In his introduction to Trout Fishing On Hill Streams, Richard Clapham remarks “that on rock, fast-flowing streams the “one-fly” man can easily kill as many or more trout than the angler with the bulging flybook who is for ever changing his feathered lures.”
Clapham’s testimony is one that I can easily accept, having fished many small and boisterous becks, including the Austwick Beck, where Clapham served his angling apprenticeship. I notice that trout in these small streams are more opportunistic and less restrained than their relatives in fuller rivers and streams. Not that small stream trout are any less weary. They are skittish and more hypersensitive to movement and danger than lowland trout. But their environment is sparse and often brutal, allowing them little opportunity to pick their prey. And are more inclined to take the angler’s fly regardless of the pattern. And as Clapham notes
“Thus, to tie your flies in imitation of particular insects is sheer waste of time. Nor is the colour of your flies important.”
Increasingly, as seasons progress, I am turning away from larger rivers, and concentrating my fishing on the many small upland becks of the dales. In my need for solitude and simplicity, I follow Clapham’s maxim more and more. Though not in any sense a “one fly” man, I have, however, streamlined my fly choice down to three or four general dry and wet fly patterns. And as Clapham alludes, my catch rate hasn’t changed. Indeed, the smaller fly choice has concentrated the mind more. The early season befuddlement of whether to choose a Greenwell or Waterhen Bloa during a flush of Large Dark Olives has disappeared. My “Small Stream” fly-box is diminutive, and my fly choice stripped down to a bare minimum.
On these small becks and streams, fly choice is more about profile than imitation. Unlike Clapham, my flies are a mixture of the chubby and the sleek, with the individual patterns being able to cover many bases. I must confess, my one large divergence from the philosophy of Clapham is that I lean towards fuller dressed patterns, particularly regarding dry fly’s, as these are easier to track on the boisterous surface of a small stream. As with Clapham, colour is unimportant. It is simply all about profile and suggestion, and the necessity for both fish and fisher to see the fly.
Of course, when fishing wet flies in these rowdy becks and streams, it is often impossible for the angler to see the drifting fly in the turbulent waters. But to my thinking, the patterns should be sparse in the body, but fuller in the hackle. Allowing the trout more of an opportunity to detect and encounter the fly in these chaotic currents.
Three Wet Fly’s for Hill Streams
In Trout Fishing on Hill Streams, Clapham illustrates how over a period he came to forsake all other fly patterns in favour of the Lee’s Favourite. John Lee of Bishop Auckland devised the pattern and brought it to the attention of tackle dealer William Cummins. Later Cummins’ would include the pattern in his firm’s fly catalogues, where it probably came to the attention of Clapham. A wonderful little wet fly, and though nondescript. It’s still a great little wet fly on small becks and streams throughout the season. The fly covers a multitude of bases, and is, as Clapham would heartily appreciate, one of my favourite (Excuse the pun) wet fly patterns on the high Dales becks.
Hook: Partridge SUD2 Size 14/16
Body: Black silk ribbed with silver wire
Tail: Two fibres from a Black Cock Hackle
Wing: Waterhen Primary Wing Quill Slips
Hackle: Black Hen Hackle
Another of my go-to wet fly patterns on the turbulent becks of the high dales is a variant of the Half Stone. A. Courtney William’s in his Dictionary of Trout Flies, states that this pattern is “One of the best patterns for the Devonshire streams and much used in the west during the early part of the season.” I, however, find that this simple wet fly pattern works well throughout the season, and has often brought trout to the net when all others have failed. Particularly on the high reaches of Birkdale, where the trout are small and feisty. I tend to palmer my hackle over a well teased out dubbed thorax of pine squirrel, which gives this fly a bit more of a buggy appearance, and more movement and “kick” in the water.
Half Stone (Variant)
Hook:Partridge SUD2 Size 14
Body: Yellow Floss
Thorax: Pine Squirrel Fur
Hackle: Blue Dun Hen Hackle
A pattern invented by my father in the late 70s for fishing on the boulder strewn top reaches of Dales rivers like the Swale and Wharfe. He named it in honour of Ella Pontefract, the topographical and social historian of the Yorkshire Dales, whose books and articles he read as a boy in the 1940s.
Although a member of several of the north’s most revered fishing clubs, and a regular on many famous salmon beats. He enjoyed nothing more than fishing the rough and tumble becks and streams that fed the Dales’ most celebrated rivers. Instilling in all his family a love of the Dales’ rivers and landscapes, and the wonderful sport of fly-fishing.
