Posts Tagged ‘Paddy Coleman’

The Fish

January 5, 2013

The Fish Head

The stuff of dreams, or nightmares.

When you close your eyes at night do you dream of a fish? I mean a particular fish which haunts your slumbers, thoughts of which perhaps awake you with a furrowed and sweated brow. A fish which occasionally glints in the sunlight of your subconscious mind and fades into the shadows of your dreams, drifting away once more, uncatchable and mysterious?

I have such a fish, a trout which has me striking myself awake, twitching in the piscatorial equivalent of the “falling dream”. On the Cinemascope newsreel of the netherworld which plays endlessly in my mind through the dark hours she comes to torment me. The fly alights, swings quietly in the current, keeping pace with the bubbles, not a hint of drag. The amorphous shadow hiding under the bankside vegetation swings slowly on the current, venturing out of its shaded lair from beneath the protective curtain of overhanging herbage, tempted out by a perfect presentation. She rises in a languid swirl, the pace of the rise further indication of her size, the sun catching her spotted flanks in the clear and bronze coloured water as the fly disappears. In my mind I steal my nerves, delaying the moment of response, synapses jangling “hold, hold, hold….. strike”… Nothing, not the singing line of the poets, not the erotic bouncing of a tensioned rod tip or the sensuous buzzing of a straining reel, just air and disappointment. The disappointment which settles over me like a dark cloud as I awaken, ill-tempered and fevered as the dream, or nightmare, melts.

The trouble is that this fish doesn’t only exist in my mind, she is real, she is flesh and blood and inhabits a tricky little backwater on a local stream. I first found her on Christmas Day two years back and even then she was large, larger than average by a goodly margin, twenty inches at least and tucked under the bank where most anglers would remain ignorant of her presence.

On that day she was tucked behind a curtain of overhanging branches, just up from a tricky little riffle which made drag free presentations near impossible. Her throne room is guarded on one side by a large boulder and on the other by an inconvenient tuft of grasses which loiters with intent on the stream, ready to grab the fly of an errant cast. When the water is up a little, as it was on that Christmas morning, she need not venture out from behind her curtain, the current brings food right along the bankside in a neatly defined bubble line which allows her to remain undetected and out of reach.  She was rising regularly on that occasion, the ebbing rings revealing her presence for anyone watching carefully and just occasionally she would move sufficiently far from the shade for the sun to catch her silvered flank.  I couldn’t get a fly in under the bush, it proved impossible despite attempts from various angles and I eventually put her down when I hooked the greenery above her head.

A year passed and each time I ventured to that section of water I would seek her out, I didn’t see her until recently when she was there again. With the water a few inches lower the flow forced her on occasion to move just fractionally further from her hidey hole to feed and I had an opportunity. I have made that cast in my mind’s eye over and over for twelve months or more and was ready. The fly went out, paused momentarily in the flow and just before the inevitable drag set in, the line catching on the faster current of the intervening riffle; she rose and inhaled the fly. I struck and hooked my prize, she was indeed huge by local standards and a brief battle ensued before, as I readied the net, the hook pulled from her jaw and I was left to sit deflated on the boulders. I knew then that there were more nightmares coming, that she would continue to haunt my dreams, that opportunities to remedy the error and see her in the net would come seldom if ever again.

Then just recently I was on the same stretch with a client, one can view the water on the walk down to the start of the beat and I was able to point out the spot where my nemesis resided. Indeed we studied the flow from on high, planning an attack should she show herself; studying the currents and the obstructions in readiness should opportunity present itself later in the day.

We enjoyed a great morning’s fishing, some fish caught and some missed, not a lot of surface activity but fish willing to come to the dry if well-presented and after a number of hours of wading and fishing upstream we reached the designated spot. We sat and watched, and eventually she showed, drifting out from the bank just sufficiently for the sun to catch her scales and reveal her presence. She was feeding, although not breaking the surface, but we selected a dry fly, throwing a nymph close to that tangle of brush was a recipe for disappointment if not disaster.
Paddy, the client, made a few practise casts aiming short and finally made the throw; as soon as the fly alighted I was sure that it was on line and sufficiently close to the bush to tempt her. A flash of sunshine on her tail, a shout of “she’s coming, she’s coming” , the rise and the strike….. once again just air. We tried further with changes of fly and even risking the nymph eventually but she wasn’t up to make the same mistake twice and eventually disappeared to who knows what invisible retreat.

PaddyPaddy and a reminder of previous successes, a nice trout but not
“The Fish”. 😦

Now she doesn’t only haunt my dreams but Paddy’s too, we can both now waken in a cold sweat, nerves jangling and disappointment in our hearts. Of course that is fishing, it’s the ones that get away that you really remember, but I am going to have to net her at some point to break her spell.  I know that if I don’t catch her, before she disappears for ever, she will lay waste my dreams, trouble my mind like a lost love affair and I shall take images of her spotted flanks glinting in the sunshine to my grave.

