Saturday, 21 May 2016

trout in the city

The angling gods are laughing. My long awaited trip to the River Wandle is not progressing entirely to plan. Yes I have seen some trout. I have seen their backsides hightailing away from me before I can get anywhere close. The trouble is you see, they see me first, no matter how stealthily I think I am sliding into the river. I have landed a couple of specimens though. These are a terrapin and a lady's stocking. The terrapin is of course a non native species and as such should be euthanised. But, peering into its shell and seeing its beady little eyes peering back at me I don't quite have the heart so I put it back where I found it. And the lady's stocking? Well it isn't my size. 
My good fishing buddy for the day, Paul Williams, has warned me that the trout here are super-spooky. Considering how many people walk past them all day long I would have thought that they would be a bit more approachable. We fish every likely spot though as we move upstream and I have to say this really is a charming little river. There are the inevitable intrusions of the urban metropolis that surrounds but the river appears to be in rude health, thanks in no small part to the hard work of The Wandle Trust. As we walk the bank we have a chance meeting with Theo Pike, angling writer and conservationist, and one of the driving forces behind the restoration of the river as a trout stream. Theo is out fishing today too, working his way downstream. Theo tells us that the fish are indeed especially spooky, due in part to the high water clarity. The upstream dry fly was invented for the Wandle he tells us and I believe him.

My hopes are waning a little as reality bites. I had two outcomes in mind for today. Firstly to catch my first tenkara salmo. Secondly to realise my ambition to catch a native brown trout within London. Most of the trout in the Wandle have grown on, or are descended from fingerlings re-introduced by the Wandle Trust and Environment Agency. Some years on they have now established as a naturalised breeding population and that's wild enough for me. This is my first trip to running water with my tenkara rod, and fish or no, I am enjoying the experience of casting my nymph down along the margins of the emerald green weed rafts. The presentation that tenkara allows is so delicate and precise, I just know I can catch one of these fish if I can get close enough..       

Paul has worked hard before my visit to scout out good marks for us to try. He is keen to show me an industrial looking pound that marks the uppermost reach of this stretch of the river. Upstream from here the river was covered over long ago and now runs beneath factories before tumbling out into the basin beneath us. I don't know the industrial history of this site but this reminds me of a mill pound. The water slides over a concrete sill to boil and swirl like a cauldron or deep plunge pool in a mountain stream. As my eyes becomes accustomed to the light and patterns on the surface I can see the fish Paul is pointing out. There are some roach, some chub - and yes trout. I can see by the posture of the trout that they are 'on the fin' - alert and on station just outside of the heavier flow and ready to intercept food items that pass within reach. 

The current is chaotic and it is purely by perseverance that my beadhead pheasant tail nymph eventually passes in front of one of the trout I can see deep below. There is a butter coloured flash as the trout darts at my fly but fails to connect as the current swings the fly out of its window. I can see the fish is agitated and aggressive and I manage to get another drift past. This time it connects, briefly, only to come unstuck a second later. I feel the bump through the rod and fancy I can feel the bead rattle as I floss his teeth with my fly. Third time lucky though and this time he is properly on. The little esoteric zoom rod handles him well but he is using the heavy water to his advantage and bringing him successfully to the net is not a forgone conclusion. After a some frantic moments and some brisk netsmanship from Paul though I have my prize. A quick photo' and in he goes, swimming off with attitude, to appear back on station a few minutes later.

My first native trout on tenkara and caught within London! I know the world is all fucked up but this says to me that perhaps there is still a chance..    

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

tying a shinobi mayfly

'Duffer's fortnight' - that somewhat ingracious tag given to the oh-so-short mayfly season is a  clue to the  frantic sport that can be had once the trout have switched on to this new food source. Not wanting to miss out on the fun I have put together my own take on our largest and most common mayfly here in the UK - Ephemera danica.

I wanted an impressionistic fly that would ride well on the water with a good footprint. I love the light wire of the eyeless shinobi hooks and their elegant shape really lends itself to this type of pattern I think. It rides high with little need for floatant and lands like thistle down - great I bet for 'kissing the water' presentations.

Ephemera danica  image from

For those wanting to have a go here is the recipe for my shinobi mayfly

Shinobi mayfly 

Secure a shinobi 7.5 hook in your vice and coat the shank with a tiny amount of superglue..

Run light olive 6/0 thread down the shank to the bend and back up to the start of the shank in touching turns..

take 1/2" (12mm) tan 0.45mm silk bead cord and fold in half to make loop..

Apply a tiny dab of super glue along the top of the thread base then lay the tag ends of the loop on top, along the shank with the loop overhanging the front end of the hook (adjust this to give the loop eye size that you prefer). Run the tying thread back down the shank in touching turns to secure the loop eye, stopping at the hook bend..

