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Floating flies


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Of floating flies there is such an immense variety that the beginner in the art of dry- fly fishing must be perplexed and discouraged, when he is confronted by the almost endless array of patterns laid out for his inspection in the tackle-shop.

He cannot tell what to accept and what to reject; he may not know which specimens represent living insects and which are copies of purely Imaginary flies. He is at a loss, and is forced to ask advice from the dealer. The latter will say regarding a particular pattern either that it is a good killer or that he sells a lot of it, one of which is perfectly true, for there are only two types of dry-fly, viz. one which appeals to fish, and one which attracts fishers.

The unfortunate beginner is therefore not assisted much towards a selection, and probably acquires a large stock, the majority of which he will never use.

The hosts of flies which are at home on our rivers, or pay them unpremeditated and un do tired visits, have all been more or less faithfully counterfeited; but not content with these, some anglers have set their ingenuity to work, given their imagination free scope, and designed flies unlike anything in nature. The products of their skill are artistic creations very pleasing to the eye of the inexpert, who is charmed with the neatness of the workman ship, delighted with the colour scheme, and is apt to feel that at last he has within his reach the means which will render impossible an empty creel.

On putt m g to the test any one of his possessions, no matter how much it differs from any known insect, lie will find that, provided, he has oiled It and has not selected a day during which the trout have unanimously resolved to abstain from food, it will bring him at least a little sport, for the simple reason that the fish will see the fly on the surface, the place where they expect to see flies.

Almost any combination of silk and feather which floats will deceive a fish or two; but that fact, instead of justifying the invention of new patterns, shows its utter futility. A copy of the fly that is on the water, or was there yesterday, or would be if the conditions permitted, will prove far more acceptable than the most ingenious improvement upon nature ever designed, and therefore one who has little knowledge of dry-fly fishing should re strict himself to a few patterns such as are described below. When he becomes expert he will find them adequate for all his requirements.

We shall deal in the first place with the Ephemeridae. As these flies of the upright wing exist in two distinct winged states, the sub-imago or dun, and the imago or spinner, it would appear almost necessary to have four artificials for each species in order that the two sexes in each state may be represented. If such detail were essential for every species, then the total number of patterns required by the angler would be formidable. As a matter of fact, however, many species exhibit only minute differences, and the sexes of the same species show so little variation in general appearance that the trout of the streams we have fished have not yet learned to distinguish between them. Their brethren of other rivers and countries may be more discriminating, but for some years to come, even on the most frequented Scottish waters, a copy of the female fly, dim and spinner, will satisfy the trout and all anglers, except the ultra-purist.

It is as impossible as it is unnecessary to manufacture an exact imitation of any fly. Can we ever hope to obtain anything even remotely approaching the soft, delicate, segmented body of the dun, the quivering, iridescent wing of the spinner? Can we give any artificial the tremulous movement of the living fly? Does not every capture we effect show that the trout must have ignored, though it could not have failed to see, the indispensable addition of hook-bend and barb? Will a fish over look such a conspicuous attachment and object to some slight error in shade or size?

In an artificial fly we must content ourselves with a superficial resemblance to the real insect, a suggestion rather than a facsimile. There is no reason why we should not strive to attain perfection, even though we know that much less will suffice. We can aim at eradicating obvious defects; but as long as a hook must be present we cannot eliminate them all, and therefore it seems superfluous to provide copies of male and female of the same species when the difference between them is so insignificant.

The artificial sub-imago is usually dressed with double wings; that is to say, the wings are composed of four folds of feather, not, be it understood, because the natural fly possesses two pairs of wings - one pair is much smaller than the other - but for a totally different reason. A dry-fly built with single wings is, after a few casts and under-water trips, a very different object from what it was when new; the wing is now a collection of individual fibres, and that fact, while it might convert the fly into a very effective spinner, renders it comparatively useless for the purpose for which it was expressly designed.

