Clark Colman enjoys a short but memorable visit to one of his favourite Cumbrian hill tarns, Small Water, and meets a true Lakeland angling legend along the way. 

“Difficult of access and often disappointing” was how the Where To Fish guide for 1961-2 wrote of Small Water, an 11-acre tarn above Mardale in what Lakeland guidebook writer Alfred Wainwright called “the Far Eastern Fells”. I’m sure the contributor to this veteran publication had his reasons for such condemnation but as my line pulled tight halfway through the retrieve, and the rod bent against the dash of a wild mountain brown trout, I couldn’t have disagreed more.    


A Flying Visit

Regardless of the plump, lively fish that had snatched my fly, the dramatic scenery and atmosphere around Small Water was enough to render disappointment an impossibility. As to the difficulty of reaching the tarn, which lies at an altitude of just under 1,500 feet, I’m sure that by the time we’d returned to the cars, my companion for this short but memorable session had developed at least a degree of sympathy for the view expressed in my old book. 

This was the second time in two days that I’d dragged TFF editor Andy Taylor into the high Cumbrian hills. With the memory of yesterday’s exertions still fresh in his mind and legs, Andy will be the first to admit that he was in no hurry to set out on yet another steep climb! 

With plenty of trout and pictures already secured, along with changeable weather conditions and lengthy drives home looming, the plan we’d hatched over breakfast was simple. We’d drive up from our Kendal base to the Mardale Head car park and try some mountain stream fishing, while waiting for a sustained break in the weather that might give us a chance of the cover shot we were still after. If it came, we’d immediately strike out for Small Water before the clouds and rain descended again. If not, we’d carry on up the beck that runs down from the tarn into Haweswater for a little while longer before calling it a day.


A Familiar Face

As our Land Rovers picked their way through the driving rain, I wasn’t even sure whether we’d make it out of the car park. Still, we weren’t the only ones braving the wet weather and narrow, twisting roads in the hope of some sport to the fly. Another angler was already tackling up in a small lay-by near the Haweswater Hotel – no doubt intent on fooling a few of the better than average wild brownies that share their home in Mardale’s dramatic, moody reservoir with the occasional silvery schelly.

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Tarn expert Terry Cousin shares his many years of knowledge of the Lake District waters

Taking your eyes off the road here can be risky even on a fine day, so I allowed myself only the merest glance to the left as I passed by, with Andy following close behind. There was something about the elderly chap’s face and attire – what little I saw of it – that seemed familiar, though at the time I was more concerned with road safety and reaching our destination than trying to remember where I’d seen him before!

Few vehicles had beaten us to Mardale Head that morning, and we were in two minds whether to applaud or pity the handful of hardy walkers setting off up the track into the fells. Even in the worst of weather conditions this rugged corner of Lakeland still has its charms, and with the rain still falling, Andy and I were perfectly content to sit in the front of his Freelander and put the game angling world to right, while watching white streaks of water streaming down the surrounding hillside ghylls, and dark clouds stalking over Harter Fell, High Street and the Nan Bield Pass. I thought of the other flyfisher we’d seen, and hoped that he too was taking shelter from the elements in the warm of his little white car.


Braving It On The Beck

Just as we were starting to contemplate heading for home, the rain eased off into a faint drizzle and an optimistic hint of blue sky appeared overhead. 

“It’s now or never!” announced Andy, so we sprang from the car, grabbed our gear and headed off across a slippery wooden footbridge towards Mardale Beck – a boisterous, gin-clear watercourse of boulders, pockets and miniature falls below the nearby confluence of Blea Water and Small Water becks.

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The many becks also offer some superb sport and are well worth a cast between fishing the tarns.

Such high-gradient upland streams are seldom if ever, fished today, with few now containing those four-to-the-pound pan fillers that once delighted anglers of yesteryear. While I already knew for a fact that there were still one or two trout to be had in Mardale Beck, the racing currents and low temperature (even in May these hill streams can still be icy to the touch) meant that however hungry they might be, tempting one wouldn’t be anything less than challenging.

After a few minutes’ worth of pocket picking with a fixed-line duo setup, the bushy Retirer Sedge on the dropper disappeared as it drifted below a bankside boulder. I’m sure many of us have experienced what followed, and there are few things more humbling to a fly angler than four or five inches of startled wild brownie hurtling through the air towards you on the strike! 

I couldn’t help but beam with delight as I eased the size 16 barbless Copperhead Pheasant Tail Nymph from the corner of his mouth. His little spots were more orange than red, and they glowed like gemstones in the pale morning sunlight before the fish twisted out of my wetted hand and disappeared back into the tough, rough-and-tumble world from which, somehow, trout still manage to eke out an existence here.       


Putting A Name To A Face

With dark clouds looming once again, Andy was keen to reach Small Water before it got too late, so I reluctantly forced myself away from the beck and prepared to move off. I had, however, left my waterproof map case in the car, so decided to jog back and recover it rather than risk my map getting soaked to pulp by any further rain. 

In doing so, I discovered that the angler we’d encountered earlier had made his way down to the car park, and was now preparing to try his luck in the shallow, likely looking bay below it. He smiled warmly as I drew near, before asking where we were bound. When I explained that Small Water was our objective, as part of an assignment for a fly fishing magazine, he became even more interested. 

“I know it well,” he said over a firm handshake. “My name’s Terry Cousin.” 

It was then that I realised where I’d seen that wide-brimmed hat, spectacle cord and lean, outdoorsman’s face before. This was one of my all-time Lakeland angling heroes, whose newspaper articles and magazine contributions I’d read for years – but whom, until now, I’d seen only in photographs. 

An all-round angler, vintage-tackle enthusiast, former River Eden bailiff, award-winning entomologist and conservationist, Terry’s also the veteran fishing columnist for the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald. His sage advice on all matters piscatorial, and dedicated work on the significance of river flies for anglers and running-water environments in general, have benefited many related organisations both locally and nationally – and in 2008 brought Terry Cousin a special award ‘in recognition of excellence and achievement’ from the Association of Rivers Trusts and the Salmon & Trout Association.

I was honoured when Terry agreed to appear with me in front of Andy’s camera. You’d struggle to better his knowledge of the fishing to be had on Cumbrian hill tarns, and with Small Water evidently one of his favourites, I could quite happily have stayed to reap the benefit of his wisdom on this and other venues all day. 

However, with time running out for Andy and I, and the Haweswater trout awaiting Terry’s skilful attention, we said our goodbyes and parted company in the hope of meeting up again soon.


A Rewarding Climb 

Whatever mood the Small Water brownies might be in, my day had already been well and truly enriched by a hill-stream fish and a true Lakeland angling legend. And there were, even more, delights to come when, after a steady climb up a well-defined track, we scrambled up the final, narrower section and caught our first glimpse of the tarn. 

Surrounded by rocky, grassy slopes, and overshadowed by the dramatic Nan Bield Pass, its rippling and sun-dappled water was very welcome in photographic terms, and we soon had the potential cover shot we’d been hoping for. All we needed now was a trout or two; however, the cold water and bright, breezy conditions weren’t going to make this easy. 

Cast-and-step tactics near the entrance of a feeder stream on the southwestern shoreline came up trumps for me. Ten minutes’ work with a 9ft 6in 6-wt rod, slow intermediate line, 16ft leader of 4lb fluorocarbon and two traditional wet flies spaced eight feet apart, produced a solid, lightning-fast tug from a plump, plucky fish with spots like a leopard. For once, it hadn’t preferred the size 14 Black and Peacock Spider on the point, instead opting for the flashier charms of a similarly sized Silver March Brown on the dropper. 

Then it was my turn to go behind the lens as we negotiated our way round the rocky margins so that Andy could try his favoured area around another feeder on the shallower, shelving northeastern shore. His line, leader and flies had barely settled beyond the drop-off before our second, similarly sized, Small Water brownie was fighting for its freedom after pouncing on a black pearly Dabbler variant – also on the top dropper. 

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These heavily spotted fish are truly beautiful!


Mission Accomplished

Our short but sweet second day in the Lake District mountains ended with a fairly quick descent back to the car park at Mardale Head – where, having caught two nice fish of his own on Haweswater, Terry Cousin was also packing up. Despite the aching legs, thumping heartbeat and dry throat he’d endured along the way, Andy had clearly been mesmerised by our hill stream and tarn adventures. As he bid goodbye to Terry and I, I’m sure that part of him wasn’t at all sure how easy it would be to return to stocked fisheries after the thrill and beauty of his first-ever tarn trout. I well remember having similar feelings over 20 years ago. 

