Sunday, 11 December 2016

mercury and quicksilver - dace on tenkara

It's turned into a 7X kind of day.
I'm fishing a stretch of southern chalkstream that is in many ways a best kept secret, probably because it holds few if any trout. Not the quintessential English chalkstream. No manicured banks or fishing lodges here. This stretch of river runs through the heart of town then threads its way between farmland and light industry.

But it does hold a phenomenal head of chub and barbel. Today I have chub in mind and there is a real lunker right in front of me. Betrayed by the flash of a bronze flank I watch as it turns on a nymph under the far bank. Back in the summer I caught some nice fish here. No such luck today though. These bigger fish hold prime position in the deepest water at the tail of the pool. I ring the changes with scuds, leeches and all kinds of weighted nymphs but I can't win a take. With the lack of rain the water is gin clear and skinny and the fish are skittish. If my life depended on this I'd be in trouble.

As the spectre of a skunk's rear end looks set to materialise my attention is drawn to some splashy rises just upstream. Smaller fish I think, and unlike their bigger cousins these chub are feeding in the top of the water. I run a nymph by but it sinks too quickly through the water column. A switch to a soft-hackled purple and black kebari at last gets a hit from a smaller member of the shoal. As often seems to happen, I am wondering why I didn't just start with a kebari in the first place. It's the western flyfisher still hard wired into me I guess. A few more chub follow and it feels good to be fishing tenkara.

All the while though I am aware of the tiny rise forms appearing in the fastest riffle at the head of the pool. Dace! Yes I am excited. My friend Dominic Garnett writes "The dace is either a delightful little fish or a pesky nuisance, it all depends on your outlook and, dare I say it, whether you have the soul of a poet or a bricklayer." Well.. I've always been rubbish at laying bricks.

I like the words 'mercury' and 'quicksilver' to describe dace. Mercury for their exquisite metallic sheen. Quicksilver for their ability to strike your fly with lightening speed. If you thought small brown trout were quick, the dace redefines that game. So the lightest of tackle and the sharpest of reflexes become the order of today as the chub are hastily abandoned.

Off with the 5X tippet and on goes a longer 7X. The received wisdom for dace is to use small flies, down to size 18 or 20, but the size 14 kebari I have on has a very soft hen hackle and should fold easily in the dace's small mouth. 

Well it all seems to work and the home-tied purple and black kebari is taken with gusto as soon as it hits the water. A beautiful dace comes to hand, a tenkara first for me. More follow and even more are missed on the strike - one in six is reckoned to be a good hit rate. This is a shoal species and the action is coming fast and furious. The dace definitely want the fly just as it hits the surface and waste no time pursuing it down stream as it sinks, quite unlike the chub earlier. So cast and dead drift for a short time then if there is no take, lift and recast to a slightly different spot, holding all of the casting line and tippet off the water if you can. 

Dace don't grow big and strong - a one pound fish is the stuff of legend, but dace fishing is great for honing presentation skills and hook set.  Easy to spook and crazy quick, I think of the dace as a challenging and worthy sporting quarry in its own right. A perfect application of tenkara.       


Wednesday, 7 December 2016

killer bugs in blackberry juice

It's like waiting for a homemade wine.
You need patience to resist opening the jar too early. Let the juice do its thing. I waited four weeks. To the minute. And then my blackberry dubbing was ready.

Readers of my earlier entries will know that I got hooked on a new twist to my fly tying over the summer - something I've tagged as 'folk flies'.. creating fly patterns using materials gathered close to the waterside. It's an exciting challenge turning up at your destination sans fly box - instead, just some thread, a few hooks and basic tying tools. 

I've had great fun this summer catching wild moorland trout with kebari from sheep's wool, seagull and horsehair, all gathered from the local landscape. It got me to thinking how I could perhaps take the concept a bit further. I began to look for ways to obtain colours from the landscape to dye my fur and feathers. After a bit of research I came across a great book on natural dyes - 'Wild Colour' by Jenny Dean

Inspired, on one of our family blackberrying forays I collected and set aside about a pound of reject berries - the ones that don't look good enough to eat. Back home I simmered them in a stainless steel pan with two pints of water for about half an hour. Using a stainless potato masher I made sure all of the juice was out of the fruit pulp then strained off the dye from the solids and into a screw top jar.

Now in went some sheep's wool I collected from a fence wire. The wool was carefully washed with mild soap and rinsed thoroughly first. This is important because the natural oils (lanolin) in the wool will act as a 'resist' and prevent the dye from bonding with the fibres unless you wash it away first.  And that's it, I just let the wool steep in the jar of blackberry juice dye for those four weeks. From my research I was expecting the dyed wool to come out a soft pink colour and that's exactly what I got. Once removed from the dye, rinsed and dried I teased the out the fibres et voila! a perfect dubbing - especially for winter grayling bugs!