Whilst fly tying has always been in my life I have to confess that I did let things lapse a few years ago. With all the pressures of running a business I felt that it was just a bit too much to waste over ten minutes of my life tying a fly that could end up in the branches of a tree or a frond of kelp on the first cast and be lost forever. For a while it was easier to bite the bullet and design a few flies let someone else tie them and let someone else take the pain. Or the credit depending on your point of view!
But with age comes wisdom. I now realise that the whole point of the exercise the true reward if you like is still the same as it's ever been - to catch a fish any fish in any angling environment on a fly you've tied yourself. Creating a fly yourself is the ultimate achievement the vindication of squinting at a tying vice for hours on end or standing up after three hours at the bench and stretching out the stiff back. But then when you lay out the results in perfect order in your fly box ahead of the new season the smile the self-satisfaction and the anticipation returns. That's what it's all about.
Fly tying is about that but so much more besides. As I write this the winter gales are again lashing the windows outside and there are weather warnings on every TV station. But here in my study with a glass of wine at my side and the office desk festooned with fur feather and silk I'm in a different world. In my mind's eye I'm on the beach at Tregirls the sun is shining and warm on my back and the Bass are moving in on a big tide with my bare feet in the warm water and sand of Cornwall. I'm transported in space and time and it feels wonderful. Escapism from a British winter in its best possible form!
Arguably the best thing about it is that your creations don't have to be perfect. Just as the fish don't mind if your casting doesn't quite conform to the rigorous expectations of a casting instructor so too is it irrelevant that the fly is signed-off with half-hitches rather than an immaculate whip finish. In both circumstances the fish don't seem to mind! You can enjoy the process for its own sake with only yourself as a critic.
Invention is another side benefit. On so many occasions I've disciplined myself to tying up two dozen identical patterns that are my standby favourites. I know I'll need them in numbers so I just settle down and do the work. But then after a couple of hours of (relative) monotony I free myself up and just put a hook in the vice look at it for five minutes and think about a new or experimental pattern. It doesn't have to conform or to be anything at all really but I just tie up a variation on a theme. I think about the insect or food item that it's supposed to represent and just let inventiveness take over. In such ways new patterns are created.
It was exactly this process that helped with the evolution of my new range of saltwater flies which I'm developing with the help of some superb materials from my friends at Turralls. The thought process was like this: what do Bass and other target species eat most of? Answer - Sand Eel. What are the sizes? Answer - anything from a 12 hook for the small ‘bootlace' Sand Eels of early season right through to the massive Launce (Giant Sand Eel) in summer. What do we really need? Answer - life in the material above all else. Is colour critical? Yes but so are the variations.
With just those few simple parameters I started work on the range. I added in a few small baitfish patterns for balance but the inescapable truth was that the Sand Eel in all it's forms and sizes is what really matters when you're saltwater fishing in UK waters. Professional fishermen who supply all the posh restaurants in Cornwall wouldn't dream of going out after Bass without natural live Sand Eels and Launce so if you want to catch them on fly then you need patterns that imitate those things. Simple. Cue the Meerkat ‘click'!
Or not so simple actually because there are some variations. The little bootlace Sand Eels of early season are small (3" max) with dark grey backs and a dull sheen to them. The fish become pre-occupied with them close inshore until the main run of ‘normal' Sand Eels arrives. By contrast these have green-blue backs with pure silver underbodies and they're much larger at between 4 to 6 inches average. At the far end of the scale the Launce are huge - many are over a foot in length - and they are true ocean fish free swimming and fast. They're blue green as well but often vary into almost a total white-silver with just a darker line along the back. Add in the fact that when you're up on the salt marshes or when the water is brackish and coloured after a storm making it necessary to add in a little chartreuse or pink to the fly colour for visibility and you have a demanding situation at the tying bench. Or to turn that problem on its head you have a challenge and an even greater reward if you get it right!
Such is January fly tying. If you haven't tried it yet then I heartily commend it to you. It will keep you sane over these dark winter months and will heighten your expectations and anticipation of the new season.
And when the first fish of the year in April comes to a fly you've tied yourself just smile and allow a little inward pat on the back. In the overall scheme of things in the World it matters hardly at all but in a very personal way you on you achievement in life rarely gets a whole lot better!
Chris offers guided fishing in Devon and Cornwall ranging from wild Brown Trout on the river through to saltwater fly fishing for Bass and Mullet visit his website www.chris-ogborne.co.uk or email Chris.