For my part, it had been good to revisit Small Water – if only for a little while. Every inch the classic Lakeland hill tarn, my experience had been rendered all the more memorable for meeting Terry Cousin, and I’ll certainly never forget his parting words to me before I too headed for home.

“I didn’t expect to meet another angler out here today,” said Terry after another good chat and a final handshake. “And I’ve certainly met a friend.” What more could I have asked for?

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Ben Bangham takes his new wacky patterns to Surrey’s Frensham Lakes to see if the trout think they are weird or wonderful…


The weird, the wacky and the downright insane. Sometimes you need a bit of this to get by in life. Evidently, though, it isn’t just us that need it, it’s trout as well.

I have some pretty weird flies in my boxes that are sometimes just what you need to tempt a trout that isn’t in a giving mood. Over the last few months the editor has commented on some of my more bizarre creations and asked if they actually worked or were just the creations of a madman (bit of both really).

This signalled a challenge for me to create some weird or wonderful flies made from bizarre materials to see if they would work on some unsuspecting trout!


Fantastic Frensham


Nestled deep in the Surrey countryside is a quiet beautiful set of lakes at Frensham Trout Fishery. It has two separate venues not far from each other. The main one comprises six lakes, all with different characteristics. The trout are strong and healthy because there is a constant flow of water through all the lakes, and the owner, Richard Twite, is a keen advocate of letting nature do its bit. This means there are plenty of trees and bankside vegetation to hold a huge larder for the fish to gorge themselves on. As a result, it is a fantastic dry-fly water almost throughout the year because there is always something around to drop on the water.

The other part of the fishery is called Crystal Pools and, as the name hints at, the water is crystal clear in these ponds, and the fish are big! It is like an aquarium of big rainbows and a smattering of browns. When you see the main lake and stocking levels you think that things will be easy – they aren’t. These lakes are available on a catch-and-release ticket as well as a catch and kill, so these big fish have seen it all and are well educated.

We decided to separate the day into two parts. We started on the main lakes to give the flies a run through on a water more akin to most fisheries. Then we planned to take them for a swim in the specimen pools, where things might be a bit trickier and more of a test for the flies on some large catch-and-release resident fish.


The Flies

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The Blood Chain

Well here is the crux of the article in the form of the three weird flies, the Wotsit, Blood Chain and Marigold. Catchy names I know, but they describe what they are pretty well, I think. 

The Wotsit is a simple fly that is made from one of those modern dusters with the bobbles on. The colour that I tend to favour is the hot orange. Each duster has a hundred or so bits to tie with, so they are great value. 

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The Wotsit

It’s easy to tie. Get your hook and bead ready and then cut off a bobble and slide it onto the hook, lash it on and then put a small bit of dubbing on the thorax – job done.

The Bloody Chain is the easiest of the three to tie. It’s made from plug chain in red from B&Q. Cut off a good length and then whip it onto a grub-shaped hook with pink Nymph-It. That’s it, very simple and very effective.

The Marigold is my favourite. Tie in a marabou tail and then a Fritz body leaving a gap at the front of the fly to accommodate the marigold part. To finish the fly, cut off the tip of a finger from a Marigold glove (be careful of the wife) and make a hole in the tip, push it onto the front of the fly yellow first. Then whip it in by just catching it so that it stays in position. Push it so it inverts over the fly so that you are left with a white cone. On this cone I paint two eyes with an oil marker and that’s the fly finished.

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The Wotsit, the Blod Chain & the Marigold



As is normal for the stillwaters I fish, out came the Sage Bolts 9ft 5-wt with matching reels, the perfect small-water tools. I set one up with a clear intermediate line and a short 6ft leader of 8lb fluorocarbon to which the Marigold was tied. 

The second rod was set up with a floating line and a bung to fish the other two flies. I set the depth of this to about four feet because as I was setting up by the lake I saw a trout cruising at that depth. 


Time For A Wotsit

I was at the end of the lake when setting up so that I could see most of the water and look for any signs of fish. I caught sight of a few moving fish in a hard to reach corner of the lake, which I kept my eye on while fishing the area where I had tackled up. I started with the Wotsit, casting it around the area to see if I could catch. I missed one fairly quickly, which I hooked but couldn’t keep on. I caught sight of a rainbow coming into the area so I flicked the Wotsit into its path. Much like me, this trout couldn’t resist a Wotsit and the first fish of the day was soon being netted.

I wanted to carry on with the early success so I took the opportunity to get the Blood Chain on. I carried on casting around the swim without much luck. All the time I saw the odd sign of fish in the hard to reach corner.

IMG 44121 tff may 16

I said to myself: “One more sign of a trout and I will go over and fish the area.” 

Sure enough, less than a minute later I was making my way around to the corner. There were trout absolutely everywhere. I started putting the Blood Chain in front of several fish, which elicited a large amount of interest but without any takes. This continued for a while until eventually one made a mistake. This did surprise me. Normally this fly has produced the goods for me; just not today.

There were still lots of trout in the area and they were pretty active as well. I thought that it would be a great opportunity to give the Marigold a go. I love this lure, and although it looks like nothing on God’s green earth it really catches fish. The head makes it wobble erratically on the retrieve and this really seems to get the trout’s attention. We saw this really well on the crystal-clear pool later on.

On the first water, though, the fish were tight to a reed bed in the corner. Due to the trees and bushes around the peg it meant an awkward roll cast over my wrong shoulder. I roll cast down the reeds, letting it all settle for a bit, and then retrieved. Well with all the fish stacked up in this corner, how could I fail? I didn’t. Every cast was either a take or a landed trout; they were loving the Marigold! To be honest, it was so easy that we decided to move off because it was losing some of its appeal. We decided it was time for the challenge of the educated big fish of the Crystal Pools.


Marigold Magic In The Crystal Pools

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Marigold magic. The movement of this fly in the water proved too irresistible to both the fresh stockies and big residents

I found the hour or so we had on here very interesting. As in the other lakes, I started out with the bung fishing the Wotsit and the Bloody Chain to no avail. 

First cast with a Wotsit a good fish took but spat it instantly and that was it in terms of action for this fly. 

The Bloody Chain fared even worse, without even getting a look, so it was down to the Marigold to see if this fly could produce.

Out went the fly, I let it sink for a couple of seconds and then started the retrieve and the fish went crazy, four or five trout following it one time, what a sight! I frustratingly missed a couple of fish because they were hitting it and spitting it so quickly I simply couldn’t connect. After about five minutes one managed to hang itself, so I was the proud owner of a rather large rainbow that fought like a runaway steam train. It tore up and down the pool for a good few minutes, testing my tackle to the limits.

After this the action died. The trout weren’t interested at all in the fly. I decided that I would wet a few of my favourite lures to see if they would elicit a response. Well the trout were less than complimentary to my lures, showing no interest in them at all.

I switched back to the Marigold after a while and immediately took a fish again, which was amazing. As before, they would then ignore it until I fished other flies then switched back. It seemed as though they were forgetting the fly after a while and would then eat it again once reintroduced.

I have caught fish on all the flies over the last few months and it was great to show Andy how effective they can be. Without a shadow of a doubt, though, the star of the show has been the Marigold. With its seductive wobble it has accounted for numerous trout and will no doubt account for many more in the near future!


Now where has the wife left those Marigolds?

Professional angling guide Andy Buckley spends a week in Slovenia to sample the stunning rivers and superb fly fishing this country has to offer.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re into glamorous long-haul adventures or short weekend breaks, finding fresh angling opportunities is becoming more difficult. For the angler looking for a long weekend of fishing, central Europe and the Balkan nations offer some of the finest fly fishing on the planet, but the more widely known waters are becoming increasingly expensive and heavily pressured. 

When quality fishing is in such high demand it is up to the angler to look away from the crowds and think outside the box a little. Slovenia is certainly no secret to the game angler: rivers like the mighty Soča, Sava Bohinjka and Idrijca have long been considered as world-class angling destinations but such recognition is attracting higher volumes of anglers than ever before. 

For the adventurous flyfisher, though, this is excellent news as there are huge numbers of alternative river systems full of wild trout and grayling, which go unnoticed in the shadow of the more well-known waters.

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Guide Uroš  Kristan's fly box. Note the heavily weighted Red Tag theme to his flies...

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... which the Bistra grayling seemed to like.

Book A Guide

One such area is only 20 minutes from Slovenia’s capital city, Ljubljana, so England youth team captain Will Robins and I hopped on a short flight to meet a world-renowned guide who had waxed lyrical about a district neither of us had heard of before. Travelling to Slovenia is a simple affair with regular flights departing from both London Stansted and Manchester and taking no more than a few hours. 

