Recent trends in grayling fishing have focused on flies with tags, flash, bling and pink! Wychwood consultant Carl Nixon goes back to black, much to the liking of the ‘lady of the stream’.
Is it a forgotten colour? Do we choose black when all else fails or when certain conditions present themselves to us? As anglers we are obsessed with the newest fad in colour, material or fly pattern! When it comes to river patterns, and especially during late autumn and early winter, where we target grayling we become unconsciously obsessed with tags, pink shrimps and the much loved Squirmy, along with the many variants that can be whittled up while sat at the vice during those long winter nights.
When the phenomenon of the Squirmy was brought from the US and cast into the UK waters in 2012, two good friends used it to win a few stillwater bank matches. A few months later, the secret was out. Only a few years ago the red variant was all that was available and was being put to use by river anglers far and wide. Then, as you can imagine, the fly-tying fraternity, and in particular David Hise in the US, started producing all manner of colours – pinks, green, orange and black. These soon arrived in the UK!
I was kindly given two sample colours to try in 2013; candy pink and black. Not thinking much of the black, I put it in the drawer and forgot about it. Obviously the candy pink worked on stillwaters, picking up a few bank wins for me, along with a cracking session on the River Don where I annihilated both trout and grayling.
Back To Black
Having a recent rummage through the Squirmy drawer I stumbled upon the black. Not being my first choice material to work with I had a go and tied a few jig patterns. The trick to using Squirmy is to use a multi-strand floss and always lay a bed of thread on the shank first. This stops it spinning as you tie it in.
Taking these flies down to my local stream, I was amazed at how effective they were. Typically only tying three of them, they didn't last very long; it never helps when you stick one in a tree! So returning to the vice, I decided to tie quite a few more up with different weights and coloured beads. Carrying on with the black theme I tied a few more flies – Pheasant Tails, Flashback Nymphs and a few Squirmy variants.
Carl's main line of attack for grayling is a 10ft 3-wt; ideal for a range of nymphing techniques
Heading south to the River Calder and contemplating what would greet me as I arrived, the mission, should the fish choose to accept it, was to see if the Yorkshire grayling were as keen on the black flies as much as their northern counterparts. There's no reason why they shouldn't be, but starting off with black flies instead of the usual choice of something bright and flashy may prove to be a big mistake.
Using a fine-diameter fluorocarbon with files spaced 40 centimetres apart ensures that you can get your flies down quickly to cover the depths
Setting up the Wychwood River & Stream 10ft, 3-wt along with the new River Nympher super-thin fly fine, the day looked like it was set to be a good. Attached to my line I constructed a tapered leader made up of smoke blue monofilament and lengths of Camo Mode monofilament, ending in a 35 to 40-centimetre length of Two Tone indicator in 0.25mm terminated with a 2mm micro ring. Attached to this I used 3lb Ghost Mode fluorocarbon, with 90 centimetres to the dropper, approximately 40 to my middle dropper and a further 40 to my point fly. Rather than go for anything with a tag or obnoxious and in your face, I stuck to the plan and selected three black patterns. I planned to avoid the temptation of something with colour and intended to stick with these throughout the day
The All Blacks
The Black Squirmy and Flashback Nymph, two black patterns that the grayling couldn't resist.
I attached the black Squirmy on the point, black Flashback Nymph in the middle and a simple black nymph on the point, all tied on size 14 Hanak 450BLs. The water was quite low as I made my way to an obvious pool just upstream of an abandoned bridge. Trying not to scare every fish within 100 yards of me, I crouched down and fished the seam on the inside bank, just in case any fish were lurking nearby. Looking at the pool it was apparent that the conveyor belt of food on the surface was running about two feet off the far bank. My suspicions were confirmed when a grayling broke rank and took something as it floated by. As I worked downstream along the inside bank, I made my way out and across, splitting the water into a grid and covering it methodically. As I reached the tail of the pool I connected with my first fish of the day, helping itself to the Flashback Nymph on the middle dropper. The small but welcome grayling was quickly netted and returned. I concentrated my efforts on the far bank, casting upstream at 45 degrees and tracking the flies downstream. I was soon rewarded with two more grayling.
