They still work!

Peter Cock­will fishes ‘old-fash­ioned’ wet flies at a rain-sod­den Rib Val­ley lakes

Trout Fisherman (UK) - - Contents -

ONE of the great plea­sures I have is to visit dif­fer­ent fish­eries and, on that ba­sis, you’d think that I’d choose the weather so as to have a de­cent day. Well, that’s a good the­ory, but – as so of­ten in life – things don’t quite work to plan. This re­turn trip to Rib Val­ley’s Mil­len­nium Lake in Hert­ford­shire hit the only day of the pre­vi­ous few weeks when it rained. It re­ally doesn’t mat­ter much as to­day’s wa­ter­proofs are up to the job – the only prob­lem is whether Peter Gather­cole’s cam­eras get fogged up. Some­times I’ve got a plan for the day, although most times it’s a mat­ter of look­ing at a fish­ery and work­ing out tac­tics. To­day I in­tend to ful­fil a prom­ise in one of my re­cent col­umns where I said I’d fish with old­fash­ioned wet flies on a fea­ture day just to prove that they still work.

New­com­ers’ prob­lem

The idea came about when I got to look­ing at some web­sites. Can’t say I’m much good at so­cial me­dia but a re­ally com­mon thread I see is about which fly to use to get re­sults. Most peo­ple who’ve fished for some time will have a favourite pat­tern and that’s al­most al­ways as­so­ci­ated with a favourite style of re­trieve and/or den­sity of line so that most times they’ll get a re­sult. How­ever, that’s not much help for some­one who is rel­a­tively new to fly-fish­ing and I got to think­ing about this be­cause, for starters, there are lit­er­ally thou­sands of fly pat­terns. Ask any­one for a choice of ‘guar­an­teed’ flies and there will likely be a re­ally wide se­lec­tion of pat­terns. Of course, they all work at cer­tain times, and for cer­tain peo­ple, but again that’s no help to a be­gin­ner.

What re­ally mat­ters

I reckon that an aw­ful lot of it is down to pre­sen­ta­tion and con­fi­dence that things are go­ing to come good, so that’s why this is to be a some­what dif­fer­ent day for fly choice. Of course, I have my favourite tac­tics and pat­terns to get re­sults for the cam­era but this time I want to be dif­fer­ent.

John Jones of Bude

In what must seem to be back in the dark ages, I first tied flies when I was just 14 and liv­ing in Cornwall. That’s when a friend of my dad’s took me un­der his wing and taught me about the in­tri­ca­cies of fur, feather, tin­sel and thread. He was John Jones of Bude and a truly great an­gler. I trea­sure a box of his flies which he gave me more years back than I care to re­mem­ber and to­day they are to get a wet­ting.

The Jonah

One of John’s favourite flies was the ‘Jonah’ which has a tail of ma­genta floss, a body of green lurex and a black hen hackle. I put it on as point fly on a 15-foot leader ta­per­ing down to 6lb and, about four feet away, I tie in a drop­per with a lit­tle non­de­script buff pat­tern from his box. Now, if you’ve ever met up with pho­tog­ra­pher Peter Gather­cole and my­self when we are out on a fea­ture day, you’ll know that a con­sid­er­able amount of ban­ter takes place. And this soon starts when Peter – who is the Chair of the Fly Dressers’ Guild (FDG) – sug­gests that I should tie on some­thing more suit­able and get on with the job of catch­ing fish for his cam­era. Two casts later and a nice rain­bow takes the Jonah with gusto! Be­ing the nice guy I am, I re­frain from mak­ing any com­ment and just get the fish net­ted by my pal Ni­cholas so that the pic­tures can be taken. It’s true that any­one can get lucky so now it’s time to prove the tac­tics aren’t a one off. The five-acre lake at Rib Val­ley is roughly rec­tan­gu­lar with an is­land at one end and, with the day be­ing rel­a­tively calm, it’s easy to look for ar­eas of ac­tiv­ity. An early talk with reg­u­lar weekly rod, Dave Thorne from nearby Cheshunt, is a big help as he tells me he’s been do­ing re­ally well at the lodge end but that a week or so back the far left hand bank had been pro­duc­ing the most fish. This is a catch-and-re­lease wa­ter and with enough space for fish to get away from an­glers for a while so it’s not too heav­ily pres­sured.

Buzzer hatch

What some­times hap­pens on these over­cast, wet and quiet days is that there is quite a good buzzer hatch and the rise forms cer­tainly in­di­cate that with lots of ut­terly clas­sic head-and-tail rises. That con­vinces me that my float­ing line set-up with un­weighted flies will be enough to keep the pat­terns up in the top foot or so where the fish are feed­ing. I’ve pre­vi­ously done well along the left bank so that is my next stop. About halfway down there are a few fish show­ing and when one comes up within range, just as I’m about to de­liver a cast, all I have to do is drop the flies in its path. That brings another nice fish to the Jonah pat­tern and my con­fi­dence is now high. I like to try just about ev­ery where on fea­ture days so grad­u­ally end up back near the car park end but on the right side where a nice point gives ac­cess to the is­land

“One of his favourite flies was the Jonah, which has a tail of ma­genta floss, a body of green lurex and a black hen hackle.”

area. It takes a long cast, but nowa­days I of­ten use Hardy’s Hori­zon ta­per and that suits my style so I can cast a long line. Not a lot hap­pens un­til I lift off a bit too early and a fish chases in the drop­per and a lit­tle later the same thing, but to the point fly this time. It’s all too easy when go­ing for dis­tance to not fin­ish each cast prop­erly and that is def­i­nitely my mis­take this time. Peter Gather­cole is us­ing my lighter out­fit, I’m on a 7wt Wraith and he has my 5wt, but pulls a white-based lure for lots of takes, and a cou­ple of good fish through­out the day.

The Peter Ross

I stick with my tac­tics but in def­er­ence to the FDG Chair­man I take another of John’s flies out of his box. This time it’s one of his

ty­ings for the Peter Ross, which is the sym­bol of the FDG and coin­ci­den­tally is the pat­tern I used for my first-ever, fly-caught trout. It’s a happy mo­ment when it takes my next fish, and I think proves my point that the old flies work as well as the new and that all it takes is a bit of con­fi­dence. There’s a lovely patch of sun­shine around mid­day and then we see the clouds gath­er­ing again as a sneaky, cold breeze comes up and that sig­nals the end of ris­ing fish. Log­i­cally, I should change to an in­ter­me­di­ate line to go down a bit to find the fish but it’s now 3pm and with tem­per­a­tures drop­ping the day is just about done. Watch­ing other an­glers dur­ing the day, there are a va­ri­ety of tech­niques and pat­terns be­ing used with most peo­ple catch­ing fish and this, be­ing one of very few fish­eries in the south east area, is clearly a pop­u­lar lo­ca­tion. If only it didn’t mean a four-hour drive each way on the everde­press­ing M25, I could eas­ily be­come a reg­u­lar.

“It’s a happy mo­ment when it takes my next fish, and proves my point that the old flies work as well as the new – all it takes is a bit of con­fi­dence.”

The Jonah (left) and a ver­sion of the Peter Ross (above).

Tough scrap­per. Peter finds the Rib Val­ley rain­bows in lively mood.

Rib Val­ley’s Mil­len­nium Lake has sturdy wooden plat­forms to fish from.

A long-han­dled land­ing net means you don’t have to leave your seat.

Rib Val­ley has steep sided banks and is very pic­turesque.

Ex­pect plump, ful­lyfinned rain­bows from Mil­len­nium Lake. Peter Cock­will chooses another wet fly from John Jones’ box.

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