They still work!
Peter Cockwill fishes ‘old-fashioned’ wet flies at a rain-sodden Rib Valley lakes
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.
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.
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.
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.