It can be a bitter-sweet thing this fishing lark, and whilst one doesn’t wish to take it too seriously most of the time, there are occasions when perhaps success takes on the guise of medical necessity. I need to catch that fish for my own sanity to return and for my dreams to remain untroubled, if I can take a picture perhaps and send it on to Paddy I can offer him some respite from his disturbed sleep too.

It is perhaps a measure of her hold on me that this post was written at two o’clock in the morning, but mostly it isn’t about furrowed brows and troubled dreams but the joy of fishing, the pleasure of great friends and clients like Paddy and the wonders of a natural world which we all too often take for granted. Even as nightmares go this one is better than reminiscences of being caught in traffic. 🙂


What about the HOOK?

November 11, 2009

What about that hook?

Selectivity, hooks and smart fish?


This post sponsored by Inkwazi Fly Fishing Safaris

My very good friend, client and general pontificator of things piscatorial, Paddy Coleman, recently raised a very valid point about flies, selectivity and supposedly “educated” trout.

He told me that whilst he would accept the idea that drag was a no no in terms of fly presentation, he couldn’t hold to the idea that trout became educated to the degree that they would “remember” or “refuse” flies based on past experience. Suggesting that were it the case,  the hook would be a dead giveaway to a cerebrally sophisticated trout. “What about the hook”?  Paddy expressed it with the addition of a brief and powerful, if perhaps not entirely socially acceptable, expletive but the message is clear and it he raises a valid point. If fish are so smart, why do they not shy away from the hook?

Exact Imitation and its limitations.

No matter what you do, the hook of course is the downfall of the “exact imitation brigade” because real insects don’t have them, although you could argue that the odd midge pupa is a pretty close copy.

In trout angling the acceptance of the idea that trout are smart and close imitations are required is widely accepted. In fact to the point that it is rarely even questioned, but is it true, sensible or even effective to work along the lines of close copy imitations if they have, by default a metal spike sticking our of their nether regions?

Given that we are talking about a creature with a brain the size of a pea it seems unlikely that trout are capable of such distinction, on the other hand, if we all find the little blighters so difficult to fool at times it behooves us to imagine that they are pretty darn clever. So what’s the answer? To be honest I really don’t know, in fact I don’t even know what it is that makes fish take our imitations at the best of

It often strikes me that it is normal that one can see one’s own fly on the water, but frequently in a hatch situation you cannot actually see the “real thing” even then. So our imitations are obviously not that exact there being a quantifiable degree of difference, even at a cursory glance between the angler’s imitation and the real thing.

So how much of an issue is the hook, and is it worth going to extreme effort to hide or disguise it?

Truth be told the hook sticking out of your carefully tied imitation is an anathema, surely if the trout are so picky then they would “Wise Up” to the presence of the hook and quickly become uncatchable?

More to the point, if there was a simple and effective way of tying flies upside down, we would more than likely use them; if not indeed use them exclusively. There have been myriad attempts at getting the hook out of the water and therefore hopefully out of the trout’s gaze..

Various attempts to overcome this problem

The “USD” (Upside Down) Dun:

Goddard and Clarke in their excellent book “The Trout and the Fly” designed and “built” the USD dun, a wonderfully realistic upside down fly with curved wings of cut hen hackle, cleverly fashioned parachute at the “bottom”, read top, of the hook and absolutely nothing to give the trout a hint that all was not well. At the time it was hailed as a breakthrough but the darn things are so troublesome to manufacture that they have fallen out of favour to the point that I couldn’t find an image of one on the internet.. Although a close resemblance can be found in this pattern. Where the wing has been replaced with polyyarn or similar.


An upside down (USD) pattern, similar to Goddard and Clarke's original. Image courtesy of

The Funnel Dun

The simplest version of an upside down dun fly was created by Niel Patterson as the “funnel dun”, this pattern uses the same hackle as regular Catskill tied or Halfordian creations, but it is forced into a cone or funnel shape, combined with the tail being tied markedly around the bend of the hook the fly has a distinct propensity to land “the wrong way up” thereby “hiding the hook point”. It is certainly much simpler to manufacture than Goddard and Clarke’s pattern, but I have to confess it lacks aesthetic appeal to my eye. (I have a soft spot for fishing with pretty looking flies I’m afraid).

The Funnel Dun, Image courtesy of


Waterwisp ® Flies

Then the most modern, and I am given to believe patented process of the Waterwisp patterns, flies tied using the bend of the hook as the post of a parachute hackle. The real innovation being simply that the hook eye is bent in line with the shank allowing the tyer to put the hook, eye first into the vice.


Waterwisp patterns, courtesy of

One has to admire the innovation, although one suspects that these flies are not in wide use, and there are comments that the hook up rates are relatively poor compared to more standard imitations.

So what does all of that prove? Not a lot, that fish might be smarter than we think? Or maybe not so, it certainly does demostrate that anglers are a pretty thoughtful and inventive bunch and I am sure it would be fun to keep experimenting.

Still, thankfully the majority of fish don’t seem to be bothered by the hook and even Goddard and Clarke commented that they reserved their upside down (USD) patterns for “difficult or more educated fish”.

Watch out for the next post, I am going to flex my brains a little and explore some thoughts on selectivity, but then again I have been wrong before..