Thursday, 7 March 2013

Unsuitable Flies

Continuing my series of posts on common mistakes and faults I observe when on the river, this time I am talking about using unsuitable flies. Flies that are either outdated, or any self respecting trout and grayling would laugh at and avoid like the plague! Again, like using the right tackle, it is something that can be put right by without any practice or ability, though admittedly some expense...

A modern nymph
A modern nymph: small,  sparse,
with a well proportioned tungsten
bead and barbless hook.

One of the first things I ask my clients is if I can look at their flies. If they are from a stillwater background chances are they won’t have any flies for river fishing, but many of my clients have been fishing rivers for years and still they don’t have suitable flies. It is rare that a client turns up with a box of flies that I’d happily fish with myself, though occasionally some do. A few years ago, modern, imitative, sparsely dressed flies, in sizes small enough to imitate the natural flies we encounter on the river were pretty much nonexistent commercially. If you wanted the sort of flies used by competition anglers, or those that well known and successful anglers were writing about, you either had to tie own or get a flytyer to tie to order. Nowadays I would happily fill my river fly boxes with commercially available flies such as been the advancement over recent years. Flies from the likes of Oliver Edwards, John Tyzack (6 times English National Rivers Champion), Jeremy Lucas (one of the most capped English flyfishers ever), etc, are available from a variety of sources. If these successful anglers are using a particular fly you can be certain it is for a reason, i.e. it works! 

A CdC Upwing dry fly
A CdC Upwing dry fly. Perfect
silhouette and sparse - there's
no way it could fail to catch!
When we fish a river we need to be more imitative. Rivers, in general, have a more diverse variety of invertebrates in them. The trout and grayling in our rivers know what a food item looks like, far more so than a stocked stillwater rainbow or hungry wild brown trout in lakes and lochs. Most of the time, when fishing a stillwater, we are being suggestive, using a fly that says to a fish that it is edible, without always looking exactly like a particular item of food. On rivers we are, more often than not, fishing imitatively, taking note of what is hatching, or you expect to hatch because of time of year, day, weather, etc. and using a suitable imitation. For this reason we need flies that do a very good job of imitating each and every possible food item. The main criteria are:

  • Correct size – usually much smaller than stillwater flies. Look at the natural flies around the river and note how small and slim they are.
  • Correct silhouette – have artificials to represent the major orders of flies, i.e. upwings, sedges, stoneflies and common terrestrials.
  • Correctly weighted Nymphs – by using lead underbody, tungsten beads, metal beads, wires, etc. we vary the weights of the nymphs we carry to fish different water types and techniques. Our nymphs need to either fish very near the bottom, or near the top, but rarely in the water column. This is achieved by using the right technique in conjunction with the right fly or flies.
  • Sparsely dressed – as we said above, natural flies are in general very small and very slim. We can get away to a certain extent with fishing over-size but not so much if our fly is massively over-dressed.
  • Colour is only of secondary importance – better to be as close as possible, but not usually as important as the criteria above.
Take a look at the flies on my website to get an idea of what I mean:

Fly choice is a personal thing, but all too often I see the following:
  • Using stillwater flies on rivers – the most common ones tend to be Montana Nymphs (far too big and fat, and don’t imitate common British species even in small sizes), Long Shank Pheasant Tail Nymphs (more an imitation of pin fry than a nymph), Daddies (admittedly sometimes encountered on rivers but not really a fly that fish will lock on to), large, overdressed buzzers (yes midges are present in rivers and fish eat them but not really a fly that river anglers use, certainly not big fat ones!), traditional (stillwater) wet flies, etc.
  • Flies that are too big. As discussed above, natural flies are in general small, but all too often inexperienced river anglers use flies that are way too big. We can get away with using a fly that is a size or so over-size (sometimes it is even beneficial – it stands out from the crowd) but if it’s too big most fish will ignore it.
  • Overdressed flies, which usually means they were cheap, part of a large collection, or dressed by someone new to flytying. Most of the reputable shops sell flies of good quality from good flytying companies (e.g. Fulling Mill), so if you buy wisely after doing some research and aren’t afraid of spending a little bit more you should be OK.
  • Some flies have stood the test of time, such as North Country Spiders, which are still catching fish today and if anything gaining in popularity, certainly overseas. A correctly tied Pheasant Tail Nymph also still has its place, however, there are flies which have now been superseded, but anglers still use them, unaware of newer and better flies which are available. Flies such as hackled and winged dry flies (e.g. Greenwells Glory, Kites Imperial, etc.) have now been replaced by CdC duns, Paraduns, Comparaduns, etc. We have F Flies and many other flies tied with CdC feathers, a material that in my opinion can’t be beaten for floating dry flies and emergers. With many new materials, fine threads, tiny hooks, CdC, etc. it is possible to tie very small flies, so we are able to tie (or buy) and carry flies to cover every possible situation. No more excuses!
Another modern nymph with the
same characteristics as the nymph
above - deadly!

So with the new season fast approaching it's time to root out all those unsuitable old flies and fill your box with more modern creations, from bottom hugging bugs to irresistible, imitative, dry flies. Tight lines.