A fly dressed with double wings lasts for a longer time and accounts for a larger number of trout than one with single wings. After a fish is captured, the fly should be washed, dried, oiled, and dried again - for an absolutely dry fly is at times infinitely superior to all others - and then the fibres of the wing should be gently stroked into position. Such flies are mostly of use in spring and autumn, but on any cold day of summer a fleet of sub-imagines may be seen sailing down the stream, when of course the angler will at once take the hint.

It has been fashionable for a few years to imitate, or rather suggest, the wings of spent spinners by means of hackle-tips fastened on horizontally at right angles to the hook; for some time we contentedly used these extremely delicate lures and spoke in praise of them; but now we consider that there s a serious defect in their construction.

When the female imago has completed its life's work, it falls spent and exhausted on the water; its transparent wings lie spread out, in contact with and flat on the surface. In fact, they are invisible to an angler on the bank, but he will see them easily if he wades out and looks vertically down upon them.

The cock-hackles, which support, as they should, the imitation dim high in the water, cannot, however convenient it might be, accommodate us now by refusing to do likewise with the spent spinner; the wings cannot lie on the surface if the generally recommended cock-hackles are used. A careful application of the floating agent to the body and wings, but not the hackle, might make the fly a much more satisfactory lure; but it is difficult to prevent the liquid spreading to parts where its presence is not desired.

After a fairly long trial we have found a fly dressed in spider-fashion superior to the hackle- point spinner. Such patterns are very effective during the evening rise and also n low water i; summer. The majority of spiders we have seen err in having too much and too long hackle, some of them, March Brown spiders particularly, being excellent miniatures of the brush of a chimney sweep, but very unsatisfactory attempts to imitate a fly.

The conclusions arrived at are that, so far as the Ephemeridae are concerned, the duns should be dressed with double wings and single cock-hackle, the spinners without wings and short, soft hen- hackle.

The hackle of a dry-fly is of extreme importance, because it serves at least two and sometimes three purposes. Not only is it intended to represent the legs of an insect, but it is mainly on the hackle that the dry-fly floats.

Here we have an example of the difficulties attendant on any attempt to produce an exact imitation. The angler imitates a hexapod, but he must give his artificial many more than six feet, or its power to float will be negligible. There is, however, no necessity to go to extremes, and that is precisely what is generally done. The minimum quantity of hackle that will float the fly should be the aim of the fly-dresser; to use more is to detract seriously from the virtues of the lure.

The third purpose of the; hackle is to suggest wings, and very admirably it succeeds, if one may judge by the reception given by trout to the deadly spiders. Some anglers would give the hackle a fourth use; it rectifies a mistake in casting, or overcomes the difficulty they have in so delivering the cast that a winged fly will sit on the water with its wings cocked. They use spiders exclusively, and their trouble ceases to exist.

Simplicity of construction is advisable m a dry- fly. We possess some very elaborate specimens, with bodies divided up into different shades, most wonderful replicas of the sub-imago of the Olive Dun. A nearer approach to an exact imitation is scarcely conceivable, but we are perfectly satisfied that they are not at all superior to a simple pattern We have fished the simple and the complex simultaneously on the cast, giving them alternately the tail position, and at the end of a long trial against the wary trout of Clyde we could not declare either the superior of the other. The basket was by no means empty.

No matter what fly should unexpectedly appear on the water the angler need not be taken unawares. If he will but carry with him a selection of silks and an assortment of hackles he can in a few minutes dress a fly which, while perhaps not a superb example of the fly-tier's art, will yet meet with a ready acceptance from the trout.

Of all the numerous varieties of dry-flies offered to the nimble trout, by far the most popular with Scottish anglers is the redoubtable Green well's Glory. It is an indispensable pattern, useful at any time of the season and often invaluable; probably every angler uses it, while some are with difficulty persuaded to entrust their fortunes to any other. Its mere presence on the cast inspires the confidence which begets success.

Though originally made in imitation of one of the darker Olives, it owes its deadliness, we imagine, to the fact that it bears a superficial resemblance to many duns rather than a striking similarity to any particular species.