Weight For A Change
Moving upstream trying to cover as much water as possible, I made my way towards a nice dogleg pool with an almost natural weir created by the urban landscaping. Obviously, the pace and depth of this spot was somewhat slower than the previous pool; a change of weight was needed to reach the fish hugging the bottom. I opted for a 3.5mm gold beaded Squirmy, this time for the point fly. I was instantly rewarded with a grayling on the black Squirmy as the flies tracked downstream in front of me. This variant has a collar of Glo-Brite No2 as a trigger point. It’s not strictly an all black pattern but it takes its fair share of ladies from the pool. Working slowly towards the natural weir the water dropped away in front of me. The pace here had quickened and the interest for the next few casts slowed a little so I began working my way back down the pool.
"As I lifted again a grayling kindly took hold and headed for the reeds on the far bank"
As I worked the water in front of me I cast straight into the heart of the pool and let the flies swing directly downstream and across. Here I got a good solid rattle from an inquisitive fish. I've found this method gets some interest on tough days and can account for a bonus fish. It’s a great way of helping you search a pool.
After covering the inside line it's time to do the same to the middle and far bank. Doing this methodically should bring more fish to the net.
Knowing that there were still fish in the pool I carefully waded through the deep water back downstream and worked the area, concentrating on the slower-paced water. As the flies tracked past I gently lifted the rod tip trying to induce a response. As I lifted I was met with some resistance and a nice sized brown trout revealed its hiding spot and bravely fought back. I quickly unhooked him in the water because he was out of season and he shot back to his spot in the river.
Noticing the weather was about to turn for the worse we quickly headed for a pool that I was given the heads up about. Again I changed the weight of the flies because the pool was a little faster and shallower than before.
Casting the team of three black flies into the riffle I was met with a gentle twitch on the indicator. There was nothing there so I quickly cast back into the pool and allowed the flies to dead drift. As I lifted again a grayling kindly took hold and headed for the reeds on the far bank. This is when it began to rain and it was time for home!
Hold fire with the bright flashy patterns and give those black flies a go this Autumn...
I'd be inclined to say the mission was a success, and I'll certainly be keeping stock of the black Squirmy for any further trips! Why not try reaching for the black stuff next time you're out and give the bright tags and shrimps a rest? You may be pleasantly surprised.
Hook: Hanak 450BL, size 12-16
Bead: Match your bead with hook size to your river
Thread: Flybox Ultrafloss, black
Tail and body: Black Squirmy worm
Collar: Glo-Brite No2
Hook: Hanak 450BL or 470BL Wave Jig, size 12- 14
Bead: 3mm metallic purple
Tail: Medium Pardo Coq de Leon
Body: Hends Spectra shade 46
Flashback: Medium purple holographic tinsel
Rib: Medium black wire
Black Jack Nymph:
Hook: Hank 450BL or Hends 154, size 14-16
Bead: Plain tungsten 2.5 to 3.5mm to match hook size
Tail: Medium Pardo Coq de Leon
Body: Argentinean hare, black
Collar: Hends Spectra 96
Photography by Pauline Dunning
David Heseltine teams up with fly fishing legend and former Wychwood team-mate Brian Peterson to sample the tranquillity and quality fishing offered at New Haylie Loch.
To really get a ‘feel’ for the history of this picture-postcard corner of the world I’d have to be heavily clad in old tartan, topped off with a Viking helmet. But here I stand to do battle of an altogether gentler nature, armed only with rod and line, spending a few minutes to fully admire the lovely backdrop of sweeping craggy hills that conveniently fall away and open wide to spectacular views of the isles of Bute and Arran.
Originally known as The Slopes, this is Largs, in Scotland… and I can see the sea from here!
New Haylie Fishing Loch
Contact: 01475 676005
New Haylie Fishery is tucked in beautifully at the coastal edge of Largs, on the Firth of Clyde. And it’s so, so inviting, I can virtually smell the TLC so willingly applied by owners Senga and George Murray. But then of course, when your water is manned 24/7 and open for business every day, including Christmas Day, this is not just a job but a complete way of life.
Haylie is a small hillside loch of some 3.6 acres and as I already know the water’s head of wild browns is well pumped up with rainbows, blues, tiger trout and more browns, who could ask for anything more? But yes, just for once I do… and there is.