Upon arrival we were met by Slovenian guide Uroš Kristan who was not only to be our mentor for the week but had offered to provide our transport for the duration of our trip, negating the need for a hire car. 

"There is a wealth of information available about Slovenian game angling, and while it would be possible to make the journey alone I would strongly recommend hiring a guide."

Many of the finest angling areas are very much off the beaten track and having gone through the ordeal of being lost on the side of a mountain on a previous trip, I can assure you that a little extra local knowledge will always equate to more time at the river and more fish on the bank. 


Bistra First

Our transfer took us on a short and scenic drive southwest of Ljubljana to our lodgings on the outskirts of Vrhnika. A small town rich in culture, its emblem is the Argo, the ship that Jason and his Argonauts sailed upon during their mythical mission to retrieve the Golden Fleece. Legend has it that it was at one of the springs of the Ljubljanica river that the Argonauts had to dismantle their vessel and carry it on their shoulders to the Adriatic Sea. 

Vrhnika has 40,000 years of settlement history, including one of the oldest examples of a man-made wheel, which dates back some 5,000 years! A strikingly green and lush area, the many bridges around Vrhnika also hint to the huge number of angling opportunities in the area. 

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A typical Bistra grayling. Fish to 40 centimetres are common on both dries and nymphs.

Standing in the grounds of a 13th-century Carthusian monastery, our hotel was also only two minutes by foot from the tiny Bistra Spring, our first water of the trip. Rising abruptly from the earth in the centre of the monastery grounds, Will and I were sceptical of this unremarkable-looking piece of water, which was only a few rod lengths wide and just 18 inches deep, but a 25cm grayling on the French leader settled our cynicism. 

The fishing here got better as the day progressed, as we both caught a succession of wild brownies and grayling to over 40 centimetres on both nymphs and dries. At times it was hard to comprehend just how many large fish were holding in such a tiny stream. Uroš suggested that the heavy rainfall that fell prior to our trip had forced more fish than usual into the cold and rich waters of the spring. 


Huge Chub

Half a mile from its source the Bistra Spring flows into the Bistra River proper. Bistra is the Slovenian word for ‘clear’ and for good reason; the water here runs pure and cool, which makes the perfect habitat for all kinds of flora and entomology. The Bistra is an overgrown and unfettled river; fishing here is technical, wild and done entirely by sight. 

We caught a number of excellent grayling on weighted nymphs before stumbling across an enormous chub hidden underneath heavy foliage on the far bank. I pitched a number of casts towards the fish with an enormous streamer jig that our guide assured us would tempt the huge fish from its hiding place. 

Uroš and Will acted as my eyes from their elevated position and fed me information on the reaction of the fish to different drifts. After a dozen presentations, including a handful of false alarms, I got the call: “STRIKE!” "My little 4-wt rod buckled over like spaghetti but after an attritional tug of war the net was slid under a magnificent fish of nearly 7lb, one of the largest our guide had ever seen in Slovenia."


Red Tags The Way

The next morning we travelled for 10 minutes across Vrhnika to fish one of the two springs that form the Ljubljanica River. The Mala (small) and Velika (big) streams converge to form the main river but even before their juncture, we found excellent numbers of big and beautifully marked grayling. 

The shallows of the Velika spring produced many fish to 40 centimetres on small CDC red tag dries fished blind through tumbling riffles, while the deeper pools fished well with our guide’s extra-heavy nymphs proving irresistible not only to the grayling but also some beautifully marked rainbow trout. The theme of red-tagged flies recurred throughout our trip and for the angler making the journey to Slovenia I would strongly suggest taking a selection of both CDC and hackled dry flies with bright tags. 

Our guide’s box was full of them in different guises and throughout our adventure, it became more and more obvious that the little flash of colour makes a difference. 


Clear-Water Stalking

Further downstream as the river broadened we found the most engaging sight fishing imaginable, stalking large grayling at close quarters beneath the tree branches of the near bank. By hiding behind the trees and using a mixture of improvised roll casts and archer-style presentations we were able to pitch our weighted flies far enough upstream to get them down among the fish. 

There can be fewer more fascinating sights in fly fishing than watching a large grayling move towards and then inhale a well-presented nymph in crystal-clear water, a sight that Will and I saw a dozen times each in little over an hour. 

After a long, heavy and appropriately boozy lunch away from the searing heat of the early afternoon we moved further downstream to the main Ljubljanica River where, glancing over the bridge, we spotted a large Danube salmon. This European taimen is prevalent in the Ljubljanica and while we couldn’t stir this fish from its torpor we were later shown pictures of specimens of over a metre in length by Marko Barisic, chairman of the Vrhnika angling club. Marko also informed us that we were the first non-nationals to fish the Bistra springs and river for 20 years as the club had only recently moved to offer day-ticket angling – a rare honour and a real privilege. 


Cheaper Than Hampshire?

The waters around Vrhnika present the travelling angler with such a breadth and diversity of angling opportunities. From tiny spring creeks full of trout and grayling to swinging streamers to Danube salmon and pike, it’s all here and it’s all so accessible. 

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It's not just trout and grayling, as this huge chub took hold of Andy's streamer!

With flights from London taking two hours, Vrhnika only minutes 

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.


Tackling Up

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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.


Mission Accomplished

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.


Black Squirmy:


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


Purple Flashback:


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

Ben Bangham steps back in time on a trip to the River Avon where river keeper and angler Frank Sawyer brought us the Killer Bug.


There are a few names that are synonymous with fly fishing and none more so in the more modern era than Frank Sawyer. He has given the fly fishing fraternity many things in his years as a river keeper and fly angler, in particular, his fly patterns the Killer Bug and Pheasant Tail.

He holds a special place in my heart as a fly angler because I cut my teeth fishing on the Avon, which is the river that he had a passionate love for and spent all his life both keeping and fishing.


IMG 4034 TFF BEN 2
Adam Sinclair (left) and Ben Bangham on Frank Sawyer's commemorative bench

He was born in 1906 and got his first job on the Avon as an under keeper in 1925 at Lake in the Woodford Valley. It wasn’t long until he got a head keepers job on the Officers’ Fishing Association waters around Netheravon in 1928. The club changed its name to the Services Dry Fly Fishing Association (SDFFA) and is still called this today. Frank was the keeper of this stretch until his death in 1980.

IMG 4087 TFF BEN 3
The Avon now has a healthy sustainable population of wild brownies...


Restoring The Avon


We who fish the Avon can really say thank you to Frank because he made it what it is today. In the early 1930s, the river was in a very bad way due to the army training around the river on Salisbury Plain, as well as the farming practices employed in the area. This meant that there was a huge amount of silt running into the river and destroying the trout’s redds. If the eggs did manage to hatch then the river itself was still in a good enough condition to support the trout population. It was really just the build up of silt that was the problem, suffocating the redds.


IMG 4101 TFF BEN 4
... With plenty of prized specimens thanks to work done by Frank Sawyer and SDFFA


This meant a huge decline in the trout population on the Avon. Frank, spurred on by his love of the river, took it upon himself to rectify this. He started a stocking programme of fry that he hatched just for this purpose. He introduced around 100,000 fry into the Avon for nearly 25 years. This brought the fish stocks back from the brink of collapse. As well as this, he started a project to clean the river up by removing hatches and sluices to speed it up, setting up silt traps and dredging the worst affected areas. This along, with other projects, really set the groundwork for the river I know and love today.


The Killer Bug


In fishing terms he has also contributed several things, such as the induced take, a method of making the nymph rise up in front of the fish, therefore inducing a take. Nymph-wise, the Pheasant Tail is the most famous of the flies he gave us and is a generic nymph pattern that is still used in many shapes and forms and has caught fish all over the world. It's lighter cousin, the Grey Goose Nymph, was a very well-known fly that seems to have gone out of fashion somewhat in recent years. There were a couple more but the one I am concentrating on is the Killer Bug.


IMG 4029 TFF BEN 5
The 'special grayling'. Not the biggest of fish but one that will remain with Ben for the rest of his angling career!

It is said that it was originally concocted as a grayling fly, representing the Gammarus that are so plentiful in the Avon. This was so that Frank could remove the grayling from the river because they were considered vermin back then. As a result, he wanted a highly effective fly and he certainly found one. Like most of his flies, it is a simple pattern that involves two materials – copper wire and yarn. The original pattern was tied with the legendary Chadwicks 477 wool that ceased being produced in 1965 and is now a bit like gold dust! It still makes the best killer bugs in my opinion.


