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This year has been a bumper one for perch fry. Peter Gathercole ties one up for the back end fry frenzy
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“When trout are hitting the fry, all manner of big flashy lures can work well.”
IF you’re a reservoir angler it’s about now you ask the same question you asked last year and probably the years before that. The question is: “will this be a good fry year and will the trout feed on them?” We often talk in excited tones about years gone by when fry-feeding trout produced spectacular sport. Times when big rainbows and browns corralled the teeming shoals of small fish against harbour walls and weedbeds, sending fry spraying in all directions to escape their attack. Well, those with experience know that all too often this much-anticipated phenomenon simply doesn’t happen. Sometimes not at all, other times it starts, carries on for a week or two, then fizzles out for no apparent reason. But this year could just be a bumper one. While I’m loathe to make a prediction, what does bode well is that it seems to have been a very good breeding year for perch. The harbours of many reservoirs are already packed with small perch around two inches long – the perfect size for a big, hungry trout. The thing about perch is they seem quite prone to disease and as autumn turns into winter they can die off in large numbers. As they become weakened, they make an easy meal for the trout – triggering a spell of intense fry feeding. There are two main ways of tackling fry feeders. One is the static approach where the fly is cast into areas of fry-feeding activity and simply left for the fish to find. Or, a more mobile one where the fly is cast out and retrieved at varying depths depending on how active the trout are. Both tactics can be very effective. The skill is deciding which one is best. When trout are hitting the fry, all manner of big flashy lures can work well. Marabou patterns such as the Humungus can be quite deadly, as can fry imitations based on rabbit and mink fur. On our reservoirs, the main prey species along with the perch are roach, sticklebacks and occasionally bream. Each varies in size and colour and to be most effective this needs to be reflected in the patterns we use. For general fry imitations, plain white, grey or brown fur work particularly well. Black fur can also work well though my two favourites are grey and brown. If perch are predominantly on the trout’s menu then there’s always the option of using one of the various barred zonker rabbit strips that are available. One other similar fur, and one that I’m surprised is not used that often, is pine squirrel. The tan skins are soft and supple and have quite short hair – certainly no longer than that of mink. They are available in a range of colours, the most useful for fry imitations being plain brown and dyed olive and either pre-cut into strips or left intact for the tyer to cut as desired. In this state the rabbit strip is either plain or dyed a variety of base colours with a dark barring applied – one that provides a good representation of the markings on a real perch. While the Minkie has become increasingly popular, a good old-fashioned Rabbit Zonker also works well, especially when a large fly is needed. Fix the hook in the vice, then apply close turns of lead wire along the hook shank. Even when it’s wet, a rabbit strip wing has a parachute effect so to get the fly to sink some extra weight needs to be added. With the lead wire fixed in place using strong white tying thread, take a pinch of pink Lite-Brite and tease out the fibres to form a slim bunch. Catch the Lite-Brite in at the bend at its midpoint then fold it over and secure it with thread. To complete the tail, pinch the fibres short using a thumbnail. You can cut the Lite-Brite to length but pinching it off creates a softer, natural looking effect. Next take a large pinch of pearl green Lite-Brite. LiteBrite comes in a number of subtle pearl effects including plain, pearl blue and pearl green – all of which can best be observed as the material is moved back and forth in the light. All work well producing a wonderful sparkle but the green version is particularly suitable when tying a perch imitation. Offer the Lite-Brite up to the thread then twist it to form a thick rope. Twist the front even further to form a point then wind on two turns at the tail base to lock the Lite-Brite to the hook. Now, as the dubbing is twisted without releasing it the rope will become thinner and tighter at which point it is wound along the hook shank in touching turns. The aim is to produce a slim fish shape and applying the dubbing in this way achieves this as well as allowing it to be teased out later without gaps. Once three-quarters of the hook shank has been covered, take a length of rabbit fur cut as a Zonker strip still on the skin. This strip can either be cut from a patch using a scalpel blade or purchased pre-cut. In this case a barred olive strip is being used to suggest the natural markings of a perch, though other colours both barred and plain may be used. As rabbit hair is relatively long it works best when tying large patterns – those in excess of two inches long. For smaller flies, mink strip works best or indeed pine squirrel but whichever type of fur strip you are using the same technique applies. Although fur strip can be secured in place like other types of hair or marabou, my preferred method is to first catch it in so that it projects over the hook eye. The reason is that by folding it back over itself, a round profile like a fish’s head is created. It might seem a tricky method but after a couple of goes I’m sure you’ll master it. So take a length of rabbit zonker strip and catch it in upside down at the eye. Fix it in place with tight thread turns then cover the end with more dubbed Lite-Brite, taking it right up to the eye. So with the strip fixed in firmly, pull it back over the body then cast off thread with a whip finish behind the eye. While this version of the Zonker is tied with minimal weight it can be made to sink faster by adding heavy dumbbell eyes. If this is your aim then these can either be added right at the beginning when the lead wire was applied or now before the wing is tied in. Reattach the thread at the base of the tail then stretch the fur strip over the top of the body. Moisten the fur slightly then divide the fibres at the point that coincides with the tail base. Moistening the fur helps to expose the bare skin and also keeps the fibres out of the way for the next step, which is to secure the strip with the thread. Apply four or five turns then cast off the thread with a whip finish before trimming off the loose end. While the fur is still moist, run a drop of Superglue into the thread turns then allow it to harden fully before going on to the next stage. Stroke the hair back into place then draw the loose hairs at the head back away from the eye. Apply a small amount of Superglue or one of the UV cure resins around the top and sides of the hair to hold it place. Next apply a drop of Superglue to either side of the body and apply an epoxy or a simple decal eye to either side of the head. For this, a thicker gel-type Superglue works best as it holds more securely. Do not try and use just UV cure resin as this relies on UV light to harden it and the opaque eye prevents this happening. Add UV cure resin or clear varnish over the eyes and allow to harden fully, the final step being to tease out the fibres of Lite-Brite using a dubbing brush or a piece of velcro to blend the fibres into the wind and increase the overall sparkle.