Tackling up for the day ahead as David (left, Brian (right) and Alan all opt for floating lines.
A Venue For All
On my brief ‘all our yesterdays’ tour of the west of Scotland (God’s own country as they call it, being just a wee ferry ride across the Clyde) I’ve stopped off here for a day with my old friend and mentor, Brian Peterson. I’ve seen the pictures and heard the stories of this place. And now that I’m actually here for the proof of the pudding, one single word seems to cover all: Quality – the surroundings, the peace and quiet, the warm welcome and of course the water itself. And to think my old Wychwood team-mate lives just a hop, skip and jump away!
My twinge of envy is already present because now I get it. I understand why a thoroughbred Scot with a top-drawer fly fishing CV as long as my leg comes here every week. And the other guys wandering the shoreline can be anyone from a couple of beginners to a bunch of the Scottish national men’s, ladies or youth team. They all come to this tiny pocket of water within the hills for a little tranquillity and seclusion.
I can hardly wait to put my line out, but before diving headlong into the fishing itself, I must say I’m learning another lesson already. My first lesson in these parts many years ago was to realise that a ‘mad’ (unknown) Scot attaching a couple of maggots to his fly during a very hard day (on another hill loch), wasn’t so mad after all. And now, probably as per many flyfishers no doubt, I must admit I’ve previously screwed up my face a little when presented with a trout fishery that also permits bait fishing. But here we have it for very good reason, with both methods living in perfect harmony. The bait fishing here is ‘contained’ within a small corner of the loch and it’s really for the kids, says George. “They come for a little dabble in their school holidays and after watching the big guys, many of them soon turn to fly fishing.” Now is that forward thinking or what!
The loch also stages various fund-raising events, always on a catch and release basis, in support of all national fly fishing sectors.
Flies For Haylie - Black Sussy Fly - It's not pretty but it's very effective; Brian's Black Sussy!
Dries are the way as this stunning box of dry flies tied by local expert Alistair Murphy shows.
Dry Fly Throughout The Year
This water invites all styles of fly fishing, from lures to buzzers and nymphs, to excellent dry fly. We have depths ranging from two feet, shallows to 20 feet, the deepest area of the loch around the L-shaped dam wall, and there are more than enough small bays with tidy little peninsulas and platforms to make for a very interesting and comfortable day. The waterside lodge is also permanently open to provide refreshment and a ‘square slice’ (yummy Scottish sausage) so obviously I tested that too.
The natural fly life at New Haylie is of a certain quality also. There’s the all-year-round black midge, so buzzer fishing is high on the list, but the water also gives up an abundant supply of pond olives, and then come the varied terrestrials including plenty of daddies. All of this natural mix encourages dry-fly fishing throughout the year, even during the seriously cold winter months.
But to be clear, New Haylie isn’t a ’doddle’. No, this is not one of those over-easy waters where almost any old fly will do. Some small fisheries do get the balance just right with a sensible stocking routine and constant effort – this is one of them. Although catch and release is permitted within a sensible day-ticket structure, New Haylie has a good regular turnover of fish so George likes to stock on a weekly basis with fish averaging 2lb plus, and the occasional injection of biggies.
While hoping not to hear those twisted words of wisdom “You should have been here yesterday…” I am genuinely listening, talking and watching all at the same time; listening and talking to Brian and George while watching over the loch. Noticeably no doubt, my concentration wavers a little each time I see a good fish rise. So in no time at all the conversation is in complete disarray as the residents with fins start showing here there and everywhere.
A local guy hits into a good fish on the opposite bank and then, among all of this distraction, I spot the unusual posture of another man I know only too well. My regular fishing mate, Alan, is already set up and sneakily waddling off to a likely spot. The temptation of rising fish versus polite conversation is no contest for him.
Brian makes a start with his Black Sussy Fly...
Flies For Haylie
The favourite recommended flies for New Haylie include small CDCs and Sussy (Suspender) Buzzers in sizes 16 to 14, and many local anglers really favour the exquisite quality of the patterns produced by local expert Alistair Murphy. So it’s of little or no surprise that a box of this man’s perfected flies can fetch up to £250 at a fund-raising event.