A Trip To Hallowed Waters


I have used this pattern over the years on the Avon with good success, but they have mainly been commercially tied Killer Bugs that do not incorporate 477. When a friend of mine, Adam Sinclair, got his hands on a card of Chadwick’s 477 it wasn’t long before I had managed to alleviate him of some and I was finally able to tie a few Killer Bugs ‘original style’. Adam also happens to be a member of the SDFFA, the beat that Frank used to keep. When we talked about the Killer Bug and Frank he suggested that he might be able to get me permission to do an article based on the bug at the actual place it was invented. The SDFFA kindly agreed to let me onto the hallowed waters to do this article; a truly amazing opportunity.


IMG 4109 TFF BEN 6
The Avon offers a nice mix pool and riffles with plenty of hidden lies to target.

I decided to use the commemorative bench that is on the river just outside Netheravon as the starting point and centrepiece to the article, where I would tie a Killer Bug using the original Chadwick’s 477 then fish the water that Frank used to keep.

It was a very mild autumnal day, warm and just right. We met Adam and made our way to the bench. The sun was shining, the leaves were turning, the river low and clear and the fish visible – perfect.

Tying the Killer Bug on Frank’s bench was special, to say the least; then to tie it on my cast and catch a grayling on it in sight of the bench was just amazing. It did make me feel pretty special and I think Adam and Andy were also a bit touched by the whole experience. It’s as close as you can get to going back in time. It’s something that I will remember for a very long time indeed.

So how did I fish it? I wanted to keep in tune with what Frank would have used as much as I could, so to start with the nymphing rod stayed in the car, along with my modern-day nymphs. Just a normal fly rod, tapered leader and single nymph cast upstream was the attack.


IMG 3908 TFF BEN 7
Tying at the water's edge. The Killer Bug is a simple pattern to tie and deadly when used!

I started with a 9ft, 4-wt Sage Method with a floating line, a 9ft tapered leader to a small section of RIO Two Tone indicator tippet. This is the best indicator line on the market, I think. The colours are amazingly vibrant and don’t fade like many others. The other advantage is that the coloured sections are short, which makes it easy for your eyes to pick up any movements. Onto this, I tied three feet of 0.12mm Stroft and then the freshly tied, fabled Killer Bug.

Later I did crack out the proper nymphing kit to fish as effectively as I could. I couldn’t help thinking: “I wonder what Frank would think of this kit and my flies?”


The Special Grayling


I used the single nymph in the stretch opposite Frank’s bench, just working slowly up the shallows casting into likely looking spots. I concentrated on casting to the small gravel patches or the back of the weed patches. As I moved up I spooked a grayling that was sat behind a bit of weed that I hadn’t cast to. This fish then moved a few more that were sat in the same spot. I slowly moved back downstream to a safe distance and waited for a couple of minutes. I didn’t think I had spooked them too much so hoped that I could still get a couple.


IMG 4137 TFF BEN 8
A change of tactics for the deeper, slower water meant a heavy modern bug was tied on the point and the Killer Bug onto the dropper

Once I had given them a good rest I made a cast into the hole and was treated to a sharp jag on the indicator tippet. I struck and instantly saw the twisting, turning silver flashes of a small grayling in the clear water. To me this was a very special grayling indeed.

This spot was good to me and produced a fair few small grayling but none as special as that first one.

IMG 4148 TFF BEN 9
It wasn't just the smaller grayling that liked the 'Bug'. The Avon holds some quality trout and grayling, proving that Frank's fly was still to their liking


When Old Meets New


I then switched to my normal nymphing approach and coupled the Killer Bug on the top dropper with one of my nymphs on the point, depending on the water depth. I caught steadily on all the flies throughout the day and had a huge number on the Killer Bug, giving me a slightly warm feeling inside.

It’s a shame that I only have this space to write about the experience because I could probably fill the whole magazine. It was truly special and I am privileged to have been able to do it. When you have been doing this as long as I have, it is rare to feel how I felt about that small grayling. Firsts for me in fly fishing are generally a distant memory, and of them all, this, as well as being the newest, is probably the best.

It was a special day, a special place, a special fly and a special grayling. A huge thanks to Adam and the SDFFA for making the day possible.


Tying The Killer Bug


Hook: Hanak BL200, size 12

Thread: Fine copper wire

Body: Chadwick’s 477


IMG 3861 TFF Fly Tying
1. Secure the Hanak BL200 in the vice.


IMG 3874 TFF Fly Tying 2
2. Start with the wire at eye of the hook.


IMG 3880 TFF Fly Tying 3
3. Build up a couple of layers of wire on the first half of the hook to give the fly some weight and a uniform body.


IMG 3887 TFF Fly Tying 4
4. Tie in two bits of the Chadwick’s 477 yarn onto the back half of the hook. Leave the wire at the back of the hook so you can tie the fly off at the back.


IMG 3897 TFF Fly Tying 5
5. Wind the wool up to the eye of the hook and then back down to the back of the hook. When you reach the back of the hook use your whip finisher to finish the fly and break off the wire.


IMG 3917 TFF Fly Tying 6
6. I add a drop of superglue on the wire at the back for peace of mind.

Simon Robinson has fished over 30 times for England in all disciplines. Here he reveals some of his top tips for practising in competitions on still and running water.


Most anglers who fish competitions will also practice for the upcoming match. As with any sport, having a solid game plan is often the difference between success and failure. Practice allows the angler to prepare methods and flies in advance of the match and hopefully cut down on any time wasted during the competition looking to find the successful method or locate the fish.

Most matches in England are divided into three categories – loch style from the boat, stillwaters from the bank and rivers. Each discipline is very different and has its own methods, tackle requirements and competition format. To be consistently successful in each discipline it is important to understand the best ways to practice to maximise your chances in the match.



Loch-Style Boat Matches 


8 Whickhope
On the big-water matches location is one of the key factors to being successful. Find the fish and then fine-tune the tactics.

Most loch-style matches are held on the UK’s well-known major fisheries such as Rutland, Chew Valley or the Lake of Menteith. They are normally fished over a single eight-hour period. Anglers fish in pairs, which are drawn randomly, and can fish anywhere on the lake (unless out-of-bounds areas are in place). Most major competitions usually take up the vast majority of the available boats and with most anglers practising the day before, if you intend to practice it is vital to book a boat well in advance!




It may sound obvious but the key to success in boat matches is almost always fish location. In loch style you are not restricted to pegs or beats, so you will have the whole area of the lake or reservoir to fish. This can, of course, create issues because our larger reservoirs, such as Rutland, are too big to cover in a single practice day. For this reason you may wish to practise for more than one day if time and cost do not become too prohibitive. It is also a good idea to share information with others anglers. If possible, structure your practice by splitting the lake into sections so that you cover the whole venue between you. This is particularly useful in team events.



Fish Depth

Depth is probably the next critical element of practising for a loch-style event. Because you are likely to be practising with a boat partner, it makes sense to fish different lines at all times. I usually opt to fish a line at least two sink rates either higher or lower than my partner. For example, if my partner is on a floating or intermediate line I will use a Di3. If fish are deeper and my partner is using a Di3 or medium sink I will opt for an ultra-fast-sinking line such as a Di7 or Di8. I feel that is important because there are significant differences in sink rates to cover as much of the water column as possible. Only when we are happy that we have the taking depth should both anglers begin to fish similar lines and experiment with flies and retrieves.




Teams Of Flies

While I do not feel that flies are as important as depth or location, you do need to have a selection that you have confidence in. In most loch-style matches you will be fishing a team of flies. Generally, the fish will show preferences for lures, nymphs or dries. When this is established, I believe that the exact pattern is usually of little importance. If lures are the most successful method it makes sense to fish a bright one such as an Orange Blob or Cat’s Whisker on the dropper and a drab lure in black or olive on the point. If you are drifting over fish and varying the retrieve you should quickly be able to establish the methods that they prefer.

When I am practising for boat matches I like to locate fish and initially spend time working with my partner to establish the best methods to catch them. When you are confident in the methods you can then move around the lake searching for fish with confidence that if you cover some you will get takes.


Practice Makes Perfect Flies

Practice makes perfect flies 2


Keep Your Eyes Open

When practising it is always a good idea to keep an eye on other boats; they can provide a lot of valuable information. If you are struggling to catch and you notice other anglers catching it is worth taking time to observe their methods, even if they are not in the match. Look for telltale signs such as the colour of fly line. Is it dark or light? What angle is the line entering the water during the retrieve? While you can rarely identify the exact line being used, these observations will allow you to establish if successful anglers are using floating, slow or fast-sinking lines, countdown time and speed of retrieve. It is often worth taking a pair of binoculars to observe other anglers without getting too close!


double up Simon
Practising in pairs allows you to try different lines and flies until you find the method that works. As a guide, Simon likes to fish two line densities different from his partner


Bank Matches

Bank matches
Bank matches are certainly growing in popularity, especially in the northeast of England on waters such as Chatton Lakes...

