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January 2008 – Just one fly

It’s late April, still comparatively early in the trout season, and you turn up to the chalk stream with all of your tackle apart from your fly box. A friendly angler shows you his collection and says you can choose any one of his flies. Just the one, mind - he’s a careful angler.

He’s not going to help you with your choice either and it’s too early in the day to see what might be hatching. Suppose your life depended on catching a trout with that one fly. What might you choose?

I have been thinking on this for a few days now, ever since I had an invitation
to fish in a British version of the One Fly event that is held every year in the US. The UK event is being organised on seven prime beats of the River Test by Simon Cooper who runs Fishing Breaks, a Hampshire-based agency that handles chalk stream beat bookings.

Simon has fished in the US event, held over two days in September at Jackson Hole in Wyoming, when 160 anglers compete in 40 teams. The novel rule for this competition is that each angler is allowed only one fly for the duration of the event although they may choose the fly with which they will fish.

“I went one year and a woman who was fishing from a boat lost her fly on the very first cast. You can imagine the sinking feeling you have when that happens,” says Simon.

I can imagine it well. Some anglers have special skills. Mine is losing flies. I can be fishing in a treeless landscape and still lose flies. Sometimes I wonder if they just fly away.

But that’s not going to happen in April. I aim to be prepared. Consulting fellow anglers on the Salisbury and District Angling Club forum there was a strong consensus around the Elk hair caddis or perhaps a hawthorn fly.

They are both excellent choices but I’m minded to go for a black Klinkhammer emerging caddis. The Klinkhammer was invented by a Dutch angler, Hans Van Klinken, to catch grayling.

It’s a versatile fly because it can be fished in the surface film, imitating an emerging fly. It’s a sort of “best of both worlds” fly with a cornet-shaped tuft that sits on the surface and a thorax that hangs beneath. It’s not supposed to sink but if you don’t apply much floatant, well, anything can happen.

Had it been around at the time, I wonder how the Klinkhammer might have influenced the great debate over the legitimacy of upstream nymphing, promoted by G E M Skues in his 1910 book, Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream? The way that Skues divided opinion in chalk stream fishing must seem faintly absurd to those who have never explored the conventions of the upstream dry fly approach laid down by Frederic Halford in the late 19th century.

But those long-established chalk stream traditions are challenged at our peril. No-one wants to do the wrong thing. I’ve just been told, however – surprisingly - that nymphs will be allowed so a fly that can do both jobs might make a sound choice.

In the US competition, competitors have found ways of bending the rules by tying a bigger fly around a smaller fly and then, sort of “taking its jacket off” if appropriate. Naturally this has caused some controversy.

Another consideration is the tippet – the fine end of the leader that attaches to the fly. It needs to be slender but also strong. I will probably go for a 5 or 6lb Riverge fluorocarbon at the end of my line, something that might give me a fighting chance of unsnagging a carelessly presented fly from an overhanging tree.

While worrying about the right choice, I’m finding the concept of a single fly attractive, particularly for someone like me who does not always take the greatest care in his approach. A single fly demands that we keep an eye out for potential obstacles.

You must have watched one of those cowboy films where a posse is sneaking up on some sleeping desperados and one of the deputies snaps a twig that pierces the still prairie air like a thunderclap. Well I’m a natural twig-snapper.

The careful, gentle approach that is a given for all good trout fishers, cannot be neglected if we don’t want to let the side down. My problem is that it usually takes me a while to relax when I reach the river. Added to that is the anxiety created by a fear of losing my fly, so really I have no chance. At least when the worst happens, I’m assured I shall be allowed to continue fishing, but the potential for scoring further points will have been lost.

“It should be fun,” says Simon before adding that he is making me a team captain along side some illustrious anglers and writers such as Charles Jardine and John Bailey, and Andrew Flitcroft, editor of Trout and Salmon magazine. Oh yes, they will all be fishing for fun – the fun of winning.

Incidentally if you were planning to enter this year’s Jackson Hole event and you have not already submitted your team, it’s too late. The closing date for applications has passed. But there’s another “one fly” competition in the Marlborough region of New Zealand in March. It’s tempting to enter all of them. You only need one fly.

The UK One Fly competition - details can be obtained from Simon Cooper, email: [email protected] or tel: 01264 781988.

See also: Grayling fishing

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