It was a dark and lonely place where the men were hard and women were hairy. Well okay it was only Derbyshire but it's still atmospheric. As I drew closer to the river my anticipation and expectations rose higher and higher. The Zen side of me started to cancel out the excitable exterior resulting in an air of smugness with a hint of calm optimism. Without even noticing I started to feel the inevitable potholes that always seem to indicate the presence of fishable water. "£2.50, PARK OVER THERE", "AARRGGHH What?" The car park attendant ambushed me as I was sneaking through the gate.
As the car was parked a deep breath was taken, the boot went up and the weapons of choice selected. The customary swish of the rod took place followed by the fixing of the reel. It must be this way, you must always swish, it's part of the ritual, fish will ignore you if you don't. On went a size 18 parachute Adams, a fly that always seems to work regardless of whatever creepy crawlies are flying about, and off I went. I walked through the car park ignoring the bemused tourists whilst giving the lady in the porta café a sly wink, I can tell you're impressed, this was after all fishing at its wildest.
It's all over
As I approached the water I could see a cloud of mixed invertebrates with a group of rising fish beneath, turning the pool into something reminiscent of a Jacuzzi. I took up my position, initiated stealth mode and picked my fish. A perfect cast followed by a swift rejection. I was not impressed and judging by the fishes look of disgust, he wasn't either. A couple more casts were made and a couple more flies rejected so I turned my attentions towards a new quarry. The event repeated itself again and again, fish after fish. Even my cunning positional tactic of looking the other way whilst pretending to get a sandwich didn't work. The contents of my fly box had now been used twice over and my final option (1lb line) had failed. There was now no alternative but to give up. I hate walking away from a pool of rising fish, it's like saying no to a drunk blonde.
There was no way this situation was going to beat me. I had come to the conclusion that the usual shop bought flies were not going to work on this occasion. I went back the next day, expertly concealed myself in a manner any traffic warden would have been proud of and observed the water. I had previously assumed that due to the rise a dry would be the fly of choice. After looking a little closer I realized I wasn't looking at a group of rising fish but a group of bulging fish. "Emergers" I yelled. Good. "Hi", "what?" "Hi" SNAP, argh!! Nailed by a Japanese tourist without even the hint of a pose.
I decided that if I wanted to catch one of these fish I would have to identify and match the hatch. I went home, sat down at my vice and devoured as many books as possible. They tasted like crap but everything had to be taken into consideration, every available bit of fluff I could find that might match the colour was tried. Not even the carpet was spared. I had acquired a buzz like no other, for the first time I felt my own imagination was going to be the decisive factor in achieving my goal. Even though I had yet to wet a line the feeling of satisfaction had already put a spring in my step.
"Better look out fish"
Day three, Dawn. I approached the river with renewed confidence. The first seven casts went by without a glance. I'd just began to doubt my self when on my eighth cast I felt a twitch. That twitch turned in to a pull and that pull then turned into a searing run. This was pure satisfaction, my legs started shaking and I began to take on the crazed demeanor of someone who'd just run 26 miles. 30 seconds later there was calm and the fish was in my hand. I removed my creation from his upper jaw and sat for a while admiring the perfectly formed little trout who had over the last three days put me through a myriad of emotions.
That was the only fish that day but it didn't matter. I had succeeded in outwitting my quarry and had caught the most satisfying fish of my life. I had acquired a completely new outlook on how and why I was fishing. For the first time I had looked at the collection of commercial patterns in my box and wondered why my blue winged olive imitation didn't actually look like one. I figured if the real fly looked that colour when it was sailing down the river then that's the colour I should attempt to copy. I used my own imagination and it worked.
Escape and purpose
On this occasion the combination of fly fishing and fly tying had put me through the emotional cycle of calmness, optimism, smugness, rejection, desperation, satisfaction, success and calmness. It repeats itself many times and is the reason why fly tying is one of those great pleasures that offers both satisfaction and fun. Fly tying is a great way to relax, it's one of those great pastimes that encourages everything else in life to temporarily dissolve around you. Before I started tying my own flies only fishing itself provided this. Now after a hard days work or when things aren't going my way I can sit at my desk, even if it's only for a few minutes, and use my imagination. When I tie flies I usually have flash backs of past triumphs and wonder what this new creation may bring. The experience of fooling a fish with a fly you have created yourself is one of the greatest in angling; it isn't better that sex but results in the same degree of chronic grinning that seems to accompany all great things in life.
