Four High Summer Dry Flies
High summer in the northern dales can often be a magical time of year. The wildflowers bloom in the hay meadows and surrounding pastures become a riot of colour, the angler often accompanied on his pursuit of sparkling trout, by watchful companions such as Ragged Robin and Yellow Rattle who bob appreciably with the slight summer breeze. The swollen rivers of early spring are now skeletal and tenanted with bleached white cobbles, almost mocking the richness of summer. Bankside margins and paths share the hardness of their limestone underbelly, baked under the high shimmering sun.
Uncompromising conditions, that would have many anglers waiting until the suns glare drops behind the high fells, and the shadows and coolness of evening drifts down through the high dale. Nevertheless, daytime sport is still possible even in these parched conditions. The rivers and streams of these high dales are full of wild and hungry trout, each with opportunistic eyes for wind-blown insects, all of which provide sporadic sport for the angler armed with the appropriate patterns.
Any angler experienced in dales angling folklore and familiar with these arid upland conditions, knows it is important to travel light. Familiarity forces him to accept that sporting rewards are not measured by the weight of a heavy bag at the close of the day. A spritely 7oz trout taken from the bare bones of a dales rives on a hot summer day, can be the most treasured of the season’s prizes. And though the sport, irregular compared to the bounty and freshness of early season, is no less exciting and at times far more rewarding.
The dependable insect hatches of the lowland beats have little meaning in these parched high reaches. Irregular flush hatches or the singular landings of windblown terrestrials become important triggers for both angler and trout alike in these frugal conditions. The patterns and tactics needed for the high summer upland rivers and streams show a marked change from the early season prospecting of the wet fly. The waist deep wading of early spring has now been replaced by constant stooping and kneeling, in an effort to maintain an impression of concealment – now in earnest begins the solitary work of the dry fly. Wading if it could be called so, is kept to a minimum, essentially involving the circumnavigation of the odd overhanging alder or paddling in a current of shin deep cold water. The large stones that once provided shelter to early season trout as the currents swept over them, now stand proudly with crowns of dried moss. These parched days of high summer prompt the resident trout become hypersensitive, and ultra-wary of any falling shadow or a bungled cast. Conditions where fish are stalked and casts are minimal, tapered leaders are shortened, and gossamer tippets made even finer. The regular burden of the fishing vest is jettisoned in favour of traveling light, the ordered fly-boxes of early season exchanged for a diminutive box of loyal patterns. Patterns that are equally adept at covering every eventuality, and a couple that are as opportunistic as the resident trout.
The first among these equals is the Parachute Adams, without doubt one of the most popular modern American dry flies. Whether it is the simplicity of its name or even the simplicity of its dressing, this pattern always draws me to spring open that singular compartment of my fly box. Logic tells me that the Para Adams with its body of grey muskrat dubbing and mixed brown and grizzle hackles matches nothing found in my northern rivers, and yet it seems to match everything! I keep the hackle wraps to just a couple of turns when dressing this pattern, believing these sparse wraps of hackle offers the fly a more realistic footprint on the water’s surface.
A couple of years ago a size 20 Para Adams saved me from what would have been fruitless day on the upper reaches of River Wharfe. With the sun beating down from a cloudless sky, and the infant river no more than a trickle. A small bend in the river overhung by a group of gnarled and stunted alders held just enough cover for the few resident trout. My size 20 Para Adams flicked under this low canopy brought a couple of feisty trout to the net before the unfolding disturbance rendered the other residents too skittish to contemplate a rise a fly. Although a wet fly man at heart and utterly absorbed by the half-glimpsed or unseen take of a fish, I still nevertheless smile at the positive turn of the wrist following the take of a dry.
Sizes: 16, 18 & 20
Thread: Black Uni 8/0
Body: Grey muskrat underfur
Wing Post: White Tiemco Aero Dry Wing
Tail: Mixed brown and grizzle hackle fibres
Hackle: Brown and grizzle cock
Another American pattern that serves me well in the summer is Ed Hewitt’s Brown Bi-visible. For me it is an indispensable pattern on any section on riffled water, especially so in the bright summer conditions. Fishing any turbulent section of the river with a dry fly is often tiring work, and even more of a trial during the oppressive heat of a summer’s day. To have any real success a pattern is needed that can be seen clearly by both trout and angler alike. Originally devised for the Neversink River in south-eastern New York State, the various Bi-visible patterns follow Hewitt’s theory that darker colours are more easily seen from the trout’s underwater perspective, and yet conversely become harder to be seen by the angler as they drift down the turbulent currents of the stream. To compensate for this Hewitt included the addition of a white anterior hackle which gave the patterns a greater degree of visibility to the angler. And so the Bi-visible was born through its ability to be seen by both trout and angler in turbulent riffled water.
