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The Evolution of Stillwater Dry

One of the best anglers with whom I regularly fished on Ardliegh Reservoir was a chap called Dennis Cooper. I don't really know Dennis anymore, which is a shame. Many of my Ardleigh fishing friends I'm not in touch with simply because Ardleigh closed as a trout water.

Dennis is a thinking angler and introduced me to many things, imitative boobies and the “washing line” – over 15 years ago – some super pinfry patterns, sacrificial rabbits and some kick-ass dries. I'm not a competition angler, I entered a few back in those days, always placed (apart from one disaster!), but I'm quite competitive by nature and don't wish to bring that into fishing (and I don't agree with it either). Dennis wasn't particularly competitive but did fish for Grafham – says he “got roped in”.

I believe Dennis first tied the [UK] hopper. It was a shortened up daddy long legs with a grizzle hackle and an orange body. No one took dries seriously on reservoirs back then, and subsequently Grafham cleaned up.

At the time I was working in the Ardleigh fishing lodge, which gave me free fishing and use of a boat. I worked 40 hrs a week and fished every day from the start of the season through to the very end. I'd work, fish, tie flies, fall asleep in the bath, work, fish, tie flies. Not many women in those days of course; it was all manshit.

It was a great time for experimenting. My mum had given me some river dries which I'd been using and pretty soon I was fishing seal's fur sedge pupae and hare's ears ginked to sit in the surface. They worked better than the hackled flies of course. It was weird to fish dries on that lake where no one else fished them. It was kinda cool too.

We never kept it a secret. I say we; there was four or five of us who frequently shared boats, which is a great way to learn. I had a fantastic boat partner and friend, a guy called Trevor. Clevor Trever and I fished together for years. Nice guy, wish he'd come over here sometime; he'd love NZ Stillwater angling.

Anyway, there's a reason I'm writing this. UK Stillwater anglers are the best lake fishers I know (there's a great sharing of ideas and experimentation) and the dries in particular are simple and scruffy. Tied so that they only just float. Sipping trout only sip with just enough energy to inhale the fly – especially if they've wised up . If your fly doesn't easily disappear into the fish's mouth then the fish misses the fly.

Everyone I know who's good at this fishes three flies. Make the distance between the bob fly (top dropper – not named after Robert Dibble as I wrote in the River's section – another Robert Dibble wrote to me last year asking if he was related) and the middle fly less than the middle to the point, taper the flies so that the bushiest, least aerodynamic is the bob fly and the slimmest the point, construct the leader around 20 feet long, check the shoot, and it shouldn't tangle. He says.

Personally I think dries should be tied on short dropper lengths using water knots and not tied off the bend; the presentation's better (trailing nymphs I often tie off the bend of nymphs – New Zealand style).

If your leader is floating it's not going to work. On flat calm conditions this can mean muddying-up every few casts. Fluorocarbon is useless because it will sink your “only just floating” flies – and besides it has a shelf life of 2000 years, which is another good reason not to use it.

I do like suspenders, especially in a wave, but I don't like the plop they make when you lift them off. Bob Wyatt's deer hackle emerger could be a good substitute for a suspender buzzer, but so far I've only caught one fish on them. Bob's over here shortly and I know what I'm going to give him for Christmas, and it won't be a waistcoat.

Mostly I fish dries up close where I can see them, especially on the drift. If there's a wave and you can't see your flies then try using a larger bob fly such as the Grafham hopper.

Don't retrieve your flies, this rarely works – although when it does: it's the method! During fishing always be deliberate with the lift – I find this a great habit to get into with any method. Slowly dibble each fly along the surface as you lift off. If you change direction on the dibble (which is important incidentally) you can dibble each fly one by one. Always expect a fish when you dibble.

Can't think of anything else – off to fish a river…


Essential Bush Skills

The start of any flytying good flytying sequence involves squirting The Light of Apgai on your polyprops
Both alarm and curiousity set in when the polyprops start melting
Putting the lid back on the jar to stop *that* happening again
The flytying proper is underway
Notice the composure, that's true class that is
A difficult bit, you can tell that from the vacant expression
Essential bush skills: the third hand
Notice my hat here, it's quite daring
Snip, snip
I'm not quite sure what I'm doing here, but it's cool
Trimming an oversize hackle that appears to have become trapped in the whip finnish manoevre
Delicate precision work, the hallmark of any good flytyer
A sexy catch...

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