Fly­mas­ters cham­pion

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

Trout Fisherman (UK) - - Contents -

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.ald­in­grange­ – 0191 384 6090 or 0795 783 1711 An­other Daw­son creation – the Green­well Emerger.

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