles were joyously exchanged between two of the most unlikely of correspondents.
He was ever forthright in his views on a subject, that he literally lived for, and sometimes his emails in broken English were very hard to follow. As mine were probably to him. But I look back with a fondness on my short-lived correspondence with the “Old Dane”. He had like me, had opinions that you simply couldn’t shift. And I respected and loved him for that.

Preben Torp Jacobsen, was in many ways one of the central characters in my education as an angler and flytyer. Though, now sadly forgotten outside Denmark and Scandinavia, his legacy deserves to be kept, and his writings searched for. You will find a great store of knowledge those treasured Flyleaves.

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