March 2007 – Fly-tying,
train spotting and the complete angler
I’m tying flies tonight. Some people enjoy fly-tying.
I associate it with going to the gym: worthy but tedious.
Maybe there will come a day when I will enjoy the fiddly
work of pinching bits of feather and fur on to a tiny hook
with strands of cotton. There is still time.
I offered to host a new fly-tying group at my home. That
was before I discovered that my dining room table was too
thick to accommodate a tying vice. So everyone has to huddle
around the kitchen table instead. Just now that’s
not going to be easy since the kitchen is strewn with dirty
dishes and spilled breakfast cereal.
My wife is ill in bed in a house with four lazy men, each
of whom is congenitally incapable of taking something out
of a cupboard and putting it back. Tonight it is parents’
evening at my youngest son’s school. I feel overwhelmed.
The fly-tyers might just have to fend for themselves.
I appreciate that there is something extremely satisfying
about catching a fish on an imitation fly that you have
created yourself. For some the tying can become an obsession
and an end in itself, producing nothing less than small
works of art.
But I do wonder, and I hesitate to suggest this, since
I have plenty of fly-tying friends, whether fly-tyers share
a similar genetic code to that of train spotters. While
it’s nowhere near as nerdish as standing on the end
of a platform with a duffle bag and a notebook – in
fact a tying class is quite social, almost therapeutic –
tying flies alone can transport the enthusiast far in to
the extremities of introversion.
Straying even further in to this minefield of my own making,
I can’t help thinking that fly-tying doesn’t
seem very manly either. It’s difficult to equate the
raw-in-tooth-and-claw struggle between hunter and beast
with discussions at the weekly fly-tying circle ranging
from the quality of your floss to the length and consistency
of a pheasant feather.
Yet, and this is the paradox of fly-tying, if you never
spend time making your own flies how can you possibly regard
yourself as the complete angler? You might be confident
enough to dismiss this question as bunkum. But I can’t
be alone in feeling somewhat diminished by the triumphant
gift of a beautifully tied fly, expertly selected from his
neatly organised fly-box by a fellow angler in commiseration
at my lack of success.
If you are that angler, I’m the chap you met who
had been fishing all morning with what looked like a dead
slug on the end of his line. Thank you for your generosity.
I hate your guts.
If, on the other hand, you can empathise with the dead
slug experience, you just might be interested in a piece
of equipment that shocked me to the base of my waders when
I discovered it on the web the other week.
It is a device called the Spinhead, developed and marketed
by a Scottish fishing fly business called Grays of Kilsyth*
run by John Gray. The Spinhead has an oval blade, not unlike
that used in a Mepps lure, attached to a rubber sheath that
can be rolled over your salmon fishing fly. At one gram
it is lighter than the Mepps and, unlike the Mepps, it is
designed to be used with a fly rod.
One look at the device raised my hackles to the extent
that I went straight to my blog and dashed off a quick and
condemnatory note, all sound and fury. What followed was
a thrust-and-parry-style exchange of views with Mr Gray
on my blog**. Once upon a time the dispute might only have
been settled by pistols at dawn but, thanks to the wonder
of email, I would like to think it ended reasonably amicably.
In fact I think he has done us all a service because his
device reopens a long-running debate on flies and lures.
As early as 1931 Eric Taverner was writing in his book,
Salmon Fishing, of the “fiction”
of the salmon fly.
In Salmon Fishing, A Practical Guide, Hugh Falkus wrote:
“In the sense that an artifical ‘fly’
is a simulated insect, there is almost no such thing in
Britain as fly-fishing for salmon.”
He went on to say: “Does this mean that salmon fishing
should be a free-for-all; that anglers should be able to
fish any method they wish on any water at any time? Most
The Spinhead is designed to be cast on a fly rod and line.
I have no objection to its use on waters where spinning
is allowed. But what about those waters that have been designated
as fly only? Mr Gray says: “River owners could change
the terms from fly only to “fly rod only”. That
would be the sensible approach.”
I leave the last word with my fishing friend, Drew Short:
“To me the issue is simple. One lure has a flashing
blade the other hasn't; one spins, the other doesn't; therefore
one is spinning and the other is not. A fly is a lure which
does not spin, a spinner is a lure which spins. The rest
**You can view the debate Lies,
damned lies, and so-called fishing flies in my blog.