Let’s see if THIS WORKS...
When you’ve caught all the fish you need and tied most of the flies you wanted, quotas give way to curiosity. Welcome to Ally Bruce’s world...
IN THE red corner, you have countless books, videos and articles devoted to f ly t y ing: ever y material accounted for, ever y specification noted and the end product f ilmed in the t y pe of f lattering light normally reser ved for ageing Holly wood stars. In the blue corner, you have A lastair Bruce. The kind of f ly t y ing free spirit who commercial f lydressers would probably like to see locked in a dungeon and the key thrown away. If you think of conventional f ly t y ing as scripted, then A lly Bruce is all about improv. He is free-form jazz to the orchestrated symphony of TheFlyTying Bible. Don’t ask him what he has in mind when he sits down at his vice, because chances are he won’t know until he’s half-way through tying it. Just how instinctively he goes about his work becomes apparent when he talks about spending £800 on capes as if it were loose change and then has to rack his brains to remember precisely what the f lies he’s given me were made of. And yet this off-the-cuff conveyor belt keeps churning out fish-magnets. Something of a mobile f ly emporium, when Ally and his wares show up at Glenbervie, I’m told, it’s like the tinkle of an approaching ice cream van in a heatwave. He sticks to local stillwaters, because he never got round to learning to drive (“I was always being offered lifts...”). He f ishes a 30 -year-old, thirt y quid reel and when I ask him if he’s on email, just before we part, he replies - “What’s that?”. A ll of which merely enhances what I’ve already picked up on. The uncontrived rebel we like to think simmers inside all of us is standing right in front of me. Maverick Seven years ago, I reviewed the f ilm Rivers ofaLostCoast (TF423), a lament for a lost fisher y in the American north-west, which featured an angling maverick called Bill Schaadt. In the middle of the last centur y, when tackle industr y endorsements were in their infancy and the only ‘ambassadors’ lived in embassies, Schaadt decided to make f ishing his life regardless. Retreating from the suburban rat race, he set up home in a trailer in the junkyard around his house (which he partially dismantled, to avoid property ta x), tapped into a neighbour’s electricit y supply (whether or not by invitation is unclear), and f ished relentlessly and remorselessly. Here, any resemblance to Ally Bruce ends, for not only has the retired factor y worker put a shift in, but I think I see enough of him in my visit to Glenber vie to know that hogging a hotspot from dawn to darkness ala Schaadt just isn’t his st yle. As men immersed in their subject to the abandonment of convention, though, I see certain parallels, even if that shared obsession drove them in opposite directions: Schaadt towards a hard-nosed single-mindedness that made him some enemies, Bruce to a chilled-out place of contentment where the process of fishing has come to matter more than the outcome. He ambles around the Stirlingshire loch, his f ishing philosophy emerging in gradual instalments, like drips from a tap. “I’ve been told to ask you about your f lies,” I gently prompt, and his uncertainty as to what I need from him begins to clear. His aversion to indicators, of which I’d been forewarned, turns out not to be a superiorit y thing. Whenever f ly f ishing reaches a fork in the road, A lly just happens to prefer the route signposted ‘Harder’, leaving ‘Easier’ to become gridlocked with ever yone else. Finding a compromise between f ly, water and gravity interests him rather more than sticking a bit of plastic on his leader. “If something of a certain size is catching f ish, I’m looking to go down to the next-smallest size,” he explains. “It’s the challenge. I get bored with size 12s and
14s and I decided the only thing I can do is go smaller. “I might have two fish when other guys have had 19 or 20 but that doesn’t matter to me any more.” I suddenly think of those anglers I’ve seen, rooted to the same spot for hours, their appetite unsated either by their f irst 10 f ish, the next 10, or the 10 after that. They seem a little grey in comparison. There’s something unfettered about a man whose lifetime catch quota was met some time ago. He’s more inclined to be an experimenter, probing for successful longshots in a f lybox, when others seek only the nailed-on ‘bankers’. You couldn’t imagine Numbers Man turning up at nearby Burnhouse Fisher y, for example, and f ishing bare hooks just to see if they worked, but A lly Bruce has. And they did. “I don’t put f lies on to catch f ish,” he announces. “I put f lies on to tr y and catch f ish.” That comment passed me by initially, but seeing it in black and white, I suddenly realise it’s rather profound. The natural tendency is to go for a f ly that’s previously made a statement. Ally goes for one that asks a question. He doesn’t care if it has no track record; he’s just curious to see if he can help it start one.
