Let’s see if THIS WORKS...

Trout Fisherman (UK) - - Tactics -

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.

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