In accordance with the earlier method adopted to suggest segmentation, the body is usually of waxed silk closely ribbed with the finest gold wire. For this purpose quill is now almost universally employed, and certainly it succeeds in giving a more life like appearance to a fly. Consequently we have dared to modify the dressing that Canon Greenwell prescribed for his great invention, feeling certain that he also would have used quill for the body of his fly, had that most satisfactory material been known in his day. Experience has amply demonstrated that the alteration is beneficial.

As a general fly, always reliable and often extremely deadly, it has no equals. When rising trout are nowhere in e\idence, and one is forced to " fish the stream," or remain idle, no more profitable fly than the Greenwell Quill, as it may be called, can be laid upon the waters.

Following it closely and challenging its proud position as first favourite is the Medium Olive. Under that heading are classed together several species differing from one another to such a negligible extent that for practical purposes attention to individual characteristics is wholly unnecessary. Fortunately they select for their arrival various periods of the year, and are to be found on practically all waters, so that this fly likewise is of general application and must find a place in the dry-fly box.

Sometimes in spring the angler will encounter a hatch of dark Olives, and then his Greenwells will look after his welfare satisfactorily enough, but a special pattern is desirable. In summer a pale variety appears on many waters in such numbers, moreover, that the angler who is not provided with copies may be left lamenting the loss of a great opportunity. It happens to be one of our particular favourites, for many a fine basket it has brought us on Loch Dochart in July.

We have formed a high opinion of a fly, for the introduction to which we are indebted to G. E. M. Skues, author of Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream. It is named the Rough Olive, and with it we have killed many trout >n every month of the season both on loch and river, the best basket being one of 10 lb. from the Clyde in May. We have never failed with it, and if there is no indication from the waters as to which fly will prove acceptable, we often use it on the cast as an experimental pattern.

For early fishing the March Brown is requisite. It enjoys but a short season, yet, while it is on, it attracts to itself all the attention of the trout, and therefore the angler cannot afford to ignore it. The welcome it receives is rapturous. Some anglers never see it, either owing to misfortune in their choice of day or to the fact that they are timid to venture on the river before the balmy days of May. In either case they miss what is probably the most glorious and thrilling sport of the whole trouting season.

It is good to be on the river in April, there may be one or two days of disappointment, but persistence will surely meet its reward - a strong westerly breeze, sunshine and cloud, and a hatch of the gay March Brown. As the tempting flies are blown before the wind on to the sparkling pool the river awakes from its winter sleep; too long has the surface remained unspread; at length the feast is prepared and the trout rise in glee, splashing over the drifting flies in ecstasy. Soon all is quiet again, but the fish are on the watch, and the artificial, deftly delivered at the tail of the stream, will delude one into thinking that the forerunner of the next shower has arrived.

A really good pattern of March Brown we have not yet seen, and we are not completely satisfied with the dressing recommended below. At the most we manage on1 y one day per annum on the river when this fly is n evidence, and in some seasons we miss it altogether; so that u takes a long time to investigate the qua1'ties of an artificial. Therefore the pattern is still in the experimental stage to a far greater extent than the majority of the others; but nevertheless it will meet with considerable acceptance from the trout. Possibly exactness is even less necessary in a March Brown than in any other fly, for the fish at that season are ravenous, waiting not to inspect - there are too many eager mouths farther down the pool - and they throw themselves upon the floating lure. Perhaps we should not take too much advantage of their impetuous, unreasoning haste; but not far ahead lies the time when they will chasten us with their indifference.

Soon after or even before the March Brown passes away, that ever-welcome tiny atom of the dusky wing, dainty yet hardy, the Iron-Blue Dun, appears. It revels in cold and rain, though it avoids not April sunshine, but later it renders cheerful the most dismal day, and never does greater fortune attend the angler than when a fleet of these miniature representatives of the Ephemerida sets out for a voyage on the river. Some have declared, and we have had reason to believe, that the trout show an unmistakable preference for them by picking them out to the exclusion of even larger duns that may be in company with them on the surface. The flavour of the Iron-Blue must be surpassing sweet.

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