But it’s not entirely about tiny stuff. Brian, being Brian, swears by his Sussy Rabbit, which (in English terms) is a rabbit (zonker) strip tied on a size 10 with a ‘sugar lump’ of foam at the head. This lure works like a single-breasted booby (which are wisely banned), sitting right in the surface with its tantalising tail pulsating gently away just below. The occasional tweak is all that’s required to bring the fish up for a solid hit.
I think the fly is as ugly as a baboon’s bum but that misses the point and I’d still put money on it. I’ve experienced this Brian Peterson scenario a few times before.
On To The Fishing
... and it's not long before a 3lb rainbow makes it to the net.
Although I never ignore local advice from the guys that know (and I make sure I have a couple of Brian’s Sussys in my pocket), my thoughts are elsewhere, but while I’m pondering over my fly box Alan is quick to take the first fish of the day.
I watch my line and keep an eye on Brian at the same time. He knows what he’s doing and the magic touch certainly hasn’t deserted him just yet, as his black Sussy is taken with a stonking big wallop at the surface. This rainbow believes it’s a fresh-run salmon and fights like a bull at a gate for some considerable time, and although I catch a glimpse to see a 3lb fish that simply oozes health and fitness, after such a lengthy battle Brian is anxious for a quick revival and return to the water undamaged.
Meanwhile, Alan has spotted a few hefty fish, including a sizeable tiger trout, sauntering right in at the edge of the dam wall but the call for lunch postpones our intentions of a little stalking – mistake! Unfortunately, having allowed my belly to overrule my brain, although I returned to the hotspot three times, the bigger specimens were nowhere to be found.
So after hooking (and losing) a couple of fish on Brian’s Sussy, and because I keep on seeing fish cruising the top level of this slightly brackish but clear water, I just have to switch to small flies. A small CDC eventually takes two fish and while I’m still not entirely happy with my success rate against so many rising fish, this leads me to switch again to another of very similar dressing.
My new Olive Cruncher Quill (see the September 2016 issue) has produced fairly rapidly at home on Draycote and once again this little beauty did the trick for me. But at the end of the day, I have a feeling that fish numbers are far from the main vein of this loch.
Most mature flyfishers are wonderers by nature and every now and then, purposely or incidentally, we happen upon a real jewel in the crown. Well, this quite unique tiny dot on our planet is within that minority list of places: fisheries that we sincerely hope and pray never change, because of course, we want to come back and do it all again and again. But at least my real haggis from the local butcher and (yet another) special bottle of single malt will help see me through, until the next time.
With the Firth of Clyde as the backdrop, is there anywher more scenic to cast a line?
Wychwood’s Mike Low goes back to his roots as he returns to the River Calder to show us how to tackle small rivers…
Even at the age of 30, I remember the only opportunity as a teenager to see exotic fishing destinations was in books, magazines and sometimes TV. Not now, though; in an age of the internet and social media, we are constantly bombarded with videos and photographs of huge fish and all the excitement that these faraway destinations promise in the glossy ads and beautifully edited films.
Destination fishing, be it for trophy trout or big game on the fly, is a growing market, but why? Sometimes we don’t realise what we have in front of us and this is more often than not true with fishing.
Each year masses of English anglers retreat to Wales, Scotland and Ireland, while Scottish anglers head to the other countries in the UK, and so on. But why is that? Why are we obsessed with searching out what we think will be the next best thing?
A number of years ago I was salmon fishing in Scotland and met an angler who was one of the party. It turns out this guy owned a farm on the banks of a very well known Midlands reservoir – I thought to myself: “Wow, what a lucky man!”
“Do you fish it much?” I asked him, and what he said next flabbergasted me: “Nope, never.”
I couldn’t quite believe it, but in hindsight, I have been guilty of that very same mentality.
Back To My Roots
The charm and character of the River Calder. Among the urban debris is an oasis of trout-holding lies!
We seem to be constantly seeking that next big thing, that bigger fish, more fish, better scenery and want everything to be bigger and better than the last time. By my own admission I am like this too, a thrill seeker if you will, but sometimes we need to stop and look at what is around us and, more importantly, what we have much nearer to home.
