Some marry into money, others marry into free fly dressings. Beneficiary and Flymasters champion Brian Dawson extols bare hooks and bathtime while chatting to TF’s Jeff Prest
Jeffrey Prest meets a top fly-tyer at Aldin Grange fishery to discuss all things fishy!
DO you stop for roadkill?” It’s my watershed question for fly-tyers, designed to separate the hobbyist from the obsessive, but Brian Dawson swerves it with aplomb. “No need: my son-in-law was a gamekeeping instructor and still runs a shoot...” Which means that Brian gets his mallard shoulder feathers for nothing, has more pheasant tail colours than he can shake a bodkin at and never wants for deer fur. “My son-in-law definitely stops for roadkill,” he proudly assures me. It’s not just his family bearing gifts today. Stars have finally aligned to enable me to meet up with him at his local water, Durham’s Aldin Grange, and present him with the framed photograph of a Flexi Olive Damsel, one of the flies that made him our 2016-17 Flymasters champion. He triumphed in three of the 13 challenges set by Fly Dressers’ Guild chairman and TroutFisherman contributor, Peter Gathercole, and featured six times in the Best of the Rest category. “Ingenious” and “crackingpattern”, the hard-to-please Gathercole opined on the Flexi Olive Damsel [ TF 497] which incorporated a body of furled rubber strands, interwoven like rope. No mean trick among the over-50s, 73-year-old Brian reveals an ability to straddle different generations, embracing innovation without giving up on what already works. “I think old patterns will outlast the new,” he explains. “A lot of the new materials are based around stocked fish and getting as many as you can, as fast as you can, but the old patterns will always take fish because they look like what fish feed on, [which is especially important] once fish have gone resident.
“You’ll still get some on flashy materials, because the only way they can check something is to take it in their mouths. I’ve got every colour of Fritz there is: you tie them, but it’s rare I fish them.” He has to think about his answer when I ask about flydressing ‘game-changers’. “It used to be all game bird feathers but some of the modern artificial materials are for the better; some for the worse...” He gives an honourable mention to Hends Ice Dub in helping his designs to stand out, and also to foam; ultra-buoyant but not at the expense of imitation. He began fishing at 14, and marital serendipity – not for first time – blessed him some years later. “My father-in-law was a member of Witton Gilbert Angling Club, “he recalls. “I’d stopped fishing when I started courting, but that got me back into it! “I joined and started fishing for brownies with fly and worm. I then joined Durham AC, did a lot of coarse fishing but also fished the River Wear for trout. They were great days - big spring olive hatches, March browns; sedges crawling all over you on a May night. Fantastic. “Then the reservoirs opened and I fished Derwent, Kielder and gradually I got into competition fishing.”
When the sparkly abundance of today’s fly shops and catalogues readily evoke childhood memories of sweetshops, it’s sobering to hear what got him into fly-tying, 40 years ago. “Necessity. Commercially-available flies of any quality were so hard to get back in the 1970s,” he remembers. “Commercial flies could be over-dressed, so I had to tie to get what I wanted, certainly when I was trying to get an edge for the comps.” The productivity demands of match fishing may explain one of two remarkable gaps in his angling cv. While the more ham-fisted among you will take heart from such an accomplished creator of patterns abandoning all hope of mastering the whip-finish tool (“I must have tried a hundred times and read all the books, but I just finish them by hand now…”) an even more surprising admission is that he’s only fished dry flies for the last two years. “It was all loch-style and lures until then. If I’d known what I know now about the appeal of dry fly fishing, I’d have taken it up long before, back when the rises were fantastic. “When you fish comps, though, if you aren’t fishing a match, you’re practising for the next one. It was pressure, pressure, pressure. I learnt a lot but I didn’t enjoy it. I gave it up when I retired, 11 years ago, and I’m having more fun now than ever.” A former electronic engineer, the problemsolving nature of his work followed him into retirement and informs his inventiveness at the vice. He has no difficulty fashioning order from chaos (“My tying desk is an absolute shambles”) prefers tying in silence rather than to music, and as to whether he finds inspiration more from being by the water than from flydressing books… “Most ideas come when I’m in the bath.” I’ll take that as a ‘yes’.
“The more ham-fisted will take heart from such an accomplished creator of patterns abandoning all hope of mastering the whip-finish tool...”
Jeff Prest Brian receives his Flymasters prize.
Brian works the top lake at Durham city’s Aldin Grange. Our thanks to Aldin Grange Lakes (www.aldingrangelakes.co.uk) – 0191 384 6090 or 0795 783 1711 Another Dawson creation – the Greenwell Emerger.