I remember when fishing the upper Swale with my father in the late-70s; we used to get our fishing permits from the small Post Office in the tiny village of Keld. Even then, nearly forty years after her death, her name was still revered.
This diminutive fly that bears her name has caught many trout and served our family well over the intervening decades. It is still has a prominent place in my fly boxes, and features prominently in my small stream fly box. Like all great fly patterns, it imitates nothing but suggests everything.
Hook: Size 16 Partridge Wide Wet
Tag: Blue Tinsel
Rib: Fine Silver Wire
Body: Bronze Peacock herl
Hackle: Grey Plover
Three Dry Flies For Hill Streams
In the late seventies local tackle retailer, casting instructor and author Peter Mackenzie-Philps devised a series of dry fly patterns for one of his elderly customers. With advancing age, the old gent had difficulty seeing his dry fly on the water, and so needed a pattern that was highly visible, and thus the pensioner series of flies was born. I first fished derivations of this pattern not long after its devising. And have found them to be highly effective wherever they are fished. Its highly visible bunched wing of white mink tail allows the fly to be tracked easily on turbulent streams, and again its nondescript dressing covers a lot of possibilities. In the world of modern fly creations, it is one that I am sure Clapham would have approved of and used.
Hook: Partridge SUD2 Size 14
Body: Hare’s Fur
Rib: Fine Gold Wire
Tail: Greenwell Cock Fibres
Wing: White Mink Tail tied Upright
Hackle: Greenwell Cock Hackle
This distinctive dry fly pattern was the creation of Philip Lupton in collaboration with the famous Derbyshire fly-dresser, Roger Woolley. For many years it was a popular pattern for the river Nidd where Lupton enjoyed his sport on the Harrogate Fly-Fishers beats. The pattern has a peacock herl head which distinguishes many north country wet fly patterns but seldom seen in any dry fly. Like most of my small stream fly choices, it covers many bases, and can suggest many species of olives. It has the quality of a fly that I’m sure Clapham would have appreciated, and no doubt fished if they had invented it during his time.
I’ve fished this pattern regularly and over many seasons. And can vouch for its effectiveness during olive hatches. It looks impressive as it bobbles down a tempestuous small stream on its hackle and tail points. And the diminutive trout of these upland waters find it so attractive!
Hook: Partridge SUD2 Size 16
Body: Yellow silk, dubbed with grey wool and ribbed over yellow silk. I like to dub this with mole fur, in a similar to the sparse 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.
Richard Clapham was clearly of the opinion that on hill streams the wet fly was more prosperous than the dry. However, he gives us one glorious exception to this rule in the fishing of the Bracken Clock Beetle. He states he preferred the Kennedy’s Beetle as an imitation of the Bracken Clock. A pattern that was a onetime popular variant of the Coch-y-bonddu and featured a body of painted balsa.
Personally, when fishing small upland becks, I wouldn’t be without a Coch-y-bonddu in dry fly form. Though originally devised as an imitation of a small red-black beetle, this pattern adeptly covers many terrestrial insects that get blown on to the water’s surface.
Hook–Partridge SUD2 Size 16
Tag: Flat Gold tinsel
Hackle: Coch-y-bonddu Cock Hackle (natural red with a black centre and black tips)
Born beneath the imposing backdrop of the Yorkshire three peaks in the village of Austwick in the Yorkshire Dales in the year of 1878. Richard Clapham was the eldest of three children and educated at Giggleswick Grammar School, leaving in 1893 to work for a firm of architects in Leeds. Becoming disenchanted with office life, he emigrated to New Zealand in 1900 before later moving to Canada, where he met and married Constance Ellen du Pre Hardwick. Following his father’s death, he returned to England with his wife and settled in the tiny village of Troutbeck in the Lake District. Wounded in the Great War, he later returned to the front line several months later, before being finally being demobbed in 1919.Upon the death of his wife, Clapham returned to his native Yorkshire in 1940 settling in the hamlet of Feizor, just a stone’s throw from his birthplace of Austwick to see out his remaining years. It was here that he wrote Trout Fishing On Hill Streams and populated many of the pages with images of he and his wife fishing Austwick Beck in earlier years.
Sadly, plagued by ill health in later years, Richard Clapham passed away at his home in 1954 being later buried in Austwick cemetery.
Author of The North Country Fly. Wharfedale flyfisherman and flytyer.