In my case, I have been fortunate enough to fish some amazing rivers across the world, but on a recent trip back to visit my parents just a few miles outside the centre of Glasgow I decide to have a cast on the river where I learnt to fish. This river isn’t grand, far from exclusive, doesn’t hold massive fish or large numbers but what it lacks in the aforementioned qualities it makes up for in charm and character.
Yeah, there are a few shopping trolleys to be seen and footballs bob along with the gentle flow, but what a place to fish and what a place to have on your doorstep. The truth is, most of us have a fishing oasis of some sort on our doorstep but just how many of us actually use it?
The Magical River
The Calder is a dream to fish for the modern-day flyfisher. It is full of pockets, holes, fast-flowing pools and slower glides. Granted it relies heavily on rainwater to ensure a healthy flow, but when it is on form it can provide some exceptional sport. The fish aren’t huge but trout of 2lb are not uncommon and stories of bigger ones getting away are told every year!
My learning curve on the River Calder was not with a fly rod but with fine line, small weights and a wriggly bait of either worm or maggot on the end. It is really interesting that the manner in which we fished these baits is essentially the same way in which we Czech and French nymph our flies nowadays. Making small casts, bouncing the bait behind rocks, through runs and into holes was always the best method with a spinning reel, and so today, many years on, I will be trying to fish my flies in that same way and through those same runs that I have done before, hopefully with success.
Long light rods are one option for small rivers because these allow you to high stick your nymphs!
The setup for this kind of river is extremely simple. There are two options: either a long, light nymphing rod or a short 6 or 7ft rod. These will fundamentally fish the flies in the same way but the only difference is one will be cast and the other ‘high sticked’. Now the chances are that simply by reading this article you are aware of what high sticking and ‘euro-style nymphing’ is, but if you are completely new to river fishing and want to tackle your local river in a more ‘conventional’ manner then it is very simple to do.
A short, lightweight rod can be set up and very effectively fish nymphs in all sorts of water. The presentation and bite detection is inferior to the euro nymph setup but the flexibility and ease of fishing with a short rod and short leader is fantastic for the beginner.
As mentioned, for these small rivers it is best to fish a small rod, something along the lines of 6six or seven feet is ample and the leader should be around the same length. With rods of this size, you can expect to marry them up with a 3wt line and there is no better for this style of fishing than the Feather Down floater.
With a matching rod, reel and balanced line setup we can look at the business end, and there are a couple of options here for nymph fishing. Of course, if you are fortunate enough to have a hatch of flies on the river and the fish are rising then this setup can easily be adjusted to fishing dry fly, and the small size of the rod lends itself nicely to casting under trees and getting in all of those awkward places that fish tend to lie!
The nymph leader setup could not be any simpler for approaching a small river like this. Either a small nymph under a dry fly or two nymphs fished on a leader approximately the length of your rod, with the flies spaced equally apart. Both approaches can both be fished from the same leader setup, ie six to seven feet for leader, and dropper tied at three feet. Now I know you maybe think that this seems short and not exactly stealthy, but if fished correctly and with the help of a delicate fly line it is more than capable of catching fish.
As mentioned, the River Calder is made up of varying types of water and with each move upstream you will constantly fish the new and varied water. The leader setup lends itself well to this type of river, as with a quick change of one fly you can fish fast anything from pocket water to slower glides.
How To Approach Small Rivers
Deep Holes And Pocket Water
Depending on just how deep the water is and whether it is pushing through or not, I would say that the double nymph is usually the best approach for these small holes.
There are two approaches to fishing this water:
Firstly, fish the flies on a short line, holding the tip of the line lightly off the water, or secondly, put a small cast up to the head of the flow and let your flies flow back. With both methods keeping firm contact with the line and taking up slack is so important.
‘Streamy’ water can be classed as the ‘nice’ flow that comes into a pool or the streamy water that flows along a river from one pool to the next. The latter is what I have seen more anglers than I care to remember walk past, or even worse wade through without actually fishing it.
This steady flowing water is more often than not home to lots of fish as they like the medium current. It’s usually a good feeding station and invariably the fish have somewhere to move should they encounter a predator.
There are two approaches for this water, and these are determined purely by the depth of the streamy water you are fishing. If you feel it is shallow or of only medium-paced flow then the nymph under the dry is always the best approach. It offers so much versatility and in this type of water fish often look up for their food, so bonus fish on the dry are highly likely.