Catch in three cock pheasant tail fibres to form the mayfly tail, setting the curve of the fibre to mimic the natural fly (see photo).. 

Catch in an olive grizzle cock hackle and run the tying thread back up to halfway along the shank..

Palmer the hackle round the shank back up to the thread and tie off. Take the thread back down to the hook bend and back up again in open turns to strengthen the palmering..

Catch in yellow/cream hen hackle just behind loop eye and wind round to create wings. Tie off with a whip finish to split the hackle to form two wings..

Trim underneath of wings to create impression of an upwing mayfly..

It's done! 


Thursday, 12 May 2016

horses for courses

Fishing for wild brown trout is a trip out that is still more than a week away. My local streams being trout-free are closed now until mid June and the local canal has become muddy and unproductive. For all these reasons I am feeling an attack of cabin fever hovering overhead, so to fend of the fisherman's blues I am indulging in some much needed therapy - dreaming up new fly patterns.. 

I am very interested in chasing coarse fish species with tenkara and kebari and my angling friends will know that I have in the past been slightly obsessed with catching trophy perch on western style  fly tackle. Big perch are powerful bucket-mouthed predators but can be suprisingly tackle wary and takes when they come are often very subtle. Last year I worked hard to adapt a western fly approach that would have the sensitivity to give reliable results and I enjoyed some success. Then discovering tenkara and the incredibly subtle presentations it makes possible I was quick to see its potential for trophy perch. Big perch are for me an autumn and winter pursuit because I find it too difficult to locate them during the warmer months, post spawn.   

So for now it's just tying and dreaming but September will come around quick enough. The top fly in this photo is my first attempt, tied on a size 4 Varvivas dropshot hook. I like the wide gape which helps I think in connecting with a big fish given that cavernous mouth. Really this fly is a scaled up version of a traditional sekasa kebari and it has everything a perch should like in a fly - some nice pulsing movement of those big soft hackles, a red trigger zone and some sparkle from the peacock herl body. There is a  problem however - I suspect the soft tip of the average tenkara rod will struggle to set this size and gauge of hook. So I am playing around with the idea of converting part of an old split cane rod to make a highly specialist tenkara perch tool. The cane can easily cast this fly and also tiny dries with ease once you get the casting stroke right and it seems happy with tippets down to about 6X. The tip is decidedly more snappy and quite capable of setting these heavier hooks while the planned finished rod length of around only 6ft will keep the weight right down. More of this in a later post..

Another coarse species I am interested in pursuing is the roach and here a much finer approach is called for. With a much smaller mouth than trout, here a scaled down size 16 kebari is more in keeping. Roach are not often given to chasing the fly so a light pattern that can be fished 'on the drop' should work. I tied this pattern (the lower fly in the photo) with a white hackle so that I can see it more easily as it drops through the water column when I am fishing clear water canals. The beauty in this photo I caught with western fly tackle and I am looking forward to my first roach on tenkara this summer..



Monday, 9 May 2016

St Mark's Fly

May Day celebrations in our little village have been and gone. Sparrows are nesting in our eaves, bluebells are in full flower and a million little creatures are playing out their parts in the drama of the hedgerows and fields around our home. Spring has sprung. I love this natural abundance and feeling of optimism and the new possibilities that spring brings into view for the angler who has eyes to see them.

All this has got me thinking about fly life in May and how I might represent some of it in my fly box. My tying style (if I have one) is representative rather than imitative. Probably because a childish inability to follow instructions I seldom tie to patterns set by other tiers, preferring instead to wing it and hope for the best. No two flies I tie ever look quite the same, but then I have heard it said that no two tenkara casts are exactly identical. Each time you make a cast you are creating something unique and never to be repeated. I like my flies to be simple to tie, because I use and lose all lot of them and I have also heard it said that if you are not losing flies then you are not fishing brave enough. I also like my flies to be scruffy and made from easily available (and mostly natural) materials. I don't plan to follow the 'one fly' philosophy for my tenkara adventures because in addition to trout I am pursuing a variety of other species with differing requirements.  
Bibio marci image from
Being a 'representative' tier I think of patterns in terms of general colour, size, shape and behaviour. Today I am thinking about all of those black coloured terrestrials buzzing about right now. Here in the UK many  fly fishers lump several species of black fly under the name 'Bibio'. This includes the hawthorn fly, heather fly and black gnat. I am tying a loose representation of the Bibio marci or 'St Mark's Fly', so called because it is said to emerge on April 25th - St Mark's Day when it swarms around hedgerows and streamsides. Present throughout the first half of May it becomes of interest to the trout fisher when hapless individuals end up on the water and on the trout's menu. 
My loose representation is tied on a size 14 light wire dry fly hook. The body is from peacock herl with a mylar tag back and wings from grizzle hackle tips. The head is from bronze peacock herl with a bit of black cock hackle to suggest legs. The fly is intended to be fished drowned, not as a full blown wet.  It should also serve as a horse fly, heather fly and also a flying ant pattern, in fact any winged black terrestrial that ends up in the drink...