Bank matches have been one of the few growth areas in competition fly fishing, particularly in the north of England where there are many, as well as a popular winter series. Increasingly, we are seeing anglers who specialise in this discipline. Small-water bank matches have also given anglers the opportunity to fish during winter when the reservoirs are closed to boat fishing and the smaller stillwaters are often at their best.


Pracitce Makes Perfect peg
... and these are the best place to start for anyone fancying getting into the competition scene.


Cover The Pegs

One of the key differences between bank and boat matches is that bank matches are almost always pegged. A standard pattern is that you will complete a full lap of the lake and in the process usually fish four pegs in the morning and four in the afternoon. It is also worth noting that competitions are often scored on the number of pegs you catch from, so it is vital that you can catch off as many as possible. Another factor is that catches on each peg are usually limited to five fish in a session, again making it important to catch in as many areas of the lake as possible.

The fact that you are pegged means there is nothing you can do regarding your location. Therefore, it can be argued that there is little point in looking for the best areas because you will not necessarily be fishing there on the day!

There are, however, definite merits to moving around a lake during practice, particularly if it is not uniform in depth and shape. You also need to take the wind into account; the methods that work in the calm water at the top of the wind may not work on the downwind bank and vice versa. To do well in most bank matches you will need to employ a variety of methods to suit different areas of the lake. For example, you may need to fish small nymphs or dries in a shallow area and then change to a sinking-line approach in deeper areas. To prepare for bank events I find that it is best to simulate the competition format when practising. Completing a full lap of the lake will allow you to see and fish all of the different areas and plan your strategy in terms of fish behaviour and successful methods as you go.


Practice Makes Perfect Pegs 2
It pays to practice around the lake beforehand because tactics may well be different on the downwind bank to what they are in the flat water.


Multiple Rods

Practice Makes Perfect 3 Rods
Three rods are the norm for bank matches. This allows you to change tactics quickly, which is important when you may have only 30 minutes a peg.

In boat matches, you are usually only permitted to have one rod set up at any time. However, in bank matches, you are usually allowed three. Consequently, you need to be able to chop and change methods to suit the peg. This is where practice really counts because most anglers can quickly work out a method to catch the easy fish. It is, however, anglers who can turn to effective methods on their second and third rods and keep catching, particularly on difficult pegs, who will usually come out on top.

"I have lost count of the number of times I have known anglers catch lots of fish in practice (and usually let everyone who will listen know!) only to perform poorly in the match"



Fly Choice And Setups

Small-water matches usually require a far greater selection of flies than other competitions because it is likely that you will be setting rods up with lure, indicator, nymph or dry-fly tactics. I would advise that you don’t go overboard with too many patterns; stick with tried and trusted flies in each category. One thing that is worth noting is that as small-water fish are usually subject to far higher fishing pressure it is often worth trying nymphs and dries in smaller sizes, as well as finer leaders on difficult pegs.


Practice Makes Perfect Flies 3 


River Competition Practice

Unfortunately, we do not have the same number of matches on the rivers as we do on the stillwater scene. Nevertheless, we do have several regional qualifiers, a national final and an international event between the home nations. One interesting fact is that we do not fish to the same pegged format used in all World and European championships. River matches are fished within certain boundaries or sections, but all of the anglers competing are free to roam anywhere within the same section. The only restriction is that they must not go within 30 metres of another angler who is fishing.



Study The Section

The format of most river matches in the UK means that it is important to look for water where you feel you can catch the most fish, as opposed to catching the most fish from a given stretch of water, which is the aim of events with a fixed peg for each angler. To do this it is well worth walking the full competition section and mark down the likely areas. I usually look for an area that is likely to hold a lot of fish combined with the possibility of fishing a variety of methods in a relatively small area. This means that even if there are other anglers in the area you can spend time fishing the same water and hopefully pick up a good number of fish.

If I could pick an ideal stretch of water it would be a nice fish-holding run with fish moving on the tail. This will allow y me to start with the dry fly before changing to a variety of nymph methods.



Work On Methods To Suit The Water Type


In river matches, you are allowed to set up a spare rod. This means you can have two methods ready and it is important to establish the correct ones for the sections of water you intend to fish.

If you are going to target rising fish then dry fly is the obvious choice. When the correct fly is discovered you can be pretty sure that it will work on any other rising fish in the competition sections.

When it comes to practising nymph fishing it is again worth observing the water and working out the weights of nymphs you are likely to need. Obviously weight will vary in different parts of the river depending on depth and pace.



Time Of Day And Competition Sessions

A very important consideration is time of day, particularly if you are fishing a match early or late in the season when fish will often feed at certain times. I have witnessed anglers practising taking fish on dries in the afternoon then drawing the morning session and struggling because the fish are simply not rising! It is therefore important to prepare for both morning and afternoon sessions, particularly if fish behaviour and hatches are likely to be different in each session.

Practice Makes perfect Picking your practice
The time of day you practice needs to be taken into account. What might work in the morning may not in the afternoon. It pays to have methods for both sessions.


Methods To Use After A Section Has Been Fished

Because you may be fishing an afternoon session on water that has been fished in the morning, and also sharing the section with other anglers, it is very likely that at some point you will be fishing water that has already been fished. This means that the easy, active fish will probably have already been caught. You therefore need to look for other ways to catch and this is often what separates the top anglers from the rest of the field.

Various methods can get you a few fish, including fishing finer leaders, smaller flies or adding extra weight and targeting deeper, faster areas where other anglers may not have reached fish holding close to the bottom.

To practise this I will often deliberately target water that I know another angler has fished to simulate a competition situation. Another option is to practise with another angler and alternate or swap sections and compare successful methods after the water has been fished, or simply fish the same small area yourself with different methods.

2 Rods
In river matches you can have two rods set up. Again this allows for two tactics to be employed, such as dries and nymphs




That is a basic summary of practising for matches across the disciplines and some of the tips to help you prepare.



There are several other general factors that apply to all competitions for me, the two most important by far are to not overfish the water you plan to fish on the match, so discipline in practice is particularly important. I have lost count of the number of times I have known anglers catch lots of fish in practice (and usually let everyone who will listen know!) only to perform poorly in the match. These big catches in practice are usually by anglers who continue to fish in productive areas with a successful method and then seem confused when the fish are not there to be caught on that method in the competition.

The second is the flies. Despite many rumours of ‘secret’ or ‘magic’ flies, very few actually exist and the majority of competition anglers fish basic, simple patterns available to all. So do not be worried about flies; stick with basic patterns such as those below and concentrate on preparation, presentation and approach when practising! Good luck!


Flies PmP



Clark Colman targets ‘magic lies’ on a small, feature-packed urban tributary in the hope of a back-end personal best.


I’ve been trying for a 2lb-plus wild brownie from this little river ever since I discovered it some five years ago. I thought I’d cracked it in 2012, after being led a merry dance by what turned out to be a very nice, but ultimately slightly smaller than expected specimen that seized my nymph in the neck of a pool overshadowed by overhanging tree branches. Things also looked promising a year later, when something rather out of the ordinary took hold while I was demonstrating for a guiding client. However, despite a lengthy and remarkably trout-like scrap along the wall-lined, undercut and rocky bank from which the fish had come, it was a broad-backed, huge-finned, gunmetal-grey male grayling that finally broke the surface.



Narrowing The Odds


It’s not entirely surprising that I’ve struggled to break the 2lb barrier here. For all its urban surroundings, tight confines and varied, man-made riverbed detritus, this is a remarkably clean system that holds impressive numbers of fish. However, I’m not convinced that the available food it offers goes far enough to permit real growth in anything more than a small number of bigger residents. As a result, finding such trout can be something of a war of attrition, particularly if conditions on the day aren’t right. In my experience, the odds of landing a really sizeable wild brownie (particularly on venues like this) are best narrowed by timing your visit appropriately and being a little more savvy where reading the water is concerned. A little touch of ‘magic’ also helps. 

While inevitably tinged with sadness as another season draws to a close, September also carries with it the promise of bigger than average fish that might, just might, be more readily catchable than in previous months. Having survived another year in competitive running-water environments, such quarry will (like their smaller cousins) now be looking to feed as much and as efficiently as possible to see them through the forthcoming rigours of spawning and another cold, lean winter.

