Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Moorland trout on folk flies

It's been an interesting experiment,
deliberately leaving the fly box at home and arriving only with some basic tying tools, a few hooks and a spool of thread.

Setting out to scavenge my fly tying materials directly from the landscape I wanted to see if I could tie up some passable kebari flies that would catch the native moorland trout. This is, after all, just as our forbears did before the commercial fly tying industry existed. And today too, in more remote rural areas where economics and expediency dictate.

So it's not a new concept, but one that brings a unique and refreshing challenge. I've  adopted the name 'folk flies' in homage to those truly home-spun artisan tiers and because like folk music, these flies are from and of the local landscape. Rooted in the very land that these moorland trout streams arise from, this notion gives me some confidence in their potential.    

I have refined my tying technique a little since my first attempts and have produced a softer- hackled version of the sheep and herring gull kebari.  

Keen to put them to test, I arrive at the little moorland stream with high anticipation but a little anxiety too. It was bold to drive 300 miles without my usual fly-box of tricks. Perhaps too bold. It would be a shame to drive home again without saying hello to a few wild brownies. Time will tell, but right now the self imposed pressure is on!

It's what some anglers would term a 'technical' little stream, - with complex braided currents, a low overhead tree canopy and highly contrasting lighting all adding to the challenge of presenting a fly and detecting takes. It's an easy river to read though, with obvious fish holding features in profusion. Creases, pools, slacks and undercuts all have trout potential and often the better fish occupy the best of these. The problem is all one of presentation, as often the best marks are separated from the angler by chaotic faster water

The tenkara approach is ideally suited to such flow mosaics, except that here a rod long enough to hold line clear of the water is often too long to use under the low branches. My rod of choice is just 8ft in length. Today I am fishing with a 6ft titanium casting line with 6ft or so of tippet. Because the titanium is all but invisible, between the casting line and the tippet I have a string of tiny beads on a 12" length of braid to act as a sight indicator. 

Even so possible fishing locations along the river are limited if a reasonable dead drift is desired. Down and across wet fly presentations with a low rod angle are more viable but invariably the fly skates across to end its swing in the riffles where the smallest trout parr seem to predominate. Relegated to the least favourable water these smallest of trout are hell bent on packing on weight and growing big enough to occupy the more profitable features and structure of the river.         

Given the choice I always prefer casting to sighted fish over 'prospecting' the water and so today is all about looking and watching. I soon see a splashy rise in a slack under the far bank. Some small pale flies are flitting around the bankside and the trout is keyed on to them. I angle a cast below the overhanging branches and my folk fly lands and is hit, the hanging line plucking taught for an instant then falling slack again. It's an encouraging start but I know this pool is blown now for a while.       

Further along, a down and across wet fly elicits those enevitable knocks from tiny trout parr, until a better fish properly takes. It's an average size for this stream, a lovely buttery 6 incher, but the hook slips out before it comes to hand. Now I know that my folk fly pattern is working but I need a trout to come properly to hand to really count!

More walking and watching. The water is the colour of old malt whisky and the trout here have the most beautiful colouration - grading from burnt toffee on top through to butterscotch underneath, with a cosmic-camo of red, blue, black and silver along the flanks. In the water though these fish are shadows, take your eyes off them and they are gone when you look back. I cast my fly to such a shadow, the fly lands and the tail of the shadow flicks but the fly swings too soon out of the trout's window. Not spooked though, but interested  and 'on the fin'. A change of angle gives a longer drift next cast but the fly passes through a reflection and I lose sight of the fish as well. There is no indication of a take but for some reason I lift and the fish is on. 

A good fish for this river and the proof of the pudding for my home-spun folk fly. And for a duffer like me it's rare perfection.


  1. Really like the look of those flies, and the fish are of course beautiful as well.

    1. Thank you Ben! It is a magical place that guards its secrets closely, but I was lucky enough to catch a few glimpses this time.. the fish are wild and very beautiful so I wanted to offer them my best ties! :)