Wednesday, 4 May 2016

fingers and thumbs - PTN's and kebari

All this talk of chasing chalk stream salmo with tenkara has got me looking into my motley collection of trout fly boxes and I have found them wanting.. wanting some concerted effort from me that is. Normally I prefer to fish with flies that I have tied myself. Shop bought ones are quick and convenient and probably work out cheaper in the long run, but when I fish with them it only feels like I am doing half the job. And my river fly collection looks a little depleted, probably because I've never tied up that many in the first place. You see, before the tenkara bug got me I was neglecting the finer side and had wandered into the dark badlands of predator fly fishing. 

So having spent the last couple of years exclusively tying predator flies I am thinking it is high time to re-introduce a bit of subtlety into my tying. The jump in scale from a 6/0 down to a size 14 hook is mindwarping, heaven alone knows what a size 20 would feel like. I did once see a ‘reed smut’ pattern tied on a size 30 hook but right now to me a size 14 feels microscopic. My fumbling fingers feel like they are engaged in nano-technology. So I thought I would start with some nice and easy sakasa kebari ties to ease myself back in to it. For these I use 6/0 thread, size 14 scud hooks and a variety of cock and hen hackles. I love how relaxing these patterns are to tie and once I get into the flow it I don't want to stop.

Now with a few eastern style wets in the fly box I am thinking that a few old western classics would add some 'true grit' to the collection (ouch, sorry couldn't resist). Still keeping it simple, I look to my go-to old faithful the pheasant tail nymph. In some ways in shares some philosophy with kebari in that's its really a suggestive pattern rather than an imitation. This I think is its great strength, and it can be presented like the kebari in so many ways. It has certainly saved me from defeat on many occasions, particularly for still water trout, but its originator Frank Sawyer created it for the southern chalkstreams of England, so it seems a fitting choice for my up and coming trip to the River Wandle. While I would normally stick with a traditional version of the PTN for stillwaters I decide for the brisk flow of the little river a modern update could work well, so I add in a gold head. I also want a really buggy and quite scruffy look so I also add in a fat little thorax with peacock herl. This forms a nice bump to fold the wing case back over. The end result is much more like an American variant of the original pattern. I'm feeling a lot of confidence in the finished fly which I think goes a long way to putting fish in the net. Time will tell..

Monday, 2 May 2016

a river runs through it

It is hard to imagine, driving through London Borough of Merton, that anything exists behind the concrete jungle other than.. well more concrete. This is one major drawback of motorised transport - often all you get to see are your immediate environs.  But get out on foot and you may stumble across a hidden gem as I did while attending a business meeting at Morden Hall Park earlier last year. This gem, threading its way through the urban sprawl of south London, turned out to be the wonderful little chalkstream that is the River Wandle. 

Unfamiliar to me at that time, and not having a rod with me I made a mental note to do a bit of back ground research and revisit sometime, suitably equipped. The Wandle, I learned has an illustrious past as a prime chalkstream for wild brown trout but has suffered in more recent years from low flow and pollution. The current health of the river is thanks in no small part to to the sterling efforts of the Wandle Trust and its volunteers who work tirelessly to clean up the river and improve biodiversity through habitat management. 
The trout season is now four weeks old and I have yet to wet a Tenkara line (or any other for that matter) in their pursuit. In fact I haven't yet had the chance to  fish tenkara on running water at all. So a circle is closed fortuitously when I learn that my old fishing buddy Paul Williams of Cannibal Flies has moved to live nearby to the Wandle. 
We hatch a plot to meet up in two weeks time to get out on the river, and who knows perhaps for me a first tenkara salmo?  

Paul tells me that with the cool conditions there isn't much fly life coming off the water right now, so nymphs are likely to be the order of the day, at least in the morning. Old faithfuls like pheasant tail nymph, scud and gold head hairs ear all score, and we will take some dry options too. I am keen to test out my sakasa kebari patterns on the trout though and I am fairly sure the local salmo have seen few if any of these.     

Paul will be the local 'knowledge' which takes the heat off me this time. Last year I ghillied for Paul on another chalkstream elsewhere, having promised him his first fly caught pike. That mission accomplished,  I think a nice little brownie or two will be a fair swap. Cheers  Paul for your great images in this post and diligence this weekend in fish spotting in preparation for our trip!
Time now I think to get tying..