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
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
“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
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
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
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
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