With the upper Dales rivers down to their bones and coruscating in the shimmering heat of summer, a Brown Bi-visible flicked into the concentrations of oxygenated water found in small riffles and below the exposed limestone sills and shelves always works it magic. Here in these pockets of cool turbulent water there is always an odd trout waiting for a tasty morsel, and the nondescript silhouette of the Bi-visible often sparks the inquisitiveness of these trout.
Hook – Sizes 14 16 & 18
Thread – Brown
Tail – Brown hackle fibres
Body – Palmered brown cock hackle
Front Hackle – White cock hackle wound in from of the brown
There is a familiar sound recognisable to every angler fishing the high dales rivers in summer. Not quite Tennyson’s “Innumerable murmur of summer bees” but moreover a constant buzz and drone of midges and black-fly which often cloud around the faces of Dalesbred sheep as they pick half-heartedly at the dried grass, or seek the shade of a crumbling dry-stone wall. These irritating tiny flies are often the key to a day successful fishing up in these high reaches. They land and fall on the rivers surface in huge numbers and are readily picked up by any waiting trout. Creeping up into the smooth glides between riffles and pools you frequently witness small pods of trout head and tailing as they gorge themselves on tiny black gnats. It is here too trout can be seen to preying upon the odd blackfly blown down on to the river’s surface by an errant gust of wind. A few years ago whilst out fishing with my good friend Peter Helliwell on the Wharfe, we were met with such conditions. In the heat of a summer’s afternoon the slow glides of the river were full of rising trout gorging themselves on tiny black gnats. I had covered them several times with a tiny size 24 Black Magic Klink, but to no avail. It was then that I decided try what I call the CDC Blackfly, a tiny wisp of a pattern that I had been messing about with on and off for a couple of years. After replacing my tippet with a finer 8x, I put on the CDC Blackfly and cast it into the frenzy of feeding trout, almost instantaneously it was sipped down and the rod tip portrayed the tell-tale sign of a hooked fish. After a couple runs and a few tense minutes, the spray and flaying of the net portrayed the landing of a sizable trout. My CDC Blackfly had worked and how, over the course of the next hour this simple diminutive fly brought trout to the net with regular assurance. So much so that in the intervening years the CDC Blackfly has become my most important dry fly of the summer.
Size 18, 20, 22 & 24
Thread – Black UNI Caenis Thread
Body – Peacock herl
Tag – Fine blue tinsel
Wing – Two CDC feathers
(Dress the fly by tying in the two CDC feathers first slopping over the eye of the hook. After the body of the fly is formed, draw the CDC feathers back over the body of the fly and tie down.)
Another familiar sight around the dales in summer is the Heather Fly. A close relation to the Hawthorn, it is often seen being blown on to the water during the months of July and August. At a time when food is often scarce in the parched upland rivers, and the resident trout enthusiastically seize upon any naturals blown onto the water. In a hitherto lifeless pool, the explosive splash at the surface can often betray a trout’s opportunist take of an errant Heather Fly. There large profile and distinctive gangly bright red legs an obvious trigger for any waiting trout. During the heat of last August as the upland meadows and pastures shimmered under a constant sun, I started to search for a more suitable imitation of the Heather Fly and came up with a pattern which I call Gayle’s Heather Fly. It is named in tribute to Gayle Beck which rises high up on Dodd Fell and rushes down to meet the Rive Ure above the small tourist trap of Hawes. I first used this pattern in earnest a couple of years ago whilst staying with relations whose farm overlooks this diminutive stream. There shaded by a series of small alders I sat beside the coruscating tail of a pool, the other bank was drenched in harsh sunlight as I sat tucking into my Wensleydale sandwich and listened to the sound of the stream cutting through quite dale. Sitting there over the course of ten minutes, I became aware of the awkward hover of Heather Flies in the bankside margins of the small pool. As I watched, an explosion tight into the far bank and under a coarse overhang of tussock-sedge revealed the rise to something substantial. Instinctively I knew this was a chance to try out my new creation, and that any cast would have to be bang on the nose. Trimming my 12ft leader to a more manageable 7ft I put on the Heather Fly and aimed my initial cast a couple of inches upstream of the over-hanging sedge. There followed an eruption of spray as the trout engulfed the fly even before it landed on the rivers surface. For several moments I forgot to raise the rod and we were co-joined in a game of tug-of-war, gradually I regained my senses and the upward absorption of the rod began to dampen the fighting impulses of this feisty trout. A few moments later a plump trout was slipped unharmed from the net back into the water, and I was venturing still yet further upstream as the dwindling stream cut through the shimmering heat of an August afternoon.
Gayle’s Heather Fly
Hook: Size 14
Thread: Black Uni 8/0
Detached Body: Black Easy Dub Micro Chenille
Thorax Dubbing: UV Black Ice Dub tied sparse
Thorax Back: 2mm Black Foam
Legs: Dyed red deer hair
Wing: White Tiemco Aero Dry Wing
Four High Summer Dry Flies – First published in Trout & Salmon Magazine