Nod to the past
He’s not out to re-write f ly t y ing histor y, it should be said. A f ly t yer since he was 14 , many of his patterns nod to the
“...a chilled-out place of contentment where the process of fishing has come to matter more than the outcome.”
household names of the f ly bench, but after that he adds whatever twist he sees fit, such as a bloodworm pattern with the clump of foam at its head, or a Shipman’s Buzzer, with a body and trademark filaments shaggier than a Highland cow. As for the super-small f ly obsession, chalk that one down to that renowned Scottish thrift, maybe. “I cheat a wee bit, because if someone asks me to tie f lies for them, any thing that’s left over I just shove on a hook for my own use,” he explains. “That’s the beauty of small hooks – leftovers are more than enough… “I don’t use a lot of fancy stuff. I started off with Fritz but as I got older I became more ‘fur and feather’. I’m not interested in Fritz now, or bits of elastic hanging off hooks. People just assume that materials get out of date. I use traditional stuff, but with maybe a glint of something.” He likes his foam, even if he foregoes any attempt to style it around the hook-eye, simply leaving a folded-over strip to jut from the upper shaft, like Quasimodo’s hump. As you’ll see from the opening photograph, once a nice brownie has taken one such pattern, decked in appropriately autumnal shades (I’m not entirely surprised to learn that it doesn’t have a name) and then a rainbow pounces on a similarly humpy Sedge, it would appear that there are no prof ile issues as far as the f ish are concerned. While he’s not so hopeless a romantic that he won’t stick something larger on when absolutely necessar y, Bruce’s face is an understandable mixture of horror and awe back at the lodge, when he points out the kind of f luff y monstrosity he normally avoids. When you’re used to tying size 24s, a Zonker must look like a creature from Jason and the Argonauts. “Tying something like those… they would look massive to me,” he affirms. “I’m used to 14/0 threads where most people use 6/0. That adds too much bulk to the hook for me. “I use a magnif ier when I’m t y ing. It’s funny; I can hardly tie the line on to the f ly yet I can be walking along and I’ll spot f lies on the f loor. I just see things…” The magnif ier isn’t his only accommodation of the ‘micro’ genre. Some of his f lies are tied on carp hooks because of their generous eye, and so despondent did he look in Glasgow Angling Centre a few years ago that someone approached him to ask if he was a ll r ight. “I was despairing of ever f inding fluorocarbon that was fine enough for this
type of fly but still wouldn’t break ,” Ally recalls. “They brought out some Nomura leader that I was able to slide through the eye of a size 20 hook and the breaking strain of that was 10lb. “Apart from that, I find I can get leader up to 6lb that still has a narrow enough diameter, but you have to be careful how you play your fish.” [see the acompanying panel, Light Entertainment]
Pick your moments
You must also pick your moments, when your offerings are so small. Today, A lly settles for six f ish, whereas in May or June he says could have had 30, although I suspect he offers the latter number on a purely theoretical basis. Even today’s haul has disappointed him slightly. It should have only been f ive. “See what I’ve done with it,” he says, extracting the Sedge from the rainbow’s jaws and holding up to me. “I’ve pushed the point in slightly: it’s supposed to make it harder to hook the f ish...” He’d like the idea kicking around in the States at the moment, I suggest. Hookless f ly f ishing; where anglers content themselves with deceiving fish without catching them [See WadingIn, TF 497]. His demeanour Iights up as he mulls this prospect over. “Aye, I could do that. You can get this clear, 0.6mm tubing – I’ve been thinking of snipping off a short section and just slipping it over the hook point…” If his ghost has been with us, I suspect this is the point at which Bill Schaadt f loats off and begins slowly banging his head against a tree. Free spirits come in many varieties, and not ever yone will ‘get’ the A lly Bruce version. But I do.
“See what I’ve done with it? I’ve pushed the point in slightly: it’s supposed to make it harder to hook the fish...”
Stenhousemuir angler David Blair netted this superb tiger trout.
Ally stil swears by his 30-year-old Leeda LC100 reel. A few fly ‘standards’ tweaked at the Bruce vice. He pushes the point in slightly to increase the challenge....
Relax, Health & Safety devotees: those power lines are further away than they look...
You immerse yourself in Nature and in go the earphones. Why, young people, why...? Ally keeps a cautious distance between him and the lures cabinet. A rich diversity of headwear at the loch’s bottom end.
A stickleback ponders life expectancy in the Glenbervie margins.
ALLY’SGLENBERVIESET-UP Floating line 15ft of 6lb leader Klinkhamer variant
Proof’s in the pudding: Ally works through his extensive fly portfolio.