As ever, it’s important that trout receive more energy from aquatic and terrestrial morsels than is used up in getting them, and that they also continue to have a care for their other basic needs: oxygen, temperature-stable water, shelter from fast currents and bright sunlight, and protection from predators. Welcome assistance in these respects is rendered by the cooler and generally more hospitable conditions that tend to follow the dog days of August. With water and oxygen levels rising as a result of early autumnal rainfall, and a host of nourishing grub still there for the taking, September fish are now tempted to leave their high-summer hidey-holes and venture forth more readily at meal times – particularly when (as was the case when this feature was shot) periods of higher and more-coloured water embolden trout more and place more dislodged food items at their mercy.

That said, the territoriality with which bigger residents monopolise the most productive parts of a river or stream still often remains. As with any other time of year, therefore, it’s a wise move to seek out specimen wild brownies in areas where as many of their requirements as possible are met in one place – just like the areas where, prior to this feature, my biggest fish from the venue in question had come from.



Magic Lies


In his excellent film ‘The Anatomy Of A Trout Stream’, the well-known American entomologist and flyfisher Rick Hafele refers to these locations as ‘magic lies’. This term has stuck with me since childhood and I love the sense of anticipation and excitement that it conveys. The very appearance of such lies often reinforces this, as many look decidedly ‘mysterious’ and are awkward to cover with a conventional roll, overhead or sidearm cast. Think overhanging trees, bridge stanchions, walls, undercut banks, submerged weed beds, tree trunks or roots (not to mention the host of shelter and protection-providing man-made items that can turn up in our urban trout waters) and you start to get the idea. If there’s a reasonable amount of depth there also, together with an oxygen and food-providing current line or two (such as in the neck of a run or pool), then so much the better.

How To Read Running Water P6
Magic lies aren't alays the easiest places to access! Expect dense vegetation...


How To Read Running Water P6 2
... and extreme wading conditions ...


How To Read Running Water P6 3
... and when finally there, tricky casting scenarios!


The awkwardness of some ‘magic lies’, together with the fact that they often cater for most (and in some cases, all) of a trout’s basic needs, is what makes them so attractive. It’s hardly odd, then, that such areas have long become synonymous with stories of the biggest, oldest and wisest of running-water fish. We’ve all read or heard of trophy trout grown fat on a diet of bigger morsels as well as more run-of-the-mill food items, and which have lived to a great age by taking up residence in attractive but practically inaccessible areas, and by using their wits to avoid capture by scaly, furry, feathered or wader-clad predators. The next time you come across such a tale, pay close attention to its watery setting. I’ll wager you could describe it as a stereotypical ‘magic lie’.



Tiddlers First?


There are one or two caveats to all of this, however. In the first place, not all ‘magic lies’ are as readily identifiable as those around which so many legends (and realities) have gathered. In theory, you could pick out many more commonplace parts of standard riffles, runs, pools and glides (such as necks, current seams, pockets and drop-offs), and term them ‘magic lies’ simply because they’re the most likely fish-holding areas in front of you at that time. Such locations may well need a little more in the way of observation and understanding of running-water anatomy to identify and make the most of them – which is where I hope the previous articles in this series have come in handy.

How To Read Running Water P6 4
Unmanged urban rivers are capable of holiding some quality fish despite the surroundings.


What’s more, there’s no guarantee that ‘magic lies’ will always hold the grandaddy of the river or stream. Such lies are just as attractive to smaller fish as the bigger ones that can bully them out, prey on them; or which, over time, have become more substantial after managing to hold on to such prime territory since their youth. So don’t be surprised if the monster you’ve been expecting isn’t among the first few trout to show themselves – especially if, like the little urban river featured here, the density of fish prevents the available food from being enough to create and sustain decent numbers of bigger residents.

Finally, for all the attractiveness of ‘magic lies’, bear in mind that there are certain times when you might not find a trout there at all. Changing weather, water and feeding conditions throughout the season can sometimes cause fish to behave in ways other than how you might expect them to. The very pleasing River Ellen brownie that I wrote about last month would have fitted in perfectly as a mugger of small fish and other bigger morsels from the security of a ‘magic lie’. However, there he was, happily sipping in a procession of tiny emerging midges from the middle of a shallow, clear and sedate glide. Why? Simply because he could take in enough of them to satisfy his appetite, with no real threat to his comfort and safety. In contrast, grabbing hold of something bigger and potentially more animate to eat might well have been more of an effort in those hot, low-water and oxygen-depleted conditions – even when operating from a more covert ‘deliberate ambush’ station. 


Think Like Robin Hood


More accessible ‘magic lies’ can be effectively targeted with the equipment, fly patterns and presentations appropriate for the situation and fish feeding behaviour. The more difficult ones ask a little more from flyfishers, particularly in terms of casting and line control. Having such ‘get out of jail’ options as the bow-and-arrow or catapult cast in your armoury can be worth its weight in gold. Whenever I think of this or go through it with a client, I always revisit the example of Don Howat – a lovely, good-humoured ex-RAF ground crew technician for whom I had the pleasure to guide some three years ago through Bill Howell’s excellent Fishing for Forces organisation.

How To Read Running Water P6 5
It's not just natural features to look out for. Bridges are often places where those special fish lie.


The first ‘magic lie’ that Don confronted that day was a pool with a surface not much bigger than that of an average-sized dinner table, and a depth of little more than two or three feet. The only refuge of any size in an otherwise-shallow, fast-flowing and inhospitable area, the shelter it offers is enhanced by a short current tongue entering at its neck, and by the lower tendrils of large, awkwardly hanging tree branches that almost render it unfishable – but which also provide shade, protection from avian predators and a source of terrestrial food.

It’s difficult to pick out this little ‘cistern’ from the raised bank above, while down below many anglers choose to wade past it in favour of the weir pool a short distance upstream. I knew from past experience, however, that it usually holds a bigger than average fish or two, and thought it might make a nice challenge for Don – who had by now gotten to grips with the short-range, fixed-line duo technique we’d been concentrating on. However, while soon appreciating why a cast or two here might well pay dividends (especially if his Balloon Caddis and Copperhead Hare’s Ear Nymph combo could be placed into the neck of the pool), he couldn’t see a way of getting the flies there without falling foul of the overhanging branches. He’d reckoned, however, without the bow-and-arrow cast!

After kneeling down carefully below the pool’s tail, Don began by adopting a ‘thumb on top’ grip with his rod hand, which provides stability and a means of directing the cast. With the nymph held between the thumb and forefinger of his line hand (hook point carefully exposed to prevent it being driven into these!), and the line below the reel clamped against the rod handle by the first two fingers of his other hand, Don then pointed the rod tip in the direction he wanted the line and flies to travel – in this case upstream towards the narrow ‘window’ between the bottom of the branches and the attractive pool neck. Slowly and steadily, he drew back the fixed length of line and leader to flex the rod tip upwards and back towards him. All Don had to do then was simply let go of the nymph, watch as his duo rig was catapulted forwards over the unloading rod tip, and be ready to keep in touch with the flies as they landed and drifted back towards him.

Newcomers to the bow-and-arrow cast often have to experiment with the angle at which the rod tip is held, and with the amount of ‘draw’ placed on the tip, before they get it right. Too little draw means not enough load, with the result that the line, leader and flies simply collapse in a heap well short of the target. Too much causes everything to straighten quickly before springing back towards the caster as the rod tip counterflexes backwards again. The tip might even smack the water if it’s held too low in the first place.

How To Read Running Water P6 6
The bow-and-arrow cast. Essential to fish those hard to reach areas.


After a couple of failed attempts, Don’s third-ever bow-and-arrow cast managed to slot his flies into the right-hand current seam. I’d warned him to be ready for on-the-drop takes in such relatively shallow water, and to Don’s credit he reacted perfectly as the Balloon Caddis almost immediately took a dive upstream, signalling a take to the Copperhead Hare’s Ear beneath it. A flick of his wrist brought a speckled, paddle-finned and rocket-fuelled bar of gold cartwheeling out of the pool neck and charging back downstream towards the faster water below this ‘magic lie’. With Don applying as much pressure as he dared against the 21/2lb tippet, I managed to net the fish before it could get too far. When I eventually held up the 1lb-plus wild brownie I was treated to a sight I’ll never forget – a grown man kneeling in the river and absolutely roaring with laughter. Now that really was magic!


How To Read Running Water P6 7
Take extra care when running the 'grandaddy' of the river. These big browns are older fish and will take time to recover from the battle.


It’s Magic!


Size, of course, is relative. A two-pounder, for example, from a location in which there are a lot of two-pounders is nice enough in itself, if not exactly out of the ordinary. It would most certainly be a specimen, however, on venues where – for reasons such as those given above – the average size of fish is much lower. So persevere on such waters and you might just get lucky, as I did on my very last cast of the day in the neck of a pool that certainly qualified as a ‘magic lie’.