When casting and approaching this water it pays to try and cover the water methodically. Look for large stones, bulges under the water’s surface or anything that would suggest a feature, as more than likely fish will sit behind or around them so try and fish your way around these holding areas.
If you think the water is deeper or a little too fast flowing for the duo then the double nymph approach can be adopted. Again, like the duo, fish this type of water methodically. Make small casts upstream and either take up slack or lift the rod to assist in doing so. Also, don’t be afraid to cast across and swing the nymphs round – on its day this can be absolutely deadly, but the most important thing is to experiment.
Slow glides and deeper slow pools are usually the most difficult types of water to catch fish from. The fish often feed on the surface and with the slow-moving current have plenty of time to inspect the offering which you are putting out to them. It is best to approach these pools with a dry fly if fish are feeding or the duo if nothing is to be seen on top.
Tips For Tackling Small Rivers
Keep On Moving
For a new river angler this is probably the most valuable bit of information you can be told: don’t stay in one spot for too long. In fact, don’t stay in the same spot at all, keep on moving.
There are exceptions to this rule if you are casting to fishing fish, stalking a big fish or you have located a shoal of grayling, but your instinct would tell you not to move!
But seriously, try to be constantly on the move; if it’s not happening in these small pools then move. Usually within five or six casts you have either caught the one or two fish that live in that pool, spooked any fish that were there or covered all the hotspots you need to and the fish aren’t playing – move on!
Change Flies – Often
The Calder offers a mix of habitats from slow smooth glides to fast streamy water
The very nature of the River Calder and many like it means that from one small pool or run to the next you are met with completely different water. This could be made up of five metres of streamy water or a pool with two big holes and then a slow glide.
Change your flies on a regular basis, focusing on the weight and sixe of your flu for the water you are fishing
Basically, for each little part of the river you need to consider the fly choice and more specifically the weight and size. As a rule of thumb the deeper and faster the run, the heavier the fly.
Blend in with your surroundings. You areafter wild, educated fish!
It is important on small rivers to keep yourself low, well hidden, and move carefully from one pool to the next. Try to use what is around to hide yourself from these wily fish. You will, with time and knowledge of the river, begin to learn where these fish are most likely to lie and this positioning yourself is easier as you approach each pool, but when learning I would say stay as stealthy and hidden as possible.
Wychwood states that this will keep you “far warmer than a traditional hoodie due to the bonded fleece” and I would have to agree.
I’ve been wearing it over the last month on my trips out on the boat or wading down the river and it’s kept me warm throughout the day. It has a DWR finish to the fabric, so it will keep the weather out better than a standard hoodie.
It has a causal feel to it, is a nice close fit and doesn’t ride up your back when you move around. It has a kangaroo handwarmer pocket at the front to keep your hands warm and a zipped chest pocket for your essentials. The high collar and adjustable hood will keep the wind out and you snug. This soft and comfortable hoodie is available in medium to XXL and is ideal for both on and off the water.
Contact: 01908 442950
The new clothing from Wychwood is certainly making its mark on the game angling front.
The fresh look and quality provides a range of items that I’m happy to wear before, during and after fishing! This is a smart looking jacket that has a polyester and spandex mixed shell with a DWR finish and a snug inner fleece to keep you warm and the elements out. There are two hand pockets and two chest pockets on the front ideal for your keys, phones and small accessories and double-entry rear pocket in the lower back. The hood and hem are adjustable and the stretch cuffs allow for a close fit. This jacket fits well and is comfortable to wear; even my partner likes it!
Contact: 01908 442950
WychwoodComing in breaking strains ranging from 4 to 10lb the new Ghost Mode Fluorocarbon is suitable for both stillwater and river disciplines. This is a supple, thin-diameter material that has good knot strength for both my dropper knot and when attaching my flies to the leader.
There isn’t a lot of stretch in the material and it does sink well when in use. I do like the spools – at just over 60mm in diameter, with a decent thumb hole, neatly fitted spool band and a wide arbor, which means there is very little memory in the material; they remove a lot of the frustrations we have when finding the end of the material or it coming undone in our bags or waistcoats. An excellent leader material for sub-surface work, and well presented.
Distributor: 01908 442950