Fly tying is fun and satisfying, period. Has it made me a better fisherman? "yes" will it make you a better fisherman? Well the simple answer to that is also "yes". Fly-casting is thought to be the most important aspect of fly-fishing, this I believe is true. However, there is a gap between being a good fly caster and a good fly fisherman. The anglers you will have seen out catching everyone else at you're local water will have filled that gap. I want to reassure you that the difference between you and them is not as big as you may think. Once you're able to cast a fly to the area of you're choice you're half way there. For me, filling in the gaps started with the purchase of a vice, some tools and a small selection of fur and feather. This allowed me to put down a base to work on and opened my eyes to a number of new concepts.
I became more interested in the imitation of insects and began to pay more attention to their life cycles. Gradually things that seemed impossible to understand a short while ago came into focus. Over time I gradually discovered more books and articles on the subject and began to understand what, why and when fish eat certain things.
My attentions then drifted. Other flies and methods became more appealing to me. I didn't have to send off to mail order companies for flies I wasn't even sure about anymore. I could just go to my desk and either copy something from a book or use my imagination. The lonely corners of my fly box started to fill up, the patch on my waistcoat developed a bizarre looking bulge and every now and then my efforts were rewarded by a brief flash of gold and a singing reel. It was the continual visualization of what may come that inspired me to go on trying new flies and new methods. Preceding this point only a modicum of attention was placed upon the question of 'what fly?' There was no 'emerger in this in this situation' or 'spinner in that', it was simply ones that float and ones that sink. I feel I have removed that aspect from my fishing and now catch more as a result.
Picture the scene then, you're on you're favorite bit of water, you're relaxed, you know what you're fishing with, why your doing it and you're catching fish as a result. Look over there, it's that angler that used to make you feel small and he's catching fish alright but you hardly notice him anymore because he's three nil down and it's only lunch time. The feeling of satisfaction is immeasurable.
This was the route I took, it just happened to work for me and is by no means the only way to go. Fly tying is what you make it, just because a magazine article suggests that this or that is the only way to go doesn't mean that it is. It all boils down to Personal opinion. There are no rules in fly tying, there are guidelines but no rules. Fly tying can become whatever you want it to be, If you only want to tie imitation flies then so be it. If you want to tie flies that bring out the fishes curious side then so be it, or if you want to combine the two then perfect. The point I'm trying to get across is that when you find your feet you can take whatever direction you please.
Unfortunately the process of finding you feet in a subject such as this has been made unnecessarily complicated. You could say by those who practice it. For me fly tying started with confusion. It all looked very complicated and tricky, the instruments looked more akin to a James Bond villain rather than a fly fisherman and whilst I was still curious about it I left it for a time believing the hassle and bother involved would far outweigh the benefits. Six months later I visited a tackle shop and after taking part in the obligatory drooling contest over by the rods I glanced over to the flytying section. "Ever thought of rolling your own" "ARGH!" Ambushed again. How do shop assistants get so close without making a sound? I explained my worries and why I hadn't bothered. He led me to a fly tying vice he'd set up in the corner of the shop, "it's easy" he said. He took me through everything and to my disbelief he was right, it was easy, it wasn't confusing and more importantly, they weren't implements of torture.
From that point onwards I pursued fly tying because I thought it might be interesting and something new. There are many reasons people decide to tie their own flies. For some it's artistic, for others it's practical. Most anglers will tend to think about fly tying a year or two after their introduction to fly fishing. By this time the levels of both curiosity and confidence will be on the rise, previously ignored articles on fly tying will start to look interesting and the natural progression of fly fishing will start to take place. If you're reading this and are already fired up and excited about wreaking havoc on your local waterway then this progression will have already started.
I assume you're now bursting at the seems with excitement, Good. For now I hope to have piqued your curiosity. I also hope that I have cleared up a few points and that you now want to find out more. This series will take you through everything you need to know to start up and get on your way. A reading list will eventually be compiled but for now have a look at some fly tying articles in magazines, even if you're unsure as to what is going on they can still give you an idea of how it all works.
Next week: Getting started... "and what are all these James Bond instruments?"