For the record, it was the reliable as ever Copperhead Partridge and Hare’s Ear Jig that did the trick, presented via the excellent, soon to be released 10ft, 3-wt Orvis Recon, a 40ft leader-only setup of 0.30mm monofilament with 20 centimetres of 0.25mm bicolour indicator mono, and four feet of 3lb fluorocarbon tippet attached to the indicator via a 1mm micro ring. It was just… now what was it Paul Daniels used to say?   



How To Read Running Water P6 8 

Hook: Orvis 1524 (Traditional Nymph Hook), sizes 14-16 (barb flattened) 

Bead: Copper tungsten, size to suit hook

Thread: Semperfli Nano Silk, 12/0, copper

Tail: Three or four cock pheasant centre-tail fibre tips

Body: Tying thread

Rib one: Red wire, diameter to suit hook size

Rib two: Bronze peacock herl, wound in opposite direction to wire (tying thread visible beneath both ribs)

Thorax: Dark hare's ear, natural  



How To Read Running Water P6 9

Hook: Tiemco TMC 2457, sizes 10-16 (barb flattened)

Bead: Copper tungsten, size to suit hook

Thread: Semperfli Nano Silk, 12/0, copper or olive

Tail: Cree hackle point

Body and thorax: Dark hare's ear, natural or dyed olive

Rib: Copper wire, diameter to suit hook size



How To Read Running Water P6 10 

Hook: Partridge Patriot Barbless Jig, sizes 10-18

Bead: Copper tungsten (slotted), size to suit hook

Thread: Semperfli Nano Silk, 12/0, copper or olive

Body: Dark hare's ear, natural

Rib: Copper wire, diameter to suit hook size

Legs: Brown speckled partridge

Collar (optional): Tying thread



How To Read Running Water P6 11

Hook: Tiemco TMC 103BL, sizes 13-19

Thread: Semperfli Nano Silk, 12/0, grey

Tail: Grey/tan polypropylene yarn

Body: Fine grey/tan dubbing

Underwing: As for tail

Overwing: Yearling elk hair

Thorax: Hare's ear

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.


Small-River Setups

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


‘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


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

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.

Angling guide David Wolsoncroft-Dodds experiences ‘jawsome’ sport as he tackle’s shark on the fly off the UK coast…

Some years ago, while on a boat fly fishing for pike, my friend Tim Westcott and I mused on the possibilities of pursuing even larger and toothier beasties with our fly rods. We joked about chasing tope and even blue sharks with huge baitfish streamers. At some point these deranged musings changed from mindless prattle into serious discussions as to how we could go about it.

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Andrew Alsop's White Water charter boat... a little different from thos we use on the Midlands reservoirs!


Research First

Tim researched knots and tackle requirements, I investigated (with help from the good people at Guide Flyfishing who import Sage and Redington kit) rods and reels. We looked at engineering flies that would both appeal to the sharks and survive being chomped.

It wasn’t long before we had sorted out the equipment issues and Tim proceeded to book us onto the White Water charter boat skippered by the redoubtable Andrew Alsop. His reputation as the top man for catching sharks out from Milford Haven is legendary (and wholly justified). We discovered that you need to book more dates than you want to fish because the weather gods seem to delight in frustrating the plans and ambitions of flyfishers. Over the last three years, more than half the dates we have booked have been blown off. The ‘unusual’ extreme weather that we have experienced of late can no longer be regarded as unusual! 


Blue Shark Bounty

Tim flew solo on the first trip in 2014 – some serious health issues meant that I was in hospital. His results were mind-bogglingly good. He brought nine blue sharks to the boat with his 14wt fly rod and spent the following few days in a euphoric haze, nursing pains in muscles he hadn’t known existed.

Eventually, I managed to join in the fun and we enjoyed phenomenal sport. Our catch rates were far beyond any reasonable expectations. If anyone had eavesdropped on our conversations in the bar, they would have assumed we had drunk too much or were completely bonkers! Twenty sharks to the boat on every session meant that we experienced frantic action. A blue shark heading for the horizon puts a serious bend in a 14wt fly rod and makes your reel fizz! After my first take, Andrew asked if I had felt the shark mouthing my fly. I replied: “No – it just tried to rip my arm off!” Make no mistake, these beasties are seriously strong and battling them, one on one with a fly rod and a direct-action reel, is a severe workout! Blue sharks (like all sharks) have to swim all the time. They don’t have a swim bladder so, if they took a rest, they would sink through the depths and drown. This means they are supremely fit and need to be played hard to keep them moving. If you take a rest to ease your aching biceps, the shark will recover faster than you and you will never bring it to the boat. Smaller fish of 60 to 80lb are reasonably straightforward but larger beasties (we had them to well over 100lb) take some lifting if they have dived under the boat – we were fishing water that was more than 300 feet deep.

David Wolsoncroft-Dodds looks worried as a probeagle charges away! Is there enough backing on the reel? 


Your tackle has to be completely sound and reliable – it’s going to be severely stressed! There can be no excuse for leaving a 10/0 hook in a shark trailing several yards of heavy wire. Every blue shark we hooked (other than the occasional one that dropped off) was brought aboard via the tuna door and expertly unhooked and released by Andrew. I have often been asked how we cope with unhooking these beasties. I put on an outrageously posh accent, wave my hand dismissively and explain that ‘our man’ takes care of such mundane matters.

David feels the burn as a powerful blue shark heads for the horizon while Tim Westcott winds his line in as fast as he can.



The action can be pretty frantic! On our trip last August, Andrew drove the boat hard for a couple of hours. He turned us broadside onto the drift and heaved the chum container over the side of the boat (this is a plastic carboy with holes to slowly release a trickle of oily mashed mackerel mixed with bran to attract the sharks). I had the first hook-up just 10 minutes into the drift. The powerful blue stripped out all of my fly line and my big Sage reel purred as the backing peeled off and shot through the rings. Andrew was alarmed – did I have enough backing on my reel? I reassured him that 500 yards of Gigafish Microfilament was loaded on my recessed spool – if that wasn’t enough, we had real problems!

From then on, the sport was fast and furious. When someone first hooks up, the other chaps reel in. The first runs are high in the water, fast and long. Later the blue dives and you slug it out with the shark deep below the boat. At this point the others can get their flies back in the water. Throughout the five-hour fishing session, we had a shark on virtually all the time and often we had a double hook-up.

The sport was amazing – so too was the wildlife experience. We had a pod of minke whales surface around the boat and saw more dolphins than anyone would believe – a pod came and danced in and out of our wake when we were heading back to the boat yard. There is also every chance of spotting fin whales. It is good for an Englishman’s soul to experience this other world off our coastline.


Extreme Flysharking

Tim and I felt we had got a grip on catching blue shark with our fly rods. Could we take flysharking to an even more extreme level? We had to give it a go and decided that we would target the larger, altogether meaner, porbeagle shark. We knew that they visited shallow water off the coast of north Cornwall in spring where, we reasoned, they would be a more realistic proposition than over deeper water. We found a skipper who specialised in catching these beasties (with conventional tackle) and set about persuading him to take us out.

Jerry Rogers of Fastcats understands porbeagles. He is a hugely knowledgeable skipper and can put you on the fish at the right time. He was highly sceptical about us using fly rods. He didn’t think our experience with catching blue sharks was adequate preparation for the much larger and much more powerful porbeagles. I explained that we had more robust rods than were generally available in the UK.


The 18wt Sharkmaster

A 16wt had been shipped in for me from the USA and my friend Mick Bell of Bloke Fly Rods had built me a ‘tool for the job’. Mick had been intrigued when he heard that Tim and I were determined to tangle with porbeagles. He rang me up and we talked at length about the characteristics that would be required in a rod suited to such a task. We agreed that lifting power would be far more important than casting finesse. A few days later a tube arrived containing the first ‘Bloke Sharkmaster 18wt’ – a 7ft, three-piece rod fitted with some serious lined rings.

Tim Westcott with our biggest blue shark of 2015. Caught in September, it weighed 151lb and (at the time of capture) was the biggest blue from the Welsh coast that year.


As of May 12th, 2016, to the best of our knowledge, the biggest fish taken from British waters on a fly rod was a porbeagle shark of 194lb. It had completely trashed the rod!

On May13th, Tim and I set out with the redoubtable skipper Jerry Rogers to a mark off the coast of north Cornwall. We had agreed that if our fly rods weren’t up to the job we would stop or use Jerry’s conventional tackle.


380lb Of Porbeagle

Ten minutes into the first drift, Tim had a take. The battle that followed was brutal! The Bloke Sharkmaster was bent into a hoop and the backing fizzed through the rings despite the full drag on the reel. Tim went through the pain barrier. Sweat poured from him. We passed him opened bottles of water and offered sympathy and encouragement. After almost an hour he was victorious – 380lb of ‘jawsome’ porbeagle shark was brought to the boat, measured and expertly released by Jerry.

