All things being equal (they never are, of course) a wet fly artfully presented to a rising trout is just as exciting as a dry fly that hugs the surface film in expectation. Although many regard the dry fly as the apogee of fly-fishing, for me the skilful presentation of a team of wet flies three metres upstream to a rise elicits the same rising excitement and momentary stoppage of time. We draw breath, ‘one, two three…’ and lift! The rod finds weight and we are into a nice trout.
It is no coincidence that the dark rain fed streams that I frequent gave rise to small, dark and sparse flies fished wet. My streams are of north-west England; rain fed, broken and often dark. As far back as I can trace, four centuries, my family has inhabited the regions from the Scottish Borders of the North-East to Cumbria and Galloway in the North-West.
‘North Country’ flies, as they have become known since the time of Pritt, perfectly fit the conditions that are found. It is this ‘ready-to-hand’ aspect that draws the appreciative look of the fly-tying cognoscenti. To overdress such a fly is to misunderstand that it is its sparseness that is part of its appeal. Parsimony, perhaps reflecting the character of northern people, characterises the style of fly-tying. Just enough is best. Any more is not only wasteful but less effective. Less is more. This parsimony also extends to the selection of fly material. Feathers were often ‘re-purposed’ from dead birds found in the countryside. ‘Making do’ has always been a necessity of a people that relied on scarce resources.
In this country of hill, river and stream colour tends to the average of a blue-grey. There is a word for this: ‘Blae’. Like the clouds reflected on water, Blae can be as dark and blue as the feather of an inky blue-black jackdaw, or as light and brown as the under wing covert of an English partridge. And anything in-between: hen blackbird, moorhen, mallard, teal, coot, snipe, woodcock, grouse and starling; each prized by the fly-tier not only for its ‘blae-ness’ but also for the size of feather, the softness of feel and, historically, easy availability. Like my attraction to black and white photography, I am drawn to these shades of blue-grey.
One of my favourite patterns for the early season is the Waterhen Bloa:
- Hook: size 14 or 16 short shank fine wire
- Thread: waxed primrose Pearsalls silk (no. 3)
- Dubbing: hint of mole
- Hackle: darker blu-grey marginal covert from the bow of the wing of a Waterhen (or Starling substitute).
Other favourites include Woodcock and Hare’s Lug, Poult Bloa, Snipe and Purple, Dark Watchett and, if I am on the upper reaches of the Clyde in May or June, the Sandfly.