Shortly afterwards, Tim had another take. He shook his head and silently handed me the rod. That fish got off after a few minutes. Later in the session, I brought a smaller porbeagle to the boat (hardly an anticlimax!).


A month has passed – I’m far from sure that Tim has recovered! Jerry is convinced. He has ordered a Sharkmaster rod and we are plotting the downfall of even more jawsome beasties in spring 2017.

Flysharking is not for the faint-hearted! When Tim and I got back to the boat yard after our August blue shark trip, we brewed 50 shades of Earl Grey tea to try and get back to normality. Neither of us could hold a cup! Every sinew felt as if it had been stretched by the Spanish Inquisition! Easing my battered body out of bed the following morning, I felt as if I had gone 15 rounds with Mike Tyson.

Flysharking is not for the purist. Aesthetically pleasing casting isn’t possible with several yards of heavy wire bite guard and rubbing leader. The sharks are attracted in by an oily, fishy chum slick. We will even resort to attaching a lask of mackerel to the hook. It may not be pretty but it is muscle-wrenchingly exciting. We are fishing clear blue water and often see the shark come rocketing on to the fly. We aren’t using fighting chairs or harnesses – it’s a simple, one-on-one duel.

I’m looking forward to more adventures throughout this summer chasing yet more blue sharks. I will try to keep my impatience under control waiting for next spring and the chance to connect with jawsome porbeagles...


Tackle Setup

Hook – 10/0 Cox & Rawle Meat Hook Extra (these are supplied by Fishing Matters)

A huge baitfish streamer tied on a tube.

This is then mounted on a bite guard of AFW 49-strand shark trace (400lb) of around five feet, finished with a crimped Flemish loop.

This is attached (via a heavy-duty snap link) to a rubbing leader of AFW 49-strand shark trace (275lb) of around 12 feet. Sharks have skin like sandpaper, which would destroy a less robust leader. This is finished with a heavy-duty snap link that is attached to a short 100lb nylon link attached loop-to-loop to the fly line.

This allows the skipper to detach the hooked shark from your line and rod, reducing the risk of carnage and damage!

The fly line is a RIO Leviathan intermediate. This is built on a 70lb core. I’m not aware of any other fly line that is up to the job. I make a loop at the business end with three, eight-turn nail knots tied with 30lb fluorocarbon.

Lots of backing! I now use Gigafish Powerline Plus 80lb. It’s incredibly skinny and I can fit 500 yards on my reel.

A 14wt saltwater fly rod will cope with most blue sharks. I will be using my 16wt Sage Salt later in the season when they are at their heaviest. The Bloke Sharkmaster 18wt is the only fly rod I am aware of with the ‘grunt’ to tackle porbeagles.

Your reel needs to have a drag that would stop a Porsche! This, combined with strong leader, line and backing, will let you exert enough pressure to tire the shark. I use a Sage 8012 Pro.


One of Tim Westcott's big baitfish tube flies. Big flies for big fish

One of David's big baitfish tube flies. The big sage reel has a drag that can stop a Porsche and the 16-wt rod is perfect for the heavier, late season blue shark. 

The big baitfish Streamer is tied on a tube. This means that it rides up the heavy wire trace and isn't trashed by the first shark  that chomps it.

Every blue shark we caught in 2015 was brought aboard, expertly unhooked and properly released by Andrew Alsop 



A full-time guide and writer, for many years David has been pushing the boundaries of fly fishing. He is best known for catching pike with a fly rod but is also an avid saltwater man. Recently he has been fly fishing for pollack over deep reefs and kelp, using tackle and techniques developed fishing for the huge lake trout in Northern Manitoba.

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The Daddy-Longlegs is a pattern usually associated with the autumn; however, in recent years, with its many variations, it has now become the go-to fly on the stillwater scene when the fish are high in the water.

George Barron brings us the Daddy-Hog Muddler, a fly that has accounted for both wild brownies and stocked rainbows.


: Fulling Mill Short Shank, size 10 or 12

Thread: Red

Detached body: Tan foam cylinder Veniard, 3.2mm

Body: Fiery brown seal’s fur

Wing: Roe deer hair

Knotted pheasant tail – three each side

Thorax: Red seal’s fur

Head: Clipped bunch of roe deer hair

All materials are available from Veniard’s stockists.


Step 1.
 With the hook in the vice, take the tying thread halfway along the shank.
 Very lightly dub on a small pinch of fiery brown seal’s fur. This creates a bed to tie in the foam cylinder and prevents it slipping and spinning.




Step 2.
 Dip the cylinder into the flame from a lighter to soften the tip, then roll between fingers to create a slight taper at the end. Tie in on top of the seal’s fur, leaving a good half inch sticking out. Dub on another ‘spit’ of seal’s fur to cover the raw end of the cylinder and the tying thread.




Step 3.
 Gripping the deer hair very tight, tie it hard up against the base of the cylinder body. Do not move the holding fingers until you feel the tying thread has a decent grab on the deer hair. Carefully snip off excess deer hair and dub another small touch of seal’s fur.




Step 4.
 Now we can add three knotted pheasant tail legs each side, hanging just below or along the line of the body. I have used natural knotted fibres in this dressing but often ring the changes between dyed red, orange or black legs.




Step 5.
 Once the legs are trimmed tie in another pinch of roe deer hair. Carefully trim the waste then dub in a bunch of scarlet red seal’s fur at the thorax. Use a Velcro strip to brush up the seal’s fur as it adds more life to the dressing.




Step 6. 
Spin the final batch of roe deer hair in the conventional way, to create a muddler head just big enough to make a slight disturbance when pulled through the water. Trim head carefully, varnish and allow to dry before trimming deer hair.






If it was solely tied to be representative of a crane fly, this pattern possibly wouldn’t see the light of day on most waters until July or August when the bigger hatches of daddies occur, but this fellow is fairly versatile.

Because of increasing angling demand and the commercial requirement to satisfy the paying punters with, shall we say, healthy bags of fish, most major stillwaters in the UK provide a high density stocking policy to handle these needs. This obviously means easy pickings on the fresh fish and, in consequence, often results in many fish being caught and released. However, more resident trout that rarely respond a second time to the usual procession of Blobs and Boobies can be susceptible to something different and The Daddy-Hog fills that gap.



Because it could be classed as an out-and-out stillwater fly, a good case could be argued for fishing the Hog on the top dropper on a pulled, three-fly cast when fishing loch-style from a drifting boat.

I find it far more effective when used as a point fly and used washing-line style with a couple of nymphs or Diawl Bachs up the cast.

Alternatively, as the season draws on and the trout hold higher in the water, I like to fish two of them in tandem about 10 to 12 feet apart.



On a three-fly cast I see it no more than a disturbance pattern, but when doubled up in tandem it’s a highly effective method. A floater will do the job but I prefer to work with either a midge tip or slow intermediate line when operating like this.

A slight touch of Gink on the point fly lets it fish dry for a short period before you pop it under.

When covering rising fish I give the line one long, sharp draw to straighten the line then slip into a very slow figure of eight retrieve, broken up with the odd pull – takes normally come early on the retrieve.

I watched this method work very effectively on the Lake of Menteith last season and also around the boils on Rutland: a single Daddy-Hog on a 12ft leader thrown into the turmoil put a dozen good trout in the boat very quickly.



What I like about present-day fly tying and new, contemporary creations is the way it’s possible to mix up fur and feather and modern synthetic materials to produce a very different slant on what would be called a traditional fly a generation ago.

As in this instance, by utilising the foam at the rear end rather than at the front end – as per the Booby – we can do away with the old, time-consuming exercise of tying delicate detached-bodies of deer hair on a needle. Whacking on a wee bit of deer hair to form a muddler at the head also makes the fly a bit less lure-ish in make-up.

This one can be fished as a conventional dry fly by simply sinking the small bunches of deer hair tied in ‘half hog’ fashion along the back. Don’t be restricted to the fairly conventional colours I have used here; I tie these for Llyn Brenig using black foam and deer hair with red seal’s fur and knotted red legs at heather fly time. I always have them in a few jazzed-up colours such as orange or peach to cover the percentages if free fish have been stocked.


Tying Tip:

When preparing the foam cylinders for tying, I first dip the end of the cylinder into the flame of a cigarette lighter. Don’t singe it and change the colour, use just enough heat to soften the material so that it can be rolled between the fingers to create a slightly tapered end.

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TFF 770 x 210 subs ban

TFF 770 x 210 subs ban

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